The beginning of the end

The Bavarian Republic nationalises the Dutch East India Company, even as its foreign holdings (including in India) come under British control, as the French Revolutionary Wars rage on, today in 1796.
A duit (unit of currency) minted by the VOC; Source: Wikipedia

A duit (unit of currency) minted by the VOC; Source: Wikipedia

The Dutch East India Company (VOC - Vereenigde (United) Oostindische Compagnie) was a Dutch corporation, chartered to trade with Mughal India. It came into being in the early 17th century after the Dutch government merged various Dutch trading companies and gave the VOC a monopoly trading right. In the latter parts of the 17th-18th century, it also focused on trading with the Southeast Asian states. From a trading company, it grew into shipbuilding, supervising commercial crop growth in the trading territories, and the first formally listed public company with general stocks open for the people to buy.

The VOC, in its heyday, had chartered exploratory voyages, traded with states across Asia, and had also used slavery and violence to ensure resources for the Dutch State.

While privately run, the VOC stood as a symbol for the Dutch Empire, and often performed state-like roles - deciding on waging war, establishing colonies and jurisprudence in these colonies.

However, by the 1720s, the VOC had started to face numerous problems. Its shrinking role in South Asia, competition and warring with the now-expanding English East India Company, widespread corruption and financial issues - all would lead to its contraction. In India, the VOC controlled small clusters of ports, centred around main ports - Dutch Ceylon (centred at Colombo), Dutch Coromandel (at Pulicat), Dutch Malabar (at Cochin), Dutch Bengal (at Chuchura) and Dutch Suratte (at Surat). All these came to a rapid end by the end of the 18th century.

The French Revolutionary Wars and the occupation and reorganisation of the Netherlands into the Batavian Republic had dire consequences for the VOC. Already, Dutch colonial possessions had been taken over by the British, in case of French occupation. However, this was the final nail in the coffin, as the once-great VOC was nationalised, and allowed to expire by 1799. The holdings, including those in India, were for a brief while returned to the Dutch government, but once again occupied by the English in the 1820s.

Hailed as the first ‘transnational’ corporation, the VOC laid the groundwork for what was to become the English and French EICs, with their different administrative controls. Controversial in its role of slavery and oppression, and hailed for its connections and contributions to exploration, the VOC remains a frequently-studied topic.


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