The Dutch Cemetery in Chinsurah: A Digital Archive of Memories

The Dutch in Bengal

The declining Euro-Asian pepper trade of the Portuguese along with the decline of Asian-goods market at Antwerp gave other European powers an added impetus to challenge the Portuguese domination of the Eastern market. Among other European powers, the Dutch first set sail, on their mission aforementioned mission, under Cornelis de Houtman, in the year 1595. Houtman was aided by an Amsterdam-based organization called “Company of far lands” who had managed to raise a capital of around f. 290,000 who gave him four ships. Out of the four, three returned, and the company made a profit close to 400 percent. The return interested everyone, and soon the potential of the East was recognized. However, with an increase in the number of such companies, the prices began to rise. A solution was reached with the formation of  The Dutch East India Company, VOC (VereenigdeOostindischeCompagnie) in 1602, and it was given the exclusive right for a period of twenty-one years to sail east of the Cape of Good-Hope and west through the strait of Magellan.[1] The Dutch came to India in search of procuring pepper and other spices, and set foot on the Coromandel coast sometime in the very beginning of the 17th century. In 1606 a factory was established at Petapauli, and later on at Masulipatnam, in the Coromandel Coast.[2]

The VOC first set foot in Bengal in 1615, however due to continuous unrests, further plans had to be postponed till 1627.[3] In 1627 the Dutch governor of Coromandel deputed a few of his men to Bengal to set up a station.[4] In 1629 two yachts – Duive and David, under Hendrik De Witt,arrived at Balasore. Witt managed to obtain a local Kaul (written promise) from the faujdar of Pipli, under the name of the nawab of Orissa, and a permanent settlement was established.[5] Even though the aspect of obtaining raw-silk from the region at a profitable rate seemed enticing, much of Bengal’s European trade was still administered by the Portuguese. The Portuguese, who had been here since 1538, however had grown immensely oppressive .[6] They betrayed Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and evaded taxes, and developed a chequered relationship which eventually brought about their downfall in 1632, when Mughal general Qasim Khan managed to recover the area of Hughli from them.[7] Shah Jahan had already lost Satgaon (Saptagram) to a ruler from Orissa and was extremely intent on making full use of this port, and the European trade provided an able medium.

By August 1635, Shah Jahan had issued the Dutch multiple farmans, allowing free-trade except salt-petre and slaves with a vague custom-duty.[8] By 1653, The Dutch had already established a full-fledged settlement at Chinsurah along with a fully-functioning factory and finally in 1655, based on Johan Verpoorten’s reports of the company’s stronghold in the region, a resolution for an independent Directorate of bengal was adopted by the Batavia council.[9] [10] Pieter Sterthemius, VOC’s first official director of Bengal provisionally chose Kashimbazaar, but later moved to Chinsurah establishing the headquarters of VOC there permanently.[11] The decision proved a success as trade prospered. Francois Bernier’s account, written during his visit to Chinsurah somewhere around 1665-66, attests the argument further as he expresses amazement at the huge production of the cloth, from the settlement. He also asserts that the Dutch alone would export these to places like Japan and Europe, which bears testimony to the fact that the profits the VOC made from this entire settlement was immense. [12]

1. Om Prakash, Europeans in Bengal in the Pre-colonial Period (Embassy of Netherlands, 2008), 30-31.
2. Ibid.
3. “De VOC site :handelsposten; Bengalen,” last modified Sept 5, 2014, http://www.vocsite.nl/geschiedenis/handelsposten/bengalen.html
4. Kalikinkar Datta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar (Motilal Banarsidass, 1968), 2.
5.Om Prakash, Europeans in Bengal in the Pre-colonial Period (Embassy of Netherlands, 2008), 32.
6. Purnendu Pattrea, Kikore Kolkata Holo (Dey’s Publishing, 1991), 14.
7. Jadunath Sarkar ed., History of Bengal Vol. 2 (Dacca Univ. 1971) 99.
8. Aniruddha Ray, “The city of Hughli from late 16th to the early 18th century,” Modern Historical Studies Journal Vol. 7 (2010-11)
9. Om Prakash, Europeans in Bengal in the pre-colonial period (Embassy of Netherlands, 2008), 35.
10. Kalikinkar Datta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar (Motilal Banarsidass, 1968), 2.
11. Om Prakash, Europeans in Bengal in the Pre-colonial Period (Embassy of Netherlands, 2008), 35-36.
12. Francois Bernier, Travels in the Mughal Empire (ed. Archibald Constable, 1891) 293.