The Dutch Cemetery in Chinsurah: A Digital Archive of Memories

The Dutch in Chinsurah

The trade of raw silk at a relatively cheaper rate from Bengal had inspired the Dutch to set up a full-fledged trading network in Bengal, where they held factories at Pipli, Balasore, Patna, Futwah, Dacca, Maldah, Kalikapur(near Kassimbazar), Chinsurah (Hoogly), Baranagore and Jugdea[i]. In 1655 the Government of Batavia created the Directorate of Bengal as a separate organisation, and the Hoogly factory was recognised as the chief factory of the Bengal region.[ii]As Stavorinus writes, the territorial property of the Dutch in Bengal was confined to Chinsurah and Baranagore. The government in Chinsurah consisted of a Director (the first one was Pieter Sterthemius) and seven members, and was subordinate to the Council at Batavia, often receiving orders directly from Holland.[iii]In April 1656, the Hoogly factory was moved from its earlier site to Chinsurah. This factory, which had been temporarily abandoned during 1636-47, had been described by travellers like Gautier Schouten (1658-60) Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, John Marshall (1670) and Streynsham Master (1676-80).[iv]In 1743 the factory was fortified and named Fort Gustavus. The VOC website maintains that during 1635-1795, the VOC was involved in Chinsurah as “Head Comptoir” (a trading post in overseas colonies) that mainly traded in cotton, opium, ginger, hemp, silk and sugar.[v]

Datta maintains that the Dutch had established a settlement in Chinsurah by 1653, in the midst of commercial and territorial competition from other European trading companies and political involvements in Bengal. The first of such involvements was in the Mughal campaign in Chittagong (1665-66) to contain the Magh pirates. In spite of temporary diplomatic alliances (such as the Anglo-Dutch alliance against the French), the situation was one of intense competition. Matters came to a head in 1756, when strained relations with the English ledNawabSiraj-ud-Daulah to storm Calcutta. The nawab had tried to use the Dutch (along with the French and Danes) in his anti-English enterprise, though the Dutch maintained neutrality and instead paid 4.5 lakh rupees to the nawab.[vi]Post-Plassey, the English had unlimited control over Bengal trade, and an understanding was reached between Mir Jafar and the Dutch to overthrow the English yoke. The Batavian council dispatched Indonesian and European soldiers to Bengal in 1759, leading to an Anglo-Dutch naval engagement on  the Hugli river, and a land engagement at Biderra (midway between Chandannagore and Chinsurah). The British under Colonel Forde defeated the Dutch under Jean-Baptiste Roussel, and henceforth the Dutch position became dependant on the goodwill of the English[vii]. In the wake of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch war Chinsurah came under the British during 1781-84. During the Napoleonic Wars Dutch possessions in India were placed under British protection and restored only by the Treaty of London (1814), being finally ceded to England in exchange for English possession in Sumatra (then called Bencoolen) in 1825.

 

 

[i]KalikinkarDatta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar:1740-1825 A.D. Patna, 1968: 1.

[ii]Ibid:2. See also Om Prakash, Europeans in Bengal in the Pre-Colonial Period: 34.

[iii]Datta, op cit:3.

[iv]Aniruddha Ray, “The City of Hughli from Late 16th to early 18th Century”, Modern Historical Studies 7, 2010-11: 10-12.

[vi]Datta, op cit: 16-20. See also NiharRanjan Ray ed. Dutch Activities in the East. Calcutta, 1945: Appendix A and George Bruce Malleson. The Decisive Battles of India: From 1746 to 1849 Inclusive. W.H. Allen, 1883.

[vii]For the Battle of Biderra see Datta, op cit:36-48;Malleson op cit; Percival Robert Innes. The History of the Bengal European Regiment: Now the Royal Munster Fusiliers, and How It Helped to Win India. HardPress, 2012; D G Crawford.A Brief History of the Hughli District. Calcutta, 1903: 29-35.