Page 106 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
P. 106

A chauvinistic researcher of VOC shipping might easily become depressed when compa- ring it with the shipping of foreign Asiatic companies. A Dutch East Indiaman needed, as already shown, eight to nine months to reach Batavia, whereas a Danish one took only seven months o n a voyage to China. T h e eighteenth century naval officer Stavorinus complains bitterly about antiquated Dutch navigational methods.1 Reports on rediscover- ed wrecks give the impression that it was particularly the Dutch East Indiamen that met with an untimely end.
Chauvinism and depression are not matters that should influence the historian. But comparisons can be useful. Was VOC shipping different from that of other East India companies? Was it inferior in speed and safety to its European rivals? In this comparison the emphasis is on the eighteenth century.
Building, purchasing or hiring ships
The VOC used its own ships. It was shipbuilder, shipowner and shipper all in one. T h e shipyards of the six chambers took care of building and repairs. The Amsterdam chamber's yard was probably the largest in the world for quite some time. A probable total of close on 1600 ships was launched from Company yards; there is no clear picture of production in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Numerically the greatest output was in the time of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (107 in 1660-1669). In the eighteenth century ships were on average much larger. The climax in production was reached in the decade 1740-1749: 94. In 1746 as many as sixteen ships were launched in one year, seven of them in Amsterdam. Generally the Heren Zeventien decided at their spring meeting how many ships were to be put on the stocks.2 They based their decision on the available data for the entire fleet and the goods to be carried. During the following autumn the new ships were p u t into service.
As already observed in a previous chapter, in the seventeenth century the Company used also to purchase or hire ships from third parties. This practice had come about in the days when its own capacity was insufficient. It was partly due to this that standardization of types of ship in use was hard to find. At the end of the century the Company dropped the practice and henceforth stuck to a policy of Company built ships. Not until the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) were once again a few dozen ships purchased from private shipbuilders and owners and brought under a neutral flag. But in the total context of two centuries of Asiatic shipping the use of Company built ships predominates, with the mar- ginal note that the continued hiring and purchasing after 1784 indicates a new policy being considered, b u t n o t carried through.
The East India Company pursued a different policy. Initially the English had started with their own ships, built in two Company owned shipyards along the Thames. A surplus of carrying capacity coupled with an enquiry into the running costs of the yards made the Court of Directors decide to hire ships in future. In 1639 this happened for the first time.
1 Gaastra, De geschiedenis van de VOC, 101; G0bel, 'Voyages to China', 20; Stavorinus, Voyages II, 111-112, 168-169, 428-431 and III, 465^*67.
2 A R A , V O C 158, res. Heren 17 of 3.3.1705 and V O C 160, id. of 22.3.1713.

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