Page 118 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
P. 118

 increased.36 One of the few matters still tinkered with were the sailing instructions. This happened particularly in 1767-1770. They became more and more detailed, now for the return journey as well. For instance for each period of departure from Asiatic ports a separate sailing order was prepared and printed. Altogether it was a hefty bundle of papers that was handed out to masters and officers on departure, for navigation alone.37 In this way personal initiative was smothered, not even tolerated.
Not until the late eighties was there a revival of interest in navigation in the VOC. The Generale Lijst was supplemented by the newly published Almanack ten dienste der zeelieden (the Dutch counterpart of the English Nautical Almanac, first published in 1766), which made it possible to use the most up to date method for determining longitude at sea by moon distances. For this purpose a sextant and a pocket watch were also introduced. In 1790 it was decided to check whether officers actually applied this method. Davids showed that some of them mastered it.3 8 In 1783, within a surprisingly short time, the great sailing instruction was revised and considerably simplified. At this point the notorious wagenspoor disappeared.39 Little was done about the sea charts however.
Changes in the ships
Comparison with the Scandinavian China trade led to the supposition that VOC masters and mates could have been inferior to their foreign colleagues in the art of navigation. In the preceeding text indications of this have been given. Also the fact has been stated that in certain periods solid efforts for improvement were made on the Company's part. But could the ship itself be at fault? Director Cornells van der Oudermeulen noticed the VOC losses being greater than those of other companies, and around 1785 he put the same question on safety as previously on speed: 'Is there something wrong with the making of our ships, with the loading of them or with those in charge of these matters?'40 The changes in ships' construction of 1742, supplemented in 1749, had indeed increased seaworthiness, but not produced much faster performances. The shallow draught of many Dutch estuaries increasingly meant trouble for the large East Indiamen, especially those of the Rotterdam and Delft chambers. By widening the ships it was hoped to lessen their draught, but this produced unwieldy ships. The Zeeland chamber experienced fewer problems with draught and possibly for this reason was more open to foreign innovations. It was this chamber that introduced the three-decker into the Company in 1764. Resistance from the other chambers delayed the general introduction of three-deckers until 1793. A belated decision, because these vessels proved very satisfactory, particularly in the China and Japan trade. And in hurricanes or otherwise high seas, as in the Indian Ocean near the Cape and
36 Cf. two M. A. theses, Historical Cartography Department of the Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht: R. P. G. A. Voskuil, 'De hydrografische kaartering van de Oostindische Archipel tussen 1787 en 1874' (1976) and M. Kok, Ontwikkelingen in de Nederlandse maritieme kartografie in de achttiende eeuw (1730-1815)' (1980).
37 See ARA,VOC5036; VOC 132, res. Heren 17 of 17.10.1766 and 28.3.1767; VOC 133, id. of 14.10.1767, 1.4. and 10.10.1768, 20.4. and 13.10.1769 and 29.9.1770 (with thanks to mrs. C. van Baaien in Leiden and F. Klinkenberg in The Hague. In his forthcoming book on science and the art of navigation C. A. Davids writes at large about the greater attention to the application of the magnetic variation of the compass for the determination of the longitude in the VOC-instruc- tions of 1768.
38 Davids, 'Commentaar op C. R. Boxers artikel', 124-131.
39 A R A , V O C 135, res. Heren 17 of 18.6. and 24.11.1783; V O C 5036, instructions of 19.9.1783. 40 Van Hogendorp, Stukken raakende ... Oost-Indiƫ, 27513.

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