Page 14 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
P. 14

On April 2nd, 1595, four merchantmen, the MAURITIUS, the HOLLANDIA, the AM- STERDAM and the small yacht DUIFJE (0001-0004)1, sailed from the Texel roadstead. The departure of these ships marked the beginning of Dutch-Asiatic shipping. After the return of three of the four ships three years later, a large number of companies jumped onto the bandwagon of the Asia trade. From 1602 on, however, nearly all ships sailing from the Republic to Asiatic ports were fitted out by one large concern, the United East India Company (VOC). Its objective was the making of profit by trade with and in Asia. To achieve this aim the VOC was engaged not only in trade: the Company built ships and fitted them out, it constructed warehouses, forts and even cities and harbours overseas, it conquered territories in Asia and sometimes interfered drastically with agrarian struc- tures to obtain the desired products.
The enormous size of this concern, the vast distances between the places where it traded, and the resulting long term of the necessary decisions, made heavy demands on its mana- gers. The directors of the VOC had to be equipped with sufficient expertise, insight and enterprise to be able to buy or sell goods in far-flung markets, and to create an organization in which the various parts could carry out their tasks according to plan and in harmonious interdependence.
In earlier literature much attention has already been paid to the VOC's organization at home, but with emphasis on its legal aspects.2 Since the East India companies in studies like those of K. Glamann, N. Steensgaard and K. N . Chaudhuri have been described as pioneers and innovators in international trade, the VOC's organization too has come to be considered more and more from that point of view.3 Thus the question of the quality of its management has come to the fore. The fairly positive evaluation by non-Dutch historians has invited a number of critical reactions from Dutch experts setting the new views alongside the existing negative picture of the VOC directors' management and policy.4 A review of VOC management and organization will therefore have to give a clear picture of its strong as well as its weak points.
The voorcompagnieën
The embargoes and obstacles Dutch shipping was subjected to on the Iberian peninsula from 1580 on, were formerly considered to be the most important reason for the search for
1 Figures in brackets after ships' names indicate the numbers of the ships concerned in the Lists of vol. II or III of this publication.
2 Classic works on this issue are: Van Brakel, De Hollandsche Handelscompagnieën; Van der Hey­
den, De ontwikkeling der Naamlooze Vennootschap in Nederland; Mansvelt, Rechtsvorm en gelde- lijk beheer bij de VOC. A work by G. C. Klerk de Reus, Geschichtlicher Ueberblick, published in 1894, is wider in scope but in many ways out of date.
3 Glamann, Dutch-Asiatic trade; Steensgaard, TheAsian trade revolution of the seventeenth century; id., 'The Dutch East India Company as an institutional innovator'; Chaudhuri, The trading world
of Asia. Cf. in this context Βlusse and Gaastra, Companies and trade, in particular the articles by Chaudhuri ('The English East India Company'), Gaastra ('The shifting balance of trade') and Steensgaard ('The Companies as specific institution'). An innovatory role is ascribed to the com­
panies also in Smith, 'The European-Asian trade of the seventeenth century'.
4 See for example: Meilink-Roelofsz, 'The structures of trade in Asia', and id., 'Hoe rationeel was

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