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3. Incoming Documents from Asia

he documents which were received from Asia are the most important source for the history of Dutch activities in the octrooigebied. Not only this, they are also a treasure trove of data about Asian history.

Two extensive series of such documents have survived: one in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber, and a second in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. It is advisable to commence an investigation in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. Should some required documents be missing there, or should one be looking for further data, then it can be useful to also cast one's eye over the series in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber. There are no documents from Asia present in this latter archive from before 1680.

I. AMSTERDAM CHAMBER

hen the Company launched its operations in Asia, initially it had no permanent establishments. The documents sent back from Asia during these years represent a fairly random collection of papers brought by homeward-bound ships. These are what are known as stukken betreffende de vroegste scheepstochten (documents concerning the earliest voyages), up to about 1614 (inv. nos. 437-655). For the years 1607-1613, at the beginning of the series of overgekomen brieven en papieren (letters and papers received) mentioned below, there are also documents originating from the first permanent establishments (inv. nos. 1053-1055). From 1614 onwards there is a fixed series of annual collections of reports with enclosures.

Instructions for merchants and captains sailing to Asia
(click image to enlarge)

The structure of the records forwarded from the establishments from 1614 onwards is fairly complicated. There appear to have been five important categories, but two of these have been almost entirely lost. These are the dagregisters (diaries) of the different establishments and the registers of the accountants stationed in Asia. To some extent this loss can be compensated by the other collections: by the archives of the boekhouder-generaal (chief accountant), which were shipped to the Netherlands from Batavia in 1863, and by the dagregisters from Batavia in the Indonesian National Archives, which have been partially published(1). The three remaining blocks are a series of kopie-resoluties from the Governor-General and Council in Batavia, a series of duplicate documents dispatched by the Governor-General and Council, and the so-called overgekomen brieven en papieren uit de vestigingen (letters and papers received from the establishments), which can be further subdivided into various sections.

Kopie-resoluties (Duplicate Proceedings) of the Governor-General and Council

he kopie-resoluties of the Governor-General and Council are the reflection of the administrative activities of the highest VOC board outside the Dutch Republic, whose competence extended over the whole of the octrooigebied. Like the resoluties of the Heren XVII and the chambers, they principally provide information about current administrative affairs affecting trade, appointments, issuing of regulations and the administration, but say little about the background to the policy. Only on a rare occasion does one come across data pertaining to colonial policy. For decisions on political matters, in the first instance the researcher should seek recourse to the uitgaande brievenboeken referred to below.

From the point of view of form the Batavian resoluties - in contrast to the resoluties of the Heren XVII and the chambers - are sometimes more like proceedings in the modern sense: in the event of fundamental administrative differences, the points of view of the various factions and persons have been noted. The ordinary resoluties are fairly complete (inv. nos. 656-827). Before 1636 they were not always preserved as a separate series, but have been partly bound into the volumes of overgekomen brieven en papieren. The inventory notes these exceptions.

The only complete finding aids to the series of kopie-resoluties are the chronological tables of contents in each volume. Besides these there is an alphabetical repertory on personalia (appointments and similar matters) (inv. nos. 828-834), and a summary, therefore incomplete, alphabetical repertory of the realia (subjects) (inv. nos. 835-839). This latter repertory has also appeared in print(2). The lack of a good alphabetical subject index makes the series less easy to use than might otherwise have been the case.

The separate series of kopie-secrete resoluties (duplicates of secret proceedings) only covers the years 1756-1791 (inv. nos. 840-847). Many secret resoluties have been bound in with the series of ordinary resoluties, especially in the years 1704-1727. This is noted in the inventory. Moreover, secret resoluties have often been included in the overgekomen brieven en papieren. To gain access to these one should consult the typescript tables of contents available for this series. (The inventory does not indicate the place where the secret resoluties, which are dispersed through the series of overgekomen brieven en papieren, are to be found).

Duplicate Outgoing Documents of the Governor-General and Council.

his series contains the letters dispatched by the Governor-General and Council in Batavia, both to the establishments in Asia and to Asian authorities. The Batavia's uitgaande brievenboek (Batavian letter-book of outgoing documents to subordinate establishments) is available almost in its entirety in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber (inv. nos. 849-1052). The few parts of the letter-book which can be found in other places are mentioned in the inventory. These concern the documents dispatched in the period 1614-1634, which are to be found in the series overgekomen brieven en papieren.

To an even greater extent than the kopie-resoluties of the Governor-General and Council, the series of kopieboeken van uitgaande missiven (letter-books of the outgoing documents) provides a direct source of information about the administrative dealings of the Governor-General and the Council in the area outside Batavia and its environs. Here one comes across the political particulars which one often fails to trace in the resoluties. It is recommended that this series be used in combination with the uitgaande brievenboeken of the Heren XVII, which contain policy instructions from the board of directors in the Dutch Republic to the Hoge Regering (Supreme Government in Asia i.e. the Governor-General and Council).

Further access is offered in the tables of contents of the addressees, which are found in every volume.

Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren (Letters and Papers Received)

or the period up to 1614 the documents are described in detail in the inventory in the series stukken betreffende de vroegste scheepstochten (see above). In the post-1614 period the documents were put together in a number of annual bundles, initially fairly haphazardly, but, after 1660, these documents were bound together in a clearly structured way, which is reproduced below:

General Series: Letters and Papers Received by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber from Asia 1607-1794 (inv. nos. 1053-3987)

his series is in fact a combination of the letters of the Governor-General and Council to the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber, plus enclosures, as well as the documents sent from those establishments which corresponded directly with patria. This series consists of annual batches comprised of the following components:

  1. Generale missiven (general letters) plus enclosures.
  2. Documents concerning the conduct of business in Asia, especially in Batavia, originating from the departments of the Governor-General and Council.
  3. Documents, principally from offices in Persia and several other establishments in the Westerkwartieren (western part of Asia), which had been sent 'overland' via Basra and Aleppo to the Dutch Republic. However, such records are not present for all years, but they exist for most years up to ca. 1730.
  4. Documents from the Raad van Justitie (Court of Justice).
  5. Documents from a number of large establishments whose reports were sent directly to the Dutch Republic, not through Batavia, (Bengal, Coromandel, Ceylon and Malabar, and occasionally Surat as well): letters, often accompanied by diaries, resoluties and documents concerning the administration of these establishments. Often these collections of documents are so extensive that in fact a duplicate archive of the establishments was created.
  6. The Batavia's ingekomen brievenboek (Batavian letter-book of incoming documents) which contains copies of all the letters received in Batavia from the establishments in Asia, often including comprehensive enclosures (resoluties, diaries, copies of documents and administrative papers), which sometimes, as is the case with series e, are so extensive that they form a sort of duplicate archive of that establishments. These copies have been bundled according to establishments. In the eighteenth century the series is followed by one or more bundles of secret letters.

Series of Letters and Papers Received by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber from the Cape of Good Hope, 1651-1794 (inv. nos. 3988-4373)

his series is similar to series b mentioned above, with the proviso that there are also volumes containing legal papers included. This series sometimes also includes papers from subordinate establishments (Mauritius), and from expeditions (to Madagascar and Rio Delagoa), as well as from other establishments (Persia and Surat) which forwarded their papers to the Dutch Republic via the Cape of Good Hope.

Series of Letters and Papers Received from China by the Heren XVII and the Amsterdam Chamber, 1729-1794 (inv. nos. 4374-4447)

s these documents were handled by a separate committee, they also form a separate series. In some years they are to be found intermingled with the general series of letters and papers received from Asia.

In the generale missiven, which are often very lengthy, the topics are usually dealt with according to an established sequence. First of all they contain a general report on shipping movements and trade, followed by a discussion of the various establishments, in a fixed order. The concluding section of the letters deals with financial and staff matters. In the letters from the establishments to Batavia the shipping movements, trade in general (first that of the main establishments and then of the subordinate establishments), trade per item, political news about local authorities, news about other European powers in the region, and personnel and legal affairs are treated in order of sequence. Moreover, the letters have often been provided with extensive postscripts referring to particular subjects.

From important establishments, especially those in the Westerkwartieren, not only the letters to the Heren XVII, but also those to the Governor-General and Council in Batavia are present. For instance, among papers from Coromandel, which were sent directly to the Heren XVII (series e), can also be found duplicates of letters to Batavia, while in the Batavia's ingekomen brievenboek there are copies of both letters from Coromandel to Batavia as well as of letters to the Heren XVII. There is a certain difference in tone between the letters from the establishments to Batavia and those addressed to the Heren XVII. Batavia was the immediate superior of the establishments and it was the place where important decisions were taken and local decrees were accorded approval. Therefore, letters to Batavia are usually more detailed, although it has to be admitted that information not to be found in letters to Batavia, is to be found in those to the Heren XVII.

Finally, mention should be made of the treaties and documents with Asian rulers. These may be found scattered throughout the overgekomen brieven en papieren. Moreover, there is a separate series of treaties present in the category afzonderlijk gehouden stukken (documents kept separately) (inv. nos. 4777-4787). As treaties and documents with Asian rulers were only of interest to the management of the VOC in a Dutch translation, usually only such translations are to be found in the VOC archives. On only a very rare occasion is there an example of a treaty in the original language bound into the volumes of letters and papers received from Asia(3).

There are a number of finding aids to this confused mixture of papers. The main aid is the tables of contents of the series of letters and papers received from Asia, the Cape of Good Hope and China. The typescripts of the tables of contents can be consulted in the National Archives of the Netherlands in The Netherlands in a series consisting respectively of thirty-one, three and one volume. Most of them have been compiled from the original tables of contents. These mention each document separately, but their redaction is not consistent and they usually only provide a vague indication of the contents. If one knows with some degree of accuracy for what one is looking (as far as place and date are concerned) and the amount of material to be investigated is fairly modest, these tables of contents are a useful means of selecting material quickly. If the object of research is less sharply defined chronologically, one can use the publication of extracts from the general letters, published by W. Ph. Coolhaas and J. van Goor, as orientation material(4). This series has been furnished with good indexes on personal names, geographical names, names of ships, and affairs. Besides these, the repertories on realia and personalia in the Batavian resoluties can offer a survey of the period within which certain events occurred.

Should one wish to set up a broadly-based investigation, a recommended procedure is to begin by reading through general documents which offer a summary account of events, and only then, possibly on the basis of the indications found in these, to search for more detailed documents via the tables of contents. There are various such series of documents of general contents which come into consideration here. Brief, but extremely useful, are the summaries of the documents which were received from Asia, compiled by a committee of the Heren XVII in The Hague, and which were used for composing the letters from the XVII to Asia. This annual abstract can be found in the reports of the Haags Besogne (inv. nos. 4455-4506). The ultimate result of the work of the Haags Besogne is the kopieboek van uitgaande missiven (letter-book of the outgoing documents) of the Heren XVII, and this is especially important for the period for which there are no reports of the Haags Besogne available (inv. nos. 312-344). More details are given in the Batavia's uitgaande brievenboek (inv. nos. 849-1052), in which local events are often discussed at great length in letters and instructions to the subordinate establishments. Another method which may provide a useful starting point for a broadly-based investigation, is the perusal of the chronological tables of contents of the kopie-resoluties of the Governor-General and Council in Batavia (inv. nos. 656-827).

II ZEELAND CHAMBER

enerally speaking, the documents in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber which were sent from the octrooigebied are comprised of the same kind of categories as those in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. However, they have been arranged on a different basis: in the first place they are ordered according to the nature of the documents (letters, resoluties, diaries, etc.), then geographically and finally chronologically. (In the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber the documents are arranged firstly chronologically, then according to their nature and, finally, geographically). The geographical classification in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber is fairly slapdash; documents from a particular establishment can be filed in a bundle from another establishments. Such instances are fully indicated in the inventory.

The series is subdivided into the following categories of documents:

  1. A very incomplete series of letters from the Governor-General and Council to the Heren XVII and the Zeeland Chamber, 1658-1792 (inv. nos. 7527-7599). This series is therefore partially identical to series a of letters and papers received from Asia found in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber.
  2. Kopie-resoluties of the Governor-General and Council (inv. nos. 7600-7609). This concerns only a few resoluties, secret resoluties and minutes for several years during the eighteenth century.
  3. Duplicate dagregisters of Batavia. In contrast to the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber, the Zeeland Chamber possesses an admittedly small and fragmentary series of duplicate dagregisters from Batavia Castle of several random years during the period 1647-1766 (inv. nos. 7610-7617).
  4. Duplicates of the outgoing documents of the Governor-General and Council (inv. nos. 7618-7657), corresponding to the series of duplicates of outgoing documents of the Governor-General and Council in the Amsterdam Chamber. This series also shows many gaps. The letter-books of the outgoing documents cover the years 1683-1787, the secret letters the years 1755-1789.
  5. A series of kopie-ingekomen stukken (duplicate incoming documents) to the Governor-General and Council from the establishments in Asia, which corresponds to the Batavia's ingekomen brievenboek (series f) and to series b of the letters and papers received from Asia in the Amsterdam Chamber, but in this instance divided up into geographical series, from about 1682 (inv. nos. 7658-9179). This file does not form a continuous series; there are a great many lacunae. It is characterized by a very careless and inconsequential classification. Generally, establishments by establishments, the series of letters with enclosures have been included first, followed by a series of secret letters with enclosures. After this, series of documents such as resoluties, dagregisters, letter-books of incoming and outgoing documents and a few documents to do with book-keeping, which were originally sent with the letters but later separated, can be included. In this series it is primarily the geographical classification that has been very inaccurately observed: many documents concerning a particular establishment have been filed with documents from another establishment. In the drawing up of the inventory, letters from two or more establishments have been mentioned under the name of the establishment which sent the bulk of the documents in the volume. There is always a cross-reference to the other establishments included.
  6. A series of documents pertaining to the book-keeping of the VOC establishments in Asia. It is mainly composed of the reports of the visitateur-generaal (the auditor-general) in Batavia from the years 1771-1786 (inv. nos. 9180-9191).
  7. A series of documents from the Raad van Justitie (Court of Justice) in Batavia, which corresponds to the documents which have been mentioned in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber under c. However, the series in the archives of the Zeeland Chamber is much more extensive (inv. nos. 9192-9540). Amongst other papers, it includes letters to the directors at home, civil and criminal legal records, and case-files, largely from the eighteenth century.
    h. Series of documents originating from the factories in Bengal, Coromandel, Ceylon, Malabar, Surat, as well as a bundle of documents from Persia which had been sent home overland (inv. nos. 9541-11024). To a certain extent, this series is comparable with series d and e of the letters and papers received from Asia in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber.

As is the case of those from the Amsterdam Chamber, the volumes contain old tables of contents, but there is no separate typed version of these available.


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