HISTORY OF THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE VOC ARCHIVES
1. Archival Management by the VOC (1602-1795)
activities in the chambers of the Company led to the production
of a large quantity of paperwork. In view of the fact that
the administration (and most of the other activities) was
carried out independently by the six chambers, there was never
a central archives depository and there was no uniform archives
administration. Each chamber took care of its own papers.
Furthermore, papers were yet again divided up among the different
departments of the one chamber. The larger and more complex
the organization of a chamber, the greater the number of places
in the city where one could come across archival documents.
For instance, the Amsterdam Chamber was divided into four
departments, which themselves were comprised of several comptoiren
(offices), each of which managed its own paperwork. The largest
proportion of the documents was kept in the secretarie
(administration), an office which was part of every chamber
The archives of the various chambers
do not only contain documents pertaining to the administration
of the Company in the Dutch Republic. All chambers could count
upon a growing stream of paperwork from the octrooigebied
(the area covered by the charter of the Company). Each year
journals, letters, resoluties
(diaries), muster-rolls and other documents from the Governor-General
and Council in Batavia and from the other establishments in
Asia and the Cape of Good Hope arrived on the return ships.
The Heren XVII (the board
of directors) expected the Governor-General and Council to
have all documents of importance for the directors copied
and sent home in sixfold, one copy for each chamber. However,
the copywork in the generale secretarie
(central administration) in Batavia mounted up so much that
it was impossible to oblige all the chambers at any one time.
This was the cause of an incessant stream of complaints from
the Heren XVII to the Governor-General
and Council, but all in vain. In practice, only the Amsterdam
and Zeeland Chambers could count on a regular supply(1).
Nonetheless, the Governor-General and Council did make efforts
to improve the situation. In 1725 the backlog in the clerical
work in the generale secretarie
in Batavia had reached such proportions that the Governor-General
and Council proposed printing the resolutieboeken
(records of proceedings) and the dagregisters.
Only a few days later the plan was rejected because of the
lack of type font. So things remained as they always had been
and transcripts were made only for the chambers of Amsterdam
The Company did indeed do its
utmost to keep its administration carefully concealed from
the outside world. VOC employees
could indeed use them for reference; and directors often had
copies made for their own use, which are now found in their
private archives. For outsiders the VOC
observed stringent secrecy about its activities and its internal
administration. In this the VOC
was stricter than the West India Company. For example, a work
like that of the VOC advocate,
Pieter van Dam, the Beschryvinge
van de Oostindische Compagnie (1701), which was based
entirely on original documents, was intended for internal
use only. It was only published in the twentieth century.
In contrast, Joannes de Laet, the author of the Jaerlijck
Verhael van de West Indische Compagnie, could have
his work published in 1644.
The Amsterdam Chamber
the six chambers of the VOC, without any doubt that of Amsterdam
possessed the largest archives. The main reason for this was
the extent of the business of the Amsterdam Company. In fact,
in accordance with the stipulations of the charter, the Amsterdam
Chamber assumed the responsibility for half of all the work.
Besides this, the size of the archives was also affected by
the administrative machinery of the Company. The Heren
XVII did not have their own administrative apparatus,
but made use of the administration of the chamber which held
the presidency. For three-quarters of the time this was Amsterdam,
and for the remaining quarter Zeeland. Furthermore, the Company
advocate was employed not only by the Heren
XVII but also by the Amsterdam Chamber. He was domiciled
in Amsterdam. In practice this meant that most of the records
of the Heren XVII were to
be found in the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber. For instance,
letters addressed to the Heren XVII
were bound into the same volume as those to the directors
of the Amsterdam Chamber. For several years they also kept
a common letter-book of outgoing documents.
office of the chamber Amsterdam, built in 1606
(click image to enlarge)
The archives of the Amsterdam Chamber
were formed and stored at various locations within the city.
The most important of these sites was the schrijf-
of klerkenkantoor (clerical administrative office)
in the Oostindisch Huis in
the Oude Hoogstraat. The oldest known instruction for the
clerks of the schrijfkantoor
dates from 1663(3).
This mentions a chief clerk, under whose authority thirteen
other clerks worked. In a regulation dating from 1703, two
chief clerks are mentioned(4).
All the papers and documents presented by the directors or
the Company advocate were copied in the schrijfkantoor.
The clerks worked in turns under the supervision of the directors
of the departement van de rekenkamer
(committee for the audit office) or of one of the advocates.
Among the routine activities
in the schrijfkantoor, as
these are described in the few extant eighteenth-century notes,
were keeping up to date all the letter-books of outgoing documents
from the Amsterdam Chamber to the other chambers, the resolutieboeken
of the chamber, the duplicate resolutieboeken
of the Heren XVII, the indexes
on the resoluties and the
outgoing letters of the Heren XVII,
and the indexes on the resoluties
of the chamber. This is only a random selection. The clerks
were kept exceedingly busy in March and September when the
Heren XVII held their sessions,
and in June or July when the Haags
Besogne (preparatory session of the Heren
XVII held in August) met. Before this latter body assembled
it was the responsibility of the clerks to see that the directors
of all the chambers were supplied with the relevant documents
and, after the session had closed, that documents such as
the reports of the Haags Besogne
and the letter-books of outgoing letters to the Governor-General
and Council were sent to the chambers(5).
As a result of all these activities
the size of the archives of the Amsterdam Chamber increased
rapidly, all the more so because every year another not insubstantial
number of records arrived from the octrooigebied
with the return ships. Above all it was the swelling number
of what are called the overgekomen
brieven en papieren (letters and papers received from
Asia) which gave the directors of the Amsterdam Chamber a
lot of food for thought as time went by. In 1695 they decided
to set up a charterkamer (records
room), in view of the fact that '... the books and papers,
from time to time, received from Asia, have grown to such
quantities, the which will only but increase in the years
These were the years in which
Pieter van Dam also girded up his loins for work. In 1693
he was commanded by the Heren XVII
to write a description of the VOC
based on the records. It is not certain if the work of Pieter
van Dam played a role in the appointment of the first librarian
of the charterkamer in 1699.
In view of the dates one could assume that this was indeed
This librarian, whose name
was Pieter van Rijn, was given the task of looking after and
making an inventory of the Company's charters and papers(7).
For this he was paid an annual salary of 200 guilders. Pieter
van Rijn had worked for the Amsterdam Chamber as a book-keeper
in the liquidatiekantoor (clearing
office) since 1680. He continued to fulfil this function after
his appointment as librarian in 1699. The same applied to
his successors: for all of them the office of librarian was
a subsidiary position. Pieter van Rijn died in 1726. Only
in 1742 was his successor, Dirk ten Brink, who had been employed
as permanent clerk to the first advocate of the Company, appointed(8).
He, in his turn, was succeeded in 1759 by Cornelis Heyligendorp,
who like Ten Brink occupied the position of permanent clerk
to the first advocate(9).
In 1778 Heyligendorp was appointed supercargo
and opperhoofd (head of the
establishment) in China. After his departure the chaos in
the charterkamer rapidly mounted.
This was a thorn in the flesh for the directors of the rekenkamer,
who considered the proper organization of the books and papers
very important. In the meeting of the directors of the Amsterdam
Chamber held on 20th October 1779, they proposed that the
Company advocate, Meerman van der Goes, be appointed librarian(10).
The meeting supported this motion. Nonetheless, complaints
about the state of the charters and papers continued. In the
opinion of the directors of the Vijfde
Departement (Fifth Department), set up in 1786 and
given provisional houseroom in the charterkamer,
the documents were treated with the utmost nonchalance. It
was quite common for documents not to be replaced after use
and then could not be found again(11).
Besides the clerks in the schrijfkantoor
of the Oostindisch Huis, other VOC
functionaries received and wrote documents. For instance,
the chief accountant of the Amsterdam Chamber, with the assistance
of clerks, made up the accounts and drew up the balance sheets
and, amongst other tasks, he kept the journals, daybooks,
ledgers and share registers up to date. In the pay office
the Amsterdam chamber employed book-keepers, who recorded
the ship's pay-ledgers. When they took office the book-keepers
were moreover required to swear a special oath; they swore
that they would not let anybody see their books and papers,
unless the latter had received permission to be able to do
so from the directors. However, at their own express request,
the book-keepers were allowed to supply permitted abstracts
from papers, provided that these were not injurious to the
VOC(12). The compilation
of the muster-rolls was the task of a clerk in the equipage
Finally there were book-keepers and clerks employed in the
warehouse and the shipyard.
The archives which thus evolved
were not kept entirely in the charterkamer
in the Oude Hoogstraat. Probably there were also papers from
the Amsterdam Chamber in the Zeemagazijn
(ships' stores) or Oostindisch Buitenhuis
on Oostenburg. Most of the shipyards, warehouses and other
buildings of the VOC were
situated in the vicinity of this large storehouse(14).
The mapmaker occupied a special
position in the business. He provided not only the ships of
the Amsterdam Chamber with maps and navigational instruments,
but those of the other chambers as well. Only the Zeeland
Chamber occasionally commissioned its own maps. The maps were
compiled on the basis of the ships' logs which were brought
back on the return ships. Upon the arrival of these ships
it was the right of the mapmaker to claim these logs. Logs
and maps were kept in a special room in the Oostindisch
Huis, where they were regularly inventorized by the
The Zeeland Chamber
comparison to the Amsterdam archives, the situation of the
archives in the Zeeland Chamber was much better. For instance,
Zeeland had a charterkamer
committee, who supervised the administration of the archives
by the chartermeester (archivist).
The first reference to a chartermeester
dates from 1737. This was the year in which an instruction
was compiled for the chartermeester
Thomas Cunnegam (or Cunningham) 't Hooft(16).
This included the stipulation that the books and papers from
the charterkamer could only
be lent to directors and functionaries in return for a receipt.
The directors of the Vijfde Departement
in Amsterdam were cognizant of this regulation. In 1786 they
suggested adopting the Zeeland system in Amsterdam; probably
this never got beyond the proposal.
Another stipulation in the
instruction of the chartermeester
stated that all chests containing letters and papers, which
were brought from Asia by the return ships, had to be opened
by the chartermeester and
their contents had to be recorded. After this had been done,
the papers which were required for daily use had to be deposited
in the records cupboards in the directors' boardroom. On the
basis of these documents the chartermeester
kept the 'general register of all the Company's books which
were sent home from Asia' up to date. This register is the
oldest inventory of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber which
has survived. The documents described in it cover the period
1612 to 1794 and are classified alphabetically according to
the type of document e.g. acteboeken
(registers of title deeds), brieven
en papieren ontvangen uit Indië (letters and papers
received from Asia), cassaboeken
(cashbooks) and so forth(17).
The Chambers of Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn
less is known about the care of the archives in the chambers
of Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen. On average the smaller
chambers had no more than twenty employees(18).
In some cases the administration of the archives was the task
of one of these officials, for instance the book-keeper, but
it was not unknown for the directors themselves to lend a
hand with them. This is what happened in Enkhuizen. In 1800,
the deputy-secretary of the former Enkhuizen Chamber, Mr.
Rant, wrote to the Raad der Aziatische
Bezittingen en Etablissementen (Council for Asian Possessions
and Establishments), amongst other information, that '...
directors at times, had taken charge of the work of the books
and charters, themselves, and without employing anyone else
therefore...'. In his opinion this was the reason that the
archives room in Enkhuizen was in a state of utter chaos and
there were no lists of VOC
Such lists of the defunct Company's archives were, however,
present in the former chambers of Delft and Hoorn(20)
The register of the Delft Chamber, compiled by the clerk David
Vallensis, is very extensive and gives some idea of how large
the archives must have been during the era of the Company.
The archives were stored in three different locations in Delft:
in the charterkamer, in the
office of the chief accountant, and in the pay office(21).
Unfortunately all that we know about the archives of the Rotterdam
Chamber is that the Oostindisch Huis
in the Boompjes had a charterkamer(22).
Although there is no record of this, it is plausible that
there were also archive documents to be found in The Hague,
in the premises where the Haags Besogne