History of the arrangement of the VOC archives
3. Archival Management by the Ministry of
Removals and large-scale Destruction
the summer of 1816, on the orders of the director-general
of the Departement van Koophandel
en Koloniën, J. Goldberg, the documents brought back
from Paris along with other charters, books and papers pertaining
to the department, were transferred to the charterkamer
in the Binnenhof in The Hague.
In 1815 the depository in Amsterdam handed over to the department
eighteen chests containing archivalia, including resoluties
of the Heren XVII and the
Amsterdam Chamber. These documents were also stored in the
charterkamer in the Binnenhof.
An inventory was compiled of the documents to be found there,
which shows that these were mainly documents from the last
period of the eighteenth century(48).
A few decades later it seemed that a large proportion of the
documents had been returned to Amsterdam. It is not clear
when exactly they were brought back.
In Amsterdam the VOC
archives were kept at various locations. One of these places
was still the Oostindisch Binnenhuis,
where the books and papers from the pay office were housed.
A considerable portion of the archivalia stored there was
sold to the highest bidder by the ministry in the winter of
1821/1822. This was the fate which befell some 9,500 to 10,000
volumes, mainly dating from the seventeenth century(49).
In 1832 the Ministerie
van Koloniën (Ministry of Colonies) was asked to vacate
the Oostindisch Binnenhuis,
as the building had been designated as premises for the administration
of direct taxation and excise. Plans were made to house all
the VOC papers in the Westindisch
Slachthuis. This former warehouse of the West India
Company was situated on the IJkant in Amsterdam. VOC
archival records were already stored here. In view of the
fact that the papers in the Westindisch
Slachthuis were in a state of great disorder, the minister
first had an inventory compiled by the clerk P.L. de Munnick
before giving the signal for the removal of the remaining
VOC archives from the Oostindisch
Binnenhuis. From this inventory it seems that the papers
were located in the first and second records lofts of the
From the very beginning it
was obvious that the Westindisch
Slachthuis could not contain the huge VOC
archives. In 1830 an investigation was set in train by the
commissioner for the colonies, J. van der Velden, to find
out which books and papers could be destroyed or sold without
any objections. De Munnick, who in the meantime had been promoted
to head of the warehouses, continued this investigation in
1832. Both reached the same conclusion that two-thirds of
the pay-ledgers could be missed without raising any problems.
At first the plan was to clear out of the way only those books
and papers dating from before 1750, but because this yielded
so little, the landboeken from post-1750 had to follow suit(51).
Finally it was laid down in a Royal Decree of 8th June 1832
that the following documents had to be sold by public subscription:
those registers which were known in the pay office of the
VOC under the designations
landboeken and thuisreisboeken
(see below), the letter files containing the documents paid
up to the year 1750, minuut-notulen
(draft minutes) and financial documents
including amongst other material ledgers, bankbooks and commercial
registers. The number of volumes to be disposed of amounted
to 5,136, the number of letter files to 1,851. In total 3,160
volumes and 587 letter files from the pay office were to be
Thus what remained of the extensive
holdings were the muster-rolls and ship's pay-ledgers, which
were also known as uitreisboeken.
Nothing has survived of the so-called landboeken
and thuisreisboeken. It is therefore difficult to determine
what these books contained(53).
Even in earlier years these landboeken
and thuisreisboeken must have fallen prey to tidying
up frenzies of the Ministerie van
Koloniën. Before the springclean of the year 1832 there
were only a few such documents dating from before 1750 still
extant in the pay office in Amsterdam. It is probable that
these documents were among the great mass of VOC
paper which was sold in the winter of 1821/1822.
The criteria which were observed
in this clearance were for the most part pragmatic. In principle
one preserved what was still important for outstanding business,
for example the salary administration which was needed for
the settlement of salary claims. Among the remaining documents
which were destroyed were the whole of the secret archives
of the Heren XVII and the
Amsterdam Chamber and the large bulk of the documents referring
to the administration of the Company in the Dutch Republic.
The Transference of the Archives of the
Zeeland Chamber to Amsterdam in 1851
bulk of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber was saved from
destruction thanks to the stubborn refusal of the Zeelanders,
Pous in particular, to hand the archives over to Amsterdam(54).
Finally in 1851 Pous was simply forced to surrender his archives.
After half a century of pleading people in Amsterdam realized
that '... Mr Pous, an extremely elderly man, would be reluctant
to part with the papers which he seems to have had in his
care since the liquidation of the Company...'(55).
Throughout the years, whenever
Amsterdam intimated that it would like to receive the Middelburg
archives, Pous had continually produced impediments to the
transference. For instance, in 1830, Pous wrote that he was
too preoccupied to send the papers at a time '... in which
I even on our island can yet see the flag of rebellion and
ingratitude flying on the other side...'. In this he was referring
to the feelings of the man in the street: 'For to load up
everything en masse, I at least would be most reluctant to
lend my hand to this in these times; the common man, and this
class it is, who here as elsewhere can cause the most disturbance,
is still much too much attached to the ancient name of the
East India Company, not to observe with sorrow that people
were taking away the Company's books and papers, for which,
as it were, a sacred respect is nurtured...'(56).
In 1851 he made one final attempt to obstruct a complete removal.
On this occasion he suggested finding out which documents
were available both in Middelburg and Amsterdam, and then
to send thither only those Zeeland documents which were not
available in duplicate form in Amsterdam(57).
Amsterdam, however, wanted the complete archives and got them.
In September 1851 a total of 6250 kilos of archives from Middelburg
arrived in the Westindisch Slachthuis(58).
Beginning of the Historical Interest in
the VOC Archives
those days the general public was completely ignorant of the
content and probably even of the existence of the VOC
archives. This is not surprising as the old habit of secrecy
which insisted that the archives were only there for internal
information was still maintained in the department. Visitors
were hardly ever permitted into the depositories. This was
in contrast to the practice in the State Archives, where there
had been limited access to government documents since 1829.
However, in those days historical interest for the VOC
archives was not very great.
This changed in the 1840s,
when academic interest in Dutch-Asian relations disseminated
back from the Indies. People began to discover the historical
value of the VOC archives
and asked permission from the department to be able to conduct
research in the archives. The huge clearances in the Company's
archives and the way in which the documents were looked after
became general knowledge at this time and caused a storm of
The American historian J. Romeyn Brodhead, who visited the
Westindisch Slachthuis in
1841, wrote this about it: 'In applying in Amsterdam at West
India House, I was to my infinite surprise and mortification
informed by Mr. de Munnick, the keeper, that all the books,
documents and papers of every kind belonging to the Old East
and West India Comp. of a date prior to 1700 had been sold
at public auction in 1821 by order of the Government of the
The famous antiquarian Frederik
Muller, a regular visitor to the Westindisch
Slachthuis, was also incensed by the way in which the
VOC archives were being kept.
During one of his visits he came across the first shareholders'
register of the VOC in a
most unlikely place: 'This book was being used as a doorstop
in order to prop closed a door that was otherwise constantly
1853 J.J.F. Noordziek wrote a survey of archives in the Netherlands.
The picture he paints of the condition of the VOC
archives is not very rosy. 'From the point of view of light,
cleanliness, dryness and security [the lofts of the Westindisch
Slachthuis] leave a lot to be desired'. The best rooms
in the building were let to the Nederlandse
Handelmaatschappij (Dutch Trading Company) to store
bales of grocery articles from the colonies. The documents
comprising the archives were spread over four lofts, in the
best of which the archives of the Zeeland Chamber had found
The fact that Noordziek was
even able to compile a survey of the contents of the colonial
archives was entirely due to one man, the lawyer L.C.D. van
Dijk. He was the first Dutch academic to choose a topic from
Dutch colonial history for his thesis and for this he conducted
research into original source material(63).
During his research he ran into a lot of resistance on the
part of the department. However, Van Dijk was not to be deterred.
Absolutely fascinated by the material he discovered in the
archives lofts in Amsterdam, he even offered his services
to the department free of charge to put the sources in order.
In 1852 the Minister of Colonies appointed him scientific
archivist, specially concerned with the arrangement and ordering
of the archives of the Zeeland Chamber which had been transferred
from Middelburg. Investigations of an administrative nature
continued to be the responsibility of the agent of the Departement
van Koloniën (Department of Colonies), De Munnick(64).
Nonetheless, this new development did not mean that visitors
to the Westindisch Slachthuis
were helped in any more satisfactory manner. According to
Frederik Muller supervision was improved but one had now jumped
from the frying pan into the fire: 'Two officials of high
birth were appointed one after the other, who mistrusted the
many visitors in the most demeaning manner and made all research