East India Company Dutch & English

The company that owned a nation

Multinational

Founded in 1602, the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) flourished and survived for two centuries. The company, a combination of commercial organisations in various cities of Holland and Zeeland, traded both in Asia and between Asia and Europe. It was the first public company to issue negotiable shares and it developed into one of the biggest and most powerful trading and shipping concerns. The VOC ran its own shipyards, the largest being in Amsterdam. This spectacular trade with Asia made the Dutch Republic the world’s key commercial hub.

FROM TRADING COMPANY TO MILITARY POWER

The East India Company developed beyond a purely commercial enterprise when war between Britain and France spread to India in the mid-1740s. The Company established military supremacy over rival European trading companies and local rulers, culminating in 1757 in the seizure of control of the province of Bengal.

Unique position

For two-and-a-half centuries, the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to trade in Japan. And even there they were confined to a small artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki: Deshima. Europeans were barred from entering Japan; and the Japanese from leaving. However, once a year, a small Dutch delegation would make its way to Tokyo to thank the shogun for the privileged position that the Dutch enjoyed – and to present gifts of course.
Goods were transported across a bridge connecting Deshima with the city and this was how the Dutch learned about Japanese culture. Among the Japanese it gradually became evident that there as a world out there. A world in which discoveries were made, and progress, while Japan stood still. Dutch atlases and globes were a particular source of fascination in Japan. For the rest, the Dutch were considered uncivilised and especially ill-mannered at table.
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