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Factory System

By the eighteenth century, the VOC had an extensive trading presence throughout Asia. The main efforts of the VOC had been aimed at the Indonesian Archipelago with its abundant availability of spices. For the same reason the VOC extended its reach to Ceylon and the Malabar Coast, where especially cinnamon and pepper were available. In the other Coastal regions of the Indian subcontinent, Gujarat, Coromandel and Bengal, the VOC found beautiful cottons, which were coveted by the spices producers in the Indonesian archipelago. Bartering cottons for spices proved more efficient and profitable than bartering for spices with silver. Later, Indian textiles from these regions were also exported to the Dutch Republic. The VOC also settled in Mocha in order to purchase coffee, which found a ready market in Europe. Throughout the eighteenth century, the VOC was the only European trader allowed access to Japan. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, Batavia was still a centre of Chinese Junk trade. Due to the wealth this trade had brought Batavia, the VOC Directors only established direct trade with Canton relatively late.

​The trade of the VOC was so extensive and covered so many different regions, that the directors in the Dutch Republic had to allow Batavia extensive power to make commercial decisions. Batavia was given the role of headquarters and ‘rendez-vous’ in Asia from where the major part of the ships arrived and left for Europe. In order to give Batavia authority over the other Asian settlements, the Governor-General who held the highest VOC office in Asia controlled VOC trade. He was supported by the High-Government to make adequate decisions regarding trade. Depending on their status, the other regions received different grades of VOC officers, such as governors, directors and merchants. Needless to say, the different regions also received staff, depending on their importance for the VOC trade. The ‘orders’ naturally flowed onwards from the Governor-General, who with superior and accurate knowledge of the intra-Asian trade could divert resources to where they were most profitable. From the lower settlements, the final commodities were often even first trans-shipped at Batavia before leaving for the Dutch Republic. In general the Gentlemen Seventeen had no choice to trust the doings of the Governor-General and his council, although sometimes it doubted whether the interests of Batavia coincided with the interest of the Gentlemen XVII.

​During the existence of the VOC several exceptions were made to the policy of making Batavia the staple-market for all trade to Europe. Already in the Seventeenth century, several ships containing cinnamon from Ceylon were given the right to return to Europe without making a stop-over in Batavia. The reason was that the stop-over in Batavia had negatively influenced the quality and profitability of the cinnamon. When the textile trade for Europe grew more competitive, the moment in the year the Indian textiles arrived in Europe greatly determined profits. For this reasons, the returns of cinnamon send directly from Ceylon were often accompanied with Indian textiles. Later in the Eighteenth Century, direct returns of textiles were also send from Bengal and the Coromandel Coast to the Dutch Republic. In this database the orders for the indirect trade via Batavia to Canton have been included. The supercargoes travelling directly to Canton received their orders differently after 1757, namely directly from a special committee in the Dutch Republic called the ‘China committee’. This China Committee has its own archive which also contains separate orders for China. The database presented here, only pertains to the indirect trade from China through Batavia. The orders for the extensive intra-Asian trade of the VOC are not part of this database either. They were made by the High Government in Batavia without much interference from the Gentlemen Seventeen in the Dutch Republic. In the intra-Asian trade, the High Government in Batavia could react more quickly to changing circumstances in Asia, guaranteeing higher profits. As these two exceptions, the direct trade to China and the intra-Asian trade, were not included in the general orders, they have not been included in this database. The last exception the VOC Directors made was the interaction with the Cape of Good Hope. As this trading settlement grew in important, the VOC Directors simply maintained direct contact instead of sending ships through Batavia first.

Despite the detailed orders send by the Gentlemen Seventeen from the Dutch Republic, the orders were never ever fully complied with. The Gentlemen Seventeen were discontented by this development and decided it held Batavia accountable. They noticed that often they received no adequate answer why certain commodities had not been furnished. Due to the long chain of communication, almost two years was lost before a question could be received back, they decided to build in a more structural control mechanism. In the ‘Generale Missiven’ or the answers of the High Government to the Gentlemen Seventeen, the High Government were ordered to specify to the Directors which part of the orders had been met and what part not. If unsatisfactory or no reasons were given, the Gentlemen Seventeen held the authority to discipline the responsible servants. Part of the discussion on such subjects was represented in the order lists, but the textual parts of the database have not been represented in the database.