Dutch Empire/Expansion in the East Indies

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Dutch Expansion in the East Indies

VOC Conquests

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By 1669, the VOC was the richest private company the world had ever seen, with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, a private army of 10,000 soldiers, and a dividend payment of 40% on the original investment.

The VOC was temporarily forced to halt trade in Europe during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and this resulted in the spike in the price of pepper, and the shares of the VOC dropped. During the later 1600s the VOC gained monopolies over the sugar, rice, opium trade in the East Indies. The VOC was able to control trade on the island of Celebes (present day Sulawesi). Around 1720, the VOC began to decline, and would never again be as powerful as they were in the 1600s.

The VOC flag

During the early 1700s the VOC fought three wars of Javanese Succession. The first one resulted in the Dutch being allowed by the Sultan of Mataram to build forts anywhere on the Island of Java. The Second War of Javanese Succession resulted in further concessions on Java to the Dutch. The Third, and most decisive war, resulted in the Northern Coast of Java being put under control by the VOC, and Mataram was divided into different kingdoms. Banten, meanwhile, had become a territory of the VOC in 1753. During the end of the 1700s the VOC was able to establish control over a few small parts of Celebes.

Agreement With Britain

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The bankrupt Dutch East India Company was liquidated on 1 January 1800, and its territorial possessions were nationalised as the Dutch East Indies. Anglo-Dutch rivalry in Southeast Asia continued to fester over the port of Singapore, which had been ceded to the British East India Company in 1819 by the sultan of Johore. The Dutch claimed that a treaty signed with the sultan's predecessor the year earlier had granted them control of the region. However, the impossibility of removing the British from Singapore, which was becoming an increasingly important centre of trade, became apparent to the Dutch, and the disagreement was resolved with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Under its terms, the Netherlands ceded Malacca and their bases in India to the British, and recognised the British claim to Singapore. In return, the British handed over Bencoolen, all of its property on Sumatra and agreed not to sign treaties with rulers in the "islands south of the Straits of Singapore". Thus the archipelago was divided into two spheres of influence: a British one, on the Malay Peninsula, and a Dutch one in the East Indies.

By 1800 all of Java was under Dutch rule excluding two Dutch vassal states. During the VOC period, the Dutch depended on the cooperation of the Javanese aristocratic class, which allowed them to rule indirectly. After the brief British rule, the Dutch came back and many Javanese found that they were in debt.

In 1825 tensions broke out, Pangeran Diponegoro had started the revolt in 1825 after the Dutch decision to build a road across a sacred tomb. The troops of Diponegoro were very successful in the beginning, controlling the middle of Java and besieging Yogyakarta. Furthermore the Javanese population was supportive of Diponegoro's cause, whereas the Dutch colonial authorities were initially very indecisive. However, as the Java war prolonged, Diponegoro had difficulties in maintaining the numbers of his troops, and Dutch colonial army was able to fill its ranks with troops from Celebes and later on with troops from the Netherlands. The Dutch commander, General De Kock, was able to end the siege of Yogyakarta on September 25, 1825. In 1827 a guerrilla war began after the Dutch had gained the upperhand.

In 1830 the Dutch invited Diponegoro to come and negotiate, but he was arrested during the meeting, and later exiled. After his exile, the rebellion fell apart. It is estimated 8,000 Dutch were killed, and possibly as many as 200,000 Javanese killed.


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Dutch expansion began first in Sumatra. By 1823, the eastern part of the island, including the important city of Palembang, was under Dutch control. In 1821 the Padri War broke out, and by the 1830s, western Sumatra had also fallen under Dutch control. Between the 1870s and the end of the century, colonial troops also defeated the fierce Batak ethnic group, living north of the Minangkabau.

Batavia, 1870

The Dutch colonial government declared war on Aceh on 26 March 1873. Aceh is located on the Northern part of Sumatra. An expedition under Major General Köhler was sent out in 1874, which was able to occupy most of the coastal areas of the country. The Sultan requested received military aid from Italy and the United Kingdom in Singapore, and the army was therefore rapidly modernized. Aceh soldiers managed to kill Köhler. A second expedition led by General Van Swieten managed to capture the kraton (sultan's palace): the Sultan had however been warned, and had escaped capture. Intermittent guerrilla warfare continued in the region for ten years, with many victims on both sides. Around 1880 the Dutch strategy changed, and rather than continuing the war, they now concentrated on defending areas they already controlled, which were mostly limited to the capital city (modern Banda Aceh), and the harbor town of Ulee Lheue.

In 1880 the Dutch declared the war as over, however, it broke out again in 1883. A British ship had crashed in Aceh, and the Sultan had used the sailors as hostages. Infuriated, the Dutch and British launched a joint invasion and forced the Sultan to had over the hostages. Open war was declared soon after.

The Dutch achevied little success over the next few years, and an attempt to ally with a local failed. During the early 1890s the Dutch managed to gather valuable information from the Aceh government after Dr Snouck Hurgronje of the University of Leiden, then the leading Dutch expert on Islam, gained the trust of many Aceh leaders. He turned his information over to the Dutch.

In 1898 Major J.B. van Heutsz, was proclaimed governor of Aceh, and with his lieutenant, later Dutch Prime Minister Hendrikus Colijn, would finally conquer most of Aceh. In an attempt to crush remaining resistance, a few villages were burned and about 3,000 Acehnese were killed. By 1904 Aceh was under Dutch control(although a limited guerrilla resistance remained), and had an indigenous government that cooperated with the colonial state. Estimated total casualties on the Aceh side range from 50,000 to 100,000 dead, and over a million wounded.


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At the time of the end of the VOC, only a small part of Celebes, mostly the coasts, were under Dutch rule. The Dutch gradually expanded into the island, by means of treaties and wars, and by the late 1800s only the two states of Bone, and Gowa were still independent. Both states were largely dominated by the Dutch. In 1905 Bone lost its independence, and in 1911 the same happened with Gowa.


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Although the VOC had controlled the trade of Borneo for some time, they did not have any control over the island itself. Dutch influence was established on the west coast in the early 1800s. During the early to mid 1800s the Dutch conquered the Malay city-states on the south coast of Borneo. The Dutch called their new colony Kalimantan, from a native word that means "River of Diamonds." In 1850, the Dutch launched an offensive into western Borneo. Over the next few decades the Dutch gradually pushed deeper into the huge island of Borneo. In 1905 the final borders were established with the British to separate North and South Borneo.

New Guinea

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In 1828 the Dutch formally claimed the west part of the island. The first establishment was in Merkusoord/Fort Du Bus, in 1828 and abandoned in 1836. The Netherlands established trading posts in the area after Britain and Germany recognised the Dutch claims in treaties of 1885 and 1895. The first permanent administrative posts, at Fakfak and Manokwari, were not set up until 1898.

In 1923, the Nieuw Guinea Beweging (New Guinea Movement) was created in the Netherlands by ultra right-wing supporters calling for Dutchmen to create a tropical Netherlands in Papua. This prewar movement without full government support was largely unsuccessful in its drive, but did coincide with the development of a plan for Eurasian settlement of the Dutch Indies to establish Dutch farms in northern West New Guinea.

Smaller Islands

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During this time, the lesser islands came under Dutch control. Some islands, such as the Moluccas, had been under Dutch control for centuries. Other islands such as Nias had resisted attempts by the Dutch to force them under their control. Nias would finally fall in 1863. It was not until 1908 that Dutch control was extended to Bali, just off the east coast of Java. And the island of Sumba, further to the east, would not fall until a year later.

It was by this time that the Dutch East Indies would reach their greatest extent, stretching over 3,000 miles from Sumatra, to New Guinea.

Dutch Empire

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