The Unfortunate Voyage of the Batavia – Episode 2: The Price of Spice

Listen to Episode Duration 31:53


In an age when traditional European feudalism was breaking down, the United Provinces of the Netherlands chartered the world’s first corporation.

The VOC would become a major authority for thousands of people, all around the world. In this episode we explore why and how the company came into existence, and what that meant for those who were (un)lucky enough to have anything to do with it.

Here’s where things get spicy…


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The East-Asian trade network. This had been long-established before the Portuguese, Dutch and other European merchants inserted themselves into it in the 16th and 17th centuries. Source

It was the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, who stumbled upon the route around the southern tip of Africa.

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Statue of Bartolomeu Dias Source

The world’s great sea currents are now well-known.

The world’s gyres. Dias’ great discovery was of the Southern Atlantic Gyre; the one in the bottom-right of the map. Source

The European trade routes that came out of the Age of Discovery. The blue route is that to the Indies. Source

By the time Batavia set sail, the VOC had securely established its route to the Indies.

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VOC trade network. Take note of what goods came from which places.

The VOC ultimately answered to the States General; the parliament of the Dutch Republic. The company, however, operated on the other side of the world in an age where no great oversight was possible, and at a time when the same families and class of society functioned within both bodies.

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Interior of the big hall of the Binnenhof in the Hague during the great assembly of the States General, 1651,
attributed to Bartholomeus van Bassen, (c. 1590-1652)

In 1619, under the command of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies for the VOC, the city of Jayakarta was destroyed by Dutch forces.

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Jan Pietersz. Coen, by unknown artist

In 1620, Coen established the fortress of Batavia, which would grow into a prominent trade city.

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Copperplate map of the fortress at Batavia, c. 1669

In 1621, Coen orchestrated the massacre of up to 14000 local people on the Banda Islands.  Masterless Japanese samurai, known as ronin, fought in the battle as mercenaries for the VOC.  Their presence shows how international the character and influence of the VOC was. It also shows what violent, brutal bastards they could be.

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