The Dutch East Indian Adventure
Duitsers in dienst van de VOC
Journals, memoirs, travel accounts and autobiographies: a fascinating portrait of the Dutch East India Company’s underbelly
Almost one million people sailed to Asia under the flag of the Dutch East India Company: both cabin boy and governor-general, trooper on a remote outpost in the Spice Islands and the commissioner for trade in Bengal, clerk on an Indian outstation and surgeon in the Batavia hospital. All served the Company, whether briefly or at length, whether profitably or for a pittance, in sickness and in health. Two-thirds of them never set foot in Europe again. Who were these men? Where did they come from?
Only about half of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and tradesmen who left for the East were Dutch, and most of the foreigners were German. A number of these left behind detailed, highly personal and critical accounts of their experiences. Historian and journalist Roelof van Gelder has tracked down these journals, memoirs, travel accounts and autobiographies and, together, they make Het Oost-Indisch avontuur an unprecedented and fascinating portrait of the Company’s underbelly.
Van Gelder convincingly debunks the prevailing image of the Company’s lower echelons as impoverished fortune hunters, the scum of Central Europe. Although the Germans were generally employed as ordinary soldiers, not all were poverty-stricken and many had learnt a trade. They enlisted in the hope of finding adventure and fortune. The dangers and misery that awaited them in the East Indies were far from common knowledge, and one of the Germans’ main reasons for writing their accounts was to provide a warning to others never to enlist with the Company and set sail for ‘the Europeans’ graveyard’.