Roelof van Gelder

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’.

Roelof van Gelder has unearthed a great many unknown and fascinating sources and has dug deeply for supplementary material, largely in obscure German libraries and archives. The result is a learned book, literary and social history at once, about people of flesh and blood.

NRC Handelsblad

Het Oost-Indisch avontuur has been entertainingly written and provides a good picture of the lives and aspirations of the ordinary soldiers.

Vrij Nederland

Richly illustrated and extremely well written.


Roelof van Gelder

Roelof van Gelder is an historian who worked as an editor for the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad for many years. His books include Amsterdam from 1275 to 1795 (1983) and several titles on the Dutch East India Company: Traces of the Company (1988), The Dutch East Indian Adventure (1997), In the

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Het Oost-Indisch avontuur. Duitsers in dienst van de VOC (1997). Non-fiction, 336 pages.
Copies sold: 1,500

With illustrations, notes and references



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