Commanders of Dutch East India ships in the eighteenth century
By JAAP R. BRUIJN
Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2011. Pp. 336. Maps, Plates, Notes, Bibliography,
Until the 1780s, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was the largest organisation in the shipping traffic between Europe and Asia. The numbers of ships sent by the VOC to and from Asia far exceeded those of ships sailing under the flag of the English or the French East India companies. Most of this Dutch-Asiatic shipping took place in the eighteenth century. Between 1700 and 1796, 2,957 voyages were made to Asia and 2,369 voyages back to Europe. Among the commanders of Dutch East Indiamen in the eighteenth century, more than a thousand made an outward or homeward-bound voyage two or more times and at least six hundred others completed a single voyage. These commanders in the service of the VOC (schippers in Dutch) are the subject of a new book by the doyen of Dutch maritime historians, Jaap Bruijn. For this book, Bruijn has studied the records and careers of a few hundred schippers in depth.
The book consists of two parts. The first part examines the social background and onshore lives of commanders in the towns in Holland and Zeeland (Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Middelburg, Delft, Rotterdam and Amsterdam) where the six Chambers of the VOC were based and where most of the commanders came from. Each chapter on a city outlines the local economy and discusses key characteristics of the local group of VOC schippers such as their origins, wealth, residence, marital status, religious affiliation, business affairs and social mobility. Other chapters look at commanders outside the Chamber towns and at naval officers employed by the VOC after 1740. The second part of the book, entitled 'Commanders at sea', is thematically organised and is more analytical in nature. Chapters in this part discuss aspects such as training and examination, appointment, income (normal and private), life on board, discipline, shipping disasters and professionalisation. The book concludes with a brief comparison between VOC schippers and commanders of other European companies, and with a summary of the main patterns and changes in the characteristics of VOC commanders in the eighteenth century.
Bruijn's book is a pioneering study of its kind. It is the first collective biography ever of commanders of East Indiamen of a European nation in the early modern period. …