W. Kandinsky, Dominant Curve, 1936
Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611) left for Spain in December 1593 to continue his training as a merchant. The commercial ambitions of this adventurous son to a public notary in Haarlem reached, however, much further than the borders of the Iberian peninsula. While pursuing his fortune he gained the confidence of the archbishop of Goa, which made him the first Dutchman to get an impression of the gigantic colonial empire built by Portugal in the Far East. On his return to the Netherlands Van Linschoten sold the story of his travels to the Amsterdam publisher Cornelis Claesz, who published it in 1596 in a book elaborately illustrated with maps and prints. In the book Itinerario two of his other works have been included, both dealing with navigation: the Beschryvinghe van de gantsche custe van Guinea and the Reys-gheschrift vande navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten. The significance of this first Dutch survey of the former Netherlands East Indies lies in the valuable sailing instructions which Van Linschoten had managed to acquire, information that could only be found in the secret archives of the Portuguese administration. Abusing the trust put in him he had copied it page by page. Thus, in one go, the greatly coveted shipping route to the Netherlands East Indies and the route between the Asiatic sea ports as such, came within reach. Even more crucially, Van Linschoten had also obtained information on very delicate nautical data that provided insight into the currents, deeps, islands and sandbanks, and such knowledge was absolutely vital for safe navigation. Besides, everything was elucidated by coastal depictions and maps of unprecedented accuracy for those days.
Dutch pilots had been preparing for the long voyage to the Far East for quite some time by research, study and practice. Since 1580 several foreign manuals, in which the technique of navigating the oceans was explained in full detail, had been translated into Dutch. Cartographic horizons had also been broadened. Within a period of scarcely ten years the nautical scope of Dutch navigators was improved to perfection and extended to the Mediterranean and the whole area between the Canaries and Russia. The publication of the Itinerario in 1596 added the missing link to the research into itineraries and trade routes to the Indonesian Archipelago. A fleet under the command of Cornelis de Houtman sailed for the Spice Islands in 1595. Another expedition, commanded by Jacob van Neck, put to sea in 1598 ; and their ships returned home with rich cargoes of cloves, mace, nutmegs, and pepper. At that time Holland was politically affiliated with Portugal. When this alliance was altered in 1602, Holland, with her excellent navy, entered into full Pacific trade in her own right.
In 1619 Jan Pieterszoon Coen, regarded as the founder of the Dutch colonial empire in the East Indies, established the city of Batavia in Java (now Jakarta, Indonesia) as the headquarters of the company. From Batavia, Dutch influence and activity spread throughout the Malay Archipelago and to China, Japan, India, Iran, and the Cape of Good Hope. During the course of the 60-year war between Spain and the Netherlands (1605-1665), the Dutch company despoiled Portugal, which was united with Spain from 1580 to 1640, of all its East Indian possessions. It supplanted the Portuguese in most of present-day Indonesia and in the Malay Peninsula, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the Malabar Coast of India, and Japan. During this period it was also successful in driving English rivals from the Malay Archipelago and the Moluccas. In 1632 the Dutch killed the English factors, or agents, in Amboina, capital of the Dutch Moluccas; for this act the English government later exacted compensation. In 1652 the company established the first European settlement in South Africa on the Cape of Good Hope. At the peak of its power, in 1669, the Dutch company had 40 warships, 150 merchant ships, and 10,000 soldiers.
Between 1602 and 1696 the annual dividends that the company paid were never less than 12 percent and sometimes as high as 63 percent. The charter of the company was renewed every 20 years, in return for financial concessions to the Dutch government.
By the second half of the seventeenth century, the VOC had Established Cape Town as an important place for re-provisioning its ships with essentials such as water, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Both on the outbound journey to the VOC outpost at Batavia and the rest of Asia, and on the long homebound voyage, Cape Town was to perform an important role in the lives of the ships and the men who sailed them. That the colony grew, as each successive ship brought new arrivals to the Cape, including functionaries of the VOC and their wives and families, was almost incidental to the Company's purpose.
In 1624, Formosa thus became a colony of the Dutch VOC. The Dutch governors established an administrative center "Zeelandia" on a small island called "Tyawan" and a military fortress "Provintia" at Saccam just opposite the island. The Dutch rulers operated an effective government on Taiwan, spread Christianity and introduced some agricultural reforms to the island. They also persuaded elders of 28 aboriginal settlements in southern Taiwan to pledge their allegiance to the VOC in 1636 and to convene an annual "Landdag" (conference) from l641 until 1662 when they were ousted from Taiwan by Cheng Chen-kung of the Ming Dynasty. In 1644, they expelled the Spanish who had been in control of northern Taiwan since 1626.
The Dutch's colonization of Formosa was mainly based on the pursuit of their own economic profits. Formosa was used by the Dutch VOC as a center for their international trade with China, Japan and other countries. As confided by a Dutch governor, Formosa was "a good milking cow for the Company (VOC)." For example, the Company earned 330,000 reels from Formosa in 1653 alone, thereby making Formosa the most profitable colony of the Dutch.
In the 18th century, internal disorders, the growth of British and French power, and the consequences of a harsh policy toward the native inhabitants caused the decline of the Dutch company. It was unable to pay a dividend after 1724 and survived only by exacting levies from native populations. It was powerless to resist a British attack on its possessions in 1780, and in 1795 it was doomed by the ouster of the States General at home by the French-controlled Batavian Republic. In 1798 the republic took over the possessions and debts of the company.
It is related by Dr. Thomas Short, ( A Dissertation on Tea, London, 1730), that on the second voyage of a ship of the Dutch East India Co. to China, the Dutch offered to trade Sage, as a very precious herb, then unknown to the Chinese, at the rate of three pounds of tea for one pound of Sage. The new demand for sage at one time exhausted the supply, but after a while the Orientals had a surfeit of sage-tea, and concluded that Chinese tea was quite good enough for Chinamen. If the European traders had known the virtue of sage-tea for stimulating the growth of human hair, and had given the Orientals the cue, sage leaves might have retained their high value with the Chinese until now.
Because of the success of the Dutch navy in the Pacific, tea became very fashionable in the Dutch capital, the Hague. This was due in part to the high cost of the tea (over $100 per pound) which immediately made it the domain of the wealthy. Slowly, as the amount of tea imported increased, the price fell as the volume of sale expanded. Initially available to the public in apothecaries along with such rare and new spices as ginger and sugar, by 1675 it was available in common food shops throughout Holland.
Dutch inns provided the first restaurant service of tea. Tavern owners would furnish guests with a portable tea set complete with a heating unit. The independent Dutchman would then prepare tea for himself and his friends outside in the tavern's garden.
Besides Britain, Holland was the only West European country to popularly consume tea. Dutch ships competed with British to bring tea the most quickly from China to Europe in the “Tea Race.” This was not only important from the standpoint of sportsmanship, but also for the quality of the tea. The longer it remained on a ship, the more likely it was to be spoiled. This led the British and Dutch to consider importing their tea by land across Russia. The Russian tariffs made the tea too expensive, however, and the scheme was abandoned (Ottuv 853).
The Dutch grew their own tea in Indonesia. By 1892, the majority of their tea was imported from Java. In 1826, J.I.L.L. Jacobson had smuggled tea out of China, and established its cultivation in the Dutch East Indies.