Onto the battlefield

This thesis would not be complete without looking at the actual battlefield. One cannot get a grasp of the nature of VOC warfare by only looking at big logistical and political schemes, and I hope that the picture of the nature of VOC warfare will be enhanced by giving some descriptions of the proceedings on the battlefield and the atmosphere of such battles. This chapter will therefore look in more detail at some of the campaigns mentioned in the earlier chapters.

Some of the case studies in this chapter have already been thoroughly researched, usually a long time ago. Back in the introduction, it was told how until the ´40s of the last century, the military aspects of Dutch colonial history were often used as a source of epic stories of Dutch heroism. In some cases all I will do is blow the dust off these stories by retelling them, often with very little ‘intervention’ on my behalf. My aim in doing this, however, is different from that of the original researchers: I am not out to prove how brave these fair and sturdy Batavians battling on distant shores were; rather I hope that the details of these campaigns will add to the picture of the nature of VOC-warfare, and will be seen in a different way in the light of the earlier chapters. Some of the case studies below will however be based on more recent research, or on my own archival research.

Where available, these case studies will be supplemented with details from eye-witness accounts. Interestingly, many of these eye-witnesses were present at more than one battle in the period here under study, which makes their travel accounts leitmotivs through the period. The most notable of these are Albrecht Herport and Wouter Schouten, who both merit a short introduction here.

Herport was a young German who had come to Holland to enhance his painting skills, and was subsequently compelled to join the VOC out of a sense of adventure. As he himself phrases it: “Even though I had a wealth of pictures of unknown things and persons at my disposal there, so that I had as it were the entire world to gaze upon, I was nonetheless struck by a great curiosity to see the original thing itself, and to sail to the Indies […]”[1] So he signed up in VOC-service as a soldier. He got his adventure alright: in addition to partaking in an expedition on Java, he was also present at Formosa as it was attacked by Coxinga, and was one of these soldiers who, arriving back from the Taiwan ordeal, was immediately sent out to lay siege to Cochin.

Wouter Schouten, then, had come to the Indies as a ship’s surgeon, 19 years old, driven both by a sense of adventure and the will to put his surgeon’s education to practice. He was also to get his fair share; we will find him present at the attack on Makassar, and the first, failed, siege of Cochin.

Before coming to these case studies, a perhaps somewhat superfluous disclaimer: the campaigns treated in this chapter are obviously no more than case studies. The VOC waged many more wars in this period than could be comprehensively treated here. Although in my choice of case studies I will try to show several kinds of campaigns, I will still mainly concentrate on the larger campaigns, usually involving a naval expedition. The war with Bantam, the raids in the Ommelanden and the measures taken against it will only be mentioned in passing. Small explorations or penal expeditions, which amply took place on Java, Formosa and elsewhere, will not be treated here at all. Although this would have certainly enriched the picture of the nature of VOC warfare that this thesis tries to render, I have here given precedence to the larger campaigns, both to fill in the blanks of the last chapter and, admittedly, because the material on this was richer.[2]

List footnotes

Herport, Reise, 7.
For some nice examples of such ‘guerilla’ campaigns, see Herport, who went along on several of such campaigns, or De Iongh, who dedicates a chapter to ‘small war.’