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A yacht of the Rotterdam VOC chamber.

The Dutch overseas empire (Het Nederlandse Koloniale Rijk) is a historical empire, which is still partially in existence.


Flag of the Dutch East India Company with the letters VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
Flag of the Dutch West India Company with the letters GWC (Geoctrooieerde West-Indische Compagnie)

After the independence from the Spanish Empire in 1581, the Netherlands created a colonial empire on its own. The Dutch Empire was different from some other European empires at the time, inasfar it was mostly centred around individual trading posts, rather than large areas of land (Indonesia and the Cape Colony were the exceptions). The Dutch colonisation was divided into two companies: the Dutch East India Company, officially the United East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie; VOC) operating in Africa and Asia, and the Dutch West India Company (Geoctrooieerde Westindische Compagnie; GWC or Westindische Compagnie; WIC) in the Americas. A third company on the list was the Noordsche Compagnie (Nordic Company), active in Svalbard and Jan Mayen. These companies were in full charge of the colonies until they got taken over by the crown in 1815. Up to that point, every one company consisted of so-called chambers, which were local offices in major seafaring cities. These companies were the ones that bought and deployed the ships. These chambers were, in the case of the VOC for example, kept in check by the so-called Heeren Zeventien (Gentlemen Seventeen), the seventeen-headed board of the company.

Still, the Dutch were present in the Americas, Africa, and Asia; and Dutch explorers working as VOC employees were the first Europeans to set eyes and name waypoints on Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. The first European to round Cape Horn was the Dutch explorer Willem Schouten in 1616, who named it after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands, thus opening up an alternative route to the Strait of Magellan for sailing around South America. Indonesia developed as a VOC colony, centred on the trading post of Batavia, subsequentlyrenamed Jakarta after their independence. A colonial war with the Portuguese Empire from 1606 to 1663 ended with loss of influence in South America for the Dutch, in South-east Asia for the Portuguese, and somewhat of a draw in Africa.

The Dutch foothold in these settlements dwindled quickly with the Batavian Revolution (1795) and the transformation of the Dutch Republic into the Batavian Netherlands. Many of the colonies that didn't pass into the newfound French overlordship (such as South Africa) were annexed by the English, which chose not to return them after the Dutch regained their independence as the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Like other European empires, most of its possessions became independent in the decades after World War II. This went in varying degrees of ease, with Indonesia fighting a revolution against Dutch overlordship from 1945 to 1949, when it gained its independence. Five years later, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles gained a special status within the kingdom. Dutch New Guinea was kept until 1963, when it was transferred to Indonesia. Suriname then gained its independence in 1975. Nowadays, there are still six Caribbean islands that are part of the Netherlands; these were until 2010 known as the Netherlands Antilles. Three of these, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, are now known as the Caribbean Netherlands, a public body in the Netherlands. The other three, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten, are independent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands itself continues to be a popular destination for immigrants from its former colonies, and is home to large Surinamese, Indonesian, and Caribbean-origin communities.



In the Netherlands

VOC and WIC-related sights in the Netherlands.
The Montelbaantoren in Amsterdam is one of many silent witnesses of the decline of the Dutch Empire.

The issue with possessing colonies is you have to rule them. Most colonies were ruled from one of the main cities in that colony, but the VOC and WIC, were both ruled by a multitude of chambers, spread along the Dutch coast. Besides that, there are several rebuilt and replicated ships from the time in existence, found across the country.

One of the unique culinary traditions that developed as a result of the colonial empire was the Rijsttafel, a meal consisting of a large number of side dishes served with rice, with the dishes coming from different cuisines throughout the Dutch East Indies; a tradition that developed among the colonists there. The tradition largely disappeared in Indonesia following independence, but was brought back to the Netherlands by the returning colonists, and is today primarily found at Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

  • 1 Oost-Indisch Huis (Amsterdam) Oost-Indisch Huis on Wikipedia, Oude Hoogstraat 24, Amsterdam. Administrative office of the VOC's Amsterdam chamber. Beside the twenty men that made up the chamber's directory board, it also saw most meetings of the Heeren XVII (Heren Zeventien, Gentlemen Seventeen), the originally named 17-headed directory board of the company itself. The house is by far the biggest and most impressive VOC building that stands to this day.
  • 2 Oost-Indisch Huis (Hoorn), Muntstraat 4, Hoorn. Administrative office to the Hoorn chamber. Its' outside wouldn't show its former usage besides its pediment, which features four angels carrying the Hoorn Chamber's logo.
  • 3 Oost-Indisch Huis (Delft), Oude Delft 39, Delft. Delft, which isn't a city with much of a naval history, joined quite late for the first journeys to the Dutch Indies, being founded around the same time as the VOC itself. Its pre-VOC local company was thus absorbed into the VOC. The ship with which it wanted to reach the Indies was rebranded and set off to Bantam. Most of Delft's maritime history took place from Delfshaven (Delft's Harbour) some 12 km (7.5 mi) south, near Rotterdam.
  • 4 VOC warehouses (Hoorn), Onder de Boompjes, Hoorn.
  • 5 Mauritshuis Mauritshuis on Wikipedia next to the Binnenhof, Den Haag. Overlooking the water of the Hofvijver pond, it was built as a home for Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen between 1636 and 1641, during his governorship of Dutch Brazil. Although quite small, it contains some masterpieces of painting, such as Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, Rembrandt van Rijn's self-portraits at ages 20 and 63, and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, and Andy Warhol's Queen Beatrix. Adult €14, under 18 get in free.
  • 6 Westfries Museum, Roode Steen 1, Delft. Museum with a quite notable collection on the VOC, including an entire in-theme hall, featuring objects from the VOC-cities of Hoorn and Enkhuizen.
  • 7 West-Indisch Huis (Amsterdam) West-Indisch Huis (Amsterdam) on Wikipedia, Herenmarkt, Amsterdam. Headquarters of the Dutch West India Company from 1647 to 1674, the West-Indisch Huis is the place from where orders were given out to construct a fort on Manhattan (New York City), thus laying the start to the metropolis we know today.
  • 8 West-Indisch Pakhuis (Amsterdam), 's-Gravenhekje 1, Amsterdam.
  • 9 West-Indisch Huis (Dordrecht), Wijnstraat 87, Dordrecht.
  • 10 De Amsterdam Amsterdam (1748) on Wikipedia, part of the 11 Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum Het Scheepvaartmuseum on Wikipedia, the Amsterdam is a replica of a 1748 VOC ship, which stranded at the coast of Hastings.
  • 12 De Batavia Batavia (1628 ship) on Wikipedia, Bataviaplein, Lelystad. Replica of Batavia, the 1628 VOC ship which stranded at Houtman Abrolhos. The stranding was followed with a mutiny and mass-murder. Part of the original wreck can be found at the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle. The onboard artifacts are preserved at the Western Australian Museum in Geraldton.

Former holdings

Map of former territories of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands' current borders have never been cemented in time. Over time, it gained and lost core territory, this being:

  • 1 Belgium was a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 1815 to 1830, following the Congress of Vienna (1815). The Dutch were to be in charge of a buffer state that would prevent France of following up on the gains it saw during the Napoleonic Wars. This union however was not one that would stay for the long run. The lack of support for a Dutch overlordship over Belgium led to the Belgian Revolution (1830-1839), which, after Dutch recognition of Belgian independence in 1839, led to the independent nation we know today.
  • 2 Luxembourg was never fully a part of the Netherlands, but from the Congress of Vienna (1815) until 1890, the Grand Duchy was under a personal union with the Netherlands, meaning that its head of state was also the Luxembourgian one. Unlike Belgium's case, this union stopped in 1867 with the Treaty of London. The then Dutch king, William III, wanted to sell the country to France, which was all for it. Neighbouring Prussia, however, did not approve of it, which led to conflict. The treaty made Luxembourg 'indefinitely independent', which on paper would have ended the personal union, and saw 3 Limburg given to William in compensation. William III however, remained as its ruler. The union only formally ended with his death in 1890. William III left no male heirs, which posed a problem with the Luxembourgian laws of succession. This led to them taking on a branch from the House of Nassau-Weilburg, which is still its royal house to this day.
  • 4 East Frisia was briefly a part of the Kingdom of Holland (1808-1810), which was ruled by Louis Bonaparte (Dutch: Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte), younger brother of the well-known Napoleon Bonaparte. Its short history as the Department of East Frisia saw it get taken from Prussia by the French, granted and integrated into the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which in turn was annexed by France on 9 July 1810. The next year it became a department of the First French Empire as Ems-oriëntal (Eastern Ems). After the French defeat, it became part of the Kingdom of Hannover and the Kingdom of Oldenburg.
  • 5 Elten Elten on Wikipedia and 6 Selfkant Selfkant on Wikipedia were compensations from Germany to the Netherlands following World War II. These annexations were announced in 1949, which added a grand total of 69 km2 (27 sq mi) to the Dutch territory. Aside from these two municipalities, many more small border corrections were made along the German-Dutch border, mostly near Nijmegen and around the Achterhoek. After annexation, West Germany started negotiations to regain the two municipalities, which resulted in a return in 1963. The night after which the territory was returned, that of 31 July to 1 August, is locally known as the Eltener Butternacht (Elten Butter Night). Companies would send their trucks to Elten, have the driver park there overnight, and wake up in Germany, without having to pay import taxes.
  • While some may include England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland as former Dutch holdings since the Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, William III of Orange-Nassau (1650 - 1702), was also king of Great Britain following the Glorious Revolution, this isn't necessarily true. While offspring of William and Mary, had they had any, would have inherited all crowns, the intention of all parties involved was to split the crowns between the two firstborn sons of the stadtholder-king and queen, so both crowns would almost certainly not have been merged had history played out differently.
  • The official titles of the current and past monarchs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Dutch Republic contain many former holdings, most notably Orange (France) and Nassau (modern-day Germany). Both titles were the highest titles held by the stadtholders of the Dutch Republic, as the title of stadholder was considerably lower than that of Prince of Orange or Duke of Nassau. The stadtholders therefore wore 'Of Orange-Nassau' as their main title. Orange, in Southern France, was lost in 1702 following the death of William III, after the French king Louis XIV had already claimed the princedom for himself during William III's lifetime. Also following William III's death, the Duchy of Nassau, specifically Nassau-Breda, wound up in a twist between claimants, as William III left no heirs. The territory was claimed by the rulers of Nassau-Diez and Prussia, and was eventually divided between both rulers in 1732.

United States

Arguably one of the best-known Dutch colonial holdings has to be New Amsterdam (New York). Shown here on a 1916 reproduction of a 1660 plan.
Dutch settlements in New Netherlands.

The United States quite famously contain former Dutch colonies, which were 'traded' with the English in 1674. The colony, known as New Netherland (Nieuw-Nederland) occupied most of the current day New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, following the Delaware and Hudson rivers. The colony was first explored in 1609, at the start of the Twelve Years' Truce. The Dutch East India Company sent a ship to find a passage to India via the west. The ship they sent was the Halve Maen (Half Moon). The expedition most notably discovered a huge northern bay, which now carries the name of its skipper Henry Hudson.

Four years later, a new expedition set out, led by Adriaen Block. His ship, the Tijger (Tiger) burnt down while in the later New Netherland. During his extended stay, he and his crew built a new ship and explored and mapped the surrounding area, sailing up the East River and exploring Long Island. The map that Block published when he got back to Europe would introduce the name of New Netherland. After that, the real colonisation of New Netherland started.

  • 1 Fort Nassau Fort Nassau (North River) on Wikipedia was founded in 1613 by Hendrick Christiaensen, who named the factory in honour of the Stadtholder, who was of the House of Orange-Nassau. Its main purpose was to trade beaver fur with locals. The fort would be flooded by the river Hudson every year, and was thus quickly abandoned and replaced with the more southern 2 Fort Oranje Fort Orange (New Netherland) on Wikipedia (1624). Near the new fort, a town called Beverwijck sprang up in 1647, which would be rebranded to Albany under English rule.
  • 3 Manhattan was the first piece of land to be formally purchased from the natives. These natives didn't live on the island to begin with, and likely thought that they were selling rights for hunting, yet it was enough to count as a legal sale of land to the Dutch. The first settlers landed on Noten Eylant (Governors Island) in 1624, and holdings were expanded up to 4 Fort Goede Hoop House of Hope (fort) on Wikipedia. During the Dutch-Portuguese colonial war, the South American colony of New Holland ceased to exist in 1654, and its sizeable Sephardic Jewish community moved to Manhattan.

Starting in 1629, the West India Company allowed for individuals to start their own estates in New Netherland. Major advocate for this plan was Kiliaen van Rensselaer, who founded the manor of Renselaerswijck. At its height, this manor stretched for several miles on either side of the Hudson river. Following the success of Renselaerswijck, the town of Beverwijck (modern-day 5 Albany) was founded in attempt to syphon away power from Renselaerswijck. Seventeen years after its founding, in 1664, Beverwijck had become the second city of the colony, counting about a thousand inhabitants.

During all this, New Netherland was doing quite well for itself. To its west though, another colony had sprung up: New Sweden, which was a Swedish-Finnish colony surrounding modern-day Philadelphia. New Sweden was settled exclusively to the west bank of the Delaware River as to avoid conflict with the Dutch, who had claimed either side of the river. The Dutch, meanwhile, were building forts within their claimed region, which started posing problems for the Swedish colony. In 1654, the Swedish colony attempted to take control of 6 Fort Casimir Fort Casimir on Wikipedia, which they succeeded in, and promptly renamed to Trefaltighet. The New Netherland governor, Peter Stuyvesant, retook the fort the year after, conquering all of New Sweden.

The Dutch were quite negligent of their colony in the new world, considering it to be the WIC's responsibility to defend it and take care of it. The WIC, meanwhile, had trade and making profits as among its main interests, and thus when the English came along to annex the colony with four frigates on 27 August 1664, they were met with no resistance. The locals didn't resist their annexation, mostly because their pleas for support from the homeland against the many attacks by the natives went unanswered. The Dutch, in retaliation, occupied modern-day Suriname and British-Guyana during the Second English-Dutch War (1664). The signing of the Peace of Breda (1667) resulted in a status quo: The Dutch kept Suriname and the English kept New Amsterdam. A final resolution however, was left to the future.

The status quo did not last long thought, with the Third English-Dutch War following in 1672. This saw New Amsterdam, 7 Fort Amsterdam Fort Amsterdam on Wikipedia and Beverwijck get occupied by Dutch forces again. The settlements were at this point also renamed to Nieuw-Oranje (New Orange), Fort Willem Hendrik, and Willemstadt respectively, all in honour of the new stadtholder, William III of Orange-Nassau. The Peace of Westminster (1674) saw an end to the Dutch colony in North America. New Netherland was properly transferred to the English, and Suriname became a proper Dutch colony. New Amsterdam, as well as other settlements and forts were promptly renamed to their current names. The Dutch Republic did regain some foothold in the new world with Dutch Arcadia, which consisted of parts of French Arcadia, consisting of parts of modern-day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. This territory was returned to the French in 1675, and the Dutch revoked their claim three years later. The rivalry between the Dutch and English ended with the Glorious Revolution, in which the Dutch stadtholder William III and his wife, Mary II of England, took over control in England.

Dutch colonial settlements around present New York City.

During their presence, the following settlements were founded by the Dutch colonists:

  • On Manhattan:
    • Nieuw-Amsterdam (New Amsterdam), modern-day Southern Manhattan, which was the capital of the Dutch colony, becoming New York City after English rule. Originally named for Amsterdam, the English renamed it on behalf of the Duke of York.
    • Nieuw-Haarlem (New Harlem), modern-day Harlem, named for Haarlem.
    • 8 Noortwijck (North Ward) or Greenwijck (Pine Ward), now Greenwich Village.
    • 9 Stuyvesants Bouwerij Bowery on Wikipedia (Stuyvesant's Farm), initially ignored by the WIC, the Stuyvesant family settled here. He built a farm, manor and chapel, developing his plantation into a settlement. This settlement was roughly located on modern-day Bowery (Lower East Side / Chinatown).
  • In The Bronx and Yonkers:
    • 10 Jonas Broncks Bouwerij (Jonas Bronck's Farm) or Broncksland (Bronck's Land), founded in 1639. The name eventually corrupted to become 'Bronx' under English rule. It has given its name to the Bronx River, which The Bronx itself was later named for.
    • 11 Colen Donck Colen Donck on Wikipedia (Donck's Colony) or Het Jonkers Land (The Squire's Land), a patroonship along the Hudson River. 'Jonkers' itself is a corruption of Jonkheer (squire), which got corrupted into the modern-day Yonkers.
  • In Queens:
    • 12 Heemstede, founded in 1644, it became the modern-day Hempstead, named for Heemstede, a city just south of Haarlem.
    • 13 Vlissingen, founded a year later got corrupted into the current Queens/Flushing, named for Vlissingen.
    • 14 Middelburgh, founded in 1652 and named for Middelburg, was renamed to Newtown under English rule.
    • 15 Rustdorp (Rest or Peace Village). Settled in 1656, it is nowadays known as Jamaica.
  • In Brooklyn:
  • In Rensselaerswijck:
    • Beverwijck (Beaver Ward), modern-day Albany.
    • 22 Wiltwijck, modern-day Kingston.
  • In former New-Sweden:
    • 23 Swaanendael Zwaanendael Colony on Wikipedia (Swan Valley), founded in 1631, but its population was annihilated by natives the year after. In its place today stands Lewes.
    • 24 Nieuw-Amstel (New Amstel) near Fort Casimir, nowadays known as New Castle.
    • 25 Altena, modern-day New Castle.

Caribbean and South America


West Indies

Map of Dutch Empire

The Dutch West Indies were a region which to this day is still incorporated in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The region started out as direct possessions of the West India Company, which changed in 1845, which split the islands in the Caribbean to two entities: Curaçao en Onderhorigheden and Sint Eustatius en Onderhorigheden (Onderhorigheden meaning 'dominions'), which until 1922 were considered Dutch colonies. From 1954 onwards, the two entities became a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, known as the Netherlands Antilles. In 2010, this changed again with islands being able to choose the extent of their integration within the Netherlands. Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten all chose to become a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while the other three islands, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Bonaire chose to become a part of the Caribbean Netherlands, a group of special municipalities within the Netherlands. Of the former Dutch West Indies, two groups can be distinguished:

  • Bovenwindse eilanden (Leeward Islands or SSS-Islands):
    • 1 Saba. A volcanic island originally discovered and mapped by Columbus, who named it San Cristóbal. The presumed reason the island is now known as Saba is due to San Cristóbal being abbreviated as 'S †bal', which would have been misinterpreted as Saba. The island became a Dutch holding in 1632, and from 1635 onwards, its population consisted mostly of English (after their ship made water near the island), Scottish, Irish, African slaves, and Zeeuwen. The island changed possession many times between the Dutch, French, Spanish, and British, definitively becoming a Dutch possession in 1816.
      Until 1938, the infrastructure was mostly built upon a network of stairways. Dutch engineers deemed it impossible to connect the island with a road network because of its steep typography. The first road of the island was completed in 1947, when the first car made its way onto the island as well. Today, the island has about 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) of roads, and it's had an airport since 1960.
      Saba is a special municipality of the Netherlands, being a part of the country, but being outside of the European Union.
    • 2 Sint Maarten. Located on the island of the same name, this former colony encompasses the south side of the island, containing within it the island's only airport. The northern side of the island belongs to France, making the border between the two the only place where both countries border each other. The island lends its name to the patron saint of the day it was discovered on by Columbus in 1493 (11 November, Saint Martin). The Dutch and French made their way onto the island around 1630. The sharing of the island between both nations was made official with the Treaty of Concordia (1648), but this treaty wasn't ratified until 1817, meaning that in the mean time, the island had already switched sides a total of 16 times.
      Sint Maarten gained its autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 10 October 2010, removing it from The Hague's control altogether, while largely acting as an independent nation.
    • 3 Sint Eustatius. When Columbus discovered this island in 1493, he found it uninhabited, its indigenous tribes long having left the island for a lack of potable water. The inhabited island was settled by the Dutch in 1636, with the construction of a fort. The French claim to have built a fort there in 1629, but decided to leave the island for its lack of potable water. The Dutch mostly send settlers from Zeeland to the island, who constructed the modern-day Fort Oranje (Fort Orange), and started a network of cisterns to create a source of potable water.
      Sint Eustatius was the most profitable holding of the West India Company, and became a distribution port for African slaves. The island itself had plantations for sugar reed, tobacco and indigo which were exploited using slave labour. The main settlement of Oranjestad had a free-port and staple, which saw over 3000 ships visit in 1779 alone, which roughly equalled the number of ships visiting the main harbour on the Dutch mainland, Amsterdam. The fort's glory days can still be seen in the remnants of sixteen defence works, mostly open batteries, scattered across the island.
      Sint Eustatius played a role in the American War of Independence, being the main port from which the rebellious British colony was supplied with weapons. On 16 November 1776, Fort Oranje answered the Andrew Doria, a ship flying the American Grand Union-flag, with eleven salutational shots, making it the first time any country answered an American ship's salutations, which the Americans were quick to interpret as the first formal acknowledgement of American independence.
      Ownership of the island switched several times in the late 18th century between the Dutch, French, and British. These changes in overlordship made the local economy collapse completely, ending the golden age of Sint Eustatius.
      The Dutch revoked slavery in 1863, thirty years after the neighbouring Saint Kitts, a British dominion, did. A notable number of slaves saw their opportunity in these three decades to escape to St. Kitts and gain their freedom. Sint Eustatius saw its rights within the Netherlands slowly grow, with its first election in 1937, though the then-valid census rights meant that only about five percent of the island was eligible to vote. Today, Sint Eustatius is a special province of the Netherlands, within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but outside of the EU or Schengen zone.
  • Benedenwindse eilanden (Leeward Antilles or ABC-Islands):
    • 4 Aruba. Taken over from the Spanish in 1636, Aruba is today still a part of the Netherlands, briefly being under control of the English during 1807 and 1816. The island has been host to several mining companies, including ones for gold and phosphate. The island has been lobbying for independence since 1947, and has gotten the right to govern itself in 1978. Since the start of 1986, the island has a status as an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, putting it at the same level of autonomy as the mainland Netherlands. Its history as a Dutch colony can still be experienced to this day, be it through the name of places or the language that natives speak, that being either Dutch or Papiamento. Aruba (Q21203) on Wikidata Aruba on Wikipedia
    • 5 Bonaire. Also taken from the Spanish in 1636, Bonaire was mostly used by the Dutch for the mining of salt, which initially was done using slaves. Slavery was abolished in 1863 in Bonaire along with the rest of the West Indies. The Netherlands lost its power over the island twice to the British in the early nineteenth century, with the island becoming definitively Dutch soil in 1816, which led the Dutch to build Fort Oranje to warrant that it would not lose the island again. After the Second World War, the island got to grow its position as a tourist hotspot slowly. In 1954, the island became an autonomous part within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, being a part of the Dutch Antilles. When this country ceased to exist in 2010, the island instead became a 'special municipality' within the Netherlands. Bonaire (Q25396) on Wikidata Bonaire on Wikipedia
    • 6 Curaçao. Being 'discovered' by the Spanish in the summer of 1499, the island of Curaçao originally contained about 2000 natives, all of which were shipped off as slaves in 1515. Twelve years later, the island became settled by the Spanish, who ended up creating a colonial possession by trial and error. Even though the production of cattle-related products went fairly well, the Spanish still considered the island as useless, since crop-farming wasn't netting them much of anything. Following a raid by the Dutch West India Company in August of 1634, the Spanish surrendered the island to the Dutch. The WIC primarily took the island as it seemed a promising location to conduct naval privateering raids from. After conquest, the Dutch quickly fortified the island with fortifications in important locations, such as the Saint Anna Bay, where the primary water source of the island was located. Not long after, in 1635/1636, Fort Amsterdam was erected on Punda. These fortifications did cost a lot of money, while the island was little more useful than it was in Spanish times, making the WIC's directory board (De Heeren XIX) divided on the value of the island. Curaçao was kept, however, possibly because of the divided opinions about the island. Regardless, the island proved more valuable over time. With the fall of Dutch Brazil in 1654, Curaçao became more of a centre of trade to the Dutch west-bound activities. The WIC started its slave trading activities in 1665. Slaves would be acquired in West African Dutch holdings or foreign trade cities, and shipped to the 'new world' from there. In 1674, the WIC transformed Curaçao into a 'free harbour' (Vrijhaven), meaning it gained the ability to facilitate the slave trade, which it quickly became a key trading centre for. This worsened relations with mostly France and England. During 1713, the island was shortly occupied by the French privateer Jacques Cassard as a result. During the rest of the 18th century, Curaçao tried to consolidate its position as a trading hub, though south-bound trade to the Spanish colonies was very much limited by the Spanish coast guard, spawned into life to stop the illegal trade in tobacco and cacao. Adding to that, an increased influence of the English and French, the importance of Curaçao started dwindling. Farming efforts for export were halted later on and the land's produce became more locally-used. This made that the main income of the island was the slave trade. The WIC bankrupted in 1791, forcing the Dutch state to take over the colony. Four years later, slaves on the island revolted, though the revolt was promptly taken down. In 1800, the island was occupied by the British, who themselves were forced out by natives three years later. They retook the island in 1807, only to return the island to Dutch hands in 1816. As to lower the costs of running the colonies, Curaçao and the other Dutch Caribbean islands were put under direct control of Paramaribo in 1828, with the islands gaining a colony of themselves in 1845 being governed from Curaçao, as control from Paramaribo didn't prove as fruitful and efficient. The Dutch abolished the slave trade in 1863. From that point to the early 20th century, the island worked mostly in fishing, trade, and farming. When in 1914, large petroleum reserves were found in Venezuela, the island quickly switched to the refinery industry, which the island is still notable for, aside from tourism. The island got its political independence with the rest of the Dutch Antilles in 1954. Since 2010, the island has a similar status to Aruba within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curaçao (Q25279) on Wikidata Curaçao on Wikipedia

Aside from the Leeward Islands and Antilles, another part of the West Indies, though often seen as a separate colonial entity, is the modern-day country of 7 Suriname (Dutch Guyana).


  • During the 1606-1663 Dutch-Portuguese colonial war, the Dutch attempted the founding of the colony of New Holland in Brazil, with the occupation of:
  • 8 Salvador. The colonial capital and target of the first attack; it was captured and ransacked by a West India Company fleet under Jacob Willekens and Piet Hein on 10 May 1624. Johan van Dorth administered the colony before his assassination, freeing the slaves. The city was recaptured by a Luso-Spanish fleet under Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Mendoza on 1 May 1625.
  • 9 São Luís. Founded on an island as the capital of the tentative colony of France Équinoxiale in 1612, it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1615. In 1641, the city was invaded by the Dutch, who left in 1645.
  • 10 Natal. Albuquerque Maranhão began on 6 January 1598, the construction of the Fort of the Holy Kings or of the Magi-Kings (Forte dos Santos Reis or Forte dos Reis Magos), named after the Three Wise Men, honoured in the Christian feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on that day. Natal ('Nativity' or 'Christmas' in Portuguese) was founded on 25 December 1599, giving the village outside the fort the present city's name. The fort, city, and surrounding areas were occupied by Dutch forces from 1633 to 1654. They rechristened the fort 'Fort Ceulen'.

The siege of

  • 11 Olinda (7 km north of Recife). The capital of the hereditary captaincy of Pernambuco, it was besieged by the invaders from the invasion's start, finally pillaged and burned in 1631. Afterwards, it declined in importance, and Recife became the capital of Pernambuco in 1827.
Map of Mauritsstadt (Recife), 1637

And the founding of

  • 12 Recife (Mauritsstadt). Named after German count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, governor from 1637 to 1644, it was the capital of New Holland colony, founded at António Vaz island in 1630. After the West India Company's larger, better equipped army's defeat (albeit a narrow one) to a Portuguese and native force in the 1649 Guararapes battle on its outskirts, opinion in Amsterdam considered that "Dutch Brazil by now no longer has a future worth fighting for", which effectively sealed the colony's fate. The last invaders were expelled from Recife in 1654. Recife Antigo is preserved and worth visiting, and features a former synagogue, discovered as such in the 1990s.


  • 13 Fortaleza (Fort Schoonenborch). In 1637, the Dutch took the old Portuguese fort of São Sebastião. In battles with the Portuguese and natives in 1644, the fort was destroyed. Under captain Matthias Beck, the Dutch West Indies Company built a new fortress by the banks of river Pajeú. Fort Schoonenborch (graceful stronghold) officially opened on 19 August 1649. After the capitulation of Pernambuco in 1654, the Dutch handed over this fort to the Portuguese, who renamed it Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora de Assunção (Fortress of Our Lady of the Assumption), after which the city was named.



South Africa

Map of Dutch Empire
View of Kasteel de Goede Hoop (The Castle of Good Hope), in the middle of Cape Town.

The Nederlandse Kaapkolonie (Dutch Cape Colony), officially titled Tussenstation Kaap de Goede Hoop (Intermediate Station Cape of Good Hope), was a Dutch colony settled by the VOC around 1 Kaapstad (South Africa). The colony was started in 1652, and lost to the British in 1795, which occupied it for eight years, returning it to the Batavian Commonwealth , The Netherlands' official name between the French Revolution and annexation by the French. The British occupied the colony once more three years later since the Batavian Commonwealth became a proxy state to France, which the English were at war with, and in the Treaty of Paris (1814) the colony was transferred to British hands, which it wouldn't leave until independence in 1931.

The 'Colony at the Cape' started by accident in March of 1647, when the ship Nieuw Haarlem (New-Haarlem) wrecked at the cape. The shipwrecked crew built a small fort which they named Zand Fort van de Kaap de Goede Hoop (Sand Fort of the Cape of Good Hope). Being rescued almost a year later, part of the crew set out to convince the VOC to open a trade hub at the Cape. The VOC set out an expedition led by Jan van Riebeeck later, which reached its destination on 6 April 1652, creating the first permanent settlement at the Cape. The crew, which counted amongst them ninety calvinist colonists, founded a fort made from clay and wood, which between 1666 and 1679 would be replaced with 2 Kasteel de Goede Hoop Castle of Good Hope on Wikipedia, nowadays the oldest building in all of South Africa. The colony purchased land from the native Khoikhoi tribes as they needed expansion.

The first colonists sent to the Cape were mostly from the middle echelons of the Dutch society, which led to indifference among them as to how the colony would evolve. This changed when in 1685, a commissioner was sent to keep the colony in check. This attracted a new group of immigrants to the colonies: French Huguenots, which after losing their safety in France, fled to the Dutch Republic and its colonies. Due to how the Dutch managed the colony (education was only allowed for those that spoke Dutch), the French influence had been lost halfway through the 18th century. Their legacy, however, survives in the name of 3 Franschhoek (French Corner), named for the 176 Huguenots which settled there in 1688.

The colony grew over time, forcing the local Khoikhoi tribes, which were weakened by disease already, to either become part of the colony and work for the Dutch settlers, or to migrate north and meet hostile enemy tribes there. The Cape government started pushing out laws in 1787, which aimed to make the remaining nomadic Khoikhoi increasingly dependent on the Dutch.

Despite the hostile surroundings, with both enemy tribes and landscape that wasn't very arable to begin with, the colony kept expanding, which eventually led the VOC to limit the colony, which they wanted to solely be a supply post rather than a settlement that would end up costing them money. These laws let the VOC directory halt the open migration to the colony, gave it a monopoly on its exports, gave it complete rule over it, and furthermore let it dictate what the farmers were to grow on their land, giving the VOC a large percentage of the harvest. The colonists, which mostly left the Netherlands proper because of their libertarian outlooks on life, were understandably disgruntled with the laws. In attempts to escape the control of the VOC, they turned inland and settled land for themselves, which was not in control of the company. The VOC eventually couldn't do anything else but to recognise these territories. 4 Swellendam got a magistrate in 1745, 5 Graaff-Reinet followed second in 1786. The river Gamtoos was to be the official new border from that point, which was ignored, and the land east of the river was quickly settled. The colonists and farmers (Boeren, later Boers) did, despite agreeing with the VOC directory that the Grote Visrivier was to be the new eastern border, did not get the protection they needed from the local tribes. This led to them expelling the officials of the colony, and organising the first Boer Republics.

Before British occupation of the Cape Colony in 1795, following the occupation of the Dutch Republic by the French army, the colony consisted of four districts: Kaap, 6 Stellenbosch en 7 Drakenstein Drakenstein Local Municipality on Wikipedia, Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet, which together counted some over 60,000 inhabitants. The English followed directions by the Dutch stadtholder William V of Orange-Nassau to "resist the French with whatever means possible", which for England, meant occupying Dutch colonies before the French could claim them, which was an explicit request by the stadholder. The colony's governor initially refused to follow the peaceful occupation, but when the English threatened with the use of violence, he gave in. The British went on to annex the two Boer Republics not much later the same year.

The Peace of Amiens (1803), saw control over the colony get returned to the Batavian Commonwealth, yet six years later, the colony was once again taken over by the English. This time though, the transfer of power was permanent, as William I of the Netherlands signed away the colony in the 1814 Treaty of London. Dutch association and relations with the descendants of the settlers of the Kaap (The Boers) continued up into the 1960s, due to the Boer Republics they founded following the Great Trek, and the migration of many Dutch citizens into South Africa following World War II.

Central and West Africa

Map of formerly Dutch holdings in Central and West Africa.
View of Arguin (ca. 1665).
  • 8 Arguin Arguin on Wikipedia is best known as a Portuguese colony. The Dutch, however, controlled the island from 1633 to 1678, having conquered it from the Portuguese. The Dutch, in turn, lost the island to the French, from which it was transferred to Brandenburg, then back to the French, and then briefly back to the Dutch again from 1722 to 1724. Again, control was lost to the French after only two brief years. The island is nowadays part of Mauritania, a former French colony.
  • Senegambia or Bovenkust (Upper Coast) was the name for the collection of forts and factories in modern-day Gambia and Senegal. The most notable use of these holdings was to collect slaves for transport to the Caribbean. The area was a federation of loose settlements by the WIC, which controlled it from the island of Gorée, off the coast of Dakar. The island was lost to the French in 1677, and the rest of the holdings, including the previously mentioned Arguin, followed the year after.
    • 9 Gorée Gorée on Wikipedia, for which we don't know exactly how it got into Dutch hands in 1617, though a purchase off of locals is assumed and documented. The island was under Dutch control from 1617 to 1677, with a one year hiatus in 1664. The island consisted of two forts; one on the north side (Fort Nassau) and one on the south side (Fort Oranje). The French, which were in control of the island after 1677, rebuilt pretty much the entire island. Both forts have been destroyed by the French in their successful attempt of conquering the island, and the WIC did not return, since it was quickly losing its market-share already.
    • 10 Portudal Saly on Wikipedia, a Dutch possession between 1633 and 1678, after which it was lost to the Portuguese, was the main base in the region from which the WIC acquired slaves and ivory. In the 1980s, the settlement was developed into a seaside resort.
    • 11 Rufisque Rufisque on Wikipedia (1633-1678), at the time an important harbour and centre of trade.
    • 12 Joal (1633-1678), a similarly noticeable port and centre of trade.
  • Loango-Angolakust (Loango-Angola Coast, better known as Dutch Loango-Angola) was a short-lived Dutch colony in modern-day Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, and Angola. The colony was originally Portuguese, but was captured and controlled by the WIC for seven years between 1641 and 1648. The controlled cities were:
    • 13 Luanda, being the largest city in the 17th century slave trade, Luanda was of much strategic interest to the WIC, which first attempted to take the city and its fort in 1624. This failed, and a second attempt was made some twenty-five years later in 1641. The fort was rebranded to Fort Aardenburgh. The WIC continued the slave trade in the seven years it controlled the city, but during that time, it 'only' saw 14,000 slaves transported. The city was not seen as profitable to the Dutch, and thus when Portugal retook the city in 1648, it was decided that Dutch interests in the slave trade would go no further south than Congo.
    • 14 Benguela was also captured by the same effort as Luanda in 1641. It had a similar story to Luanda altogether. Profits were low, and when the Portuguese came knocking again seven years later, the Dutch didn't consider it to be in their interests to retake the city.
    • 15 Cabinda is more of the same, though it is special in that the WIC kept an agent situated there for the purpose of buying slaves until 1689.
    • 16 Cambambe Fortress of Kambambe on Wikipedia or Ensadeira Eiland (Ensadeira Island), notable for not being a coastal town or fort, was settled by the Dutch in 1643 next to a Portuguese factory. The factory was subsequently expanded along the river Cuanza. The settlement turned into a fort, named after the person in charge: Fort Mols. After the Portuguese retook most of the Dutch colony in 1648, the fort was abandoned as well.
    • 17 Coriso Corisco on Wikipedia was captured in 1642, and control was lost to the Portuguese again in 1648. A second attempt at capturing the city to revive the Dutch slave trade was done in the 1680s, but it was not successful.
    • 18 Loango Loango, Republic of Congo on Wikipedia was a relatively profitable settlement along the river Congo. Until 1670, there was mostly trade in ivory and copper, after which the slave trade started taking over. Since the trade wasn't as amazing as expected, the settlement was abandoned in 1684. A second attempt to start the trade from here was done in 1721, but the settlement was conquered by locals five years later.
    • 19 Malembo Malembo on Wikipedia was similarly controlled by the WIC during 1641 and 1648. It was considered to be the last profitable settlement in the colony. Mostly ivory, copper, and slaves were traded. When the city became Portuguese, the WIC continued trading with the city.
  • Slavenkust (Dutch Slave Coast) or Nederlands Guinea (Dutch Guinea) most consisted of Dutch factories enabling the Dutch slave trade. Dutch involvement here started around 1640 and ended around 1760. The timeline and exact involvement of the colony aren't as well documented as some of the others. Many factories in the region simply were slowly abandoned over time, with others simply not being listed any longer between documentations on the colony. Quite a few of the dates on the colony's timeline are therefore vague.
Map of formerly Dutch holdings in Dutch Gold Coast.
Fort Coenraadsburg overlooking the city of Elmina.
  • Nederlandse Goudkust (Dutch Gold Coast) is the most successful of the Dutch African colonies. Regardless of its name, it was for the most part financially dependent on the slave trade, especially near the end of Dutch rule. Most of these slaves were shipped to Curaçao, where they would be sold on markets to work in, amongst others, Dutch Guyana (Suriname). The colony came to an end with the Gold Coast Treaty (1871), in which the Netherlands sold the colony to the English, in return for 47,000 Dutch Guilders, as well as the English vow to not intervene in Dutch attempts to conquer Atjeh. The treaty also dropped the double taxation on British ships in the Dutch Indies, in return for which the British revoked their claim on Sumatra. The main settlements and forts in the colony were:
    • 27 Fort Amsterdam Fort Amsterdam, Ghana on Wikipedia (1655-1811), rebranded to Fort Cormantine (after Cormantijn or Cormantine, the nearest settlement, known today as Kortmantse) during British rule, who built the fort in 1631. Some thirty years later, in 1665, the fort was captured by Dutch naval hero Michiel de Ruyter as compensation for Dutch forts taken earlier that year. The fort was granted to the WIC, who renamed it. Initially, gold was the main sales product, which was traded against alcohol, tobacco, and guns. Later on, the slave trade would take over. The fort would briefly be under British occupation again from 1782 to 1785. It became Dutch again, but was overrun by native forces in 1811, forcing the Dutch to abandon the fort. The fort's ruins were largely restored in the early 1970s, funded in part by the Dutch government.
    • 28 Fort William III Fort Apollonia on Wikipedia or Fort Apollonia, founded as a trading post by the Swedish for their short-lived Gold Coast Colony (1655-1657), the settlement quickly fell into English hands, which between 1768 and 1770, extended it to a fort in the nearby limestone rocks through the means of slave labour. Due to the abolition of slavery, the British saw profits from the fort dwindle, and thus left the fort in 1819. The fort became Dutch in 1868, who renamed it after their king, William III. Four years later, the Dutch too left the fort following the Gold Coast Treaty of the year prior. The fort has been bombed by the British the year after, but restored in the late 1960s. The fort has reopened in 2010.
    • 29 Fort Batenstein Fort Batenstein on Wikipedia
    • 30 Carolusburg Cape Coast Castle on Wikipedia (or Cape Coast Castle)
    • 31 Christiansborg Osu Castle on Wikipedia
    • 32 Coenraadsburg Fort Coenraadsburg on Wikipedia
    • 33 Crevecœur Ussher Fort on Wikipedia
    • 34 Fort Dorothea
    • 35 Fort Goede Hoop Fort Goede Hoop, Ghana on Wikipedia (Fort Good Hope)
    • 36 Fort Hollandia Brandenburger Gold Coast on Wikipedia (or Groß-Friedrichsburg / Groot Frederiksburg)
    • 37 Fort Leydsaemheyt Fort Patience on Wikipedia (or Fort Leidzaamheid, Fort Patience)
    • 38 Fort Metalen Kruis Fort Metal Cross on Wikipedia (Fort Metal Cross)
    • 39 Fort Nassau Fort Nassau, Ghana on Wikipedia
    • 40 Fort Oranje Fort Orange, Ghana on Wikipedia (Fort Orange)
    • 41 Santo Antonio de Axim Fort Saint Anthony on Wikipedia (or shortened as Axim)
    • 42 Fort Sint George Elmina Castle on Wikipedia (or São Jorge de Mina or Fort Elmina)
    • 43 San Sebastian Fort São Sebastião de Xama on Wikipedia (or Shama / Chama)
    • 44 Fort Singelenburg Fort Prinzenstein on Wikipedia (Fort Moat Fortress, also known as Fort Keta or Fort Prinzenstein)
    • 45 Vredenburg Fort Vredenburgh on Wikipedia (Fort Peace Fortress)

Asia and Oceania

Map of formerly Dutch colonies and discoveries in South-east Asia


Jakarta's history museum, built in 1710 as the city hall of Batavia
  • 1 Ambon (Maluku). The Spice Islands' provincial capital, originally named Nossa Senhora de Anunciada, founded by Portuguese-Moluccan Governor Sancho de Vasconcelos. The Portuguese were driven out by the Dutch in 1609. It has a number of interesting historical and cultural sites, among them the remnants of forts built by the Dutch East Indies Company during the heyday of the spice trade. The ruins of the Portuguese fort at Hila are almost entirely hidden beneath the contorted roots of a giant banyan tree. Ambon (Q18970) on Wikidata Ambon, Maluku on Wikipedia
  • 2 Banda Islands (Maluku). The original habitat of the Myristica fragrans tree, from which seeds mace and nutmeg are extracted. First colonised by the Portuguese, were wrested by the Dutch who later fought the Spice Wars with the British. In the Treaty of Breda in 1667, the British agreed to withdraw and gave up Pulau Run to the Dutch, partly in exchange for another small island on the other side of the world: New Amsterdam, now better known as Manhattan. Their capital Banda Neira features the 1661 Fort Belgica, fully restored, close to the ruins of the older and unrestored Fort Nassau. Dutch Malacca (Q949314) on Wikidata Banda Islands on Wikipedia
  • 3 Bengkulu (Sumatra). First conquered by the Dutch in 1682. The British came later, naming the area Bencoolen, and secured a safe anchorage spot for their ships. Their first fort (Fort York) didn’t last very long, leading them to built Fort Marlborough in 1714, which still robustly stands today. In the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty, British Bencoolen was ceded in exchange for Dutch Malacca. Bengkulu (Q8042) on Wikidata Bengkulu on Wikipedia
  • 4 Jakarta (Western Java). Under the name Batavia, it was the capital of the Dutch East Indies, known as the 'Queen of the East'. However, the Dutch made the mistake of attempting to replicate the home country by digging canals throughout the malarial swamps in the area, resulting in shockingly high death rates and earning the town the epithet 'White Man's Graveyard'. In the early 1800s, most canals were filled in and the town was shifted 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) inland. Batavia (Q1199713) on Wikidata Batavia, Dutch East Indies on Wikipedia
  • 5 Makassar (Sulawesi). Seized by the VOC in 1667, this spot became a collecting point for the produce of eastern Indonesia: copra, rattan, pearls, trepang, sandalwood, and the famous oil made from bado nuts used in Europe as men's hairdressing – hence the anti-macassars (embroidered cloths protecting the head-rests of upholstered chairs). Arabs, Malays, Thai, and Chinese came here to trade. Its central sight nowadays is Fort Rotterdam, an old fortress from Dutch colonial days, Entrance is free. Makassar (Q14634) on Wikidata Makassar on Wikipedia


  • 6 Malacca (Malaysia). For 130 years (1511–1641), was a Portuguese colony. The 3rd VOC Fleet conducted a siege in 1606. It was finally assaulted and conquered by the Dutch with military support from the Sultan of Johor in January 1641, and governed as a VOC colony until 1825, when it was handed to the British in exchange for the British colony of Bencoolen on Sumatra. Today, several Dutch colonial buildings survive in the main town square, including the Stadhuys, clock tower and the Christ Church. Dutch Malacca (Q949314) on Wikidata Dutch Malacca on Wikipedia


Map of Dutch Empire

Dutch holdings in and around India consist of three different colonies. These were the Coromandel Coast (Kust van Coromandel) in the modern-day Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Dutch Bengal, located roughly in modern-day Bangladesh, and Dutch Ceylon in modern-day Sri Lanka.

  • Coromandel Coast is named for the town of Karimanal, some 50 km (31 mi) from Chennai. In 1606, a Dutch ship stopped on the shores near the village and stuck a trade agreement with locals, which is deemed to be the start of the colony. Permission to actually settle the colony came two year later from Queen Eraivi, wife of King Venkata II of Vijayanagara. Cloth was the most exported good from the colony, which was centred around Pulicat. The colony slipped completely from Dutch rule in 1825.
    • 7 Pulicat (Fort Geldria) Fort Geldria on Wikipedia. Having been granted permissions to settle a colony, Fort Geldria was erected in 1613. It was the main city of the colony until 1690, when it moved to Nagapattinam, being reinstated as the capital once Nagapattinam fell into British hands in 1781.
    • 8 Nagapattinam (Fort Vijf Sinnen) Nagapattinam on Wikipedia was captured from the Portuguese in 1658. It was initially made a part of Dutch Ceylon. After the Portuguese fort was reduced to rubble following a flood in 1660, Vijf Sinnen was built anew atop the rubble. This fort then became the new capital of Dutch Coromandel until it fell to the British in 1781.
    • 9 Fort Sadras Sadras on Wikipedia was established in 1612 and upgraded to a full factory in 1654. In 1749 a fort was completed at the site. Like Vijf Sinnen, it was taken by the British in 1781, but unlike Vijf Sinnen, Sadras was returned under the 1784 Treaty of Paris. The factory supplied high-quality cotton and bricks to Batavia and Ceylon.
    • 10 Fort Bheemunipatnam Bheemunipatnam on Wikipedia, settled in 1652, was fortified in 1758. It primarily traded rice, which was shipped to Ceylon.
    • 11 Fort Jaggernaikpoeram became an important centre for the textile trade from 1734 onwards, when it took over this role from Draksharama, which was located further inland.
    • 12 Parangippettai Parangipettai on Wikipedia, being settled in 1608 and abandoned in 1825, is one of the longest-used Dutch factories.
    • 13 Palakol was a trading post for textile, lamp oil, wood, roofing tiles and bricks, which was used from 1613 to 1825, being temporarily abandoned in 1730.
    • 14 Masulipatnam was the first Dutch factory in the colony being erected in 1605, eventually being abandoned in 1756.
    • 15 Nizampatnam Nizampatnam on Wikipedia is the second factory settled by the Dutch, being settled in 1606, and abandoned half a century later.
    • 16 Golkonda Golconda on Wikipedia was an important staple market to the VOC. The Dutch presence here was expanded with a full factory in 1664. Local unrest saw the trade diminish, which led to the abandonment of the factory in 1733.
    • 17 Puducherry is the outcast on the list, being under Dutch rule for six years. Duning the Nine Years' War, the VOC set out to expand its influence in India, conquering Puducherry from the French in 1693, but returning it to French hands again in 1699.
  • Bengal was another directory of the VOC in India from 1610 to 1800, after which the directory was transformed into a colony under the Dutch crown. Twenty-five years later, the colony would be handed over to the British, following the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty. From Bengal, about 50% of all textiles and 80% of all silks traded by the VOC were imported.
    • 18 Pipeli was visited by the VOC from as early as 1627. It ran its local business from here until 1635, after which the unhealthy climate, recurring river floods, and the river's tendency to block up, forced it to relocate. The harbour city saw mostly slaves and saltpeter be traded through it. After 1635, the town was still being traded with as like any other harbour, though there was never a permanent settlement.
    • 19 Baleshwar was located about five miles south of Pipeli, being sailed to by the English from 1633 onward, the French from 1674 onward, and the Danes from 1676. In 1675, the Dutch too opened a factory, which mostly functioned to connect the Bengal and Coromandel. The fort here was built by the British East India Company, though named for the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange, who served beside his wife Mary II as the King of England, Scotland and Ireland following the Glorious Revolution.
    • 20 Patna was a considerably small trading post, located some ways land-inward. It was usually staffed with only eight men, trading in saltpeter, cotton and amphonics (raw opiates).
    • 21 Chhapra was established as a saltpeter factory during the 18th century, which was often refined into gunpowder.
    • 22 Cossimbazar (Kasim Bazar) Cossimbazar on Wikipedia was one of the most important Dutch trading posts in the Bengal. Its main export product was silk, which was very desirable in Japan, and sold there for a considerable mark-up. The VOC opened a weaving mill here, which at its height employed around 600 men and women. Cossimbazar also had its own minting office, printing silver rupees, which were used through the Mughal Empire.
    • 23 Dhaka, centre of the silk trade, saw the arrival of both the Dutch and the British in 1665.
    • 24 Malda was a short-lived trading post. Due to the bad condition of the VOC-housing, as well as the tensions between the traders and the locals, the trading post was quickly closed again.
    • 25 Murshidabad, like Cossimbazar, was used between 1710 and 1759 as a minting office, following up 26 Rajmahal Rajmahal on Wikipedia as a settlement for silver minting. Its hospital was located in nearby 27 Mirzapore.
    • 28 Sherpur saw a temporary VOC office for the silk trade. Its silk, however, was of considerably lesser quality than that of Cassimbar, which was considerably more profitable.
    • The Dutch settlement in 29 Rajshahi Dutch settlement in Rajshahi on Wikipedia was the first European settlement in the area, having existed during the 18th century. The Dutch settlement, built in 1781, does not leave many traces today, though some, such as 30 Boro Kuthi Boro Kuthi on Wikipedia still stand today and are preserved as cultural heritage sites.
The southern wall of Fort Galle seen from bastion Vlaggeklip towards bastion Utrecht, overlooking the British lighthouse and the Great Mosque.
  • Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) was settled by the Zeeland chamber of the VOC in 1602, in order to start trade in cinnamon. The Dutch were welcomed on the island by the king of Kandy, which wanted to get rid of Portuguese influence on the island, and the Dutch sent an envoy to meet the king. Sebald de Weert, who led the envoy, was however murdered in the castle along with several of his accompanying men as they would have insulted the king and some of his servants. This stopped Dutch influence until the king once again reached out to the Dutch to rid himself of the Portuguese in the 1630s. In 1638, a treaty was signed between Kandy and the Dutch, which promised Dutch help in return for trade in cinnamon. Also included in this trade was the promise to split the forts they conquered. The Kandy version said that its king could demand the Dutch to leave their forts when he so desired, whereas the Dutch version did not include this rule, and the Dutch thus took charge of the forts they got out of the treaty. These forts subsequently were used to acquire cheap cinnamon from the king, since he was still indebted to the Dutch.
In March 1640, the Dutch started conquering the west side of the island. Because the Dutch wouldn't return the forts because of their version of the treaty demanding no such thing from them, the king of Kandy had the leader of the VOC expedition be murdered. This however, did not change his position; the last Portuguese holdings on the island fell in 1658. After the removal of the Portuguese, the relation between Kandy and the Dutch Republic got tenser. The Dutch had to kneel before the king once per year and offer him gifts as to show their allegiance, which got them permission to harvest cinnamon from the island. In 1760, a Kandy revolt broke out against the Dutch, which managed to burn down the city of Kandy, which forced the signing of the 1766 peace, which gave the entire coastline of the island to the Dutch.
In the 1780s, the English got interested in the island as well. The king of Kandy turned to them to rid himself of the Dutch in the same way he turned to the Dutch to rid himself of the Portuguese before. The Dutch held out until 1796, when they had to revoke their efforts for the ongoing revolution at home. The Peace of Amiens of 1802 saw the last Dutch holdings transferred to English hands, thus ending the Dutch influence on the island after two centuries.
  • 31 Fort Galle Galle Fort on Wikipedia, taken from the Portuguese in 1640, is one of the foremost holdings of the Dutch on the island. The fort as well as the old city are well-preserved UNESCO-listed sights.
  • 32 Fort Batticaloa Batticaloa fort on Wikipedia
  • 33 Fort Jaffna Jaffna Fort on Wikipedia
  • 34 Unawatuna Governor's House
  • 35 Negombo is a city on Sri Lanka's west coast, featuring the remains of a former Dutch fort, Dutch waterways, and a former Dutch cemetery.
  • 36 Colombo Wolvendaal Church on Wikipedia, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, features a Dutch governor's house, a museum about VOC involvement, as well as the Wolvendaalsche Kerk, an impressive church built by the VOC, featuring some ornate decorations remembering of Dutch involvement in the city.
  • Other forts and buildings left behind by the Dutch can be found the length and width of the island, mostly centring around the coastal holdings. Furthermore, you might run into a Burgher during your journey to Sri Lanka; they are a minority on the island, being descendants from European settlers and indigenous populations. They have mostly emigrated to Australia after Sri Lankan independence in 1947, though the island counted about 40,000 burghers as of 1982.
The city of Cochin (Kochi) in 1665, two years after falling into Dutch hands.
  • Malabar was a commandment of the VOC in India, situated on the Malabar Coast. The region fell into the Dutch sphere of influence following the capture of Portuguese Quilon, and ended with British occupation in 1795. The main reason for taking the Portuguese colony were mostly fuelled by a wish to secure Dutch Ceylon from Portuguese interference, the lucrative pepper trade in the region definitely played a role as well. After invasions of Goa failed in 1604 and 1639, the Dutch instead went for secondary posts along the Malabar Coast. Over time, these included:
    • 37 Fort Cochin (1663 - 1795) was the main outpost of the Dutch along the Malabar Coast, it being the capital of the commandment. The Dutch mostly reduced the prevalence of Portuguese elements over their stay in the region, reducing the size of the Portuguese town, the fort and destroying most Portuguese-built public buildings. The harbour, piers, and many other naval trade-related elements in the city were strongly developed, however. Among this is Bolgatty Palace Bolgatty Palace on Wikipedia, one of the oldest Dutch palaces outside of the Netherlands themselves, being built in 1744.
    • 38 Fort Cranganore Fortaleza da São Tomé on Wikipedia (1662 - 1770) was a small city with a small fort, yet of notable military importance, being of tactical importance to Cochin. Initially, the fort was given to the Zamorin of Calicut in return for his alliance with the Dutch, though starting in 1666, the Dutch started renovating the fort for their own purposes.
    • 39 Fort Pallipuram Pallipuram Fort on Wikipedia (1661 - 1789) was of similar strategic importance to Cochin, but was sold to the Kingdom of Travancore in 1789.
    • 40 Purakkad Purakkad on Wikipedia (1662 - ?), a factory run under direct control from Cochin.
    • 41 Fort Quilon St Thomas Fort on Wikipedia (1661 - 1795) was the first Portuguese fort to be captured by the Dutch in late 1663. It served as the commandment's capital until the capture of Cochin less than two years later.
    • 42 Kayamkulam (1661 - ?), a factory under direct control from Quilon.
    • 43 Fort Cannanore St. Angelo Fort on Wikipedia (1663 - 1790), captured in early 1663, was a proper harbour city with a strong stone fort, giving it strategic leverage.
    • 44 Vengurla (1637 - 1693), preceding Dutch rule in any of the other places on this list, Vengurla fell under direct control from Batavia (Jakarta) and precedes the establishment of the Malabar commandment by several decades. The factory was founded in order to facilitate spying on the Portuguese in Goa. From 1673, it was a part of Dutch Surate, and from 1676 onward became a part of Dutch Malabar.
    • 45 Barselor (1667 - 1682) was established through a treaty with a local ruler. The non-reinforced factory traded in rice and pepper, and was closed and abandoned in 1682 following problems with local merchants.
  • Suratte, centred and named for the modern-day city of Surat, this directorate of the East India Company consisted of mostly factories. The area was taken by the Dutch as the sultan of Aceh refused them to buy any more cheap cotton, forcing the Dutch to look elsewhere. The colony diminished in importance around 1759, favouring the British-held city of Bombay instead. With the 1795 Kew Letters, which transferred Dutch ownership of many colonies to the British, the colony came more or less to a permanent end, though the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 granted the remains of the colony to the Dutch, with the 1824 treaty of the same name permanently dividing East Asia into Dutch and British spheres of influence, which was the final nail in the coffin for the colony, being permanently transferred to the British on 21 December 1825.
  • 46 Suratte (1616-1825), the first trade post and most notable Dutch settlement in the colony, being founded in 1616 by cloth merchant Pieter van den Broecke. The factory's role diminished a lot after the British took the nearby city of Suratte. The post was transferred to the British in the Kew Letters, after which it was briefly controlled by the Dutch from 1818 to 1825.
  • 47 Ahmedabad (1617-1744) was a notable Dutch port, which eventually was abandoned in 1744 due to the diminishing of the East India Company.
  • 48 Agra (1621-1720) is a notable Dutch settlement. The town was a good month and a half from the city of Suratte, and was therefore rarely visited by inspectors of the VOC. The factory therefore saw a lot of private trading, which was forbidden according to VOC codes of conduct. The rampant corruption in the city made traders willing to isolate them this much from the outside world filthy rich.
  • 49 Cambay (1617-1643) was a relatively short-lived port. Ships were unable to dock at low tide, meaning that when a problem with local merchants occurred in 1643, the factory was closed.


Mid-1830s view of the Nagasaki harbour, with Dejima in the centre-left.

Japan is fairly well-known to have been closed to the outside world for a large part of its history. The main exception to the rule were the Dutch, specifically the VOC, which had gained the ability to found two factories in 50 Hirado Hirado, Nagasaki on Wikipedia (1609 - 1641) and 51 Dejima Dejima on Wikipedia (1641 - 1860), both lying in the modern-day prefecture of Nagasaki. The Dutch, being the sole western influence in the whole of Japan, came in contact with Japan during the Edo shogunate. The Dutch brought, amongst other things, many books to Japan, which stimulated an interest in Western learning, called rangaku or 'Dutch learning'. Especially around the time of Japan opening up to the rest of the world under force of the United States in 1853, the Dutch influence weakened the reigning Edo shogunate, which helped contribute to its fall.

The two trading posts, both located in Nagasaki, followed each other, with the Dutch transferring from Hirado to Dejima in 1641. The latter was a specially constructed artificial island. On Hirado specifically, you can find the 2011 reconstruction of a warehouse belonging to the former 52 Dutch Trading Post and nearby Dutch Wall. The warehouse itself was built in 1637 or 1639, and almost immediately torn down in 1639, as the building contained stonework depicting the Christian year date of construction, which at the time was disapproved of by the Tokugawa shogunate.

Dejima is where a lot of Dutch influences came into Japanese culture. Amongst other things, the Dutch introduced the Japanese to beer, coffee, and chocolate, but also cabbage, tomatoes, the piano, clovers, photography, billiards, and photography. The island has since been given a designated status as national historic site in 1922, and restoration was started in 1953, which ended up not going very far. In 1996, the island's shape was more or less restored, and some 25 buildings were restored in their 19th-century state. This was followed by another five buildings in 2000, and six more in 2017. The long-term plans for Dejima are for it to be fully surrounded by water again, thus being restored as an island, but as of 2020, that plan is very much still in progress.

The Kankō-maru in the Yokohama harbour.

Good relations between the Dutch and the Japanese continued until the Dutch left Nagasaki at the end 1859. This shows in the Watermannen (Water men), who were Dutch hydraulic and civic engineers sent to Japan in the 1870s. These men were a part of a larger influx of western knowledge from larger countries like the US, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, though the Dutch were specifically called in for water management and civic engineering. Some twenty years earlier, the Dutch also provided Japan with its first steam-powered warship, which was built in the Netherlands as Soembing, though it was renamed to Kankō-maru when taken into Japanese service. Additionally, quite a few words of scientific or western nature have been adapted from the respective Dutch words, and are retained in speech to this day.



The southern part of Taiwan was colonised by the Dutch from 1624-1662. The Dutch would eventually be defeated by Ming Dynasty loyalist Zheng Chenggong, better known in the West as Koxinga, who set up the Kingdom of Tungning, from which he hoped to conquer the mainland and re-establish the Ming Dynasty. His son would subsequently be defeated by the Manchu-Chinese Qing Dynasty, resulting in Taiwan being incorporated into the Qing empire.

  • 53 Tainan was the site of the first Dutch settlement in Taiwan, and the de facto capital of Dutch Formosa. It retained its status as the capital of Taiwan for much the Qing Dynasty, before the capital got shifted to Taipei in the late 19th century. Today, the ruins of several Dutch forts remain in Tainan and can be visited. Among them are the former Fort Zeelandia, today known as Anping Fort, and the former Fort Providentia, today known as Chih-kan Tower.



Although there were no Dutch colonial possessions in the Chinese mainland, the Dutch were major players in the tea trade between China and Europe, along with the Portuguese and the Russians, and were the ones who introduced tea to much of Western Europe.

  • 54 Xiamen was the main port which Dutch traders obtained their tea from. The word for 'tea' in most Western European languages, including English, was derived from the Dutch word thee, which in term was derived from the word for tea in the local Minnan dialect of Xiamen. The island of Gulangyu is today a tourist attraction with its well-preserved colonial buildings, some of which exhibit influences from traditional Dutch architecture.


Map of Dutch Empire
The route of Abel Tasman's 1642 and 1644 voyages in the service of the VOC

Many ships using the Roaring Forties to get to Indonesia got wrecked off the coast of New Holland, modern-day Western Australia. On November 1642, 1 Tasmania was 'discovered' and claimed by VOC commander Abel Tasman, exploring from Mauritius under orders of Anthony van Diemen, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. Tasman named it 'Van Diemen's Land', after his patron. A cape and a group of islands in northern New Zealand are still called by names given by Tasman while underway. He reportedly reached Fiji and Tonga, later returning to Batavia. His second voyage took place in 1644; he mapped a part of Australia's northern coast, but failed to find Torres Strait and a possible trade route, and the expedition was deemed a failure.

  • 2 Dirk Hartog Island Dirk Hartog Island on Wikipedia, the first part of Australia that the Dutch ever set foot on, being discovered on 25 October 1616 by Dirck Hartogh, for whom the island is named. The land surrounding the bay was initially named 'Land van d'Eendracht' (Land of the Concord), d'Eendracht being the name of his ship. The island being found difficult to inhabit made the Dutch not want to settle the island or bay. The tin dish on which Hartogh scratched his legacy of finding the island can be seen in the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam).
  • 3 Rottnest Island, now a famous nature reserve 18 km (11 mi) from Perth, Rottnest Island was named by Dutch sailors in 1658, believing the local marsupial quokka were large rats (hence Rats' Nest Island).
  • 4 Houtman Abrolhos. The name of this group of islands is a weird mix between Portuguese and Dutch created by Frederik de Houtman, the first European to discover and name them (1619). Houtman was semi-fluent in many languages, and the accepted theory is that, for the lack of a better Dutch word, he chose the Portuguese nautical slang Abrolhos ('open your eyes', meaning 'look out for reefs and rocks around here') to clearly express a mariner's point.
The islands saw two major shipwrecks over time: first in 1629, when the ship Batavia ran aground on its maiden voyage. A group of men stayed behind on the island while some went to Batavia using the open rescue boat to get help. A group of the men left behind went on to massacre many of the others, following a mutiny. When rescue forces came back to pick up the rest of the group, many were found dead, including the culprit. Some of the other culprits still alive were left behind on the mainland, never to be seen again, making them the first European inhabitants of Australia in recorded history. It is speculated that they or other Europeans with similar fates are the explanation behind the strangely European-looking Aboriginal people that were discovered during Australia's colonial times.
Similarly, yet less dramatic, the ship Zeewijk wrecked on the coast of the island group in 1727. Chaos ensued during the ten months that most of the crew was left behind, trying to survive. The wrecked ship was used to create a rescue craft dubbed the Sloepie (Little Dinghy), which carried 88 towards Batavia. Of them, six died along the way, leaving only 82 of the initial 208 on board to survive the wreck.
  • 5 Cape Leeuwin Cape Leeuwin on Wikipedia, the most south-western mainland point of the Australian continent, named by English navigator Matthew Flinders after the first known ship to have visited the area, the Leeuwin (Lioness). The logs of the Leeuwin though, are lost to history. The 1627 map that does remain of its voyage is believed to have mapped the area around the somewhat more northern Hamelin Bay; the cape itself is not identifiable on this map.
  • 6 Arnhem Land, like Cape Leeuwin, it was also named by Matthew Flinders after the ship known or speculated to have first visited the area, De Arnhem (after the eponymous city in the eastern Netherlands). The region has been made into a reservation for the Yolgnu, one of Australia's biggest native tribes.

See also


Other colonial empires

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