Introduction to the database
het goederenvervoer van de VOC in the achttiende eeuw (BGB)
the circulation of commodities of the VOC in the eighteenth century (BGB)
Judith Schooneveld-Oosterling, Gerrit Knaap
The following introduction is intended as a guide to future users of the database. It contains several introductory remarks that might be of interest to new users, as well as an explanation of the main features. Furthermore, it covers rather more technical points that might be relevant to more advanced users or which might come up during particular queries. It would be advisable to read through this entire introduction, so as to gain a full understanding of the working of the database. However, for quick navigation a table of contents is provided:
From source to database
Searching the database
Further remarks on particular fields or groups of fields
Voyages and dates
Regions and places of call
The database consists of cargo items shipped by the VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), the Dutch East India Company. It concerns cargoes, first between the Dutch Republic and the Octrooigebied or ‘the Chartered area’, and second, the shipments between the settlements of the VOC, consisting of territorial possessions and trading factories in the Octrooigebied. The Octrooigebied, for which the VOC was the only licensed Dutch trading organization since 1602, covered the area between the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan. The cargoes in the database originate from the Bookkeeper-General’s office in Batavia during a period of 55 years in the 18th century.
The Bookkeeper-General in Batavia was responsible for compiling the general journal (generaal journaal) and the general ledger (generaal grootboek) on the basis of the trade books received from the other Asian offices (see images). He had been ordered to annually send copies of these documents to the Amsterdam and Zeeland Chambers of the Company, whilst the originals were kept in Batavia. The Bookkeeper-General’s office also administered the ships’ cargoes sent from the Netherlands and the ‘return’ goods sent to the Netherlands. In addition, the Bookkeeper-General had to compare the original orders of the High Government in Batavia with the goods sent by the Heren XVII (Gentlemen Seventeen). Discrepancies between these two were later investigated in the Netherlands. (Click here for an overview of all Bookkeepers-General in the 17th and 18th century)
After the nationalisation of the Company, at the turn of the year 1800, most copies of the records in the Republic tended to be destroyed or sold. In the nineteenth century, the surviving originals, still kept in Batavia, were sent to the Netherlands. These originals, supplemented by some remaining copies are currently preserved at the National Archives of the Netherlands as a separate collection (www.gahetna.nl, access number 1.04.18.02) next to the Archives of the VOC, which originated from the Heren XVII and the Chambers in the Netherlands (Access number 1.04.02).
Several individual historians have utilised part of the information of the BGB collection (most notably Els M. Jacobs in her dissertation: Merchant in Asia; The Trade of the Dutch East India Company during the Eighteenth Century (Leiden 2006) (English edition), but none have attempted to make a database with information from the BGB collection on this scale. We wish to thank the Stichting VOC Fonds, whose generous financial support allowed the project to commence at the Institute of Netherlands History (now Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands) in 2008. When, in 2011, the project turned out to be larger undertaking than anticipated, the Stichting VOC Fonds made an additional grant for which we are very grateful. Moreover, we extend our thanks to all other funds that were also ready to contribute, namely the Vaderlands Fonds ter Aanmoediging van ’s Lands Zeedienst, the Directie Oostersche Handel en Reederijen, the Stichting Admiraal van Kinsbergenfonds, the Dr Hendrik Muller’s Vaderlandsch Fonds, and the M.A.O.C. Gravin van Bylandt Stichting.
The project was carried out between 2008 and 2013 by a team of changing composition. Those involved were:
Judith Schooneveld-Oosterling (project leader), Gerrit Knaap (planning), Nicolien Karskens, Dorine Smit-Maarschalkerweerd, Sander Tetteroo, Joris van den Tol, Herman Nijhuis, Koen van Wijk, Anna Kunst, Jolanda Buijs, Maarten Jongma and Remco Boer (assistants).
Femme Gaastra, Els Jacobs and Hugo s’Jacob were part of the Advisory Board, chaired by Gerrit Knaap. The database itself including the web research tool was developed by Jelle Gerbrandy.
In the resulting database one can follow products transported between the Republic and Batavia, and between the establishments in the VOC’s chartered area. As such, the database opens up new possibilities of research for those interested in the Dutch East India Company, in global trade or area studies.
From source to database
For the database the following general journals were used:
- 10751-10801 Generaal journaal gehouden door de boekhouder-generaal te Batavia 1700-1790 (51 volumes)
- 10802-10809 Generaal journaal gehouden door de boekhouder-generaal te Batavia bestemd voor de kamer Zeeland 1771-1801 (8 volumes)
As mentioned above, this spans a total of 55 years, because four years are overlapping (1771-1772, 1774-1775, 1776-1777 and 1777-1778).
The general journals contain a large amount of information additional to that used for the database, such as bills of exchange, legacies, overviews of stocks on the 31st of August, as well as overviews of profits, income and expenditure for every Asian office. Within the scope of the present project, it would not have been feasible to enter all this data. As mentioned above, the data entered only consists of the lists of commodities shipped from the Chambers of the Company in the Netherlands to the Asian offices and vice versa, and of the lists of commodities transported between the different branches in Asia.
The database covers a wealth of information: it includes more than 18,000 voyages with about 250,000 references to products. The product references concern a total of more than 3,000 different items. The database also includes information about quantity, unit, and additional information about sorts, sizes, whereabouts and qualities of the products, as well as the value expressed in Dutch guilders (zwaar geld, ‘heavy money’) or Indian guilders (licht geld, ‘light money’) (see below under Values). The total value of these products in the entire database exceeds f 328,000,000 in Dutch guilders and f 1,294,000,000, more than one billion, in Indian guilders. The name of the ship with which the cargo was sent, the date of departure or arrival, and the place and region of departure and arrival complete the information.
In order to enable the user to easily trace back the original source the number of the general journal as well as the folio number to every voyage was entered. While using the data one should always keep in mind that the clerk of the VOC may have made an error. In those cases where it was quite obvious that he did so (for instance if there was an error in the year of arrival), this was immediately corrected by the team without further comment.
All field names and part of the remarks in the database are in English. The information within the fields, however, has mostly been retained in Dutch in order to follow the source as closely as possible . An exception has been made for the annotation found in the remarks fields for both voyage and product. These were entered in English only in those cases where no information would be lost in translation, and in all other cases the original Dutch text was transcribed.
Due to ink corrosion some of the words and numbers in the journals have become illegible over time. In that case the database uses the word ‘onleesbaar’ (‘illegible’), or a lower case ‘x’ in cases of partial illegibility.
Despite the fact that the lists of the cargoes were recorded by the clerks in a very systematic manner, in order to forge the data into a present-day database, decisions had to be made regarding the manner in which information was entered. One of these decisions was whether to split up a product and its additional information, and enter them in different fields or whether to retain it as the one item recorded in the original source (for instance to keep ‘zwarte Bantamse peper’ together in one field or to split it into ‘peper’ for a product and ‘zwart Bantams’ for a specification). Splitting up and standardising was chosen as the preferred solution, in order to keep the number of products reasonably low.
When standardising the units of measurement, products and specifications, words were adapted to modern spelling where necessary. However, due to time constraints the field of specifications still has some original geographical names, titles and personal names. In the case of standardisation an attempt was made to closely follow the original Dutch product names. In some cases it was decided to retain a word as one single word, where a modern Dutch speaker might be inclined to split it in two (for instance ‘sapanhout’ was kept as one product and not split up in ‘hout’ as a product and ‘sapan-‘ as a specification). Occasionally it was decided to opt for the reverse solution, combining separate words into a single one. For instance ‘glazenmakersnijptang’ has been entered as a product, instead of ‘nijptang’ for product and ‘voor een glazenmaker’ for specification.
Occasionally it was unfeasible to identify the nature of a certain product or its specification, and in those cases the spelling of the clerk was followed. This problem was particularly significant for the many different sorts of textiles. If it could not be established with certainty that two differently spelt items were in fact the same item, they were entered as separate products, even though they might appear similar at face value. To help the user to find the meaning of terms used the VOC-Glossarium is linked to the database. Information about units of weights and measures used in 18th century Asia can also be found on http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/127789#page/443/mode/1up
Searching the database
The user interface of the database displays the following fields:
Total value Dutch guilders
Total value Indian guilders
Voyage in DAS
In the search screen all boxes, except for ‘product specification’ and ‘search all fields’, have been designed to enable the use of a pick list. In the case of ‘product’ and ‘ship name’, such a pick list appears as soon as several characters have been entered. This allows the researcher to select the most suitable result.
The field ‘product specification’ does not have a pick list, as the list of options was unfeasibly long. Instead, the user should search using one or more ‘*’s for the best result. The fields ‘product’ and ‘ship name’ also have the possibility of searching with a ‘*’. The ‘search all fields’ option has been added in order to enable one to search the database in its entirety, including the information in the ‘remarks product’ and ‘remarks voyage’ fields.
Once the researcher has made a choice in the screen, he might start the search along the line of voyages or cargo. Switching between result screens is straightforward. However, one should always be aware that the desired information is not always directly visible on the result screens. In that case the user should click on ‘number’ or ‘details’ in the voyages result and on ‘number’ in the cargo result.
When the user has reached a result screen, most of the column headers can be clicked in order to sort the results alphabetically, on date or on quantity. To make full use of the option ‘download as Excel’ it might be necessary to change the computer setting for the decimal symbol and the list separator. If you want to use the downloaded results in Excel the decimal symbol must become a ‘.’ (dot) and the list separator must become a ‘,’ (comma). One can only download in Excel if the selection in the result does not exceed 65536 lines.
Further remarks on particular fields or groups of fields
Each VOC book year began on the 1st of September and was closed on the 31st of August of the next year. The establishment in Japan, however, was an exception. The book year at Deshima closed on a varying date in the autumn, because it depended on the annual change of chiefs of the factory, which took place in the autumn.
It is important to note that the database also includes the book year 1800-1801 (volume 10809), which is the first year after the nationalisation of the VOC. Like other parts of the overseas organisation the Bookkeeper-General continued his activities, in spite of the fact that contact with the Batavian Republic had become virtually impossible and all VOC establishments in the chartered area, except for Java, had been occupied by the British.
Voyages and dates
The voyage numbers seen in the result screens are not ordered chronologically, but entered at random throughout the process of constructing the database.
With regard to single voyages, it has to be kept in mind that a particular vessel might never have reached its place of destination, for instance due to shipwreck or confiscation in war. Possible additional information of this kind is found under ‘remarks voyage’. For ships participating in the trade between the Republic and Asia more information on this subject can be obtained from the database of Dutch Asiatic Shipping (DAS) or from the VOC site.
The original source only ever mentions one date for a particular voyage, which could be either the date of arrival or the date of departure, and as a result the database follows the same format.
When a ship was ordered to call at more than one port on its way (for instance a ship from Batavia destined to Surat), the clerks usually composed more than one cargo list. In that case each cargo list was treated as a separate voyage in the database. In some cases the clerks recorded one single cargo list or invoice, which mentioned more than one place of destination, preventing a proper investigation into which part of the cargo was destined for which place. In those cases only the region was entered and the names of the places were entered in ‘remarks voyage’ or in ‘product specification’.
A similar situation occasionally has occurred in reverse. This concerned cases in which one cargo list was made up for several ships, preventing one from tracing back which ship carried what. This resulted in a situation where more than one ship’s name was mentioned in the field ‘ship name’.
It was not uncommon for ships to carry products that were destined for more than one place in the Dutch Republic, particularly on the return voyage from Batavia. When, in such cases, the source showed several cargo lists, these were entered as different voyages.
Some voyages were recorded twice in the source, for instance under the heading of Batavia and of China. Only one of them was entered, with the folio number of the other mentioned in the ‘remarks voyage’ field. This should be taken into account when reconstructing ship’s routes and defining the number of passages.
All quantitative information concerning the volume of a product had to be entered into an alphanumerical field, as in the early modern period weights, volumes and money were usually not expressed in (decimal) metric units. Moreover, this field also had to be capable of taking words such as ‘diverse’ (various) or ‘enige’ (some). Calculations using words or non-decimal metrics could not be facilitated in the database. However, the following partial solution was found to this problem: for all volume entries, for which some sort of numerical information was available, a parallel numerical field was created, allowing summation. In that field the volumes in non-decimal fractions of numbers were converted into decimal ones. One should bear in mind that when several fractions were recorded in one number (for instance with the unit ‘mark troys’), for practical reasons the number exclusive of the fractions was entered.
These three fields are discussed together in this description, as they are found as one single piece of information in the source.
One product could be shipped in different units. For instance nutmeg was recorded in librae (lb), pieces (pees) and pots (potten). In this database no attempt was made to unify or convert the units for a single product.
Some entries in the field ‘product’ were strictly speaking not a trading item nor a good of material substance, for instance the items labeled ‘ongelden’ or ‘in aanrekening’. The last item in particular was so varied and difficult to capture in a single short phrase, that it was decided to mention ‘in aanrekening’ only. Entries such as ‘ongelden’ and ‘in aanrekening’ were retained in the database in order to maintain the built-in function of automatic summation of the values. It functioned as an extra means of control to the summation of the cargo lists as originally recorded in the source.
As the 18th century progressed a growing number of products was categorized under fewer, but ever larger headings. For instance, at the beginning of the century records include a wide range of different tools. Later on tools were included under headings like ‘ambachtsgoederen’ or ‘gereedschappen’. Consequently, if one can no longer find a certain product, this does not necessarily entail that the VOC was no longer shipping the item at all.
When a clerk noted down two or more products with only one single value by using a brace, it was decided to stay true to the source by entering the products as separate items, adding the word ‘samen’ (together) in the ‘product’ field. To this ‘samen’ was assigned the value of the group of items as a whole. Accordingly, when there was only one numerical quantity available for the group as a whole, such a quantity was also ascribed to ‘samen’.
Regions and places of call
The database contains geographical places and regions of destination and of arrival. For the transcription of these geographical names, the 18th century names have been taken and standardised to a certain degree. For example, the island recorded as Karreek in the source was entered into the database as Kharg.
In those cases where the source did not mention the place, only the region was entered. When one cargo list was recorded with more than one place of destination or arrival, only the name of the region was entered. In that case the names of the places can be found in the ‘remarks voyage’ field or in the ‘specification’ field.
For the ships destined for or sent from one of the six Dutch Chambers (i.e. Amsterdam, Zeeland, Rotterdam, Delft, Hoorn and Enkhuizen), the region ‘Republiek’ was added.
The user should take into account that the Dutch trade on China was organized in different ways during the 18th century. For more information see Jacobs, Merchant in Asia.
For the names of the ships that participated in the trade between the Republic and Asia, the database follows the spelling of Dutch Asiatic Shipping (DAS). For ships not mentioned in DAS the spelling of the source was adhered to. DAS is linked to the database: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/das
In those cases where the ship’s name was not recorded, but its type was (for instance ‘met drie sloepen’) the type of ship was put first, followed by its number (‘sloep, 3’).
One should be aware that throughout the century, some names were occasionally shared by different ships, e.g. the name “Zeeland”. If one would like to identify the total number of ships employed throughout the entire period, additional research might be required. Furthermore, it is important to note that the VOC employed additional vessels to those carrying cargo, for instance for patrol, which are not part of the database.
During the period the clerks noted down the value of the different loads of products either in Dutch guilders (zwaar geld, ‘heavy money’) or Indian guilders (licht geld, ‘light money’). The matter of Dutch and Indian guilders, finding its origins in different exchange rates between silver coinage in the Republic and in Asia, is rather complicated. For a detailed understanding users of the database are referred to the English edition of Jacobs’ dissertation: Merchant in Asia, pp. 300-303. These pages include a short overview of the matter that might suffice as an introduction to the topic.
In the period 1700-1743 the Indian guilder was the predominant currency in the books of the bookkeeper-general. In 1743 the Heren XVII ordered that Dutch guilders be used in this financial administration. However, it appears from several random samples that these orders were generally not obeyed. Instead, the values for the period 1743-1768 were entered into the database in Indian guilders. In 1768 the orders of the Heren XVII were renewed and from then onwards the clerks recorded the values in Dutch guilders, as required.
In the book years 1762-1763 and 1763-1764, one might come across a combination of Dutch and Indian guilders. In those cases it is possible that one of the columns with a total value only comprised part of the different cargo items. In order to prevent errors in the process of summation, it was decided to move the values of Dutch guilders to the remarks product field.
For some voyages from China and Japan the values in the source were not in guilders but in tael. In order to include those values in the summation the tael were converted to Dutch guilders and the tael values were entered in the remarks product field.
Some clerks recorded a zero when no value was given for a product, while others recorded a dash. For the sake of uniformity in this database the zero was preferred.