An Overview of Dutch Colonisation

For a relatively small country, Holland, or The Netherlands, at one time controlled a mighty Empire. The Dutch Empire spread far and wide across the world. They employed their skills in shipping and trade, as well as extremely harsh treatments, piratical activities and exploitation of natural resources, to achieve a vast colonial Empire. The Dutch were renowned for being brutal in their quest for power. Today, there is still Dutch control over some islands in the Caribbean.

The rise to being a major power only started after the Wars of Independence with Spain. After The Netherlands gained freedom, it set about becoming a leading global force. Whilst colonisation was ripe in Asia, Dutch activities in the Americas were largely related to establishing trading posts.

In the 1580s, the Dutch extended trade to markets in the Mediterranean and Levant. Shortly after, trade was established with Brazil, focus was shifted to the Dutch Gold Coast in Africa and towards the spice islands in the Indian Ocean.  The spice trade was the reason why the Dutch sought control of the Indonesian Maluku Islands.

For a period of 21 years from 1602, the Dutch East Indian Company controlled all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straights of Magellan. This was followed by a 25 year monopoly by the Dutch West India Company in 1621.

Focus shifted to North America, where the Dutch controlled Albany by 1614.  They created a fortified town of New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River to protect their interests. Settlement occurred around New Jersey and Long Island.  New Sweden on the Delaware River was absorbed into New Netherlands by force. 

Meanwhile, in the East the Amboyna Massacre saw several Englishmen killed by Dutch agents because of rivalry.  This heightened already fraught tensions.  A series of Anglo-Dutch Wars took place in the 1600s

Expansion plans involved attacks on Portuguese trading networks in Asia, including Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, Goa, and Japan. Attacks were also made in Africa and South America.  The Dutch successfully gained control of some parts of the west coast of Africa. Jakarta was captured in 1619, followed by Malacca in 1641, Colombo in 1656 and India’s Cochin in 1662. Despite trying, the Dutch were unable to take Goa or Macau.

Between the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s the Dutch were the only European traders permitted to operate in Japan.  Explorations of Weston Australia in the middle of the 17th century led to many places being named by the Dutch.

Mauritius was colonised in 1638, only to be abandoned a few decades later because of the climate. A colony was established in the southern part of Taiwan, then known as Formosa, which was followed by a forceable removable of northern Formosa from Spain. A failed attempt to capture Manila meant that the Dutch abandoned designs on The Philippines. 

In the Atlantic, the Dutch were desperate to gain influence in the sugar trade and slave trade, thus far dominated by Portugal. Bahia, on the north east coast of Brazil, was captured for a short period 1624.  In 1630 the Dutch occupied sugar settlement of Pernambuco and then slowly moved inland. They captured the slaving post of Elmina, followed by settlements in Angola in 1641. Axim in Africa followed suit.

In 1643 a settlement was taken in Chile, an area previously almost exclusively Spanish.  

By 1650, the West India Company controlled the sugar and slave trades, and occupied the Caribbean islands of Saint Martin, Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire.

A colony was established at Cape Town, South Africa, but the Dutch were eventually expelled by Boers.  By 1654, rebellions had forced Dutch occupiers out of Brazil. They also lost Luanda in Angola.  

Cayenne was seized from the French. It then changed hands several times over the coming years.  In 1667 the Dutch traded New Netherlands with English for settlements in Suriname. In 1688 Dutchman William of Orange ascended to the throne and therefore had the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland. This ended tensions between the countries of England and The Netherlands for a period, but then during the American Revolutionary War there was a further war between Britain and The Netherlands.

The Dutch West India Company was abolished in 1791, with colonies in the Caribbean and Suriname brought under direct state rule.  Dutch traders moved from the islands to the US or Latin America.

The Dutch Republic was invaded by the French Revolutionary Army in 1795. This led to Britain seeking occupation of Dutch colonies in Asia, South Africa and the Caribbean. Cape Colony and the Dutch West Indies were returned by treaty to the Dutch in 1802.  In 1803, however, the British retook Cape Colony and then 8 years later invaded Java.  

Between 1806 and 1810 Napoleon’s brother was on the throne of Holland. Holland was then ruled directly by France until 1813.  An Anglo-Dutch Treaty saw all the colonies seized by the British returned to the Dutch, except Guyana and the Cape Colony.

The Dutch were reunited with the Southern Netherlands and created The United Kingdom of the Netherlands.  This lasted 15 years, before rebellion caused the state of Belgium to be formed. 

The Dutch East India Company went bankrupt and there was animosity with England over Singapore. A swapping of territories caused the Malay Peninsula to become all British and the East Indies, Dutch. In the 19th century, control in the Dutch East Indies was expended and more Indonesian islands captured.  In 1871 the Dutch sold the Gold Coast to the British. 

Slavery was not abolished in the Dutch Caribbean until long after in French and British colonies. After the abolition of slavery, Chinese and Javanese were encouraged to move as indentured servants.  

1942 saw Indonesia invaded by Japan. Japanese occupation of Indonesia during WW2 saw Dutch power weaken in the area.  After the war, the Dutch tried to regain power, unsuccessfully. They kept Western New Guinea until 1962. Suriname was given independence in 1975.  

In 2012 the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. This gave Curacao and Saint Martin country status within The Kingdom, the same as Aruba.  The islands of Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba were given statuses similar to Dutch municipalities, and are referred to now sometimes as The Caribbean Netherlands.