Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640-1796

Fonds Specifications


Biographical History

The development of the administration.

The "Hoofdadministrateur" and officers connected with his department.
During the period under review the "hoofdadministrateur" took a particularly prominent place in the Council. We might say that this officer was at the head of the trade department. Being instructed originally to "attend to all matters connected with the chief administration of Colombo" [1], to assist the Governor, the "hoofdadministrateur" in the year 1661 was already in charge of the central accounting of the government, and all matters of trade were referred to him.
He was the fourth in order of precedence in the Council and was responsible to the Governor only. Later when he became regularly established as the chairman of the "raad van justitie", the court of justice, which was the supreme court of the Island, his power was considerable, because he was both administrator and controller, and as such, was one of the many officers of the V.O.C. in whom the civil and the judicial administration were combined. In addition, as he supervised all commercial and financial transactions he had the "negotie-comptoir" in his charge, which meant that he controlled the accounts of the other officers, every person and everything dealing with the government's finances and income thus came to some extent within his province.
The instructions left over for the guidance of this officer in the performance of his duties are rather vague: it should be remembered that more often than not men with experience in the lower ranks of the service would be appointed to this office. Moreover, the alterations in the instructions issued by governor Rijckloff van Goens date chiefly from the beginning of the 18th century, the major part of the documents in respect of which period are in a state of decay. The functions of this office have therefore to be reconstructed from indirect sources.
The relations between the "negotie-boekhouder", the "equipagiemeester", the "dispensier" and the "winkelier" are not always clear. If they maintained archives at all, they have not survived.
As regards the subordinates of the "hoofdadministrateur", of whom some were of sufficient importance to be council members, it may be said that officially they were not independent. The best way of understanding their functions and position, which was more or less connected with the chief administration, is to compare them with that of their "opposite numbers" in Batavia. Roughly speaking, the "negotie-boekhouder" kept the main ledger of the department; the "soldy-boekhouder" did the same kind of work as paymaster in the army.
The functions of the "pakhuismeester", the "dispensier" and the "winkelier" were connected with the issue and distribution of the goods stored in the warehouses.
The position of the "sabandaar", who should be mentioned in this connection, is explained below. [2]
Although the residence of the "hoofdadministrateur" was in the fort of Colombo, quite close to the secretariat, his archives have not been regularly preserved. The most important part of what is left are the accounts which were sent to Colombo from all over the Island [3].
Some lists of the documents in the "negotie-kantoor" have survived [4]. By means of these lists it is possible to obtain some idea of the documents preserved in this office. The term "hoofdadministrateur" is still used in the Dutch East-Indies.