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

Description of the Subordinate Components

   The Governor in Council.



The Coromandel coast is the east coast of India, stretching from the most southern point of the peninsula of Negapatam northwards to the frontiers of Bengal. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the numerous native states on this coast were penetrated by settlements of the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, English and French traders, which sometimes changed hands.
The chief product of Coromandel was cloth, which was woven and dyed by the native inhabitants of the place and had special qualities.
Unlike in Ceylon, the V.O.C. had very few sovereign rights here. The settlements bore more or less the character of trade agencies, and if a comptoir had a stone building, storehouses and dwellings for the officials the conditions could be said to be very favourable. Negapatam, where, round about the year 1700, 223 Dutch officials resided in a strong fortress, and Pulicat, with the mint and the fort Geldria [1], were exceptions among the ordinary type of comptoir found here.
As early as 1610, the Dutch had a stone building in Pulicat, a town with a good harbour, from where the coastal road stretched northwards. In earlier times even the settlements in Bengal came under Pulicat.
When, in 1658, the Portuguese had handed Ceylon over to the Dutch, Rijckloff van Goens snr. proceeded to India and drove the Portuguese from the Madura and Coromandel coasts. Negapatam capitulated in July, 1658. Rijckloff van Goens, who wished to make Ceylon the centre of the Dutch Empire, wanted the coasts of India to be subordinate to Colombo; Negapatam, between 1658 and 1690, seems to have been sometimes under the governor of Ceylon and sometimes under the governor of Coromandel whose residency was Pulicat. In 1690, however, the High Commissioner Hendrik Adriaan, baron van Reede transferred the main seat of the government of Coromandel from Pulicat to Negapatam. The coast was then divided into a northern and a southern part, Pulicat with fort Geldria belonging to the southern part was the dividing point. The most northern comptoir was Bimilipatam, a place which in those days was considered to be the rice store for Ceylon. Other settlements were tried inland; one was established as far as Golconda.
At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century the Dutch were the most powerful settlers, and were not only in full command of the coastal regions of Ceylon and the coast of Madura, but also had settlements scattered up and down the coasts of India. In case of emergency help was expected to be sent from Colombo as happened in 1773, when Ceylon sent captain Wohlfarth to help the settlement at Negapatam and the prince of Tanjore against the Nawab and the English [2].
The rising English colonial empire was no match for the Dutch settlements in this part of the Indian ocean, commonly called the "Western Comptoirs" of the V.O.C. The decisive blow came, however, when England declared war on the Netherlands because of their friendly attitude towards America. Negapatam was taken, as well as many other towns (e.g., Trincomalee), but it was not handed back at the peace of Versailles in 1784.
On the 17th June 1782 the government in Batavia gave full power to governor Falck in Colombo to deal with the Coromandel matters. At the same time, however, it advised that a member of Company's servants should be sent to Nawab Haider Alichan [3]. Some members of the council and the "weesmeesters" stayed over to liquidate private interests here. At that time another officer was appointed as agent of the V.O.C. at Tranquebar, the neutral Danish possession.
On the 8th of March 1785, the Governor and the Council in Colombo appointed a commission to take over from the English the former Dutch possessions on the coasts of Madura and Coromandel. The commissioners for the latter were: Willem Blaauwkamer, Nikolaas Tadema, Jan Daniel Simons and Martinus Stoffenberg, who negotiated with the reluctant English authorities in Madras, viz.: Lord Macartney and Alexander Davidson.
The Dutch commissioners established a new government, with its capital at Pulicat which, having been so prosperous a town in the past, seemed to be in ruins: at least no suitable housing accommodation was available for the commissioners [4]. The return of the muniment chest, with the archives and the communion silver, was especially requested from Madras.
After the handing over was completed the commissioners were made officers in the various settlements, all of them serving under the governor of Ceylon, which, incidentally, was in accordance with the recommendations suggested nearly a century earlier by Rijckloff van Goens. Nothing was left of the former wealth and power, and even the little that was left over was lost again in 1795.
In 1815 once again the English restored the Dutch comptoirs on the coast, but the sad remains of the former flourishing comptoirs were lost for ever by the Sumatra treaty in 1824when they, together with Malacca, were given over to the English in exchange for a part of Sumatra.
The regular correspondence with the Coromandel coast has been entered here. For the extraordinary correspondence and other documents belonging thereto the series "external affairs" should be consulted.
The secret correspondence with the Coromandel coast is bound up with the correspondence with the outstations and the Malabar coast.