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

Description of the Subordinate Components

   The Governor in Council.

    Correspondence.

   Ordinary.

Company's agencies in Surat, Bengal, Malacca, Persia, Padang, Siam, and Canton.
The correspondence with the above-mentioned comptoirs, nearly all of which belonged to the so-called "Western Comptoirs" of the V.O.C., has been bound up together by the Dutch administration.
The main item in all these files is the correspondence with Surat and Bengal: the existence in a file of letters from or to any of the other comptoirs is specially indicated in a note for the convenience of the research worker. Some original letters from Malacca are bound up with the secret letters from Batavia, which, from a geographical point of view, seems to be more correct.
Copies of a good deal of the correspondence between the government at Batavia and the comptoirs at Surat and Bengal are to be found among the annexes to the letters from Batavia [1]. Their great number shows that the government in Batavia was anxious to keep the government at Colombo informed of what was going on in the northern comptoirs. Some of these annexes also deal with Malacca and Persia.
The correspondence between the government at Colombo and Persia, Padang, Siam and Canton, which has been preserved in this series, is not of sufficient importance to justify special notes on those comptoirs.
The headings in the lists of 1785 [2] and of 1796 [3] would indicate that the documents received from Batavia contained original letters and documents from Malacca. According to the present contents of the files, there is no foundation whatever for the statement in these headings. This has presumably arisen as the result of repeating in the list of 1796 an error in the list of 1785.
Surat, Bengal and Malacca. 
Here the sovereign rights held by the V.O.C. were negligible. The remarks made by governor Schreuder in the memoir which he compiled for his successor, that the Company "just as in a rented house, is permitted to stay as long as the landlord sees advantage and has pleasure in our manner of occupation, till the moment arrives when it will please him to give us notice to quit" applies to the two first mentioned of the Company's comptoirs. The landlord here was the Great Mogul, in whose country the Company was allowed to trade and to have some trading establishments since Pieter vanden Broeck achieved his purpose in the East in 1616. The difference between these two comptoirs and the other possessions of the Company such as Ceylon, Malabar and Coromandel, is evident In these places the V.O.C. to a certain extent aimed at domination and ownership of territory. In Surat and Bengal, however, the Company functioned as a trading society pure and simple.
All the early correspondence between the two comptoirs and Colombo is lost and only that of the period of decay has been preserved. At the time when the Company was completely settled in Ceylon by defeating the King in Kandy and by making a treaty with him in 1766, thereby gaining entire control over the coasts of this Island, it became clear that the other Western comptoirs had already yielded their highest profits to the Company. Numerically the Dutch were not strong enough to maintain themselves all over India, nor was their moral standard in the second half of the 18th century high enough to produce the vigour which had carried them so far in the preceding century. The 18th century brought about the further establishment and the territorial concentration of the colonial empire; this meant a limitation of the frontiers as well as of the possibilities of expansion of the V.O.C. Bengal and Surat appeared not to come under it.
It was due to the keen interest of Pieter van den Broeck that the V.O.C. became well established in Surat in 1616. The Dutch "logies" was what we would call a fortified compound with stone houses which served as offices and dwellings for the Company's servants. Valentijn mentions the permission granted to the Company to build some wooden storehouses in order to protect the Company's goods against robbery. The articles of trade were chiefly spices, cloth and carpets of varying sizes. Sub-offices existed in Broach, Cambay, Agra and Baroda. Since 1673 even Wingurla belonged to the Surat comptoir, but as it turned out to be a burden to the Company it was abandoned.
For a long time, the Surat comptoir, controlled by a "directeur", was one of the most profitable comptoirs of the V.O.C. The rivalry between the European nations settled here made them often intrigue with the native rulers against each other.
In the Ceylon archives the correspondence with Surat has been preserved only since 1754.
In 1795, when admiral Elphinstone made his tour round India the Surat Dutch "logies" closed down never to be re-opened.
As early as 1603 the V.O.C. started a trading-comptoir in Bengal. At that time, however, it was a dependency of the Coromandel coast; Valentijn in his description still shows it as such, although since 1655 Hoogly had been made the residency of a Dutch "directeur". Other European nations were settled here, especially the English. Perhaps the Dutch "logies" was somewhat richer, as their owners, between 1640 and 1750, were the most powerful foreign traders in this part of the world. Their establishment here did not differ very much from that which they had in Surat. From the picture published by Valentijn [4], the group of fortified buildings overlooking the river Ganges seems to be more extensive than the buildings of the Surat comptoir, which is shown in "Begin ende Voortgangh", but it is very difficult to estimate their real dimensions from the engravings of that period.
The main articles of trade were silk, cloth and saltpetre. Dependent comptoirs were found in Deccan, Patna, Chapra, Malda, Canacul, Curpur, Cassimbasar, and Regiamahol. In Bengal the English were the most dangerous competitors, and after the Dutch defeat at Chinsura in 1759, the Bengal comptoir depreciated in status to an ordinary trading agency in a British colony. The Dutch office dragged on its existence until admiral Elphinstone's tour brought about its closure in 1795.
The Portuguese settlement on the Malacca peninsula was captured by the Dutch in 1641. Here the company was its own landlord; a governor was established in a fortress of considerable strength. No competition by other European nations was feared and in fact even after 1760 the Dutch influence in this comptoir was still on the increase.
It was captured by the British in 1795, and after 1815 was handed back to the Dutch, but definitely lost in 1824 when it was included in the Sumatra treaty.