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Duals with the Dutch - The Honourable East India Company in Siam

In late December 1600, as the winter dark fell over the drizzling, grim but bustling streets of London, passersby may have heard a cheer emanate from the lamp-lit windows of a building in Leadenhall St. Inside were some of the city’s leading lords and merchants who had just agreed to form a joint stock trading company for undertaking eastern trade, the Honourable East India Company or HEIC, which was given a monopoly by the king over all eastern trade.


By Colin Mackay

Monday 10 September 2018, 09:00AM


The Honourable East India Company Vs The Dutch East India Company

The Honourable East India Company Vs The Dutch East India Company

The HEIC started by trading in India; in 1612 it dispatched the ship, The Globe, armed with a gilded letter from King James I of the United Kingdom to try to open trade with Siam and the Malay Peninsula. The Globe first called in at Patani, where they were “met with an honourable reception from the queen and the people, but with some distaste from the Dutch.”

The clearly enamoured English scribe from The Globe described the queen of Patani as “tall of person and full of majestie… having in all the Indes not scene any lyke her.” He reported that Patani was a most flourishing port with some 500 foreigners; Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch were already living there and the port was “resorted to by ships from Surat, Goa, the Coromandel coast… and junks from China and Japan.”

The queen of Patani agreed to a trade compact with the English, who noted, “after much running, toyling and giving of gifts, wee got leave to build a pack house hard by the Dutch house.” The Globe then sailed on north to Ayutthaya. Peter Floris, a Dutchman who was left in charge of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie; VOC) trade factory in Patani, later reported “the strangest robberye” in their newly built palm-leaf-thatched pack house.

“Being all of us in the house above 15 persons sleeping, Mr. Lucas and I in a bedde aparte lying close together, having a great black dogge lying under my cabine, my trunke standing at my feete, being no greater space between the bedde and coffer butt that onely the lidde might shut and open, yet notwithstanding all this and a lamp burning, thieves forced the padlock of the chest and stole [all the cash] and dyvers other things such as appareill, linen and my rapier which had at leaste 25 Rupies in silver upon it.”

The robbery, however, may have just been a fiction concocted to cover the HEIC employees for having sold the goods themselves to pay for their drinking, gambling and womanising – not an uncommon occurrence amongst the somewhat dissolute HEIC factors in the East.

When The Globe arrived off Paknam fort at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, the ship’s scribe tells us, “the native shabandhar [customs officer] of the port came down… mainly with an eye to a personal present”. These were duly given and the ship was allowed into the Chao Phraya River. After off-loading the ship’s cannon at the fort of Bangkok down river from Ayutthaya, as was customary for any visiting ship, the crew sailed and rowed the ship upriver to Ayutthaya.

They were given an audience with King Songtham and presented him with the letter from King James I. The Siamese king gave the English permission to build a factory in Ayutthaya plus the right to trade in Siam’s peninsular ports.
At this point the main trade article the Europeans wanted was pepper and it was Patani, Ligor and Keddah, not Phuket, which were the main pepper ports in the peninsula.

The Anglo-Dutch Naval War

By the early 17th century the English and Dutch were moving towards war in Europe over herring fisheries and there was also much ill feeling between the two communities in the East.

In 1615 one Dutchman reported that “the English in… Siam are very ill behaved”, describing them as “a rude and ungoverned nation, given to drunkenness and abusing of women, quarrelling, fighting and such like”.

New Paths Retreat

In 1619 the VOC governor, Jan Pieterszoon Cohen, venomously wrote that the English factors in Siam were so poor “they had to sell their whores” to pay for food.

The English in Siam on the other hand reported back that the Hollanders “endeavoured by all possible means to wrong and hurt the English by their vigorous lying scorpion tongues” and that “if we could hear but one true word proceed out of a Dutchman’s mouth I would think one amongst a thousand honest”.

As Anglo-Dutch relations worsened the VOC, under the combative Cohen, attacked and took over the factories recently established by the English in the Spice Islands and then tortured and killed many of the English prisoners taken there in what is known as the “Amboyna Massacre”.

In 1618 in retribution for this Dutch “insolence” theHEIC declared war on the VOC and in 1619 an HEIC fleet attacked Jakarta, chasing out the Dutch fleet. Then off the Malay Peninsula they captured the richly laden VOC trade ship the Black Lion.

An HEIC captain, John Jourdain, was sent to the Malay Peninsula from India with two warships, the Hound and the Sampson, designed to reinforce the HEIC defences in the region. These two HEIC warships arrived and were moored in Patani roads when a full VOC naval division of three large men-o’-war with over 800 men was suddenly sighted approaching the harbour.

Jourdain, the English commander, decided not to sail his two smaller ships out to sea and attempt to flee because “he disdained to appear to have run before his enemy, as his doing so might have damaged, in the opinion of the natives, the reputation his nation had established for courage, so he determined therefore to fight them in full view of the town”.

In truth the local natives couldn’t really tell the difference between the Dutch and the English.

Patani was treated to five hours of entertainment as the two fleets battled it out in full sight of the enraptured local spectators on shore. True to Jourdain’s word, the two English ships never moved from their anchors.

The bigger Dutch ships simply blew the two smaller English ships apart with broadside after broadside, killing over 50 English sailors and wounding many more.


Adapted with kind permission from the book ‘A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region’ by Colin Mackay. Available from good bookshops and Amazon.com. Order the softcover 2nd edition directly at: www.historyofphuket.com

 

 

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