Events were now hastening to a catastrophe. The Dutch governor-general, Coen, while resolved to make the Archipelago an island empire for Holland, was too sagacious to imperil his plans by putting his nation openly in the wrong toward a great European power. He trusted to the treaty of 1619 itself to afford causes of quarrel, which would enable him to carry out the instructions given to the first Dutch governor-general, 1609–1614, and steadily reiterated ever since, that “the commerce of the Moluccas, Amboyna, and Banda should belong to the Company, and that no other nation in the world should possess the least part.” But Coen’s far-reaching policy was beyond the grasp of his bluff ship-captains, with their flaming broadsides,
or of the angry isolated Dutch agents, a thousand miles apart, with their forts and prison cells.
Coen himself believed that the treaty alone stood in the way of his triumph over the English. Our Admiral Dale, stricken with fever, and fearful lest the Bantamese might sacrifice the English to make terms with the Dutch, had shipped off our goods and factors from Bantam in the summer of 1619, sought an asylum for them on the east coast of India, and there died. The English ships that remained in the Archipelago seemed destined to fall to the Dutch, who captured two of them in July, 1619, and four others off Sumatra in October. Our alliance with the Prince of Bantam, to capture the half-built Dutch fort at Jacatra (Batavia) in the beginning of that year, furnished Coen with a cause of war against us, and placed him in the right from the point of view of European diplomacy. The arrival, early in 1620, of the treaty of July, 1619, snatched the prey from between his hands. “The English ought to be very thankful to you,” he wrote to the Dutch directors in Holland, “for they had worked themselves very nicely out of the Indies, and you have placed them again in the midst.”
If, however, he had to obey the treaty, he could use it for his own ends. The English would have liked. to resettle at Bantam, but Coen resolved not only to destroy the trade of that port but to force the English to live under his own eye at Batavia. After some negotiation the joint Council of Defence, established in Java by the treaty, agreed to blockade Bantam in 1620, and
thus accomplished both his objects. For, although the English soon withdrew, they had compromised themselves with the Bantam prince, and the Dutch fleet was strong enough to continue the blockade without them.
In Batavia Coen made our position so miserable that in July, 1620, we had to keep a ship there as a floating warehouse, “having no place on shore.” In 1621 the English almost gave up Java in despair, and part of them again sought a refuge on the Indian coast. In August, 1622, Thomas Drockedon, our agent at Batavia, asked leave from the directors in London to
return home, as he could “live no longer under the insolence of the Dutch.”
His situation was a mournful one. So far from restitution having been made to us under the treaty of 1619, we were compelled to supply “incredible sums” for fortifications which the Dutch did or did not build, but which could only be a menace to ourselves. We had been dragged into a war with Bantam, from which we could derive no benefit, and which shut us out from the chief pepper mart. The civil and criminal jurisdiction was exercised by the Dutch to publicly insult us. We were placed on a level with “the blacks,” whose bare affirmation was taken against us. We might not “kill a wild hog or gather a cocoanut in the wood without leave.” The Dutch had flogged William Clarke, steward of the English factory, in the market-place, “cruelly cutting his flesh, and then washed him with salt and vinegar, and laid him again in irons.” The English watch had been imprisoned for eight days and threatened with torture, to force them to make false confessions against the president of our council. What seemed to the Dutch their lawful jurisdiction, the English regarded as oppression.
For another alleged plot twelve natives had been condemned to be quartered, and the rest of the accused to perpetual slavery in chains. The torture failed to elicit anything against the English; but if it could have given the Dutch “any advantage against us,” we should have had no mercy. “Wherefore,” wrote in 1622 our President Furgand and council at Batavia,
“we earnestly desire speedily to be released from this bondage.” A similar attempt was made in the island of Pularoon to extort confessions against the English by cruel torments of the natives. Thus was rehearsed alike in the capital of Dutch India and in the distant Nutmeg Isles, that tragedy of torture which was so soon to be enacted at Amboyna. In the still remoter seas, as we learn from a letter of Richard Cocks, dated Nagasaki, 10th March, 1620, the Hollanders, with seven ships at Japan, had, “with sound of trumpet,” “proclaimed there open war against the English, as their mortal enemies.”
The Clove and Nutmeg Isles, including among them Amboyna, Banda, and Pularoon, lay, it will be remembered, at the south-eastern end of the Spice Archipelago. The Dutch claimed the sovereignty over them, by the conquest of Amboyna from the Portuguese in 1605, and in virtue of many treaties. The English had a set of counter-claims based on the free surrender of Pularoon to us in 1616, of Lantor or Great Banda in 1620, and on compacts with other chiefs. We had also an agency at Amboyna under the Dutch-English treaty of 1619. The Dutch with an overwhelming force expelled us from Lantor and Pularoon in 1621–1622. Our gallant agent, Nathaniel Courthorpe, who, in “much want and misery,” held Pularoon from 1616 to 1620, sometimes with but thirty-eight men to resist the “force and tyranny” of the Hollanders, had been mortally wounded in a sea-fight, and threw himself overboard rather than see his ship strike her flag.
Herman van Speult, governor of the neighbouring island of Amboyna, was regarded at headquarters as “too scrupulous” in his fiscal administration. In January, 1623, the Governor-General Coen, when departing for Europe, enjoined strict justice, and mentioned Amboyna as a place where no English encroachments were to be allowed. “Trust them not,” he said,
any more than open enemies ... not weighing too scrupulously what may fall out.” His farewell instructions merely reiterated the principles on which he had always insisted. “Trust the English no more than a public enemy ought to be trusted,” he wrote two months previously to Banda, the agency nearest Amboyna. This policy of suspicion, and of “not weighing too scrupulously what may fall out,” was now to be enforced with a stupid violence which the great governor-general might perhaps have anticipated, but which he would have been the first to condemn.
By the beginning of 1623 the Dutch found themselves completely masters of the Clove and Nutmeg Archipelago. At the principal clove island, Amboyna, they had, according to the English statement founded upon depositions on oath, a fortress garrisoned by two hundred Dutch soldiers, with three or four hundred native troops, including some thirty Japanese, and further protected by eight vessels in the roadstead. The English numbered eighteen men, scattered between five small factories on different islands, very badly off, with a few slaves, “just six and all boys.” In their house at Amboyna only three swords, two muskets,
and half a pound of powder were found. The nearest English support was the Banda agency, at a distance across the sea, and containing but nine of their countrymen. English ships seldom came to Amboyna, and not one was then near. Our president in council at Java had in fact resolved to withdraw the petty English factories at Amboyna and throughout the Clove and Nutmeg Archipelago. He had even arranged with the Dutch governor-general for their transport to Batavia in Holland ships. In February, 1623, orders to this effect were on their way from our president in Batavia to Amboyna.
They arrived too. late. On the evening of February 10, 1623, a Japanese soldier of the Dutch garrison had some talk with the sentries about the number of the troops and the times of changing the watch. When questioned by the Governor Van Speult next day, February 11th, he explained that he had merely chatted with the soldiers “for his own amusement.” Indeed,
the steward of the Dutch factory afterwards declared that “it was an usual speech amongst soldiers to enquire one of another how strong the watch might be, that they might know how many hours they might stand sentinel.”
Van Speult was, however, on the lookout for conspiracy, and perhaps anxious to redeem his reputation from the charge of slackness at headquarters. In the previous summer he had written to the Governor-General Coen about the English at Amboyna: “We hope to direct things according to your orders that our sovereignty shall not be diminished or injured in any way by their encroachments, and if we may hear of any conspiracies of theirs against the sovereignty, we shall with your sanction do justice to them, suitably, unhesitatingly, and immediately.” In October, 1622, Coen gave this sanction. In February, 1623, the opportunity arrived. Van Speult put the Japanese soldier to the torture, and after he had “endured pretty long,” wrung from him an accusation against the English. His statement was signed by the unhappy man on the day of his torment, in direct contravention of the Dutch law that one who had confessed under torture should be re-heard to confirm it not sooner than twenty-four hours afterwards, “ne durare adhuc tormentorum metus videatur.”
Eight or nine other Japanese soldiers in the service of the Dutch, whose names he had mentioned, denied the plot, but were tortured on that and the following day, until a complete story of treason was evolved.
“Wailing and weeping by reason of their extreme tortures with burning, they were carried by slaves to prison, for it was not possible of themselves to go on their feet.” Such was the statement made by the steward of the Dutch factory regarding the affair.
The handful of English, ran the improbable tale, had solemnly sworn on New Year’s Day to seize the fort upon the arrival of an English ship, or during the absence of the Dutch governor, and had employed to corrupt the Japanese soldiers so unlikely an agent as a drunken barber, or barber-surgeon, Abel Price. This man already lay in the Dutch prison for threatening to set fire to a house in a frenzy of liquor. On February 15th, as the records show, he, too, was haled to the torture-chamber, and made to “confess whatever they asked him.”
The English treated as ridiculous the story that eighteen men, scattered over the two islands of Amboyna and Ceram, at the factories of Amboyna, Hittou, Larica, Loho, and Cambello, should dare conspire to take a fort from two hundred Dutch and three or four hundred native soldiers with eight Holland vessels in the harbour, and they went about their business as usual. But Van Speult, now armed with the confession under torture of his prisoner, the drunken English barber,
seized our chief agent, Towerson, and the other factors at Amboyna, put them in irons, and swept in the whole English from the four outlying factories between February 15th and 23d – just eighteen men all told.
Of the extraordinary proceedings that followed we have six accounts by eye-witnesses. First, the minutes of the court, kept by the Greffier or secretary: minutes so irregular and incomplete as to call forth the censure of the Dutch governor-general, and to invalidate them as a judicial record under the Dutch law. Second, the solemn dying messages of the victims written on the pages of their prayer-books or other furtive scraps of paper. Third, the statements of certain members of the Dutch Council at Amboyna who formed the court, when called to account by the governor-general at Batavia two and a half years later (October, 1625). These latter admit the use of torture, passed over in silence by the minutes, but state that it was slight. Fourth, the depositions of six Englishmen who survived, taken on oath before Sir Henry Marten, Judge of the Admiralty, in 1624. Fifth, the answers of certain of the Amboyna judges to interrogatories in 1628. Sixth, the statement of the steward of the Dutch factory, who also acted as interpreter during the trial. It was laid before Lord Dorchester and Secretary Coke in 1629. This man, George Forbis or Forbisher, a native of Aberdeen, and little likely to favour the English Company which persuaded James to cancel the charter granted to the Scotch, had long served the Dutch in
the East, and was found on board a Dutch ship stayed by royal command at Portsmouth in 1627. He had continued in the Dutch service for two years after the trial. His declaration closely corresponds with the depositions of the English survivors.
In my narrative I fairly consider all the foregoing materials, together with the pamphlet literature which quickly sprang up7. I have also checked the “True Relation” from the depositions on oath.
That evidence consisted entirely of confessions wrung from the accused by torture. The ransacking of the English factories yielded not a single incriminating letter, or other corroborative piece of testimony, as is proved by the answer of Joosten, the Dutch officer who examined the papers. The Dutch began with John Beaumont and Timothy Johnson. Beaumont, an elderly man for India and an invalid, was left with a guard in the hall, while Johnson was taken into another room. Presently Beaumont heard him “cry out very pitifully;
then be quiet for a little while, and then loud again.” Johnson long refused to confess, but after an hour he was “brought forth wailing and lamenting, all wet and cruelly burnt in divers parts of his body.”
One Englishman, Edward Collins, gave evidence, according to the Dutch, without torture. But the narrative founded upon the depositions of the surviving Englishmen on oath states that Collins was tied up for the torture, and the cloth put about his throat. “Thus prepared he prayed to be respited and he would confess all. Being let down he again vowed and protested his innocency,” but for fear of the torture asked them what he should say. This was not enough and he was tortured, but not being able to endure it long, he made a confession helped out by the Dutch prosecutor. Collins himself confirmed this statement on oath and produced three witnesses who “heard him many times roar very pitifully, being in the next room, and saw
him come out, having no doublet on, his shirt all wet, his face swollen and his eyes starting out of his head.” From February 15th to 23d the cruel process went on. According to the English statements, the prisoners, even while confessing under the torture, declared in the same breath that they were not speaking truth. In the case of Collins, the “fiscal,” or prosecutor, forced leading questions upon him, till one of the Dutch themselves exclaimed: “Do not tell him what he should say, but let him speak for himself.” John Wetheral having been four times tied up, they were at length obliged to read out to him the confessions of the other victims until the poor wretch merely “answered yea to all.” He “prayed them to tell him what he should say or to write down what they would; he would subscribe it.” John Clarke stood the ordeal so bravely that “the tormentors reviled him, saying that he was a devil ... or a witch.” So they “cut off his hair very short, as supposing he had some witchcraft hidden therein.” They then went on with the torture – burning him with candles on the feet, hands, elbows, and “under the armpits until his inwards might evidently be seen.” The English declared that no surgeon was allowed to dress the sores “until, his flesh being putrefied, great maggots dropt and crept from him in most loathsome and noisome manner.” Authority for all these statements may be found in the first pamphlet, “A True Relation.”
According to the English accounts each confession was wrung forth by torture. The Dutch minutes of
the trial conceal the fact of torture at all, and thus violate a fundamental rule of the Dutch criminal procedure. The members of the Amboyna council, who sat as judges, acknowledged on oath that twelve of the English were tortured by water and two of them also by fire, but stated that one (Beaumont) was only tortured a little on account of his age and feeble health.
The judges also pleaded in their defence that the torture was in no case extreme, indeed of a “civil” sort.
What it exactly amounted to we know from eye-witnesses. The accused man was hoisted up and tied spread-eagle fashion in a doorway. In the water torment “they bound a cloth about his neck and face so close that little or no water could go by. That done they poured the water softly upon his head until the cloth was full up to the mouth and nostrils ... till his body was swollen twice or thrice as big as before, his cheeks like great bladders, and his eyes staring and strutting out beyond his forehead.” It was the
slow agony of bursting, joined to the acute but long-drawn-out agony of suffocation. In the fire torture, they held lighted candles beneath the most sensitive parts of the body – under the armpits, the palms of the hand, and the soles of the feet. Emmanuel Thomson, like John Clarke, it was said, had no surgeon to dress his burnt flesh, so that no one “was able to endure the smell of his body.”
To the torture by fire and water, admitted by the Dutch, the English accounts add “the splitting of the toes, and lancing of the breast, and putting in gunpowder, and then firing the same, whereby the body is not left entire, neither for innocency nor execution. Clarke and Thomson were both fain to be carried to their execution, though they were tortured many days before.” But the Dutch admissions suffice.
Towerson, who steadily asserted his innocence, on being confronted with some who had confessed, charged them as they would answer it at the dreadful day of judgment, they should speak nothing but the truth.” The sufferers implored his forgiveness and declared all they had said was false. But, threatened again with torture, they reaffirmed their confessions. The spirit of the miserable little band was completely broken.
Even Van Speult felt that he might be going too far, and for some days hesitated as to whether he should not remit the case to the Dutch governor-general at Batavia. But the English president and council at Batavia had, on January 10–20, 1623, resolved to withdraw
their oppressed factories from the Moluccas, Amboyna, and the Clove and Nutmeg Isles. They had indeed thanked the Dutch president and council for agreeing to bring them away in Flemish ships. Orders in this sense were simultaneously sent to our agents at Banda and elsewhere. The Calendar of State Papers of the East Indies for 1622–1624 (p. 398) shows that while the tortured men lay waiting their doom, two Holland ships arrived from Batavia, bringing the letter from the English president and council ordering the withdrawal of our agency from Amboyna. “Which letter was opened and read by the Dutch governor while our people were yet in prison and not executed, and might well have secured him that there was no further danger to be feared of the English aid of shipping, whatever the English had through fear of torture confessed.” The statement is confirmed by Van Speult’s own admissions, and it gives a darker shade to his resolve on instant judgment.
The public prosecutor was instructed to demand sentence. This, according to the minutes, he did with irregular brevity – twenty-one lines of writing in all. According to the Dutch procedure, his requisition should have given a summary of the facts and evidence, which it did not. It should certainly have specified the separate names of the accused Englishmen, while it only contained that of Gabriel Towerson “and his creatures and accomplices.” These were not the omissions of ignorance. The “fiscal” who conducted the case was a lawyer, and in his haste for condemnation,
he set at defiance the safeguards of procedure which even the Dutch law prescribed. His demand was really the demand of Sieyes at the trial of Louis XVI – La Mort sans phrase.
On February 25, 1623, or February 23d (for there are discrepancies as to the date), the prisoners, with certain exceptions, were condemned to death. The English from outlying factories, who had not even been at Amboyna at the time of the alleged plot, were released; three others were allowed to draw lots for their life; and in the end the elderly Beaumont and the terrified Collins were sent to give evidence at Batavia as “men condemned and left to the mercy of the governor-general.” Captain Towerson manfully proclaimed the iniquity of the proceedings. When ordered to indite a confession, he wrote out a protestation of his innocence. The governor gave it to the interpreter to read out in Dutch, “which I could not do,” said that officer, “without shedding of tears.” He had also to translate a dying declaration secretly written by Towerson in a Bible which he asked Van Speult to send to his friends in England – “which Bible after that time I never saw or heard mentioned.”
Yet some last words reached the outer world. William Griggs wrote in his Table-book, which was secretly saved by a servant: “We through torment were constrained to speak that which we never meant nor once imagined. ... They tortured us with that extreme torment of fire and water that flesh and blood could not endure. ... Written in the dark.” Captain Towerson
wrote much; but all was suppressed, except an unnoticed sentence appended to his signature to a bill of debt due from the English Company: “Firmed by the Firm [i.e. signature] of me Gabriel Towerson now appointed to die, guiltless of anything that can be justly laid to my charge. God forgive them their guilt and receive me to His mercy. Amen.”
Samuel Colson, imprisoned with six of the others, on board the Dutch ships in the roads, wrote the following in his prayer-book and had it sewed up in a bed: “March 5, stilo novo, being Sunday, aboard the Rotterdam, lying in irons.” “Understand that I, Samuel Colson, late factor of Hitou, was apprehended for suspicion of conspiracy; and for anything I know must die for it: wherefore having no means to make my innocence known, have writ in this book hoping some good Englishman will see it. I do here upon my salvation, as I hope by His death and passion to have redemption for my sins, that I am clear of all such conspiracy; neither do I know any Englishman guilty thereof nor any other creature in the world. As this is true, God bless me, Sam. Colson.” In another part
of the book, at the beginning of the Psalms, he declared: “As I mean and hope to have pardon for my sins, I know no more than the child unborn of this business.” These statements were written three or four days before the execution of the death sentence, as “March 5, stilo novo,” would correspond to February 23d, if we take the English dates.
On February 26th (English date) the prisoners were brought into the hall of the castle to be prepared for death. Captain Towerson was taken into the torture-chamber with “two great jars of water carried after him. What he there did or suffered is unknown to the English without, but it seemeth they made him then to underwrite his confession” – a confession of a plot so wild that, had it ever entered a man’s brain, “he should,” in the words of the English Company, “rather have been sent to bedlam ... than to the gallows.”
The condemned men still protested their innocence. “Samuel Colson spake with a loud voice saying, According to my innocency in this treason, so Lord pardon all the rest of my sins; and if I be guilty thereof more or less, let me never be partaker of Thy heavenly joys. At which words every one of the rest cried Amen for me, Amen for me, good Lord. This done, each of them knowing whom he had accused, went one to another begging forgiveness for their false accusation,” under the torture; “and they all freely forgave one another, for none had been so falsely accused, but he himself had accused another as falsely.” Their last “doleful night they spent in prayer, singing of psalms
and comforting one another,” refusing the wine which the guards offered them, “bidding them to drink lustick and drive away the sorrow.”
Next day, February 27th (English date), the ten Englishmen8, nine Japanese, and the Portuguese captain of slaves were led out to execution “in a long procession round the town,” through crowds of natives who had been summoned by beat of drum “to behold this triumph over the English.”
It is not needful, after the fashion of that time, to accept as manifestations of divine wrath a “great darkness” and hurricane which immediately followed, and drove two Dutch ships from their anchorage; or the pestilence, said to have swept away one thousand people. The innocence of Towerson and his fellow sufferers rests upon no such stories, whether false or true. The improbability of the enterprise, the absence of any evidence except such as was wrung forth under torments, the neglect of the safeguards imposed by the Dutch law on judicial torture, the dying declarations of the victims – suffice to convince any unbiassed mind that the ten Englishmen were unjustly done to death. This, too, without insisting on the circumstance that would place Van Speult’s conduct in the darkest light – his being on the outlook for conspiracies; or on the arrival of the English letter during the trial ordering
the withdrawal of our agency from Amboyna; or on the existence of Dutch ships in the harbour which might even, if the shore prison were overcrowded, have carried those accused of the supposed conspiracy for judgment to the Dutch governor-general at Batavia, or served for their confinement till his confirmation of the proceedings was obtained.
Van Speult took possession of our Amboyna and neighbouring factories; “the poor remnant of the English” were removed to Batavia; and the great design for driving us out of the Clove and Nutmeg Isles was accomplished.
When the news of the tragedy reached England fifteen months later – May 29, 1624 – a cry of execration arose. The Company demanded justice. With English self-control it repressed irresponsible discussion by its members, and resolved, on June 16th, to trust to the state “to call for an account of the lives of the king’s subjects.” The governor refrained from speech until he was assured of the facts, and it was not until July 2d that he brought the matter officially before a general court of the Company.
The first feeling indeed was one of incredulity at so abominable an outrage on innocent men. King James apprehended the fact to be so foul ... he could not believe it,” and, when convinced, threatened to extort reparation from Holland. At the Royal Council table “sundry of the greatest shed tears.” But James had resolved to break with Spain, in wrath at the treatment of Prince Charles on his knight-errant quest at
Madrid for a Spanish wife in 1623. War with Spain meant an alliance with Holland, whose twelve years’ truce with Spain had also expired. Dutch envoys were, indeed, at that moment in London, negotiating a treaty of offence and defence. So the king and his Council dried their eyes, and the Dutch diplomats joyfully returned home, praising the good-will of a monarch who had said not a word about “the late accident at Amboyna.” Nor were courtiers wanting who blamed the Company for raising a difficulty “when his Majesty had resolved to aid the Dutch.”
Very different was the temper of the nation. On July 2, 1624, the governor of the Company declared that assuredly “God the Avenger of all such bloody acts will in His due time bring the truth to light” – “the unspeakable tyrannies done upon those unfortunate men, which is able to amaze the Christian world.” They still hoped that the king would help them; but their best comfort was that when man is at the weakest then God is strongest. On July 9th a general court of the Company decided that unless justice were “done on those Dutch that have in so great fury and tyranny tortured and slain the English,” the Company must wind up and “fetch home what they have in the Indies.” A petition in this sense was voted to the king – “and according to his answer and proceeding the trade to stop or proceed.” On July 11th they waited on the king in his bedchamber with the memorial, together with “A True Relation,” and received his promise of “a speedy reparation from the Dutch by
the strength of his own arm, if they did it not suddenly themselves.”
The cry for revenge had gathered a strength which not even James could resist. Chamberlain, the Horace Walpole of his time, wrote to the English ambassador in Holland that “we should stay or arrest the first Indian ship that comes in our way, and hang up upon Dover cliffs” as many Dutchmen as had taken part in the outrage, “and then dispute the matter afterwards. For there is no other course to be held with such manner of men, as neither regard law nor justice, nor any other respect of equity or humanity, but only make gain their god.” The Company was believed to
have collapsed. No man would pay in any money to it. If the king would not help, it was wildly propounded at a general court on July 22d, to “join with the Portugals and root the bloody Dutch out of the Indies.”
The “True Relation” presented to James on July 11, 1624, had touched the sentimental fibre in his weak nature. On July 16th he promised to make stay of Dutch vessels if satisfaction were not given, and even offered to become himself a shareholder in the Company, and to allow its ships to sail under the royal standard. This offer of greatness thrust upon it, the Company respectfully declined. The king meanwhile ordered his ambassador at The Hague to demand satisfaction from the States-General before August 12th, under threat of reprisals by hanging, or even “an irreconcilable war.”
These were brave words, and if the Dutch Government had believed they would be followed by action, they might have proved decisive. For the outrage of Amboyna had come as an unpleasant surprise to the Dutch Company, and as a serious embarrassment to the Dutch Government. The governor-general at Batavia spoke his mind as freely as he dared to Van Speult. The Company in Holland, while making the best case they could against the English claims for compensation, refrained from sending back Coen to the East, although they had reappointed him governor-general in 1624. Members of the States-General openly expressed their disgust. The Prince of Orange wished that Van Speult with all his council had been hanged
on a gibbet before they began “to spell this tragedy.”
The States-General accordingly appointed deputies to treat with our ambassador. But an English observer wrote that, although the king spoke valiantly, he could wish his Majesty would say less, so that he would do more. The Dutch deputies played on his irresolution, and the time allowed for redress expired. When at length, on October 15th, a royal warrant was issued for the seizure of Flemish ships, our ambassador at The Hague advised that this extremity should be avoided, and the Dutch were somehow warned of the danger. In November, 1624, the London Company officially informed the lord admiral that Holland ships were in the Straits of Dover, but they were allowed to pass unharmed.
The English Company was forced to realize that, in trusting to the royal support, it leaned on a broken reed. In July it had demanded satisfaction under three heads:, justice against the murderers, compensation for injuries, and absolute separation from the Dutch Company in the East. In October it despondently reduced its claims to the safe removal of the English from Batavia; the question of jurisdiction and Council of Defence; and the right to erect forts, and to be treated by the Dutch as allies and friends. James would not fight, and the Dutch knew it. They were willing enough to accept the first condition and allow the safe removal of the English from Batavia. But, while dangling before us a compromise, they would never surrender
their sovereign jurisdiction in the Spice Islands or allow the English to erect fortifications. On March 25, 1625, King James died.
By this time the facts were well known in England. A certain simplicity in Towerson’s character gave additional pathos to his death. He had sailed on the Company’s second voyage in 1604 and obtained his admission as a freeman gratis in recognition of long service. Eighteen checkered years brought him to the chief agency at Amboyna in 1622, with a salary of £10 a month. Once indeed he had emerged for a moment. Having married the Indian widow of Captain Hawkins, he attempted for a time to make a figure not justified either by her position or his own. In 1617 Sir Thomas
Roe, our ambassador to the Moghul Emperor Jahangir, wrote that Towerson “is here arrived with many servants, a trumpet, and more show than I use.” In 1620 we find him back in England vainly soliciting the command of a ship, and returning to the Archipelago along with other factors in “the great cabin of the Anne.”
The contemporary records show that he had not gained caution with years. Arriving at Amboyna in May, 1622, he became a close friend of the Dutch Governor Van Speult and gave him his entire confidence. In June of that year, as we saw, Van Speult was on the lookout for conspiracies and asking the Dutch governor-general at Batavia for leave to deal with them “suitably, unhesitatingly, and immediately.” In September Towerson, on the other hand, wrote to the English president at Batavia in warm terms of Van Speult’s “courtesies” and “love.” He asks our president to send Van Speult a complimentary letter, together “with some beer or a case of strong waters, which will be very acceptable to him.”
The president and council at Batavia saw more of the game. “In such kind of courtesy,” they replied in December, 1622, “we know he is free enough, but in your main affairs you will find him a subtle man.” There was to be no beer or case of strong waters for Van Speult. On the contrary, “be careful you be not circumvented in matters of importance, through his dissembling friendship.” This warning they followed up next month by commanding Towerson and his subordinates to quit Amboyna. “Prepare and make yourself
ready to come away from thence with all the rest of the factors in the Dutch ship, except two you may leave there at Amboyna to keep house until our further order.”
Meanwhile Towerson continued his unsuspecting course. On January 1, 1623, he gave his official dinner to the little English group at Amboyna – the regular New Year’s Day party which was to serve the Dutch fiscal as a ground-work for the alleged conspiracy. How far any thoughts of seizing Amboyna were from the minds of the English may be known by the letter of our president and council in March, 1622, to the Company, desiring to retire even from Batavia; by Brockedon’s petition in August, 1622, for leave to return home, as he could “live no longer under the insolence of the Dutch;” and by the orders of January, 1623, to Towerson and other outlying agencies to withdraw to Batavia with the English under their charge. Towerson, “a sincere, honest, and plain man without malice,” as one of the Amboyna free burghers and a servant of the Dutch Company described him, discerned not the signs of the times, and the letter ordering him to leave Amboyna was intercepted by the Dutch governor Van Speult. So he went to his death – ” that honest good man, Captain Towerson, whom I think in my conscience was so upright and honest toward all men, that he has harboured no ill will of any.”
Such a character is pretty sure of sympathy from the English middle classes, always indulgent to sturdy mediocrity, especially of the jovial sort. The story
of Amboyna gathered round his name, until it reached Dryden’s version of a murderous plot by Van Speult against Towerson in revenge for his killing Van Speult’s son in a duel. In 1625 the legend was still a long way from this climax. But the last weeks of King James’s life had been harassed by popular demonstrations. In February, 1625, the Dutch living in London complained to the lords of the Council that on the coming Shrove Tuesday they would be in danger from the fury of the people. Besides the pamphlets spread broadcast, a play was to be publicly acted setting forth the sufferings of the English; and a great picture had been painted, “lively, largely, and artificially,” of their tortures and execution. The reins were falling from the old king’s hands, and the Council gently admonished the Company not to exhibit this picture – at least till Shrove Tuesday be passed.
Next month, March, 1625, Charles succeeded to the throne. The main business of our ambassador at The Hague, Sir Dudley Carleton (afterwards Viscount Dorchester), was to strengthen the affiance of Holland with England against Spain, and he groaned audibly over the new labours and awkward questions to which the Amboyna imbroglio gave rise. Charles, keenly resentful of his personal treatment when in quest of a wife at Madrid, was eager to send a fleet to the Spanish coast, and promised large subsidies to the Protestant league in the North. The Amboyna difficulty had to be got out of the way, and in September, 1625, Charles agreed to make no reprisals on the Dutch ships for
eighteen months, and at the same time appeased the London Company by promising that if, by that time, justice were not done, he would proceed to hostilities. This is shown by the treaty of Southampton, September 7, 1625.
But before the expiration of the eighteen months Charles had quarrelled with his Parliament and found a war with France oh his hands. The Dutch were masters of the situation and they knew it. So far from their giving satisfaction for Amboyna, Coen went out as governor-general for a second time in March, 1627, in spite of the protests of the English Company, who regarded his policy as the main source of their sorrows. When in April, 1627, the States-General were reminded that the eighteen months had elapsed, they dexterously got the question transferred to the law courts, and offered to proceed by way of a legal prosecution against the Amboyna judges who had sentenced the English to death.
Here they were on safe ground. Preliminary difficulties at once arose. The Dutch naturally insisted that the tribunal should be a Dutch one sitting in Holland. King Charles objected to his subjects being
required to leave their country and prosecute before a foreign court beyond the seas. The feeling both in England and Holland was that, while the States-General would gladly have seen the matter settled, the directors of the Dutch Company were so intermingled with the Dutch Government that no justice would be done.
English protests against the re-appointment of Coen passed unheeded, and in August, 1627, Carleton despaired of redress from a government controlled by the votes of the interested parties, among whom “one oar which holds back, stops more than ten can row forward.” In September, however, a tribunal of seven Dutch judges was constituted, three from the high and four from the provincial council.
Meanwhile Charles, with the rising tide in Parliament and in the nation against him, was anxious to keep the London Company his friends. In a moment of vigour, he stayed three Dutch ships off Cowes (September, 1627) and held them fast for eleven months, although threatened with a, Dutch fleet to bring them away. The English Company declared that, if his Majesty let the Dutch ships go, it were better for the Company to abandon the trade. But the fit of royal resolution passed, and the king, in sore straits for money, suddenly released the Dutch ships in August, 1628: it was rumoured, for a gratification of £30,000. In vain his Majesty tried to soften the blow by the unprecedented compliment of sending the lords of the Council to a court meeting of the Company to explain that the
release was due to an “extraordinary matter of State.” The directors of the Dutch Company gave out as far back as March, 1628, that they had arranged for the release of the ships on the condition of their redeeming his Majesty’s jewels.
The Company now knew that, if they had little to expect from the Dutch tribunal, they had nothing to hope from the king. The Dutch also knew it. In November, 1628, his Majesty feebly suggested, in reply to the repeated demands of the Dutch for the English witnesses to go over to Holland, that the Dutch judges should come to England under a safe-conduct – a proposal which merely furnished a good ground for further delay.
A year later, having sunk into still deeper difficulties with the Parliament and the nation, Charles yielded to the demands of the foreigner and sent over the witnesses. But he tried to save his royal honour by explaining that he had never submitted to the jurisdiction of the Dutch judges, although he would prefer to receive reparation at their hands than by any other means The English ambassador must be present in the Dutch court; the English witnesses must not be questioned on other articles than those on which they had already been examined in his Majesty’s Court of Admiralty; the Dutch judges, when ready to deliver sentence, must inform the king of it, so that he might weigh and consider its import. The Dutch tribunal naturally refused to concede these points. The king had put not only himself but also the English nation
in the wrong by his method of procedure, and again the Dutch knew it.
His Majesty struggled for a time in the meshes he had woven around himself. In December, 1629, he insisted on reserving the final sentence either to himself or to a joint bench of English and Dutch judges, on the strength of the treaty of 1619. The Dutch quite truly rejoined that the treaty contained not a single article which implied joint jurisdiction in criminal cases, but only in what concerned the joint defence and trade. While the preliminaries were thus spun out from 1627 to 1630, the six Amboyna councillors who were supposed to be on their trial figured as patriots to their nation. The English witnesses, still unheard, were sunk in debt to obtain food from day to day. They mournfully complained to the Privy Council that they had attended in Holland for twelve months, that they were now destitute and like to be cast into prison, while their wives and children were perishing miserably. In March, 1631, the British ambassador at The Hague reported that in the Amboyna business all was silence.
It is doubtful, even if the Amboyna council had been promptly and impartially tried, whether the London Company would have obtained substantial redress. It is certain that no court administering the law then in force in Europe could have condemned the judges to death for the Amboyna executions. The two grounds which underlay the English contention were badly chosen. As a matter of fact, the Amboyna council had
exercised a lawful jurisdiction, and torture was not only allowed, but enjoined by the law which they were bound to administer. The Dutch Company’s charter of 1602 empowered it to appoint public prosecutors in the name of the States-General for the conduct of judicial business in its fortresses beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The ordinances for the Dutch governor-general in 1617 authorized him not only to execute all civil and
criminal sentences, but also to delegate this function to the subordinate councils and proper officers of settlements at which the governor-general and council could not be present. In 1619 instructions had been duly given to Van Speult to administer justice as governor of Amboyna in civil and criminal cases. They were further enforced by the Dutch governor-general’s express sanction to Van Speult in October, 1622, to deal unhesitatingly with conspiracies.
A candid examination of the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1619 shows that its jurisdiction clause referred only to questions of trade and joint defence, and left the criminal and civil jurisdiction untouched. Nor could the pronouncement of King James in 1623 seriously affect the issue, for the Dutch repudiated it as never having been accepted by (perhaps not even communicated to) their representatives. The States-General consistently maintained their civil and criminal jurisdiction in their settlements throughout the Spice Archipelago. As a matter of fact, the English in the Dutch settlements had been steadily subjected to that jurisdiction, although they groaned under it, and their very complaints to the directors in London prove their practical submission to its most irksome forms.
The general law of Europe at that time prescribed judicial torture as a proper and an almost necessary means for arriving at the truth. Dutch jurisprudence went so far as to declare that, in eases similar to that of Amboyna, a public prosecutor could demand sentence of death only on the confession of the accused.
Lucknow, a city now numbering nearly three hundred thousand inhabitants, is one of the largest cities of India, after Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. It has been the capital of the Province of Oudh since 1775, and the part which it played in the tragic events of the Indian Mutiny, in the following century, rendered the name of Lucknow famous.
The judges therefore, after satisfying themselves by independent proof of the guilt of the accused, had to obtain his confession; without torture if possible, by torture if not. But the Dutch ordinances of 1570 provided safeguards against the abuse of this method, and insisted on indicia sufficientia ad torturam, or a reasonable presumption of guilt before the torture was resorted to.
In England torture, although unrecognized by the common law, was employed in state trials by the Privy Council or High Commission Court in virtue of the royal prerogative. “The rack seldom stood idle in the Tower,” writes Hallam, “for all the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign.” Lord Burleigh defended its use, as the accused “was never so racked but that he was perfectly able to walk and to write;” and “the warders, whose office and act it is to handle the rack, were ever by those that attended the examinations specially charged to use it in so charitable a manner as such a thing might be.” “In the highest cases of treason,” wrote Lord Bacon in 1603, “torture is used for discovery and not for evidence.”
James I had perhaps less right than any other English sovereign to complain of its use by the Dutch. As King of Scotland he had not only sanctioned torture in alleged cases of conspiracy and witchcraft, but had in 1596 authorized even a subordinate court – the provost and baillies of Edinburgh – to try rioters by torture. As King of England he had in 1605 racked Guy Fawkes, per gradus ad ima, and in 1615 the aged Puritan
Peacham had been examined “in torture, between tortures, and after torture.” In the same year O’Kennan was put to the rack in Dublin by commission of the king’s deputy. In each one of his three kingdoms James had used torture, and he defended it with his “own princely pen.”
Even such details as the Dutch complaint that John Clarke must be “a devil” or “a witch,” because he stubbornly refused to confess under torment, are reproduced in the English trials. On January 21, 1615, Lord Bacon condoled with his Majesty on the obstinacy of the mangled Peacham, “whose raging devil seems to be turned into a dumb devil.” Lord Burleigh’s defence of the rack on the ground that it was mercifully administered and that the sufferer was always “able to walk and to write” afterwards, is an exact anticipation of the Amboyna judge’s plea of the “civil” character of the water-torture.
Yet if history must allow that the Dutch had jurisdiction, and that under that jurisdiction the use of torture was lawful, it must also declare that a grievous miscarriage of justice had taken place. It is admitted that the record discloses grave irregularities in procedure – irregularities so serious that if an appeal had been allowed they might have sufficed to quash the trial. How far they were due to the careless character of the record itself will ever remain undecided. There was certainly an absence of the indicia sufficientia ad torturam, or reasonable presumption of guilt, which would have justified torture under the Dutch law. The
confession of the Japanese soldier which formed the ground of the whole proceeding was signed on the day of his torture in defiance of the Dutch ordinances of July 15, 1570, and it was attested by all the judges, although one of them (Wyncoop) was admittedly not in Amboyna on that day. The minutes make no mention of the witnesses being confronted with each other after torture, and of their reaffirming their confessions made under torture, as required by the Dutch law.
Above all, if the English statements on oath are accepted, the whole evidence from first to last was wrung forth by torture or fear of torture. If the Dutch counter-statements be preferred, the great mass of evidence was thus obtained. Of the two witnesses not subjected to torture, according to the Dutch account, one, Edward Collins, swore that he had been tortured, and produced testimony on oath to his dismal outcries. The other, the invalid Beaumont, declared that he had confessed only after he had been tied up for torture, and that he repeated his confession at Batavia to save his own life after the death of the victims had placed them beyond reach of further harm. The survivors consistently affirmed that the only evidence against them at their trial was derived from confessions under torture; confessions which, according to the English depositions on oath, were withdrawn after the torture; and which were solemnly affirmed to be false in the dying declarations of the sufferers.
It is not needful to assume that the Amboyna Council wickedly, and against their conscience, condemned
the victims to death. Van Speult, as we have seen, was on the lookout for conspiracies, when he and his fellow councillors were suddenly transferred into the judges of men who had been their keen trade-rivals and the great obstacle to the Dutch supremacy in the Archipelago.
Among Eastern races the king or governor was both ruler and judge, and the early European settlements in Asia found themselves compelled firmly to unite all functions, executive and judicial, in the hands of one man or body of men. Cases inevitably occurred in which they were practically judges in their own cause; apt in moments of public danger or fear to bring their passions and preconceptions as governors to their seats on the bench. The Amboyna trial
was such a case. It stands on the forefront of our history in the East as an example of the danger of combining the executive and the judicial authority in the same hands. That danger the English have striven to guard against by the separation of judicial and executive offices – a process commenced almost from the foundation of their territorial rule in India, yet reaching its final stages only in our own time.
But if we view with charity the cruel blunder of the Amboyna Council as a whole, it is difficult to extend to either the governor or the prosecuting fiscal the benefit of the doubt. The fiscal, Isaac de Bruyne, appears throughout the records in a sinister light. Intent on obtaining a conviction, he constantly urged on Van Speult, and forced incriminating answers upon the witnesses till the council itself had to interpose. His record of the trial was so irregular and incomplete as to render impossible a fair judicial review of the proceedings. On the face of the record as it stands, the accused were improperly condemned. Bruyne’s conduct called forth the reprobation of his superiors at Amboyna, and in the English depositions he appears as “the greatest adversary against the English.” Whatever may have been Van Speult’s own preconception as to their guilt during the first excited days of the prosecution, he can scarcely, after the seizure of the English factory and the perusal of Towerson’s correspondence with the English president at Batavia, have believed in the plot. But by that time he may have felt that he had gone too far to retrace his steps. Or he may have simply
been one of those commonplace officials who jump to conclusions and then remain obdurate to facts. His interception of the letter from our president at Batavia ordering the withdrawal of the English from Amboyna, was only the last act in the suppression of proof of innocence.
The Dutch authorities themselves felt uneasy lest Van Speult should be examined as to his share in the business. On the expiration of his term of office at Amboyna, he had hardly returned to Batavia when a rumour arrived of a ship in the Straits of Sunda bearing a joint commission from the king and States-General for the despatch of Van Speult to Europe. He was hastily sent off to the western coast of India, whence he proceeded with an expedition to the Red Sea, and he died at Mocha, carrying his secret to the grave.
Meanwhile the English, with their agents drawn in from the Spice Archipelago, and huddled together at Batavia, waited wistfully for redress from home. They waited in vain. News of the Amboyna tragedy reached Batavia on June 20, 1623. At length, having suffered nineteen more months of insults and exactions, their ships dogged by Dutch vessels at sea and cut off from trade on shore, they resolved to quit “this perfidious people,” and, cost what it might, to seek shelter elsewhere. Some of them found refuge on the Indian coast, and in October, 1624, the miserable remnant sailed to the unhealthy Lagundy islets on the southeast of Sumatra.
There, amid terrible privations, yet stubbornly “affiant of a happy plantation,” they renamed the little group Charles’s Islands, and held out against fever and dysentery for eight months, dying “like sheep infected” under the equatorial sun and rain. In May, 1625, the skeleton survivors were so reduced as to implore the clemency of the Dutch, who in pity fetched them back to Batavia. The commander Verholt, be it recorded, showed them all “care and courtesy,” although he himself and many of his crew caught the disease. Nor did Dutch compassion end with their bare deliverance. They received the rescued men with kindness and granted them a factory house at a moderate price, the Dutch governor-general and our president, in an effusion of good feeling, exchanging chains of gold.
The Dutch had, in fact, accomplished the two fixed purposes of their policy – our expulsion from the Spice Archipelago and our complete subjection at their Batavian headquarters in Java. Their harshness had been deliberately designed to this end, and, with the exception of Van Speult’s judicial slaughter at Amboyna, they had kept fairly within their treaty rights. Their double object being now achieved, they allowed their national good nature free scope. But the excess of cordiality wore off, and the English soon became impatient of the restraints which the Dutch thought themselves entitled to impose. In July, 1627, we find our President Hawley bitterly complaining of the treatment meted out to his countrymen.
Their position was indeed an impossible one, and the Company at home, sick of King Charles’s fair words, realized this fact. In November, 1626, it proposed to abolish its factory at Batavia and to establish one under the protection of the King of Bantam. In
January, 1628, these orders reached Batavia, and the English, putting the relics of their property on board ship, sailed to Bantam, where they were welcomed by the native prince. The sad fortunes of our Bantam factory, its repeated reduction by the London Company to a subordinate post, its blockades by the Dutch, and the gradual but sure withdrawal of its trade to our
settlements on the Indian coast, belong to a later period. Its history may, however, be summed up in a single sentence. As the executions at Amboyna proclaimed the triumph of the Dutch in the Spice Islands, so the fate of Bantam declared the supremacy of the Dutch in the sea-approaches to the Far East.
By 1631 all hope of judicial redress for the torture and execution of our countrymen at Amboyna had flickered out. In 1633, and again in 1638, Charles, urged by the despairing Company, reverted to feeble attempts at negotiation, with equal unsuccess9. Innocent Englishmen had been tortured and executed under the forms of a foreign law, and for their slaughter redress could not be obtained either by diplomacy or by judicial proceedings. From the first, the Dutch were resolved not to yield, save to force of arms. As they had speedily discovered that James I would not fight, so they gradually found out that Charles I could not fight.
It was not till the unhappy distractions of the second Stuart’s reign came to their tragic close, and until the Dutch found that a real man again ruled England, that they conceded to Cromwell, after war, what a little firmness might have secured at the outset to James.
At length, in April, 1654, the States-General agreed “that justice be done upon those who were partakers or accomplices in the massacre of the English at Amboyna, as the Republic of England is pleased to term that fact, provided any of them be living.” Cromwell brooked no delay. Within five months all claims and counter-claims arising during forty-one years had been examined. In August the general damages of £85,000 were awarded to the London Company, together with £3615 to the heirs of the men done to death at Amboyna; and Pularoon was restored to English rule.
But this tardy justice failed to efface Amboyna from the English mind. The spectres of the tortured victims stood between the two great Protestant powers during a century. The memory of a great wrong unredressed and of innocent blood unavenged embittered their trade rivalry, intensified each crisis of political strain, and furnished a popular cry for two wars. Dryden’s “Tragedy of Amboyna,” produced in the fiftieth year after the execution, has been not unfairly described as his one literary effort which is wholly worthless except as a curiosity. Yet it serves to show how the story deepened into a darker hue with age.
The opening dialogue between Van Speult and the Dutch fiscal reveals their hatred to the English. Van
Speult’s son, whom Towerson has rescued at sea, plots with the fiscal against the life of his preserver, and, after again being saved from death by Towerson, ravishes the Englishman’s bride and is thereupon killed by him in a duel. Van Speult, in revenge, invents the story of the plot. The victims are tortured on the stage, fiercely reviled by the governor, and led off to execution. On his way to death Towerson breaks forth in a prophetic strain, foretelling the vengeance of his countrymen and the ruin and downfall of the Dutch. The characters are coarsely drawn from the “True Relation;” the picture presented of the Dutch is grossly unfair. But it struck a chord of popular feeling, and responded to an antipathy which had hardened and set into a national tradition.
That tradition not only affected our internal and dynastic politics, but it profoundly influenced the march of events in Europe. If Holland and England had been friends at heart instead of occasional allies by interest, the aggressions of Louis XIV would have encountered a very different strength of resistance. Our Charles II
would scarcely have dared to remain the dependent of -France. James II would perhaps have shrunk from forcing a Catholic reaction on England. The memory
of Amboyna wrought like a fever on the trade-rivalry of the two Protestant sea powers. The friendship of France might mean court corruption and Popery, but between England and Holland, as long as that bloody memory lived, there could be no real friendship at all. Politicians and poets appealed to the middle-class
hatred of the Dutch as against the middle-class hatred of Rome. Amboyna is thus disclosed as one of the influences which lured on the Stuarts to the Revolution, and as one of the remote secret springs of the age of Louis XIV.
Nor had Amboyna less important consequences for the Dutch. The overthrow of the English in the Spice Archipelago and their subjection in Java enabled the Holland Company to create a colonial system which, for frank indifference to human suffering, stands out in the history of European settlements across the seas. The fault was not the fault of the Dutch nation, but of the particular period when the chance of a great colonial empire came to it. The Catholic tradition of conversion by conquest, cruel as were its practices, had given place to the industrial idea of conquest for trade.
Neither Spain nor Portugal, with their record of blood in the Eastern and the Western worlds, nor England, with its subsequent slave traffic, can afford to cast stones. But the comparative isolation of Holland in the East, and the absence of any strong native power in the Archipelago like that of the Moghul dynasty in India, enabled the Dutch to work out the industrial idea of conquest to its logical results. The same isolation enabled them to perpetuate that idea, after it had been profoundly modified by a humanitarian awakening in Europe. It survived as a relic of a century when the Protestant nations of the Continent, wearied with religious strife, lost sight for a time of that spiritual brotherhood of man which shot rays across the darkness
of Portuguese misrule, and which had burned up afresh before the foundation of British territorial sway in India. Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the chief founder of the Dutch colonial system, became governor-general in 1618 – the date taken by European history for the commencement of the Thirty Years’ War.
Coen has left in his own words a detailed description of the fabric which he designed. The Dutch charter expired in January, 1623, and on the 21st of that month the great governor-general, as the last act of his first term of office, drew up his political testament for the benefit of his countrymen in the form of instructions left with Peter de Carpentier, governor-general, and the Council of the Indies, and dated Batavia,
21–31, January, 1623. He realized that the sea-power of Holland in the Archipelago must rest on a territorial basis with a territorial revenue, the absence of which had drawn forth from Cosme Annes, nearly a hundred years earlier (1549), the Portuguese lament: “We sit still, perishing without lands out of which to support ourselves or find shelter.” Albuquerque discerned the same need a century before. But Coen deliberately worked out what Albuquerque had perceived, and, unlike Albuquerque, he was backed by a nation which loyally supported its great servants in the East.
He cherished no illusions as to how such a territorial sea-empire was to be acquired and maintained. It was easy to bring the scattered islands under subjection. The problem was to people them with workers. The idea of settling Dutchmen and Dutchwomen in sufficient numbers, although it had its attractions for Coen as for the other colonizing spirits of that age, he saw to be impracticable. He anticipated the conclusion which some of the European nations are only now reaching after long and cruel experience, that agricultural emigrants from the temperate zone perish in the tropics. The lands of the equator can be tilled only by equatorial races. The heathen whom the Papal Bulls had given to the Portuguese for an inheritance, to be converted with a rod of iron or dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel, were to Coen merely a cheap labour-force. The “ingathering of a multitude of people from all parts to people our country withall” was
his first object, and of far more consequence, he declared, than the buying of cloths and goods.
This object he proposed to accomplish by three distinct methods: the enslavement of conquered islands, the purchase of slaves from the African and Asiatic continents, and the seizure of slaves on their coasts. The first method needs but the single comment, that it went much further than the subjection of the native races enforced by the Portuguese. As regards the second, orders for the buying of slaves had been given in 1614; Coen resolved to carry them out on a large scale. “Divers fleets” were now to be sent to the Coromandel coast, to Madagascar, and to the African seaboard, to purchase as many slaves, especially young people, as could be got. This buying of slaves was to go forward before any other work, to the extent of “many thousands, yea, to an infinite number.”
The third method, by seizure, was to be conducted by a squadron on the Chinese coast. The shore-dwellers, especially the women and children, were to be carried away for the peopling of Batavia, Amboyna, and Banda. “Herein will be a great service done for the Company, and by this means will be found all the charge of the war.” The Chinese slaves might be redeemed for sixty reals (£13 10s.) apiece. “But by no means you must not suffer any women to return to China, or any other part out of the Company’s jurisdiction, but with them to people the same.” As the Dutch supremacy firmly established itself, a fourth system
of recruitment was added, by treaty provisions for a tribute in full-grown slaves.
The Dutch industrial system in the East, thus founded on the most rigorous forms of slavery, was eventually softened through successive stages of forced labour. It produced for a time enormous profits. A tropical soil was made to yield as it had never yielded before, and its fruits were monopolized by Holland.
As respects European rivals, the restrictions which the Anglo-Dutch still imposed on Coen, in January, 1623, were removed by the tragedy of Amboyna in the next month, and by the withdrawal of the English factories from the Spice Archipelago. As regards native competition, the islanders were compelled to root up their clove and nutmeg trees, where they seemed to threaten the profits of the Dutch. The produce of the most fertile regions in the world, cultivated on the severest system of human toil, was secured to the Dutch and to the Dutch alone.
While Coen founded the colonial empire of Holland on the sure basis of the soil, he strengthened it by all the devices of a skilful administration – by a lucrative coasting trade with the African and Asiatic continents, by a great sea commerce with Europe, and by a well-planned system of tolls and local taxation. The rich island empire which he thus projected, he secured by fortresses, built and maintained by the cheap labour of prisoners and slaves. Coen stands out from among all men of European race in the Asia of his day – a statesman of the clearest vision, and an administrator of the firmest hand, half-way between the Portuguese Albuquerque in the sixteenth century and the French Dupleix or the English Warren Hastings, in the eighteenth. But he could not rise above the morals of his time, and his strong personality during a double tenure of office impressed the stamp of a cruel age on the colonial system of his country. His crime, or his misfortune, was that he stereotyped in Dutch India the disregard
for human suffering which brutalized Europe during the Thirty Years’ War.
Holland was the first European country to send a steady supply of really able men to the East, and she supported them by force of arms. James I would not and Charles I could not fight. The English East India Company was still a body of private adventurers for whose benefit Parliament felt by no means eager to go to war. In spite of the long list of lords and gentlemen who swelled the subscription book of the Company, in spite of the outburst of wrath and indignation which the news of Amboyna aroused in London, England had not yet learned to look upon her Indian trade as a national concern. Holland had, and she was willing to make sacrifices and to screen crimes, in order to maintain her position in Asia.
7. The chief contemporary pamphlets on the Amboyna tragedy are six in number.
(i) A True Relation of the Unjust, Cruel, and Barbarous Proceedings against the English at Amboyna. This narrative was “taken out of the depositions of six several English factors “who survived the trial, as delivered on oath before Sir Henry Marten, Judge of. the Admiralty, supplemented by the testimony of Welden, the English chief agent in Banda at the time of the tragedy. The Privy Council in September, 1624, gave their opinion that the relation was justified by the statements of the six witnesses. Calendar of State Papers, East Indies, 1622–1624, par. 620.
(ii) A True Declaration of the Newes that came out of the East Indies, with the Pinace called the ‘‘Hare.” A Dutch pamphlet which appeared anonymously, and was thought by some to be the work of Boreel. The Directors of the Dutch Company denied the authorship, and, on complaint of the English ambassador, the States-General issued a proclamation declaring it to be “a scandalous and senseless libel,” and offering a reward of 400 guilders for the discovery of either the author or the printer.
(iii) An Answer to the Dutch Relation touching the pretended Conspiracy of the English at Amboyna in the Indies, being a reply to No. ii. (the libellous Dutch Declaration) drawn up by the English Company and issued under its authority. These three pamphlets were published together by the Company in 1624 with a preface. A third reprint is dated 1632, and there were several subsequent editions.
(iv) A Remonstrance of the Directors of the Netherlands East India Company presented to the Lords States-General ... in defence of the said Company touching the bloody Proceedings against the English Merchants executed at Amboyna.
(v) The Acts of the Council of Amboyna. The official Court Record of the Trial and the confessions of the accused, as presented by the Dutch to the East India Company.
(vi) A Reply to the Defence of the Proceedings of the Dutch against the English at Amboyna. An answer to, and criticism of, Nos. iv. and v. These last three pamphlets were published by authority in London in 1632.
8. Captain Gabriel Towerson; Samuel Colson, factor at Hitto; Emanuel Thomson, assistant at Amboyna; Timothy Johnson, assistant at Amboyna; John Wetheral, factor at Cambello; John Clark, assistant at Hitto; William Griggs, factor at Larica; John Fardo, steward of the House; Abel Price (the drunken barber-surgeon); Robert Brown, tailor.
9. An English writer, who is not a lawyer and who has spent most of his life in the practical duties of Indian administration, should speak with diffidence as to the forms of Dutch procedure in the early seventeenth century. I have, therefore, taken the precaution to consult a Dutch jurist, Dr. Bisschop, who combines accurate historical research with a judicial training. He states, and quotes Dutch legal authorities for his opinion, that in extraordinary proceedings, in which the accused were examined without witnesses first being heard, the confessions of the accused were necessary for conviction, and that torture could be legitimately resorted to in order to obtain such confessions. The Amboyna trial came practically under this category, and the evidence from first to last was obtained by torture. But the Dutch law recognized the danger of a miscarriage of justice arising out of confessions thus wrung forth, and it provided safeguards accordingly. These safeguards were explicit in form and essential to the validity of the proceedings. They were disregarded in the Amboyna trial, although the prosecuting fiscal, in the words of the Dutch Governor-General and Council, “calls himself a lawyer, and was taken into the Company’s service as such.”
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage