III.3 Conquests, Fortresses and Occupations

The first land conquest by the VOC was the Portuguese-built town of Ambon in 1605. This was achieved with the indispensable help of the raja of Hitu, a small kingdom on island of Ambon. As the VOC was primarily a trading organization, expensive occupation of territory was not its first priority. Yet, a monopoly on the most important export items of the Nusantara could only be secured by conquest, and this involved the violent occupation of key ports and trading centres like Jayakarta (Batavia) near the main port of Banten, as well as Makassar, Banda, Jepara and Surabaya.

The policy of occupying key positions in the indigenous trading network has left many traces in the landscape. Alongside the traditional benteng or indigenous defence works, modern European stone forts armed with appropriate artillery batteries were built at strategic positions. But a modern fort did not always reflect a strong position. Many small forts and pagar, simple earthen defence works with palisades represented a symbolic presence meant as a signal to other European powers that the territory was legally under VOC control and their intrusion would be illegal. Various documents reveal the very different meanings of such a foreign presence.

Story about Silebar and Bengkulu and the activities of the English there, 28 January 1696

Introduced: Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells
Release Date: Dec. 21, 2013