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Malabar, 1498. Click to enlarge

Malabar during Dutch supremacy,
1602-78. Click to enlarge

Communication history of the Dutch in India
- Ramachandran Vaidyanadhan

We are all aware of the part played by the East India Company in creating communications networks in India, but very a few know about the role played by the Dutch who ruled a major part of Malabar and some pockets of Bengal and Goa. A bunch of Dutch letters/documents bought at an antique shop a decade ago prompted me to search for relevant books on the Dutch history. Finally books like Cochin State Manual (1911), A page from the history of Cochin, The coast of Malabar and Coromandal and the Dutch in Malabar, helped me piece together the style of letter writing and functioning of the Dutch in India.

The advent of the Portuguese in 1498 left nothing appreciable to note their communication style in India during the next couple of centuries. The establishment of the Dutch in the Cochin area took place in 1663 and they ceased to be in control from October 20, 1795. However they ran offices which had status as official entities till 1825. Postal historians will be delighted to know about the existence of the well-knit mailing system of the Dutch in India. The correspondences of the Dutch East Indies colonies in India, particularly that of the Malabar coast, is indeed awe-inspiring. Moreover, the material is in astonishingly good condition despite its age—about three hundred years. That the material has survived in this tropical country for so long is itself a wonder of wonders.

The Dutch East Indies Company, known as the Dutch Oost-Indische Compagnie, which wielded power in and around Cochin for over 130 years appears to be a pioneer in the art of communications. Their address panels are a treat to view. In fact this prompted me to collect the antique (15th and 16th centuries with address panels) letters of all nations.

These letters include elaborate addresses of the person to whom the letter is addressed; in many cases the sender's address panel is also detailed. Some letters endorse the means of transport (ship names, etc.); on receipt the date of arrival is also noted. Letters coming from different towns bear different types of Dutch seals, and Dutch documents transacting land settlements, agreements and power of attorney, bear different types of seals. Both the official letters and the registration documents bear the signatures of the Governor General of the Dutch.

The seals impressed in red wax depict a galleon with a map of Cochin below. Some have the word "COCHIN" over the map. One variety has the inscription "Mallabar Commissary". One letter from Batavia has the word "DOC" instead of "VOC". Other varieties from Bengal bear the side profile of a person, while some show coats of arms.

The prominent Dutch possessions were:

  • Negapatam (captured from the Portuguese in 1660 and it remained with the Dutch till 1781).
  • Tuticorin (Took over from the Portuguese in 1658).
  • Cannanore (Dutch possession since Feb 13, 1663).
  • Chetva: (Taken over in 1770)
  • Pappinivattam (Capital of Chetva).
  • Cochin: (Came under the Dutch possion on March 12, 1661. On Feb 13 1663 the town and the fort were captured by the Dutch)
  • Tangasseri: (Near Travancore)
  • Porca: (Also called Chempakasseri or Ambalappuzha was taken over in 1661)
  • Quilon: (Dutch spelled it Coylan/Coilon, captured from the Portuguese on Dec 7 1661).
  • Verapoli: (Headquarters of the Bishop's office Presently known as Varapuzha, near Cochin).
  • Pondicherry: (The capital of the French and it was with the Dutch between 1693 and 1699 and it was restored to the French).
  • Kayamkulam: (Remained till 1746).
  • Tekkumkur: (Remained till 1750.
  • Crangannoore: (Came into the Dutch possession on Jan 15, 1663 and remained till 1789).
  • Vypeeen, Narakkal, Pallipuram, Azhikota, Aroor, Mattancherri: (All in and around Cochin and they were all taken over in 1661).
  • Chennamangalam (took over in 1663).
  • Mullurkara, Tottasseri, Chelakkara, Pazhayannur, Parur, Mangad, Alangad, Manakulam, Talapilli, Kakkad, Ayinky (also called Cheralayam), Vadakkancherry and Karapuram were all came under the Dutch in 1663.
  • Ayirur, Pazhancheri, Trikunnat, Amturutm, Marpranam, Arattupuzha, Muttakunnat, Puttanpadam, Velosanad, Kodasseri, Changarankota, Changarankanda, Kunnatteri, Mukundapuram and Muriyanad owed allegiance to the Dutch in 1710.
  • Travancore was under Dutch control between 1741 and 1748.
  • St. Thome/st.Thome Bazaar (in the present Chennai, nee Madras was captured from the French on January 24, 1674).
  • Walliatorra ( a port near Travancore).

I have included many other details including a list of all Governors between 1663 and 1795, a list of all Rajas for the same period, lists of other aquisitions, copies of various types of letters, redrawn seals, maps of Malabar in 1498 and South India during the Portuguese in 1652, a map of Dutch possessions and a plan of a Dutch fort.

This volume won bronze medals at the world exhibitions held in Delhi (1997), Milan (1998) and Nuremberg (1999). The book is available directly from me. If you wish to purchase a copy, please send £20(UK)/$30(US), which includes airmail and registration charges, by bank cheque or money order payable to R. Vaidyanadhan.

R. Vaidyanadhan
104/S-4 Navin Apartment
Vanniar Street
Chennai 600 094 India

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