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Malacca, a Dutch conquest forgotten


The city of Malacca or also known as 'Melaka' is one of the thirteen states that belongs to Malaysia and it is located 2 degrees north of the equator by the shore of the Straits of Malacca between Singapore to its south and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia to its north. Malacca is host to a wide and interesting collection of a diversified culture, minority ethnic communities, a unique blend of Eastern and Western architecture and a rich background of history.

As far back as the early 15th century, Malacca was already the cradle of a modern civilisation with the existence of a multi-rational plural society and the center of trade in the region that was even envied by the Europeans. Traders and merchants of so many nations from east and west gathered in this emporium of trade that it was recorded that as many as 84 different languages were spoken here at the height of its glory.


Malacca's beginnings

According to the legends which have been recorded by the Malay Annals and by the Portuguese, a prince who is known by the title of Parameswara from a dying kingdom of Srivijaya in Indonesia came to Tumasik (the old name of Singapore), killed the ruler who paid tribute to Siam and reigned there for five years until the Siamese drove him out.

While in exile, Parameswara chose Malacca as his new kingdom because here, near the hill and along the river bank, a small but aggressive white mousedeer caught his attention when the mousedeer so intimidated his hunting dogs that they turned and fell into the water. The place where the weak can triumph over the strong, Parameswara decided, would be a good location for a settlement. Parameswara became the first ruler of Malacca.

The original inhabitants of Malacca were fishermen and when Parameswara settled at Malacca in about 1400, he was soon joined by other refugees from Palembang and the town quickly grew.

Malacca had the advantage of being on the narrowest part of the Straits where the deep water channel was near to the Malaysian side. The river mouth formed a small harbour overlooked by the hill on which the Sultan and his chiefs could build a fortified stockade protected on the land side by marshes. At first, no doubt, piracy and fishing were the main occupations but soon traders began to call and the little settlement prospered.

Before too long, Malacca became important enough to attract the attention of Siam and were forced to pay tribute to their king. At this time, the Ming Emperor of China were sending out fleets to the countries of south east Asia to enforce overlordship and Parameswara was glad to receive protection from the mighty China against Siam. In 1405 the Chinese emperor recognised Parameswara as the ruler of Malacca and the famous Chinese admiral Zheng He was dispatched to visit him in 1409. Two years later Parameswara even made a visit to China and was well received by the emperor. Parameswara's successors continued to exchange envoys with China, but after 1430 strangely the Mings adopted a policy of seclusion and cease to interfere with the affairs of the lands to the south of their dominions.


The arrival of the Portuguese

With the coming of the Portuguese to Malacca, it marks as a special moment in history that would lead with the ultimate doom of the rule of the Malay Sultans of Malacca.

Word on the importance of Malacca as the center for trade for the whole eastern part of Asia and the gateway to the spice islands of the East Indies soon reached the ears of the Portuguese. In 1509 a fleet commanded by Dom Diogo Lopez de Sequeira was sent to investigate Malacca and to request the Sultan to allow the Portuguese to trade there. However, the influential Gujerati merchants (from Gujerat, India) in Malacca realised that the granting of this request would ruin their trade. So, they persuaded the Sultan to refuse permission. A party of Portuguese who were ashore were suddenly seized and imprisoned. Sequeira then withdrew his fleet but already had gained valuable information which proved useful later.

In 1511 Alfonso d'Albuquerque who was Viceroy of all the Portuguese in the East, sailed for Malacca with a fleet of sixteen ships from Goa (India) and landed his men to capture Malacca by the sword and rescue his captured countrymen. There was a fierce fight for the bridge over the river mouth and the Portuguese were only successful at their second attempt to storm the city. Finally Sultan Mahmud and his Malay chiefs fled from the city, to which they were never able to return.

Alfonso d'Albuquerque immediately build a great stone castle by the bridge, to which the name A' Famosa (meaning the Famous) was given. The fort was to prove strong enough to resist all attacks from foes during the one hundred and thirty years that the Portuguese held Malacca. On the hill, rising behind the fort, the Portuguese built their houses, the governor's palace and their churches, while the native population of traders of many nations lived on the opposite bank of the river.

The Portuguese had captured the city and oust its Sultan and even till today, Malacca remains the only state in Peninsular Malaysia other then Penang that is not directly governed by a sovereign leader.


Dutch in the East Indies

Merchantmen from Holland and Zeeland, the two Dutch provinces which were leading the way on the Far East trade routes, were up against a powerful competitor. Portuguese traders made things as difficult as possible for Dutch intruders. Native rulers were warned against Dutch ships and cooperated as little as possible with the Dutch for fear of retaliation by the Portuguese who themselves were ruled by the Spanish king. A boycott had denied Dutch traders Asian merchandise for their European customers.

When Spain settled its difference with the English, the Dutch had become further isolated and threatened economically. Dutch ship owners and trading houses had responded to the political turn of events by searching their own route to the Indies, attempting to cut out the Iberian middlemen. Only with the establishment of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC - Dutch East Indies Company) in 1602 to coordinate the Indies trade, the Dutch had the opportunity to take on the competition.

When the Dutch ships first arrived in the East Indies at Ayutthaya, Siam (a town on an island in the river Chao Phraya, further inland from present-day Bangkok) in 1604 they had become alarmed at the Portuguese expansion in the region and on the Malayan west coast. The Portuguese were omnipresent on the East Indian subcontinent.

However, foreigners who wanted to do business in Siam soon found out that the king's favour could be bought with expensive gifts of gold, silver and precious stones, and weaponry, or with products the Siamese were unfamiliar with. The VOC entered the costs of such gifts onto their ledgers as legitimate business expenses, to be deducted from any profits made in Siam, and therefore gaining a foothold into the East Indies. Soon the king of Siam began to trade with the Dutch and eventually Siam's alliance shifted from the Portuguese to the Dutch.

The first governor-general, to the East Indies was Pieter Both, the person who perfected the Dutch merchant triangle between Japan, Siam and the Moluccas. His successor Jan Pieterszoon Coen was responsible for the decision to close all the three Dutch trading posts at Pattani (Siamese harbour on the east coast of the Malayan peninsula) and Ayutthaya, and a new one in Cambodia to be relocated to Batavia (now Jakarta).


Attack by the Dutch

Batavia was founded by the Dutch only in 1619, but Malacca's fame as a fabulous center of Asian wares was already a great lure for the Dutch, who at once began making plans to attack the city. The Dutch first arrived in Malacca in April 1606 with the third fleet of the VOC to visit the archipelago, commanded by Cornelis Matelief de Jonge. The fleet consisted of 11 ships: Oranje, Nassau, Middelburg, Witte Leeuw, Zwarte Leeuw, Mauritus, Grote Zon, Amsterdam, Kleine Zon, Erasmus and Geuniveerde Provincien. Matelief de Jonge immediately set about making a formal pact with the Sultan of Johor, which was concluded in May 1606.

In the treaty, the Dutch undertook to expel the Portuguese from Malacca and in return the Sultan of Johor would allow the Dutch to keep Malacca and conduct trade in Johor. Interestingly enough, both parties agreed to respect each other's religions, a condition seemingly very important for the Malays who had endured the Roman Catholic Portuguese intolerance of Islam and Muslim traders. The Dutch were sworn enemies of the Portuguese, were more powerful and, unlike the Portuguese, not obsessed with a hatred of Islam. There was common ground for an alliance between Malay rulers and the Dutch, probably because its rulers were desperate to get rid of the Portuguese obstructing trade in the Straits.

The Portuguese had turned Malacca into a formidable fort, thus making a land attack difficult, they had also set up heavy guns on the hilltop overlooking the harbour to attack approaching enemy ships. As Matelief de Jonge approached Malacca harbour, he captured some ships to procure badly-needed provisions for his men, then settled down to a long siege of the city to starve it into surrender. The siege indeed made life rather difficult for the people in the city and surrender seemed only a matter of time.

It was at this stage that a Portuguese fleet led by Don Martin d'Alphonso de Castro, the Viceroy of Goa, appeared at Malacca on Aug 14, 1606. So the scene was set for one of the great sea battles in the archipelago. The Dutch and Portuguese fleets exchanged cannon fire and on Aug 16, 1606 the Portuguese fleet moved towards Cape Rachado (now Tanjung Tuan, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia) where a fierce sea battle was fought.

The battle began in earnest the following day and ships engaged each other in a bloody fight. They began with heavy cannon fire to weaken the enemy and then boarded the ship for hand-to-hand fighting. Unfortunately for the Dutch, the Nassau was caught at anchor and was boarded by men from the Portuguese ship Santa Cruz. Matelief de Jonge's ship, the Oranje, went to the rescue of the Nassau only to collide with another Dutch ship, the Middelburg.

Matelief de Jonge managed to disentangle his ship and engaged an enemy ship, almost catching it but losing it in the end, thanks in part to the disorderly conduct of his sailors.

Then the Portuguese on board the ships Santa Cruz and Conceicao attacked the Nassau and set her on fire. The Dutch ships Mauritus and Zwarte Leeluw could not dislodge Conceicao and there was an explosion in Nassau's stern; the ship burnt fiercely before sinking.

It probably was a spectacular and frightening experience for the Malays who must have been observing the battle from shore.

There was a lull in the battle over the next few days and, realising his great losses and insufficient manpower, Matelief de Jonge decided to abandon the fight. The sea battle had caused heavy losses to both parties. It was reported that the Dutch lost 150 men and had many more wounded while the Portuguese lost as many as 500 men. The first attack on Malacca by the Dutch was a failure.

That first Dutch attack on Malacca failed for several reasons. The wind was against the Dutch ships, making it difficult to attack the enemy without getting entangled in close fighting for which the sailors were not well trained. The Dutch also failed to gain a firm footing on land outside Malacca and had insufficient manpower to mount a frontal attack on a city weakened by starvation. Had the Sultan of Johor helped the Dutch with his men and other resources, the outcome of this attack would have been different.

The sea battle lifted the Dutch siege of Malacca, much to the great relief of its people. Little did they realise, though, that this had merely been a foretaste of what was to come in a little over three decades later.


The capture of Malacca

Malacca was of little use to the Portuguese after the spice trade and the command of the sea were lost but they hung on to the fort stubbornly. Finally the Dutch decided to again try to capture the fortified city and again made an alliance with the Sultan of Johor. The Sultan was ready and eager to re-build the friendship of the Dutch when they came back and he committed greater resources to end the Portuguese rule in the Straits and agreed to join forces with the Dutch as well as Aceh to remove their common enemy.

The siege began in 1640 and it was a long and cruel six months before the Dutch and their allies captured the city at the beginning of 1641.

The attack on the fort began in June 1640 by order of Antonio van Diemen, Governor General at Batavia and his Council, the Honours entrusting it to an experience and bold soldier Sergent Major Adrian Antonissoon. Unfortunately the brave Antonissoon was destined never to taste the glory of the conquest of Malacca.

Twelve ships and six boats in half-moon formation blockaded the shore to cut off supplies, keeping a cannonade to which the Portuguese Governor of Malacca, Manuel de Souza Countinho replied bravely and patiently with his heavy guns. At the end of July, Johor sent a fleet of 40 sails carrying about 1,500 men and on 2nd August, Antonissoon having as many men again, partly Dutch, partly German, landed his combined forces north of Tranquerah (part of the city north of the Fortress), expelled several hundreds of the Portuguese troops from the first bastion, entered Tranquerah and drove the defenders back into the Fortress. Within a pistol shot of A' Famosa, the Dutch erected two batteries with sixteen 24 pounders, which made breaches in the strong bastion and damaged the great Keep. St. Paul's Church and many other large buildings within the Fortress were damaged beyond recognition. In reply, the heavy Portuguese guns on St. Paul's Hill left not one house in the Dutch quarters at Tranquerah intact.

During the battle, the Johorites had destroyed the paddy fields, fruit and vegetable gardens in Malacca, and maintained a constant blockade at sea so that they frustrated the repeated attempts of Portuguese boats to get through.

By December, plague had broken out among beseigers and the besieged. Deserters from the Dutch encourage the defence to preserve, while many of the besieged Portuguese fleeing from the pangs of hunger reported that in town were only 200 Europeans and 400 Portuguese Eurasians and that because of the blockade the prices of necessities such as rice and meat had skyrocketed.

The famine in the streets daily was so acute that some men and women escaped and went over to the Dutch camp to ask for food. Famine raged fiercely among the Portuguese but fever, dysentery and plague were so rampant among the Dutch that it was reported that more troops were destroyed by this disease then by the hand of the enemy. By 1641, the stocks of provisions had run so low that cats, rats and meat of beast were consumed. Famine became so prevalent that it was reported that a mother killed her own child and after having kept it for two days, was drawn by pangs of hunger to eat it, to the consternation of all who had heard of it.

Women and children had been expelled from the Fortress. It is said that 7,000 persons died in the town and more fled in to the countryside so that the population which the Dutch estimated at 20,000 only 3,000 were left. One thousand five hundred Hollanders perished including three successive commanders who fell victims to disease and the whole of the secret council have died also. Finally, the Dutch officers appointed Captain Minne Willemssoon Kaartekoe to the command.

On 14th January 1641, after a day of public prayer, 650 men who were still healthy, soldiers with muskets and sailors with ladders advanced on the bastion S. Domingos of the A' Famosa, shouting their war cry, "Help us God". The bastion S. Domingos fell and then in succession, so did the other bastions and the indomitable A' Famosa was finally captured. Thus ending the 130 years of Portuguese rule of Malacca.

After this, the Dutch set about to rebuilt the Fortress and ruled Malacca for the next one hundred and sixty years - the longest of all its colonial rule. From their new base in Malacca, the Dutch tried to control the trade passing through the Straits of Malacca and the export of tin from Malaya (the old name of Malaysia).


Dutch 'Malakka'

The new European masters called the place 'Malakka' but it was also popularly known then by the Dutch as "Slavenburg" (slave town) because of the trade of slaves there.

Administratively, Malacca was subject to the Hoge Regering (Supreme Government) in Batavia the seat of the VOC power in Asia, but it had its own dependencies which include Andragiri in Sumatra and the island of Riau (Bintan) located at the tip of the Malay peninsula.

The Dutch are said to have imposed a stifling monopoly on all indigenous commerce in the region during their rule of Malacca. This is believed to have adversely affected Malay traders but when contemporary historical records of the Dutch East India Company were examined during recent researches, it shows a very different picture, a picture of Malay traders trying to set up new trade centers in the Johor-Riau area to support Malay kingdoms. The Dutch rule of the 17th and 18th centuries have often been noted as a period of decline in the Malay archipelago. At least, this is what British writers of the colonial era would have us believe. This portrayal served well to justify intervention in the Malay states to stop the supposed economic and social decay and restore political stability.

The data obtained from the recent local research on ships coming in and going out of Malacca port show clearly that, as a center of regional trade, Malacca did not decline after 1640. A large number of traders from numerous ports in the Indonesian archipelago visited Malacca every year. There was a trough in the 1730s, but the port continued to attract a large number of traders from 1760 to 1800.

This evidence proves that the local trading community patronising Malacca's port did not vanish even after it came under Dutch control. The local traders were happy to return to the port because of its central position in the region. It was a place where traders from both mainland and insular areas met in brisk trade for many generations. In fact, local traders were an important source of income for the Dutch in Malacca. Commodities such as rice, rattan, dried fish, sago, salt, locally woven cloths, tobacco, tin, plates and cups, Chinese ceramics and Chinese ceremonial gold paper, spices such as pepper, nutmeg, clovers, and cinnamon among many other items to meet the necessities of daily life, was traded here.

The majority of traders who visited Malacca were Malay and Chinese. There were other groups of Asian traders, such as the Javanese and Indians, as well as Arabs and Armenians and the Portuguese and Dutch traders operating between Asian ports. But their number was small in comparison with that of the Malay and Chinese traders who amounted to nearly two-thirds of all traders. These two groups were engaged in a lively competition for trade in the Indonesian archipelago.

Also, when tracing the demographic transformation of Malacca, it was shown that there was only a small number of Malay residents in Malacca under the Portuguese rule but numbers increased gradually after 1641, when the Dutch captured the city. Following this, the first plural society in Malaysia came into existence with people from the Malay, Chinese, European and Eurasian communities mixing and living in harmony in Malacca.


End of the Dutch rule of Malacca

After about 160 years of Dutch rule, Malacca was handed over to the English and became part of the Straits Settlements. With the opening of the port at Singapore by the British, Melaka's economy fell into further decline.

In 1795 when the Batavian Republic was set up in the Netherlands under the aegis of France, the authorities in British India decided on the conquest of most of the Dutch possessions in the East, including Malacca. On 26th August 1795 after only a token resistance, Malacca was captured by the combined English naval and military expedition under the joint command of Captain Henry Newcome and Major Archibald Brown. The English in the East India Company imposed a military garrison on the town. They appointed the Commandant of the garrison to act ex officio as Resident, but allowed the Dutch civil administration to continue more or less as before. Official records for the first period of British occupation (1795 - 1818) still continued to be kept in Dutch whereas after the permanent transfer to Great Britain (1825), they were written in English.

Malacca was made subject to the new Eastern Presidency of Penang in 1805. By the terms of the London convention of 1814, provision was made for handing back Malacca to the Netherlands but the actual restoration only took place on 21st September 1818. The re-imposition of Dutch Rule however was destined to be short-lived. A further treaty of 17th March 1824 which effected an exchange of Dutch and British possessions in India and the East Indies, re-assigned Malacca to Great Britain. Malacca was traded by the Dutch for Bencoolen (now Bengkulu, west coast of Sumatra). The British occupied Malacca at the beginning of April 1825 and the town was then placed under the direct authority of the English Bengal Government.

Many Dutch families stayed behind even after the Dutch government officially left Malacca. Some have never even seen their homeland, they were born in Malacca and died there. Now their descendants known as Dutch Descent Eurasians still reside there but many now have also moved to other states in Malaysia, to Singapore and some migrated to other parts of the world either because of employment commitments or to seek their fortune at greener pastures.


Remnants of the past

After the conquest of the Portuguese fort, the city of Malacca was almost totally destroyed, but the Dutch immediately started to rebuilt it. Today, you will still be able to see in the town the Stadthuys or government offices - the oldest surviving building in the former Dutch colonies, the old Dutch Reformed Church - now Christ Church and several other old buildings which were built by the Dutch. The governor's residence is a copy of the city hall of Hoorn (in the Netherlands) of that time, now the sister city of Malacca. The brick buildings were originally plastered white and are now completely painted red. Malacca's Dutch Square is now known by the common people as the Red Square.

Rumor has it that the old buildings at Malacca's Dutch Square were built using the bricks imported all the way from the Netherlands. It is said that the bricks were loaded in ships sailing for Melaka and used for ballast. Upon reaching Melaka, they would unload the bricks to be used for the construction and replace them with merchandise for their return journey to the Netherlands. At this moment this has yet to be proven.

There are also residential homes at Heeren Street (now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) and Jonker Street (now Jalan Hang Jebat) that were built during the Dutch era, dating back between 350 and 200 years. Those streets form the Kampong Belanda, a Dutch quarter. Walk down these narrow streets in Malacca and not only you get a feeling of going back in time, but you can also find the Dutch influence on the architecture still faintly noticeable. Not only because of the un-Asiatic high doors, windows and rooms, but also because of their dimensions. The law in VOC times was that real estate taxes should be paid according to the width of the houses. So, very narrow houses were built, that were many meters long.

Climb up St. Paul's Hill in Malacca to the ruins of the St. Paul's Church and read the text on some of the Dutch tombstones there that stands between many others against the walls in the Church. One that stands out is the tombstone of Theodorus Van De Kerckhoven whose father was Jacob Kerckhoven - the 'Underfactor' in Malacca from 1660 to 1662. The translation is as follows, but it cannot do justice to the rhymed couplets of the inscription :

"In his life he was his Father's and Mother's joy
He loved his brother dearly
One year less three days was this
tender plant when God caused the
soul to leave the body,
and frequently after his internment
people asked about him.
On the 5th November, in the year
sixteen hundred and six times ten
was he borne to earth;
in the Town of Malacca was the
occurrence seen."


The original Dutch text :

In sijn leven was hij vaders enmoeders vreugt
Sijn broeder leefde hij tot een geneugt
Een jaer min drie dagen was dese spruit
Doen God de ziel deed gaen het lichaem uit
En ofter nae sijn uitvaert iemant vroeg
November vijf men hem ter aerden droeg
Int jaer sestenhondert en sesmaal thien
Binnen de stat Malacca sag men 't geschien



Source: The Dutch Courier.
Author: Dennis de Witt.
Published: 05-2001

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