Continuity and Change in the Dutch Position in Asia between 1750 and 1850
Change and innovation were the catchwords that characterized the prevalent mood among colonial rulers in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Liberalism was expected to replace the closed mercantilist systems that had dominated relations between the European centres and the colonial periphery since the sixteenth century and the new generation of colonial rulers in the period around 1800 were showing great enthusiasm for innovation and were doing their utmost to introduce fundamental changes. Men like Daendels and Baron van der Capellen in the Dutch East Indies, Thomas Stamford Raffles in Java and Lord North in Ceylon had many ideas in common on how the native societies they ruled should be altered. Although some of their activities proved to have lasting effects, later critics have stressed that the innovators went too fast and were too preoccupied with their schemes to pay proper attention to the character of the societies they wanted to reform. In both islands, the colonial subjects revolted against attacks on traditional institutions. One example of the discrepancy between ideas and reality was the governorship of Ceylon by Frederick North (1798-1805).1 He was the son of Minister Frederick North who had played an important part in the reorganization of British rule in India, including a diminution of the privileges of the East India Company.2 Like his father, Frederick abhorred the closed company system, whether English or Dutch.3 In Ceylon, North wanted to improve the position of the population, and ‘to wean them from that state of Idleness, dejection and servility to which the long operation of Ceylonese, Portuguese and Dutch laws had reduced them’. Reform, he wrote, could, however, ‘only be brought about when the gradual extension of commerce shall have taught the people, the value of time and labour, the advantages of industry and the inestimable benefit of personal independence, security and property’.4 Convinced of his superior insight, North failed to consult the archives of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (‘East India Company’ - VOC) and introduced a whole range of measures, especially in the
1 Frederick North, fifth Earl of Guildford, 1766-1827, Governor of Ceylon, 1798-1806. 2 H.V. Bowen, ‘British India, 1765-1813: The Metropolitan Context’, in P.J. Marshall
(ed.), The Oxford History o f the British Empire, Vol. II: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford/New York, 1998), pp. 530-52,538-40; Penderel Moon, Warren Hastings and India (London, 1947), p. 284 ff.