Cornelis de Houtman

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A portrait of de Houtman

Cornelis de Houtman (April 2 1565 - August 1599), brother of Frederick de Houtman, was a Dutch explorer who discovered a new sea route from Europe to Indonesia and managed to begin the Dutch spice trade. At the time, the Portuguese Empire held a monopoly on the spice trade, and the voyage was a symbolic victory for the Dutch, even though the voyage itself was a disaster.

The voyage

In 1592 Cornelis de Houtman was sent by Amsterdam merchants sent to Lisbon (Lissabon) to discover as much information on the Spice Islands as he could. At the same time as he returned to Amsterdam, Jan Huygen van Linschoten returned from India. The merchants determined that Bantam (Banten) provided the best opportunity to buy spices. In 1594 the merchants founded the company 'compagnie van Verre' (meaning "the long-distance company"), and on April 2 1595 four ships left Amsterdam: Amsterdam, Hollandia, Mauritius and Duyfken.

The voyage was beset with trouble from the beginning. Scurvy broke out after only a few weeks due to insufficient provisions. Due to quarrels among the captains and traders, several were killed or imprisoned onboard. At Madagascar, where a brief stop was planned, further complications led to many more deaths, and the boat remained there for six months on a deathwatch. (The Madagascan bay where they were anchored is now known as the "Dutch Cemetery".) On June 27, the ships finally arrived at Banten, a northwestern port in Java. Only around a hundred of the original 249 men had survived the voyage.

The local Portuguese traders introduced de Houtman to the Banten sultan, who promptly entered into an optomistic treaty with the Dutch, writing "We are well content to have a permanent league of alliance and friendship with His Highness the Prince Maurice of Nassau, of the Netherlands and with you, gentlemen." Unfortunately, de Houtman was undiplomatic and insulting to the sultan, and was turned away for "rude behaviour" without being able to buy any spices at all.

The ships then sailed east to Madura, but were attacked by pirates on the way. In Madura, they were received peacefully, but de Houtman ordered his men to brutally attack and rape the civilian population in revenge for the unrelated earlier piracy.

The ships then sailed for Bali, and met with the region's king. They finally managed to obtain a few pots of peppercorns on February 26 1597. Portuguese ships prevented them from taking in water and supplies at St. Helena. Out of the 249 man crew, only 87 returned, too weak to moor their ships themselves.


Though the trip was a humanitarian disaster and financially probably just broke even, it was a symbolic victory. It may be regarded as the start of the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia. Within five years, sixty-five more Dutch ships had gone East to trade. Soon, the Dutch would fully take over the spice trade in and around the Indian de Houtman pt:Cornelis de Houtman


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