From the Cape to Canton: The Dutch Indian Ocean World, 1600-1800 — A Littoral Census

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Markus Vink


As an exercise in trans-oceanic history, this article focuses on the Dutch Indian
Ocean World in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from the Dutch East
India Company or VOC’s permanent colony at Cape Town, South Africa, in
the Far West to its seasonal trading factory at Canton (Guangzhou), in the Far
East. It argues that the ‘seismic change’ after 1760 noted by Michael Pearson
and associated with the British move inland from their Bengal ‘bridgehead’
should be extended to the contemporary polycentric Dutch expansion into
the interior of, most notably, South Africa, Ceylon, Java, and Eastern Indonesia.
Demographic measuring points include the number of Dutch citizens and
subjects, comprising European settlers, mixed peoples, and indigenous populations; and: the size and composition of the population of central nodal places in the Dutch Indian Ocean thalassocratic network in the late seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries. By the end of the period, both ‘John Company’
(EIC) and ‘Jan Kompenie’ (VOC) effectively were, to some extent, reversing
the colonial gaze inland turning from maritime merchants into landlords and
tax collectors. These seismic changes with multiple epicenters were the harbinger of tidal waves about to sweep both the littoral and interior of the modern Indian Ocean World.

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