The V.O.C. and Perak tin

Perak is known for its rich tin ore deposits and prior to the arrival of the British, the Dutch was attracted to this part of the Malay peninsula in the 17th century for the very same reason. The Dutch came to Perak in the form of its East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or V.O.C. for short), and attempted to obtain a foothold in this vicinity hoping to get a monopoly in the tin trade.

Johan van Twist, depicted in 'The Dutch Embassy to Isfahan (Persia) in 1651-52 led by Johannes Cunaeus' by Jan Baptist Weenix currently held at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. (Source: Wikimedia)

Perak at that time was under the suzerainty of Acheh which had an agreement made with the V.O.C. in 1639 allowing the Dutch to buy all the Perak tin needed for the Dutch’s trade with Surat (the commerce centre for Gujarat in India) and Persia. The V.O.C. attempted to persuade Sultan Mudzaffar Shah II to sell all of Perak’s tin to the Dutch, and proposed that Perak must halt further dealings with any other traders. To entice Sultan Mudzaffar, a merchant by the name of Jan Dircxen Puijt brought with him goods worth a total of 18,000 florins, a gift from the Dutch Governor of Malacca, Johan van Twist. Sultan Mudzaffar in return presented Puijt with a keris, a Malay title and a lodge at Tanjung Putus as a trading outpost, and emphasised that Perak was willing to trade with the Dutch but outrightly refused any monopoly by the Dutch in the trade of Perak tin.

In retaliation to Perak’s refusal to allow Dutch monopoly, a marine blockade was formed in the Straits of Malacca, diverting all trade ships headed for Perak (as well as Kedah) to Malacca where these traders were subjected to pay a toll and get permits, increasing the trade of Perak tin at Malacca. The Dutch in Batavia (currently Jakarta) also forbade any Javanese traders from sailing to Perak – a crime punishable by public flogging. Sultan Mudzaffar was unperturbed by these policies employed by the Dutch and even threatened to take back the trading outpost at Tanjung Putus presented to Puijt. The Dutch then began their first blockade the estuary of Sungai Perak. Sultan Mudzaffar was still adamant about letting the Dutch have any monopoly on Perak’s tin.

Excluding Perak’s trade with the Achenese, Arabs, Bengalis and Javanese by the aformentioned methods meant the Dutch got herself a large quantity of Perak tin by 1649. In addition, a treaty was forced onto Acheh in 1650 by Joan Truijtman allowing the V.O.C. to share with Acheh a monopoly of Perak tin, to the exclusion of all other Indian or European traders. The Tanjung Putus trading outpost was re-opened but was subsequently attacked by Perak Malays in 1651. Truijtman then negotiated a fresh treaty with Sultan Mudzaffar on 15 December 1653 which had not much effect, during which time Perak still allowed tin to be sent to Acheh allowing other foreigners intrude on the trade. Acheh has now become a rival to the V.O.C. in the tin ore trade. The Dutch, led by Balthasar Bort, then blockaded both Acheh and Perak, following which a further treaty was renegotiated with Perak in 1655 during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Shah.

Balthasar Bort, later Dutch Governor of Malacca from 1665 to 1679. (Source: Google Images)

Perak later realised the weakening power of Acheh’s suzerainty and was also insulted by the treaties Acheh had made with the V.O.C in allowing a Dutch monopoly on Perak tin, and had threatened to transfer allegiance to Johor or even the Dutch presence in Malacca itself. Acheh had indeed gradually weakened and after some time, the Dutch in Malacca started to receive better supplies of Perak tin. A fort manned by Dutch soldiers was built on Pulau Pangkor in 1670 to protect the local Dutch interest from English occupation. However, the fort was attacked by Perak Malays led by Panglima Kulup in 1670, leaving the fort empty for 75 years before shutting it again and relocating themselves in Tanjung Putus.

Malacca under Dutch occupation. From 'Malakka by Valentyn, De Stad Malacka, from Oud en Nieuw Oost Indien. 1724-26.' (Source: Wikimedia)

The last treaty Perak had with the Dutch was in 1785 during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Mansur Shah Iskandar Muda which saw Perak delivering all her tin to the V.O.C. However, this abruptly ended after the British occupation of Penang in 1786. When Malacca was occupied by the British in 1795, Lt. Camelford and Lt. Macalister of the British Navy sailed up Sungai Perak with a small force and compelled Christoffel Walbeehm to surrender the Tanjung Putus fort. The Dutch did at one point tried to re-establish her presence in Pulau Pangkor in 1819 but failed. The British had also ensured no interruptions in her trade in the Malay peninsula by concluding a treaty on 30 July 1818 with Sultan Abdul Malik Mansur Shah requiring Perak to not renew any obsolete or interrupted treaties she had with the Dutch.

Reference: Winstedt RO. Dutch East India Company. In A History of Malaya. Kuala Lumpur & Singapore: Marican & Sons Ltd; 1982. p128-130.

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