Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Sailors, Zielverkopers, and the Dutch East India Company: The maritime labour market in eighteenth-century Surat*

  • GHULAM A. NADRI (a1)

Abstract

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) employed hundreds of Indian sailors in Surat in western India to man its ships plying the Asian waters. The Moorse zeevarenden (Muslim sailors) performed a variety of tasks on board ships and in the port of Batavia, and made it possible for the Company to carry out its commercial ventures across the Indian Ocean. The relationship between the two, however, was rather complex and even contentious. Based on Dutch sources, this article investigates the political-economic contexts of this relationship, examines the structure and organization of the maritime labour market in Surat, and illuminates the role and significance of zielverkopers (labour contractors) and of the local administration. The analysis of the social, economic, and familial aspects of the market and labour relations in Surat sheds light on pre-capitalist forms of labour recruitment and the institutional dynamics of the Indian labour market.

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 VOC 3728, Resoluties [Proceedings of the Dutch Council], Surat, 29 May 1786, pp. 285–86; VOC 3727, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R [Director and Council of Surat to Governor-General and Council at Batavia], Surat, 5 January 1787, ff. 89v–90r.

2 ‘Indian sailors’ here denotes all sailors recruited in Surat and includes men of varying regional affiliations.

3 Indian seamen (mostly sailors) formed a significant part of the crew on Portuguese ships in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Scammell, G. V., Seafaring, Sailors and Trade, 1450–1750 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), Chapter IX, p. 30; Chapter XI, pp. 443–44; Chapter XII, p. 530. The English East India Company and British shipowners had Indian lascars on ships that plied in Indian waters and on home-bound ships. Fisher, Michael H., ‘Working Across the Seas: Indian Maritime Labourers in India, Britain, and In Between, 1600–1857’, in Behal, Rana P. and van der Linden, Mercel (eds), Coolies, Capital, and Colonialism: Studies in Indian Labour History. International Review of Social History Supplements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 2145.

4 Broeze, Frank, ‘The Muscles of Empire: Indian Seamen and the Raj, 1919–1939’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 18 (1981), pp. 4367; Balachandran, G., ‘Searching for the Sardar: The State, Pre-Capitalist Institutions and Human Agency in the Maritime Labour Market, Calcutta, 1880–1935’, in Stein, Burton and Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (eds), Institutions and Economic Change in South Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 206–36; Balachandran, G., ‘Recruitment and Control of Indian Seamen, Calcutta, 1880–1935’, International Journal of Maritime History, 9 (1997), pp. 118; Balachandran, G., ‘Circulation through Seafaring: Indian Seamen, 1890–1945’, in Markovits, Claude, Pouchepadass, Jacques, and Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (eds), Society and Circulation: Mobile People and Itinerant Cultures in South Asia, 1750–1950 (London: Anthem Press, 2006), pp. 89130; Ahuja, Ravi, ‘Mobility and Containment: The Voyages of South Asian Seamen, 1900–1960’, International Review of Social History, 51 (2006), pp. 111–41.

5 Michael Fisher and Janet Ewald have made important contributions to the study of Indian maritime labour, especially the working conditions of Indian seamen on the English East India Company ships since the early modern period. Fisher, Michael H., Counterflows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain, 1600–1857 (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004); Fisher, Michael H., ‘Working Across the Seas’, in Behal and Linden (eds), Coolies, Capital, and Colonialism, pp. 2145; and, more recently, Fisher, Michael H., ‘Finding Lascar “Wilful Incendiarism”: British Ship-Burning Panic and Indian Maritime Labour in the Indian Ocean’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 35/3 (2012), pp. 596623; Ewald, Janet J., ‘Crossers of the Sea: Slaves, Freedmen, and Other Migrants in the Northwestern Indian Ocean, c. 1750–1914’, American Historical Review, 105/1 (2000).

6 Balachandran, ‘Searching for the Sardars’; Ahuja, ‘Mobility and Containment’.

7 Sailors’ lived experiences and the organizational and institutional characteristics of the maritime labour markets in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe are fairly well explored. The researches of Marcus Rediker, Peter Linebaugh, and others have illuminated very well the lives and experiences of European and American seamen. Rediker, Marcus, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); van Royen, Paul, Bruijn, Jaap and Lucassen, Jan (eds), ‘Those Emblems of Hell’? European Sailors and the Maritime Labour Market, 1570–1870 (Newfoundland: International Maritime Economic History Association, 1997); Linebaugh, Peter and Rediker, Marcus, The Many Headed Hydra?: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (London: Verso, 2002); Fischer, Lewis R., et al. (eds), The North Sea: Twelve Essays on Social History of Maritime Labour (Stavanger: Stavanger Maritime Museum/The Association of North Sea Societies, 1992).

8 The term zielverkoper has been interpreted by scholars in different ways. In the labour market in the Dutch Republic, there were volkhouders (dealers in personnel) who supplied sailors to the VOC in return for ‘ceel’ (a written authority signed by sailors to transfer a part of their salaries to the holder) which they usually sold on to speculative entrepreneurs (ceelkoper), hence they came to be called ceelverkoper or zielverkoper. Bruijn, J. R. and van Eyck van Heslinga, E. S., ‘De Scheepvaart van de Oost-Indische Compagnie en het Verschijnsel Muiterij’, in Bruijn, J. R. and van Eyck van Heslinga, E. S. (eds), Muiterij, Oproer en Berechting op de Schepen van de VOC (Haarlem: De Boer Maritiem, 1980), p. 17. Some have simply translated the term as ‘soulseller’ or ‘grossiers in personeel’. Marsden, P., The Wreck of the Amsterdam (London: Hutchinson, 1974), p. 38; Bruijn, J. R., Het Gelag der Zeelieden (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 1978), p. 8. In this article, I have used the term ‘labour contractor’ as the English translation of zielverkoper. In their role as labour contractors, zielverkopers were the Dutch equivalents of the ghat-serangs who supplied lascars to the English East India Company in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’, pp. 24–27; Balachandran, ‘Searching for the Sardar’, pp. 211, 219.

9 In the historiography of the Indian working classes, the primary focus has been on the wage workers of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially those employed in the jute and textile industries. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, ‘Introduction’, in Behal and Linden (eds), Coolies, Capital, and Colonialism, pp. 7–19; Chandavarkar, Rajnarayan, ‘Aspects of the Historiography of Labour in India’, in his History, Culture and the Indian City: Essays by Rajnarayan Chandavarkar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 236–50. Some recent studies on Indian labour have espoused two major views. The first holds that Indian labour in the early twentieth century was increasingly subordinated to capitalist market forces and labour regimes. In other words, wage workers, according to this view, were increasingly proletarianized. The other view emphasizes the rather complex relationship between wage workers and their employers, and argues that workers exercised some agency and ceaselessly contested the authority of intermediaries and employers and often frustrated the latter in their attempts to enforce a strict capitalist labour regime at work. Roy, Tirthankar, Artisans and Industrialization: Indian Weaving in the Twentieth Century (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993); Roy, Tirthankar, Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Haynes, Douglas E., ‘The Labour Process in the Bombay Handloom Industry, 1880–1940’, Modern Asian Studies, 42/1 (2008), pp. 145.

10 The use of slaves as maritime labour was not uncommon in early modern Asia. The VOC had slaves working as sailors in Batavia. In 1783, the Company had 72 slaves, serving as ‘coolies’ and helpers, from a total of 1,948 maritime workers in Batavia. VOC 3658, J. D. Schrijver aan GG en R, Batavia, 1 September 1783, ff. 256r–262r.

11 They purchased ‘beggars, coolies, and vagabonds’ who were sold or mortgaged for money or even for ‘a pack of rice’. Some of them also purchased Habshi (Ethiopian) slaves for 60–70 Rupees, put them to work as sailors, and received wages from the Company. VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 9 December 1779, ff. 106v–107r.

12 There were families in Surat whose members are said to have willingly worked as sailors and were free to choose their employers. Some sailors preferred to work on VOC ships. VOC 3438, Resoluties, Surat, 28 August 1764, pp. 263–64. Studies on the late colonial Indian maritime labour market have emphasized the hereditary nature of this profession and the inter-generational transmission of sailing skills in the families. Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 104. Children of serving sailors sometimes accompanied their fathers onto the ships, acquired skills, and readied themselves to take up sailing whenever the opportunity arose. Vaidya, K. B., The Sailing Vessel Traffic on the West Coast of India and its Future (Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1945), p. 34.

13 The VOC officials in Surat spoke of sailors and their families as ‘arme mensen’ and ‘arme lieden’ (poor people), ‘nood druftige ingesetenen’ (needy inhabitants), and ‘arme gemeene mooren’ (poor common Muslims). Nederlandse Bezittingen in Voor-Indië [Dutch Possessions in South Asia] 142, Resoluties, Surat, 26 November 1784, not foliated; ibid, Resoluties, Surat, 14 December 1784, not foliated; VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 20 November 1789, p. 170.

14 VOC 3728, Resoluties, Surat, 29 May 1786, pp. 279–80.

15 Fisher, ‘Finding Lascar “Wilful Incendiarism”’, pp. 600–02. In the nineteenth century, jobbers, and sardars (literally, ‘chiefs’, a term used for labour contractors) performed these functions for the indentured Indian labourers of Mauritius and other places. Roy, Tirthankar, ‘Sardars, Jobbers, Kanganies: The Labour Contractor and Indian Economic History’, Modern Asian Studies, 42/5 (2008), p. 982.

16 They sometimes deprived sailors of their entire salaries and cheated them by simply providing some clothing and a turban instead. VOC 3576, Resoluties, 9 December 1779, f. 107r. Ser-serangs of Calcutta reportedly kept for themselves a large part of the advance money paid to sailors by the British shipowners. British Library, Home Miscellaneous 190, ‘A rule ordinance and regulation for ascertaining and fixing the wages to be paid to the native seafaring men belonging to the port of Calcutta’ (hereafter Regulations concerning the native seafaring men), Calcutta, 1783, pp. 81–102.

17 For the role of crimps in the British maritime labour market, see Williams, David M., ‘“Advance Notes” and the Recruitment of Maritime Labour in Britain in the Nineteenth Century’, in his Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams (Newfoundland: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2000), pp. 266–72.

18 Gary Nash, quoted in Rediker, Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea, p. 5. Most sailors on Portuguese ships sailing between Lisbon and Goa were poor and heavily indebted to creditors at home. Disney, A. R., Twilights of the Pepper Empire: Portuguese Trade in Southwest India in the Early Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 134–36.

19 Rediker, Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea, p. 13.

20 Ibid.

21 Seamen working on Bombay-based sailing and steamships came from diverse regional and ethnic backgrounds. There were thus Muslim and Hindu sailors from Sind, Kachh, Kathiawar, Surat and other parts of Gujarat, from Ratnagiri and Kolaba districts, and from several districts of the Kanara and Malabar coasts. Vaidya, The Sailing Vessel Traffic, pp. 34–35; Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 104. Sailors recruited in Calcutta for British-owned steamships, similarly, came from various regions of the Bengal Presidency, such as Chittagong, Noakhali, Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Dacca. Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 104; Ahuja, ‘Mobility and Containment’. In times of acute unemployment, as during the inter-war years (1920s and 1930s), many sailors returned from Bombay to their native villages. Desai, Dinkar D., Maritime Labour in India (Bombay: Servants of India Society, 1940), p. 42.

22 Many sailors and a few tindals on the VOC's list of Surat seamen with the surname Sidi were African immigrants. Sailors with Carwa as their first or last name, similarly, may possibly have come from Kachh and Kathiawar. VOC 3670, Resoluties, 6 March 1781, ff. 129r–138r. The Hindu sailors from these regions were known as ‘Kharwas’ in the twentieth century. Vaidya, The Sailing Vessel Traffic, pp. 33–34.

23 In times of shortages of labour, as happened in 1778, labour contractors had to go to the villages to recruit sailors. VOC 3549, Resoluties, Surat, 2 December 1778, ff. 148v–149r.

24 The voyage from Surat to China was by far the longest and it took about 10 months to make the round trip. The return journey along the western coast up to Ceylon took about four months. The VOC also employed sailors for short periods to serve on its ships sailing from Surat Bhavanagar, Jeddah, and Mokha. These sailors received a quarter of a Rupee per day (7 ½ Rupees a month). VOC 3381, Resoluties, Surat, 4 November 1773, ff. 159v–160v.

25 Some of them readily took the opportunities that arose from the number of small boats plying the river and coastal waters of Gujarat. Besides, there was a considerable demand for labour in the construction or renovation of houses in Surat which the sailors were able to undertake. There were, therefore, some all-year-round job opportunities that sailors could take up during the off season. In the eighteenth century, the VOC often solicited sailors’ services to obtain wood, stone, and other building materials from outside Surat and other manual labour. In 1749, for instance, the VOC employed a number of sailors who rendered services that amounted to 10,926 days of labour. VOC 2786, Resoluties, Surat, 1 September 1749, pp. 123–24.

26 The notion that the maritime and landward labour markets in Europe were integrated at the local level matches quite well the structure of such markets in India. Kaukiainen, Yijo, ‘The Maritime Labour Market: Skill and Experience as Factors of Demand and Supply’, in Scholl, Lars U. and Hinkkanen, Merja Liisa (comps), Sail and Steam: Selected Maritime Writing of Yijo Kaukiainen (Newfoundland: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2004), pp. 4552.

27 For a discussion on what seamanship and skill implied in the British maritime labour market in the nineteenth century, see David M. Williams, ‘The Quality, Skill and Supply of Maritime Labour: Causes of Concern in Britain, 1850–1914’, in Fischer, et al., The North Sea, pp. 41–52.

28 Home Miscellaneous 190, Regulations concerning the native seafaring men, 1783, pp. 81–82. The Company classified sailors into two categories, depending on their work experience, and paid them accordingly. Thus, some sailors were paid 6 Rupees per month while others received 4 Rupees a month. Similarly, there were three categories of tindals who received monthly salaries of 12, 10, and 8 Rupees respectively. Ibid, p. 85.

29 VOC 7595, Bataviasche papieren rakende de Militaire Commissie (Batavia papers concerning the Military Commission), 1792, part II, pp. 513–14. In Batavia, sailors carried out these tasks. Some of them were attached to the artillery, some were assigned to officials as servants, and some had to take care of the Company's canoes. VOC 3658, Resoluties, Batavia, 1 September 1783, ff. 256r–262r. For details on the role of Muslim sailors in Batavia, see van Rossum, Mathias, ‘A “Moorish World” Within the Company: The VOC, Maritime Logistics and Subaltern Networks of Asian Sailors’, Itinerario, 36/3 (2012), pp. 3960.

30 Some of the skills so crucial for the sailing ships became obsolete in the age of steamships. Seamen on steamships were required to possess a different set of qualifications and skills, many of which could only be obtained through formal education and training. Vaidya, The Sailing Vessel Traffic, pp. 34–35.

31 The hereditary nature of this profession in the late colonial period is well known. Vaidya, The Sailing Vessel Traffic, p. 34; Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 104.

32 These terms were also applied to the labourers who carried out various chores in the construction or renovation of the Company's buildings that housed its officials and merchandise in Surat. Matroos and zeevarende were, thus, engaged in the mixing and pounding of lime, woodwork, binding bamboos, and some other tasks. In the statements of expenditure, sailors are invariably listed together with carpenters, bricklayers, sail makers, porters, and other labourers. NA, VOC 2786, Resoluties, Surat, 1 September 1749, pp. 123–24; VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 30 June 1780, f. 208r; Bescheiden der Voormalige Nederlandse bezittingen in de Voor-Indië, 1703–1826 [Records of the former Dutch possessions in India], 137, Resoluties, Surat, 26 June 1794, pp. 70–71; VOC 10429, Resoluties, Surat, 20 May 1759, pp. 66–68.

33 This was so much the case that it became an accepted characteristic of the labour market in South Asia in the early modern period. For an analysis of the social identities and composition of the military labour market in early modern India, see Kolff, Dirk H. A., Naukar, Rajput and Sepoy: The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), Chapter 4.

34 Van Bijland, the VOC's accountant in Surat, reported to the director in 1779 that shipowners recruited thousands of ‘real’ sailors all from the same caste. VOC 3576, Resoluties, 9 December 1779, f. 107v.

35 The Hindus, it was thought, were reluctant to render such services because of the Brahmanic injunctions against crossing the sea. Some might have taken the injunctions seriously but the ban did not prevent a number of Hindus from travelling overseas. The Hindu Keling and Bania merchants of eastern and western India respectively were actively involved in maritime trade and had permanent or quasi-permanent settlements across the Bay of Bengal in different parts of Southeast and East Asia and across the Arabian Sea at various ports in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and East Africa. M. N. Pearson, The Indian Ocean (London: Routledge, 2003). See also Subramanian, Lakshmi, Medieval Seafarers (New Delhi: Roli Books, 1999), pp. 9–10; Abdul Sheriff, Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

36 VOC 3728, Resoluties, Surat, 7 July 1786, pp. 342–44; VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 20 November 1789, pp. 166–70.

37 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, ff. 129r–138r; VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 5 January 1788, ff. 17r–19r.

38 Ewald, ‘Crossers of the Sea’, p. 83; Basu, Helene, ‘Africans in India: Past and Present’, Asienforum: International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 32/3–4 (2001); Basu, Helene, ‘Drumming and Praying: Sidi at the Interface between Spirit Possession and Islam’, in Simpson, Edward and Kresse, Kai (eds), Struggling with History: Islam and Cosmopolitanism in the Western Indian Ocean (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 303.

39 VOC 3670, Resoluties, 6 March 1781, ff. 129r–138r.

40 Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, pp. 106–08.

41 Sailors were not organized as a class and, until the early twentieth centuries, they did not have a union or organization that would represent their collective interests. Vaidya, The Sailing Vessel Traffic, pp. 37–38.

42 VOC 3122, Resoluties, Surat, 20 December 1762, pp. 364–66.

43 The gang of 20 sailors under Serang Giesa Raja Mohammad, who went to Batavia in 1780, included Jabir Giesa, Ramzani Giesa, Giesa Mahmud, and Hazuri Giesa, among others. The serang and these sailors probably belonged to the same family or kin. VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, f. 137v.

44 Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, pp. 109–10.

45 Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, pp. 107–08; Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’. The low rate of desertion has been held as one of the reasons why British merchants and shipowners employed lascars. Ahuja, ‘Mobility and Containment’, p.113.

46 Most local and some European shipowners reportedly recruited sailors through serangs. In 1779, Van Bijland, soldijboekhouder (an accountant; a salary-bookkeeper) at Surat, wrote to the director and the council that thousands of sailors were recruited by local shipowners and all other ‘nations’ without the help of labour contractors. VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 9 December 1779, f. 106v. A ploeg, or labour gang under a serang, usually consisted of 25 sailors, although it could number as many as 50. The VOC's Chinese sailors usually worked in groups of 26 men each under a mandoor (chief). VOC 3658, D. Schrijver aan GG en R, Batavia, 1 September 1783, ff. 261r–v.

47 In 1787, when the VOC entered into a contract with serangs to recruit some 50 sailors, the Company's labour contractors, in connivance with the local administration, opposed this measure and did not let any sailors go on board. VOC 3805, Resoluties, Surat, 11 April 1787, pp. 135–37.

48 Ahuja, ‘Mobility and Containment’, p. 133.

49 Fisher, ‘Finding Lascar “Wilful Incendiarism”’, pp. 607–08. So far, I have not come across any references in the sources to the age at which sailors were recruited in India. In Europe, most sailors were recruited between the ages of 15 and 20, although some were also hired in their mid to late twenties. In judging the new entrants’ physical strength and suitability for this service, the contractors and Company officials generally applied their discretion.

50 On many occasions, the VOC officials in Surat attributed their inability to recruit the desired number of sailors to the large-scale employment of sailors by the English East India Company. VOC 3268, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 14 April 1769, ff. 49v–50r; VOC 3362, Resoluties, Surat, 23 December 1775, ff. 463r-v; VOC 3521, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 28 December 1778, ff. 112r–113r; VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 11 December 1780, ff. 339r–v. Under such circumstances, labour recruiters demanded additional money from employers and, at times, deliberately delayed recruiting sailors to force the Companies to concede to their demands. The English East India Company and VOC officials sometimes laid complaints against ghat-serangs and contractors for abuses in the recruitment of sailors and accused them of supplying inexperienced and incapable seamen. VOC 3549, Resoluties, Surat, 2 December 1778, ff. 148v–149v; VOC 3521, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 28 December 1778, ff. 112v–113r; VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 1 October 1780, f. 339r–v; Home Miscellaneous 190, Regulations concerning the native seafaring men, 1783, pp. 82–102.

51 VOC 3821, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 28 December 1778, ff. 112v–113r; VOC 3549, Resoluties, Surat, 2 December 1778, ff. 148v–149v. VOC 3728, Resoluties, Surat, 29 May 1786, pp. 279–80; VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 20 November 1789, p. 166. The Company also paid them a travel allowance if they had to undertake a journey into the interior to recruit sailors. The kit included some clothing and necessary utensils such as a plate, knife, kettle, and pots. These items are listed in a rare inventory of the personal belongings of a serang who died in Ceylon in 1762 while attempting to return to Surat. VOC 3122, Resoluties, Surat, 20 December 1762, pp. 364–65.

52 The VOC remunerated its Surat sailors at a flat rate of 6 Rupees per month. The accounts maintained in Batavia of the wages paid to individual sailors affirm that the sailors serving in a gang received equal wages. In Bengal, too, the wages that the VOC paid to sailors varied only a little (5 ½ and 5 ¾ Rupees per month). VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, ff. 129r–138r; HRB 233, Memoir of the Directory of Bengal, 1791, not foliated; VOC 7595, Bataviasche papieren rakende de Militaire Commissie, 1792, part 2, p. 477. The English East India Company paid wages based on the new recruits’ skills and experience. The wages that the company paid to its lascars thus varied between 23 and 30 shillings per month. Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’, p. 27.

53 Sailors in Europe received one to two months’ salary in advance depending on the length of the voyage. The English East India Company seamen received two months’ pay in advance. Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, p. 125.

54 VOC 3490, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, Surat, 5 April 1777, f. 32r; VOC 3576, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, Surat, 31 December 1780, ff. 61r–v.

55 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 26 November 1784, ff. 20 r–v, 21v; VOC 3727, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, Surat, 1787, ff. 92v–93r.

56 HRB 233, Memoir of the Directory of Bengal, 1791, not foliated; VOC 7595, Bataviasche papieren rakende de Militaire Commissie, 1792, part 2, p. 477.

57 Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 99.

58 Home Miscellaneous 190, Regulations concerning the native seafaring men, 1783, pp. 82–102.

59 Paul C. van Royen, ‘Recruitment Patterns of the Dutch Merchant Marine in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries’, in Fischer, et al., The North Sea, p. 17; F. Lequin, ‘Het Personeel van de Vereningde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Azië in the Achtiende Eeuw, meer in het bijzonder in de Vestiging Bengalen’ (The Personnel of the VOC in Asia in the Eighteenth Century with Specific Reference to Bengal), 2 vols, PhD thesis, Leiden University, 1982, Bijlage 7, pp. 425–539.

60Jongens’ and ‘soldaten’ were usually paid a monthly salary of 5 and 9 guilders respectively. Lequin, ‘Het Personeel van de Vereningde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Azië’, Bijlage 7, pp. 425–539.

61 Thus, out of 42 Rupees paid in advance for seven months, 10 Rupees (about one-fourth) were pocketed by the VOC accountants and the contractors and 32 Rupees actually went to sailors. VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 9 December 1779, f. 107r.

62 J. R. Bruijn, ‘Career Patterns’, in Royen, et al., ‘Those Emblems of Hell’?, pp. 31–33. This is evident from the career overview of a large number of VOC personnel in Asia. Lequin, ‘Het Personeel van de Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Azië’, Bijlage 7, pp. 423–539.

63 Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’, p. 27.

64 Ahuja, ‘Mobility and Containment’, p. 112. In the 1920s, some categories of lascars received wages that were about a quarter to one-fifth of the wages paid to their European counterparts. Balachandran, ‘Circulation through Seafaring’, p. 96.

65 Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’, pp. 32–35; Fisher, ‘Finding Lascar ‘Wilful Incendiarism’, pp. 597–601, 621–23.

66 In 1755, the VOC authorities in Bengal reported to the governor general in Batavia that they recruited Indian sailors (inlandsche matroozen) to serve on ships only when there was a shortage of personnel resulting from heavy sickness and mortality among European sailors. HRB 242, Directeur en Raad van Bengal aan GG en R, Hugli, 27 February 1756, ff. 13r, 58v. Gaastra, F. S. and Bruijn, J. R., ‘The Dutch East India Company's Shipping, 1602–1795, in a Comparative Perspective’, in Bruijn, J. R. and Gaastra, F. S. (eds), Ships, Sailors and Spices: East India Companies and Their Shipping in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries(Amsterdam: NEHA, 1993), p. 200.

67 Dutch sources indicate that sailors were recruited in Surat in the early 1620s. Prakash, Om, Dutch Factories in India, 1617–1623: A Collection of Dutch East India Company Documents Pertaining to India (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharla, 1984), p. 203.

68 Karel Davis, ‘Maritime Labour in the Netherlands, 1570–1870’, in Royen, et al., ‘Those Emblems of Hell’?, p. 51.

69 Ibid. Chinese and Javanese sailors entered the Company's service in the 1750s and the late 1770s respectively and by the 1780s, there were about 2,000 Indian, Chinese, and Javanese sailors (about two-thirds of the crew) serving the VOC in Asian waters. Davis, ‘Maritime Labour in the Netherlands’, pp. 51–52.

70 The English East India Company and private English shipowners recruited Indian sailors in large numbers, many of whom also served on homebound ships and found their way to England. Visram, Rozina, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: Indians in Britain, 1700–1947 (London: Pluto Press, 1986); Ewald, ‘Crossers of the Sea’; Lahiri, Shompa, Indians in Britain: Anglo-Indian Encounters, Race and Identity, 1880–1930 (London: Frank Cass, 2000); Fisher, Counterflows to Colonialism; Fisher, ‘Working Across the Seas’, pp. 21–45; Balachandran, ‘Searching for the Sardar’, p. 109.

71 VOC 3155, Resoluties, Surat, 20 December 1764, pp. 654–55. Those who went to Batavia in 1761–62 had not returned to Surat even by 1769. VOC 3268, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 14 April 1769, ff. 49v–50r. In 1777, the group under the serang, Sadel Shakur, were in their eleventh year of service. VOC 3490, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 5 April 1777, f. 33r.

72 VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 5 January 1788, not foliated.

73 In a report, the VOC accountant in Surat, Van Bijland, mentions how, on many occasions, some sailors who were earlier reported to be dead were later recorded as alive and in the active service of the Company. VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 14 October 1780, ff. 265r–269r.

74 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, ff. 127v–138r. Such discrepancies were also the result of the different locations where sailors were employed and paid in the East Indies. A number of serangs and their gangs served and were paid in Padang and Malakka in 1777 and were therefore not included in Batavia's statements. When they returned to Batavia a year later, they were listed as such in that year's account. VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, f. 140v.

75 Nederlandse Bezittingen in Voor-Indië 142, Resoluties, Surat, 26 November 1784, not foliated. Ibid, Resoluties, 14 December 1784, not foliated; VOC 3670, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 16 January 1785, ff. 83r–87v. According to another report, there were 34 serangs, 35 tindals, and 723 sailors serving the VOC in Batavia. VOC 3727, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 20 April 1786, f. 85v.

76 VOC 3728, Resoluties, Surat, 29 May 1786, p. 278.

77 Nederlandse Bezittingen in Voor-Indië 142, Resoluties, Surat, 26 November 1784, not foliated. Ibid, Resoluties, 14 December 1784, not foliated.

78 VOC 3670, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 16 January 1785, ff. 87r–v.

79 VOC 3805, Resoluties, Surat, 17 May 1787, f. 171r.

80 VOC 3728, Resoluties, Surat, 29 May, 1786, pp. 277–87; VOC 3727, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 5 January 1787, ff. 88r–93r.

81 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 26 November 1784, ff. 21v–22r. It was also alleged that the contractors had to solicit bakhshi's permission to recruit sailors for the VOC and pay him a portion of their commission. Ibid.

82 VOC 3727, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 5 January 1787, f. 90r.

83 VOC 3094, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 12 January 1763, p. 66.

84 VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 9 December 1779, ff. 107v–108r. The VOC also used slaves as ordinary labourers or ‘coolies’ (huurlingen) to perform a variety of tasks at the Company's various establishments in Batavia. VOC 3658, Opper Equipagiemeester A. J. Schrijver aan GG en R, Batavia, 1 September 1783, ff. 256r–262r; ibid, 29 January 1784, ff. 275v–276r.

85 VOC 3576, Resoluties, Surat, 7 February 1780, ff. 157r–159v.

86 The names in the surviving lists of sailors indicate that a good number of those recruited seem to have retained their non-Muslim names: see the names of 399 sailors recorded in 1781. VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 6 March 1781, ff. 129r–138r.

87 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 14 December 1784, f. 30v; VOC 3670, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 16 January, 1785, ff. 88r–89v.

88 Ibid, ff. 30v–32r; VOC 3670, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 16 January 1785, ff. 81r–90r.

89 VOC 3670, Resoluties, Surat, 14 December 1784, f. 31r–v; VOC 3670, Directeur en Raad van Surat aan GG en R, 16 January 1785, f. 89v.

90 Ibid.

91 VOC 3854, Resoluties, Surat, 29 November 1789, pp. 165–68.

92 Nederlandse Bezittingen in Voor-Indië 139, Resoluties, 18 January 1796, pp. 1–3; Nederlandse Bezittingen in Voor-Indië 150, Soldijboekhouder Meijer aan Directeur en Raad van Surat, 11 January 1797, not foliated.

93 The labour market in Bengal was transformed as a result of the political ascendancy of the English East India Company after its victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the consolidation of its administrative and judicial powers in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. This can be seen in the Company's efforts to regulate the recruitment process and wages of sailors in Bengal in the early 1780s. Home Miscellaneous 190, Regulations concerning the native seafaring men, 1783, pp. 82–102.

* I would like to thank the Modern Asian Studies’ anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and useful feedback. An earlier version of this article was presented at the ‘Age of Sail, 1450–1850’ Conference, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 2010, and I thank the conference participants for their comments. Note: All references to Dutch sources in this article are from the National Archives, The Hague, The Netherlands.

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed