The lead up

The 16th century was a time of upheaval in the Netherlands. The population detached themselves from the church and the king and they were now on the uncertain path to reformation and revolution: A recklessness wherein the guilty were punished in murderous campaigns.  This was the beginning of the Eighty Years War (Dutch war of independence).

The siege of Alkmaar

The war was accompanied by natural disasters, floods, the Black Death and the failure of harvests.
There were also many triumphs. In 1573, Alkmaar was able to flood the countryside after damaging the dykes. With the help of the flood water they were able to drive the Spaniards out.
With a quick changing wind direction, a Spanish fleet fell into the hands of the Sea Beggars in the ‘rede van Hoorn’.  Trade was prosperous. Products from the Mediterranean and Baltic seas were traded in large amounts. Even nature played her upper hand and the herring migrated from the North Sea the Zuiderzee, the Southern waters which coast the fair city of Enkhuizen.
The herring stock was in abundance. Due to an invention, herring was able to be preserved longer which meant that people could not only salt and smoke it but they could also ship it fresh. The herring trade formed the base of prosperity. The fishing industry was booming and local fishermen were trained in the catch and in how to build the fishing vessels.

Floods in Holland

The counteraction of the Spanish King Philip II worked to the Dutch advantage. The embargo on the salt supplies drove the Dutch to the Caribbean to pick up the salt themselves. This was the main reason behind the start of the West Indian Company (WIC). The closure of the Portuguese ports put an end to the delivery of spices, Eastern wares and porcelain. Wealthy merchants met up and made plans to find the “Jan Huygen van Linschotene” route to Asia. Scholars tried to find a possible route along the North or around Cape Horn. The Jews, who escaped persecution in Portugal, brought their capital and knowledge of the Spice route to Amsterdam. Sailors employed by the Portuguese served as spies.

Sometimes these spies delivered little intelligence, just like the gunner Dirck Pomp from Enkhuizen who worked in the service of the Portuguese and sailed to China and Japan but later could not recount much about his travels or route! However, the opposite was true in the case of Jan Huygen van Linschoten who worked as secretary for the bishop of Goa, he delivered reams of information. Back in the Netherlands, he published his knowledge in the “Itinerario” publication. This travel book was the guide first guide book for travel to the East. While some attempts were made to travel along the north in 1596, the first trips were usually made to Asia and around Cape of Good Hope.

Four ships led by Cornelis de Houtman spent more than two years on their journey. One ship never made it. Of the 289 sailors on board, 89 survived, while two sailors remained in Bali and decided to settle on the lovely island. Businesswise it was not a success, but it was more important that the first Dutchmen found their way to the Spice Islands.

text: Ruud Spruit
translation: Finn Beets, RSG Enkhuizen, tto-junior