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Netherlands East India Company

Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie

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[United East India Company (VOC)] by Mark Sensen, 14 November 1996

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The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, United East India Company) existed 1602-1798.
Mark Sensen, 17 November 1996

Before the VOC was founded there were several "voorcompagniëen" (pre-companies):
- In 1592 the "Compagnie van Verre" (Company from Afar) was founded by 10 wealthy Amsterdam merchants. In 1593 they sent Cornelis de Houtman to Lisbon to collect information; when they found that it was feasible they sent de Houtman and Gerrit van Beuningen with 4 ships on their way to the East Indies, returning in 1597. This was the First Voyage, resulting in hardly any profit, but its psychological effect was vast: it could be done! A new fleet was sent, led by Van Neck and Van Warwijck, which led to enormous profits, and later to the founding of the VOC.
- Middelburgse Compagnie, founded 1598, part of the VOC 1601
- Veerse Compagnie, same dates
- Oude Compagnie, founded 1598 in Amsterdam, sent 1598 van Neck & van Warwijck on their way.
- Magellanse Compagnie, founded 1598 in Rotterdam; sent September 1598 Olivier van Noort around the world with 4 ships; he returned with one only, and the company was nearly bankrupt; in 1602 part of the VOC.
- Rotterdamse Compagnie, founded 1598, sent in June 1598 a fleet around the world, but apart from the discovery of the Sebaldinen (aka Falkland Islands) the expedition ended in disaster.
- Brabantse Compagnie, founded in Amsterdam
- Vereenigde Zeeuwse Compagnie, a merger in 1600 of the Zeeuwse companies (Middelburg and Veere).
- Vereenigde Compagnie te Amsterdam, founded 1601 as a merger of the Amsterdam companies; sent in 1601 Heemskerck with 8 ships to the East Indies.
- Compagnie van De Moucheron, founded 1600, sent Van Spilbergen to the island of Corisco at the coast of Equatorial Guinea, to make it a refreshment point; it reslted in utter disaster and the foundation of the VOC ended De Moucheron's aspirations in the Netherlands. He probably founded another company in France, where he died.

There were c. 15 voorcompagniëen, which sent c. 65 ships on their way.
Van Oldenbarnevelt, the political leader of the Netherlands ("Raadpensionaris") forced them more or less to unite on 20 March 1602 in the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The VOC was ruled by 6 regional chambers, who deputized one or more members to the most powerful college: De Heren Zeventien (Lords Seventeen). The chambers were in Amsterdam, Middelburg, Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen.
Ruled by Amsterdam (8 seats), Middelburg (4), Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen (one seat each); one seat reserved for the Staten Generaal. (Dutch Parliament). The Heren Zeventien met variably in Amsterdam or Middelburg, that is: 6 successive years in Amsterdam, two in Middelburg.
It was one of the most successful (and ruthless) companies ever; at the end of the 18th century it was nearly finished, and in 1806 it was dissolved.
Source: "Vademecum van de Oost- en West-Indische Compagnie", by Peter van Wiechen, 2002.
Jarig Bakker, 20 Feb 2010

Other versions

[United East India Company (VOC), other version] by Mark Sensen, 14 November 1996

The upper stripe of the flags of the VOC and GWC was at first orange, and changed like in the Dutch flag to red between 1630 and 1660.
A variant of the VOC-cypher shows an "A" instead of the "V". Some say the "A" stands for Amsterdam and was used by this chamber, other say it stands for "Algemeene Oostindische Compagnie" ["General East India Company"].
The (six) chambers of the VOC (Dutch United East India Company) had their own flags: the town flag with the VOC-cypher, above this the initial of the town.
Eg. [gmc17] National Geographic Oct.1917 gives this flag as the one Henry Hudson used when he was in service of the VOC during his 3rd expedition.
Mark Sensen, 17 November 1996

Whitney Smith in his "the Flag Book of the United States" comments that "occasionally, the VOC was shown upside down which has mislead some authors into supposing that the correct initials were AOC". Obviously upside down does not produce a "C" the right way around so it means that there has been seeing what was expected to be seen rather than what was actually portrayed though why the monogram should be shown upside down bewilders me. Anyway it might explain why a google search for "Algemeene Oostindische Compagnie" produces no results i.e. the flag did not really exist and the company which has "conveniently" met the criteria also does not exist. Apart from the "other version" shown by Mark as the 2nd flag in the series, it is shown by David Eggenberger in his "Flags of the USA" and by Loughran 1979 though he shows a red upper band. As a possible answer, if it can be accepted that there was no such flag, or that there was no such company, could it be  that "Algemeene Oostindisch Compagnie" is a mistranslation of "algemeene Oostindische Compagnie" which could be [?] interpreted as "commonly [known as the ] East India Company.
Neale Rosanoski, 18 Feb 2010

Regarding the "A" used by Hudson: in 1609 he was sent on his 3rd voyage by the VOC itself, not some small company (which is probably meant by "Algemeene". Hudson's discoveries in the East of the USA were not to the liking of the VOC, and Hudson proceeded on his 4th voyage, sent by London merchants. In the Netherlands some Amsterdam merchants were interested, but they were refused the monopoly by the VOC. A few companies were founded along the Hudson river, competing vehemently; in 1614 they merged into the Compagnie van Nieuw Nederland, which got a monopoly for 4 years. In 1621 this company became part of the West Indische Compagnie (WIC).
Source: "Vademecum van de Oost- en West-Indische Compagnie", by Peter van Wiechen, 2002.
From own observations of flags on 17th century paintings and drawings I concluded that the VOC-monogram was rarely used abroad - it might only lead to confusion. I have never seen the "AOC" monogram, as used by Mark Sensen, and as seen in Loughran (1979), and in van der Laars (Wapens, Vlaggen en Zegels van Nederland, 1913). The last is really not an "A", but a "V" upsidedown; it looks like an "A" because it contains a small "V" between the "O" and the "C", which looks like a small line. I don't know whether the one in the National Geographic Oct.1917 was based on the one of van der Laars, though.
Jarig Bakker, 20 Feb 2010

Other A-version

[United East India Company (VOC), other A-version] image sent by D.Prothero, 7 Mar 2010

This image is from a 1813 publication: "Collection of the principal flags of all nations in the world from the best authorities".
Anonymous book.
Edited by Brightly and Childs, Bungay, Suffolk, England.
Edition date: 1813.
D.Prothero, 7 Mar 2010

VOC Amsterdam Chamber

[VOC Amsterdam Chamber] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

VOC Delft Chamber

[VOC Delft Chamber] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

VOC Enkhuizen Chamber

[VOC Enkhuizen Chamber] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

VOC Hoorn Chamber

[VOC Hoorn Chamber] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

VOC Zeeland Chamber (in Middelburg)

[VOC Zeeland Chamber (in Middelburg)] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

Other versions of the cypher showed a "Z" (for "Zeeland") above, some also with a "M" below:
[VOC Zeeland Chamber, other versions of the cypher]
Mark Sensen, 28 March 1998

VOC Rotterdam Chamber

[VOC Rotterdam Chamber] by Mark Sensen, 19 November 1996

VOC Rotterdam Chamber - Administrator?

[VOC Rotterdam Chamber - Administrator?] by Mark Sensen, 30 July 1998

A painting by Ludolf Backhuysen with a view of the Rotterdam harbour shows a yacht with a white flag with the Rotterdam cypher and red-white-blue stripes at the top and bottom. According to Jos Poels (in [vxn] Vexilla Nostra no. 214) white flags with tricolour stripes at the top and bottom were used by administrators of the Navy Admiralities in earlier centuries. Maybe this was a flag of an administrator of the VOC Rotterdam Chamber?
Mark Sensen, 30 July 1998

VOC at the Cape of Good Hope

[VOC at the Cape of Good Hope] by Mark Sensen, 30 July 1998

There was also a cypher for the Cape (with a small "c"), but it's unknown if it was used on flags.
Mark Sensen, 30 July 1998

VOC at the Cape of Good Hope doubtful flag

[Dutch East Indies Company flag] by Jarig Bakker, .28 Mar 2003

See also: Earliest flags over South Africa (ed)

This webpage shows a different version of the Netherlands East India Company Flag (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC for short) than what are shown at FOTW (as far as I can see).
Zane Whitehorn, 28 Mar 2003

There were quite a few different VOC flags, for use by different Chambers (places of settlement). This flag was for Cape Colony, see this webpage. The link just provided and an image in "Ensiklopedie van Suidelike Afrika", 1967, suggest that it was indeed used on flags after 1652. I've made a gif, using Mark Sensen's images, for this Cape Colony VOC-flag. On the cited FOTW-page Mark Sensen queries: "There was also a cypher for the Cape (with a small "c"), but it's unknown if it was used on flags."
Jarig Bakker, .28 Mar 2003

The version of the VoC flag on this page really should not have been placed on the Homepage of an article dealing exclusively with the Dutch East Indies, as the cypher used on this flag refers in particular to the Cape of Good Hope (Caab de Goede Hope in 17th Century Dutch).
In "National and Provincial Symbols" by F.G.Brownell (1993), page 10:
"More common was the use of the company's cypher, a combination of the letters VOC (Vereenigde Nederlandsche Oost Indische Compagnie), over which a small letter C for Cabo (Cape), was sometimes placed.
The flag flown was either that of the Netherlands, or that of the Company, which was the Netherlands flag bearing the Company's cypher".
Note that the above does not specifically mention a flag with the Company's cypher with above it a small letter C. It does show us that such a cypher combination existed however and that its use on flags used on ships with the Cape of Good Hope as their homeport must assumed to have been in use.
The cypher can also be viewed on the same page in the above mentioned book, as well as in C.Pama's Lions and Virgins (1965) Fig. 12.
Caabse Vleck was a very early name for Cape Town (Kaapstad) but I have not been able to find the material relating to this.
I have a few photocopies of early paintings of the Cape of Good Hope. The first is a watercolour dated 1655/56 and is the oldest known painting of the settlement. It is headed: Aldus Verthoont hem de TAFEL BAY Geleegen Aen CABO de BONA SPERANCA.
Three other drawings by Johannes Rach dated 1762 are handwritten underneeth: Gezigt van Cabo de Goede Hoop.
So more than a Century after the landing of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape it is still known as "Cabo". This is probably why a C was added to the cypher and not a K, which would have been the obvious choice if the settlement had been known as Kaap de Goede Hoop.
Although we know the cypher with the C was in use at that time by the Company in the Cape, I have never been able to find any evidence that a flag with such a cypher was ever used, whether on land or on ships, but would presume that when the Governor of the Cape boarded a ship for travel he would use such a distinctive flag. Other ships operating from the settlement might have used such a flag as well.
Andre van de Loo, 29 Mar 2003

Military units of the VOC

Military units of the VOC carried a Colonel's Colour and Ordnance Colours of regimental design. The Colonel's Colour was normally all white with the VOC monogram in the center. In one example I have seen (the Swiss mercenary regiment de Meuron, which later went over to British service) the Colonel's flag includes the regimental mottos "Terra et Mare" and "Fidelitas et Honor" inscribed across the top and bottom edges of the flag.
Todd Mills, 30 July 1998