On this day in Dutch history,
On the 16th of January 1219 and 1362, two terrible floods happened. These floods are known as the First and Second Saint Marcellus Flood, as the 16th of January is the nameday of Saint Marcellus.
The First Saint Marcellus Flood hit large parts of the north of the Netherlands and the north west of Germany. This storm surge was especially disastruous since, after the storm, the water level didn’t go down with the tide, and with the following flood tide the storm increased again. This caused most of the remaining dykes to break after all. It is estimated that about 36,000 people died.
There were four major floods in the Netherlands during this time, one in 1170, one in 1196, one in 1214 and then this one in 1219. This combination of floods led to the creation of the Waddenzee and the Zuiderzee, which later became the IJsselmeer when the Afsluitdijk, which connects Noord-Holland and Friesland, was created.
The Second Saint Marcellus Flood hit during the night of the 15th of January, continuing on the 16th of January 1362. This flood hit all countries bordering the North Sea, including Britain, Germany and Denmark. It is estimated that 25,000 to 40,000 people died. Chroniclers in Germany reported that the water levels were 2,4 meters above the dykes, and at least eight parishes completely vanished. In the Netherlands, dykes on the coastline broke and large areas were flooded. The second Saint Marcellus flood is also known as the ‘Eerste Grote Mandrenke’, the First Big Drowning.
On this day in Dutch History
On the 11th of January 1942, Japanese troops invaded the Dutch East Indies by landing on the island of Sulawesi.
The Netherlands had declared war on Japan on the 8th of December 1941 as a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese troops quickly invaded the other islands of the Dutch East Indies as well, as the Dutch East Indies were a strategically useful place for the Japanese, as it had oil.
The Netherlands had been conquered by the Germans by that time. The Dutch government was in London but only had limited power. The defences in the Dutch East Indies were not as optimal as they could’ve been, which made conquest easier for the Japanese. The main defence force of the Dutch East Indies was the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, which consisted of 30,000 men, who were spread across the islands. While they fought back, the Japanase were able to conquer the Dutch East Indies in a matter of months.
On the 5th of March 1942 the Japanese entered the capital, Batavia, and on the 8th of March, the Dutch forces surrendered. The Dutch East Indies were now Japanese property. Most members of the Dutch minority were put in POW camps, both whites and those of a mixed ethnicity.
Before World War II, many Indonesians already wanted an independent Indonesia. At first, some of the locals supported the Japanese troops, but it soon became clear that Japan wasn’t going to give them an independent Indonesia either. Japan wanted one united and strong country. Soon, a lot of the locals were put to work under terrible conditions, not unlike the forced labour the Dutch POW suffered from. Both groups worked, amongst others, on the Burma Railway.
The Burma Railway is also known as the Death Railway and runs between Bangkok in Thailand and Yangon in Myanmar.
On this day in Dutch history
On the 7th of January 1587, Jan Pieterszoon Coen was born. Coen was a merchant and a powerful member of the VOC, the international trading company of the Dutch golden age.
Along with other members of the VOC, he was in favour of aggression as a means of acquiring the spices monopoly in India and modernday Indonesia. He waged war against European rivals and Indian rulers. He was successful, and laid the foundations for the Dutch East Indies, which would become a very powerful and important colony to the Dutch. His goal was to make Batavia on Jakarta the centre of the Dutch trade. Batavia got its name in 1621. While Coen wanted to call it Nieuw Hoorn, after his place of birth, the other VOC leaders overruled him.
He was born in Hoorn, in the province of Noord-Holland. Hoorn was a useful town for trading, as it’s on the IJsselmeer. Back then, this was the Zuiderzee and as such connected to the North Sea. Coen’s father was also a merchant, so from a young age Coen learned about trade and travel.
In 1607 when he was 20, he traveled to the Dutch East Indies for the first time. The leader of the expedition, Verhoeff, was killed by locals on the Banda Islands over a dispute regarding the prices for the spices. This event goes some way to explain Coen’s hatred towards the people of the Banda islands and distrust towards locals in general. He returned to the Netherlands in 1611, and left for the Dutch East Indies again in 1612. This second trip was also violent, with attacks on areas owned by the Portuguese.
The leaders of the VOC were impressed, and Coen was made director-general in 1614, putting him in charge of the VOC-offices in Asia and the offices in Bantam and Jakarta. He knew that the rulers in Asia had little interest in European goods, so he used gold and silver in his trading with them. As second in command of the VOC, he started trading within Asia and the Dutch East Indies, selling Chinese silk to Japan and buying textile in India with Japanese silver. The centre of this trading network was Batavia.
Over the next few years Coen established a Dutch monopoly on nutmeg and mace, which in 1621 led to an armed conflict against the people of the Banda Islands. The Banda Islands were the only place to get nutmeg and mace, and the English were secretly trading with the locals, even though the locals had a contract with the Dutch VOC. Coen led an attack using Japanese mercenaries, and of the 15,000 inhabitants it is assumed that only 1,000 people survived on the island.
This is not the only attack Coen initiated during his years in the Dutch East Indies, he was quite aggressive by blocking other harbours and forcing traders to use the harbour in Batavia.
In 1623, Coen retired from his position in the Dutch East Indies and went back to the Netherlands, where the VOC gave him a hero’s welcome. He still gave advice to the VOC, but by then other people had different ideas on how to run the trade and colonies. Laurens Reael, for instance, suggested that the English shouldn’t be fought (which could easily lead to war) but to befriend them. He also wanted to put a stop against the looting and murder that occurred on behalf of the VOC, and he wanted to expand the trade in China and India without monopolising it. Maurits of Orange supposed Coen’s aggressive vision, but two years later the VOC agreed with Reael’s more peaceful ideas.
The VOC offered Coen the position of governor-general of the Dutch East Indies and he accepted, leaving in 1627. He started his term with several wars with locals, attacking Bantam and Mataram. He died while still leading these wars, suffering from dysenterie. Presumably he died from acute gastro-enteritis on the eve of the 21st of September 1629. He was buried at the townhall, as the church had burned down during the last siege on Batavia by locals.
(Above: Portrait of Jan Pieterszoon Coen by Jacques Wabes from the early 17th century)