The Boer Wars: Part VIII
The Dutch Enter Africa
by John Ridpath and Ed Ellis
Among modern maritime nations, Holland is second to one only, England. Her geographical position and the genius of her people have conspired to give her this enviable rank. Once and again the Dutch have been, not second, but first in the domination of the sea. This was in the seventeenth century, when the fleets of England herself, went back before the prowess of Van Tromp and De Ruyter. Time was in a still earlier age, when Dutch ships were second to none in their ocean Right to distant lands, whether to the Indies in the East, or to the frozen bay of Hudson, in North America.
Rise of the Netherlands
The rise of the Netherlands to influence at home and abroad dates from their great revolt against Spain in the year 1581. Long and dreadful was the contest which ensued. The Dutch were tried by fire and by water; for some perished in the flames of the Inquisition, while hundreds were drowned in their own North Sea, for the inrushing of which the patriot leaders had broken the dyke.
For nearly seventy years the conflict of the Dutch rebels with, their merciless adversaries continued. But they issued from their war of independence with hosannas and flying banners. Then their fearless spirit carried them forth to the ends of the earth. Long before the treaty of Westphalia (1648), when the independence of the Dutch Netherlands was finally acknowledged and guaranteed, the mariners of Holland had become conspicuous for their abilities as discoverers, explorers and colonizers. North America received their impress. The Indies, East and West, knew their forceful visitations, and Africa felt their tremendous impact.
The revolt of the Netherlands, occurred coincidently with the absorption of Portugal by Spain. With this event all Portuguese interests, whether at home or abroad, became constructively the interests of the Spanish crown. In her long war with the armies of Philip II, Holland might well attack the Portuguese possessions, since they were the dependencies of Spain. The situation as well as the spirit of the race brought the Dutch fleets to bear against the Portuguese, and made the colonial empire of the latter an easy spoil. Such was the condition which led inevitably to the overthrow of the East Indian dominion of Portugal, and the substitution therefor of the Oriental empire of the Netherlands.
The same thing virtually occurred on the coasts of Africa. Here the Dutch became the aggressors and the conquerors. The first trading expedition was sent out from the North Sea to Guinea in the year 1595. The ships of the Portuguese and the Spaniards could not withstand the onset of the hardy Dutch captains who assailed them. Neither could the French and English fleets bear the pressure of the new sea-power rising from the northern ocean.
In a short time, West Africa became the prey of the Dutch. In the first place, the island of Goree, belonging to France, situated off the coast of Senagambia south of the Cape Verde group, was purchased, colonized, and fortified.
In 1621, the Dutch West India Company, successor of the Dutch East India Company, was chartered, and from that time forth the fleets of Holland made their way west, south and east. They came upon the Atlantic coast of Africa, and there wrought havoc with the settlements of other nations.
In 1637, El Mina, the old stronghold of Portugal on the Gold Coast, was captured by the Dutch. Soon afterwards Axim was taken, and the other forts of the European colonists fell one by one. Wherever the Dutch landed, they first subdued and then fortified. Their charter gave them the monopoly of trade from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope.
They proceeded accordingly to make valid their claim by conquest. They built forts at intervals all the way from Arguin southward to the extremity of the continent. The gold coast was, in particular, made secure against the onset of rivals and enemies. Between Cape Blanco and St. Paul de Loanda more than two score forts and stations had been established, and of these the Dutch gained possession of sixteen.
Then followed the opening of trade, or, rather, the transfer of the trade which the Portuguese had already established to the merchant ships of Holland.*
(* The commerce of the Portuguese, according to their own report, was described as "a very great and advantageous inland trade for some hundreds of miles." Nearly all of this, now went to the Dutch, and the saying got abroad, that the Portuguese were the "dogs which chased the game out of the jungle, in order that the Dutch might take it.")
At first the commerce was mostly of gold and ivory and pepper. But it was not long until the Dutch merchants yielded to the same temptation, before which, they of Lisbon and London had sunk into utter depravity.
The slave coast promised richer reward than did the coast of gold. The man-trade was more enticing than the trade in tusks and pepper-pods. This thing, indeed, had been contemplated from the very first; for the company was chartered as the Dutch West India Company. Why West India? Why, but to hint at the slave trade as the principal business for which the company was licensed? For a long time, the merchant ships of Protestant Holland were laden to the water with their cargoes of human chattels.
Great was the enmity of England on this score. Pain would the English ships have had a share in the profitable man-trade. The British planters in the West Indies mouthed not a little because the Dutch slave-ships brought only the refuse of their traffic to them. They got only the poorer sort of slaves, while the better were sold in Hayti and Cuba. The Dutch were monopolists in this traffic, and the English traders believed in no monopoly save their own.
How, hardly, would the latter consent to pay £ 20 per head for slaves, when with an African port of free entry for their own ships, negroes could be bought or taken for fifty shillings each! Nor do the writings of the times indicate any sentiment respecting the nefarious merchandise other than the desire to make from them the greatest possible profit!
During the early part of the seventeenth century, the situation here described, continued to prevail in the Dutch-African dependencies. Frequently in this age, the European nations were so greatly complicated by war and intrigue, that their outlying possessions were neglected, if not forgotten, in the deadlier struggle of armies and navies close to the home kingdoms.
Thus, for example; in the Cromwellian era, what could be expected but that the attention of England and the proximate continental states should be absorbed in the vicissitudes of that momentous conflict? Soon afterwards, Holland and England were engaged in a death-grip on the sea.
By a strange turn of events, however, when the Revolution of 1688 came, William the Stadtholder of the Netherlands, while retaining his continental rank, became King of England. The fleets of the kingdom and the republic were brought into union for fifteen years. For a considerable period the two countries made common cause on both land and sea, contending in a masterful way against the inordinate ambitions of Louis XIV of France.
Even on the African coast, the English and Dutch rivalries were abated, not to break out again until after the death of William III.
Labels: The Boer Wars