Dutch colonial administrator
Jan Pieterszoon Coen (8 January 1587 – 21 September 1629) was an officer of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the early 17th century, holding two terms as Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. He was the founder of Batavia, capital of the Dutch East Indies. Renowned for providing the impulse that set the VOC on the path to dominance in the Dutch East Indies, he was long considered a national hero in the Netherlands. Since the 19th century, his legacy has become controversial due to the violence he employed, especially during the last stage of the Dutch conquest of the Banda Islands, in order to secure a trade monopoly on nutmeg, mace and clove.
Coen was born in Hoorn on 8 January 1587, and was raised by his family in accordance with strict Calvinist principles. In 1601, he traveled to Rome, to study trade in the offices of the Fleming Joost de Visscher, where he learned the art of bookkeeping. Joining the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1606, he made a trading voyage to the East Indies in 1607 with the fleet of Pieter Willemsz Verhoeff.
After his return to the republic in 1610, Coen submitted an important report on trade possibilities in Southeast Asia to the company's directors. As a result of this report, he was again sent overseas in 1612, with the rank of chief merchant.
On the second trip, he acquitted himself so well of his commission and notable by the success of his practice of commerce, that in October 1613, he was appointed as accountant-general of all VOC offices in the East Indies and president of the head offices in Bantam and Jakarta.
In 1614, he was made director-general, second in command. On 25 October 1617, the Heren XVII of the VOC appointed him as the fourth governor-general in the East Indies, of which he was informed on 30 April 1618.
As a merchant and Calvinist, Coen was convinced of the necessity of strict enforcement of contracts entered into with Asian rulers. He, therefore, aided Indonesian princes against their indigenous rivals or against other European powers and was given commercial monopolies for the company in return. Thus the Dutch, at the price of heavy military and naval investment, slowly gained control of the area's rich spice trade.
Between 1614 and 1618, Coen secured a clove monopoly in the Moluccas and a nutmeg monopoly in the Banda Islands. The inhabitants of Banda had been selling the spices to the English, despite contracts with the VOC, which obliged them to sell only to the VOC, at low prices.
In 1621, he led the Dutch conquest of the Banda Islands, using Japanese mercenaries. After encountering some fierce resistance, mostly by cannons that the natives had acquired from the English, they took the island of Lonthor by force. Many thousands of inhabitants were massacred and replaced by slave labor from other islands to make way for Dutch planters. Of the 15,000 inhabitants it is believed only about a thousand survived on the island. Eight hundred people were deported to Batavia.
Because of disputes at the head office in Bantam with natives, the Chinese, and the English, the VOC desired a better central headquarters. Coen thus directed more of the company's trade through Jakarta, where it had established a factory in 1610. However, not trusting the native ruler, he decided in 1618 to convert the Dutch warehouses into a fort. While away on an expedition, the English took control of the town. Coen managed to reconquer Jakarta in 1619, with fire destroying most of the town during the process. He rebuilt the city and fort, thus founding the new Dutch town over the ruins of its predecessor, which he forthwith proclaimed the capital of the Dutch East Indies. In 1621, the city was renamed Batavia. Coen preferred Nieuw Hoorn, after his hometown, but didn't get his way.
In 1622, Coen revisited Europe. On 1 February 1623, he handed his post to Pieter de Carpentier and returned to the Netherlands, where he was given a hero's welcome off the coast of Texel. He then became head of the VOC chamber in Hoorn and worked on establishing new policies. During his absence from the East Indies, difficulties with the English were exacerbated by the Amboyna massacre. On 3 October 1624, he was reappointed governor-general in the East Indies, but his departure was hindered by the English. In 1625, he married Eva Ment, and in 1627 departed incognito for the East Indies with his wife, their newborn child and her brother and sister, starting work on 30 September 1627. After his arrival, the English abandoned Batavia and established their headquarters in Bantam.
Twice during Coen's term in office, Sultan Agung of Mataram besieged Batavia, in 1628 and 1629. Agung's military was poorly armed and had inadequate provisions of food, and was never able to capture the city. During Agung's second siege Coen suddenly died on 21 September 1629, likely due to the cholera outbreak in Batavia during this siege.
, Coen's hometown
Plaque on statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Hoorn, in Dutch and English. Added in 2012 by the city council after protests over large scale cruelties administered by Coen.
A famed quote of his from 1618, Despair not, spare your enemies not, for God is with us, illustrates his single-minded ruthlessness, and his unstinting belief in the divinely-sanctioned nature of his project. Using such self-professed divine sanction to violently pursue his ultimate goal of trade monopoly in the East Indies, Dutch soldiers acting on Coen's orders perpetrated numerous wanton acts of destruction in the spice islands of (now) eastern Indonesia, including the infamous Banda Massacre of 1621. The purpose of this was to create scarcity of natural produce in order to sustain artificially high prices and profits for the Dutch investors of the VOC. This was deemed by many to be excessive, even for such a relatively violent age. Consequently, since the independence of Indonesia he has been looked at in a more critical light, and historians view his often violent methods to have been excessive.
Coen was known in his time on account of strict governance and harsh criticism of people who did not share his views, at times directed even at the 17 Lords of the VOC (for which he was reprimanded). Coen was known to be strict towards subordinates and merciless to his opponents. His willingness to use violence to obtain his ends was too much for many, even during such a relatively violent age. When Saartje Specx, a girl whom he had been entrusted to care for, was found in Coen's private quarters in the arms of a soldier, Pieter Cortenhoeff, Coen showed no mercy in having Cortenhoeff beheaded. Specx was below the age of 14 and could therefore not receive the death penalty. Although this meant she escaped death through drowning, she was sentenced to be flogged in public instead.