Jan Pieterszoon Coen

The Dutch merchant Jan Pieterszoon Coen (ca. 1586-1629) founded Batavia as governor general of the Dutch East India Company. Possessed of great administrative and military ability, he contributed greatly to the expansion of Dutch influence in the East Indies.

Born at Hoorn probably at the end of 1586 (he was baptized on Jan. 8, 1587), Jan Coen at the age of 13 obtained employment with a firm of former Dutch merchants in Rome, where he remained for almost 7 years and where he learned bookkeeping, other commercial skills, and several languages.

Returning to Holland in 1607, Coen sailed on December 22 of that year for the Dutch East Indies as an employee of the Dutch East India Company. He returned home in 1610, and 2 years later the company dispatched him to the Indies as commander of two ships. At the end of 1614 Coen was named director general, the second highest post, and on April 30, 1618, he was appointed governor general at the age of 31.

Coen had difficulties with the Bantamese and English over the spice trade and transferred the seat of the company in Java from Bantam to Jacatra, where the company storehouse was located. He reinforced this building, making it a reliable fortress. The English, however, concentrated a large fleet off Bantam and seized a heavily laden Dutch ship, De Swarte Leeuw. Coen demanded its return, and when this was refused, a fight ensued. Coen's fleet held its own against a superior force until its ammunition was exhausted. He then sailed for the Moluccas, where he obtained reinforcements of 16 ships. Upon his return to Jacatra at the end of May 1619 he found that his garrison had held out, so Coen built a Dutch center which he named Batavia.

In 1621 Coen led a punitive expedition against the Bandanese in East Indonesia, who had been trading with the English. He decimated the population and resettled the survivors. In 1623 he resigned as governor general, but the following year the company persuaded him to take up this post again. British opposition delayed his return, however, until 1627, when he sailed secretly for the Indies and assumed without proper credentials the governor generalship. Shortly after his arrival at Batavia, he was confronted with sieges by the Bantamese and by the kingdom of Mataram. The latter made two unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the Dutch, and during the second attack Coen was suddenly stricken with a tropical disease and died on Sept. 21, 1629.


Further Reading on Jan Pieterszoon Coen

There is an extensive bibliography on Coen in Dutch. In English see E. S. De Klerck, History of the Netherlands East Indies (2 vols., 1938), and Bernard H. M. Vlekke, Nusantara: A History of the East Indian Archipelago (1943; 2d ed. 1959). A valuable background study is J.H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963).