Vol. 2, No. 3, Atsushi Ota

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3

Tropical Products Out, British Cotton In: Trade in the Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69

Atsushi Ota*

*太田 淳, Graduate School of Letters, Hiroshima University, 1-2-3 Kagamiyama, Higashi-Hiroshima 739-8522, Japan
e-mail: ota[at]hiroshima-u.ac.jp

DOI: doi.org/10.20495/seas.2.3_499

This paper discusses the trade structure in the Dutch Outer Islands ports, in which the Dutch checked the volume and value of traded items in order to levy customs duty and created trade statistics in the Indonesian Archipelago outside Java and Madura. Although these ports do not include those in independent ports such as those in Aceh and Bali, the statistics contain precious information on the entire imports and exports of each port. Analyzing this set of statistics, this paper argues that the Dutch Outer Islands ports continued to export China-bound (partly Southeast Asia-bound) tropical products, such as pepper, forest products, and other kinds of local products, as well as colonial products such as coffee. On the other hand, these ports imported increasing amounts of British cotton goods after the Anglo-Dutch tariff arrangement in the 1840s. In this way the existing China-oriented trade and the new colonial trade, linked to Western capitalism, interacted and combined with each other. This transborder network beyond the Dutch sphere of influence was a source of the strength that the regions around these ports maintained, in the form of a steady development of trade.

Keywords: trade structure, Dutch Outer Islands, China-oriented trade, non-colonial products


There is a consensus among scholars that Southeast Asian trade grew greatly in the period around 1760–1850, that is, before modern trade expansion began. Many scholars identify the China factor as a driving force in this trade growth, associating it with increasing junk trade and Chinese migration (Reid 1997b; Trocki 1997; Wang and Ng 2004; Tagliacozzo and Chang 2011). Indeed, Anthony Reid and Leonard Blussé coined the term “the Chinese century,” to emphasize the crucial importance of the China factor in ­eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Southeast Asia. They share the notion that Chinese trade and migration increased after the successive loosening of the Qing maritime ban in the years 1683–1754. While Reid does not comment on the course of trade after 1850, Blussé suggests that Chinese trade started to interact with Western imperialism after the establishment of Singapore in 1819 (Blussé 1999, 128; Reid 2004, 23–32). However, it is not clear how Chinese trade interacted with Western imperialism after 1819, and what sort of trade structure was created as a result. Consequently, it is not clear how the Chinese century ended.

In relation to this fact, scholarly views on the role of China-oriented trade in ­nineteenth-century Southeast Asia remain divided. “China-oriented trade” refers to trade in China-bound commodities, which were hardly related to modern industry and were collected, cultivated, or transported not only by Chinese but also by Southeast Asians. Typical commodities in this type of trade consisted of marine products such as sea cucumber and tortoiseshell, forest products such as rattan and camphor, and other products such as pepper, tin, and birds’ nests. On the one hand, a number of scholars have recently emphasized the continuity of the China-oriented trade into the nineteenth century and beyond. Eric Tagliacozzo and the authors in his edited volume have demonstrated this position (Tagliacozzo 2004; Tagliacozzo and Chang 2011). On the other hand, there is a view that assumes that the trade structure was transformed fundamentally in the nineteenth century, and that the China-oriented trade was of little quantitative importance. This view is strongly held by specialists in the western part of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago, where the launch of full-scale colonial rule was more marked than in other areas with the establishment of British Singapore in 1819 and the start of the Cultivation System in Dutch Java in 1830, events that caused the trade in products for the Western market to skyrocket (Elson [1992] 1999, 133). Thomas Lindblad notes that the export of natural products from Sumatra, Kalimantan, and some other islands to China was “minor” in the nineteenth century (Lindblad 2002, 101).

These differences derive in part from the gap in source materials. While the export of colonial products—mass-produced agricultural products and fossil materials for mass consumption in modern industry and the modern lifestyle, such as sugar, crude oil, and coffee—was well recorded, non-colonial China-bound exports were rarely included in statistics. Reid and other scholars have made enormous efforts to collect precious but fragmental quantitative information on the exports of several non-colonial products. However, nobody has yet presented a set of statistical data that show the geographic composition of imports and exports, as well as the composition of colonial and non-colonial products.

This paper aims to discuss the statistics of a relatively small part of nineteenth-century Southeast Asian trade: the trade in the Dutch Outer Islands ports during the period 1846–69. The Dutch Outer Islands ports are taken here as the ports (not territories) in which the Dutch checked the volume and value of traded items to levy customs duty and created trade statistics in the Indonesian Archipelago outside Java and Madura. These ports, indicated in Fig. 1, do not include those in strong, trade-rich independent states such as Aceh, nor do they include important ports in North Sumatra, Bali, and Lombok. The trade in the Dutch Outer Islands ports thus constituted only a part of the trade conducted in the areas later called, in a very Java-centric way, the “Outer Islands”—Sumatra, Dutch Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the Lesser Sunda Islands, the Maluku Islands, and their neighboring islands.


Fig. 1 Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69
Notes: 1. The ports of Singkel, Baros, Sibolga, Natal, Airbangis, Priaman, Padang, and Benkulen are put together as “West Sumatra” in the original data from 1846 to 1865. After 1866 Benkulen becomes an independent category, while the other ports remain in “West Sumatra.”
2. Muara Kompeh is put together with Palembang in the original data from 1846 to 1847, while the latter becomes an independent category after 1848.
3. The original data of 1846–59 put Amboina, Ternate, Banda, and Gorontalo together as “the Maluku Islands.” The first three ports appear as independent categories in the original data, while Gorontalo disappears after 1860.
4. Telok Butong (Lampung), Benkulen, and Tanjung Pandan (Belitung) appear as independent categories in the original data only after 1866.
5. Banjarmasin includes information on nearby Sambit in the original data for several years.

Nevertheless, analysis of the trade in these ports is important because this set of trade statistics, systematically created in these ports, contains comprehensive information on the entire imports and exports that Dutch officials recorded in each port, including rarely recorded marine and forest products bound for China and parts of Southeast Asia. With this data we can discuss the structure of trade in these ports spread over the coasts of Sumatra, Riau, Bangka, Belitung, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Timor, and the Maluku Islands. Previous studies have tended to focus on a particular kind of colonial or non-colonial export, emphasizing the link with the export destinations of the discussed product, without discussing much about imports. The trade statistics of the Dutch Outer Islands ports, by contrast, include information on both exports and imports. The statistics also reveal that these ports exported various kinds of products, both colonial and non-colonial, respectively bound for the West and China (and Southeast Asia). With this data set it is also possible to quantitatively compare the scale of trade of these ports with the trade in Java ports, as the statistics were made in a standardized format in the Dutch-controlled regions. These features make it possible for us to gain a better picture of the trade conducted in this part of the archipelago.

The trade statistics for the Dutch Outer Islands ports in the years 1846–69 that are used in this paper, created at the Department of Finance in Batavia (Batavia Departement van Financien), have never been fully utilized in previous studies. The most basic publication series of statistics in colonial Indonesia, Changing Economy in Indonesia (Korthals Altes 1991), has the Outer Islands statistics only after 1874. In addition, these Outer Islands statistics show only total exports and imports in goods, gold coins, and silver coins; they do not show any details about the trade in particular products and ports. By contrast, the original data referred to in this study contain much richer information about the trade per product in each port. By analyzing this series of data, this study reveals the composition of trade commodities in each port and their geographical differences in various ports.

The period 1846–69 has been chosen because the oldest records in a standardized format were created during these years. After this period the format was significantly changed, so that it is impossible to know certain important information such as the original places of import and final export destinations. Around 1870 the export of colonial products, such as tobacco in North Sumatra, rapidly increased; therefore, this data set will show interesting features of the trade in the insufficiently studied decades. ­Howard W. Dick has argued that a large part of the Indonesian Archipelago was part of Southeast Asia—without being fully integrated into the Dutch East Indies—before the 1870s, when the colonial economy started to penetrate it (Dick 1990; 1993). This paper will examine Dick’s argument by discussing the data collected some two decades before 1870.

Through these discussions, this paper argues that China-bound non-colonial exports continued to develop in pace with the expanding trade in colonial products, while Western textiles came to occupy an increasingly large part of the imports in the Dutch Outer Islands ports. In this way China-oriented trade interacted with Western capitalism, and a new trade structure, which combined the existing export pattern and new Western factors, emerged in the nineteenth century.

Formation of China-Oriented Trade Structure

Although Sino-Southeast Asian trade had been flourishing since ancient times, scholars agree that it grew strongly after the mid-eighteenth century. The trade growth was closely related to changes in Chinese society. First, China needed more staple food, as a result of the remarkable expansion in its population.1) As the Qing government attempted to import rice from Southeast Asia by liberalizing trade policy, Chinese junks transported increasing amounts of rice from Ayutthaya (later Bangkok) and Saigon from the early eighteenth century, and also from Manila, Bali, and Lombok after the early nineteenth century (Viraphol 1977, 70–120, 140–159; Cushman [1993] 2000, 65–95; Reid 1997a, 11–14; 2004, 22–24; Blussé 1999, 121–128; Sutherland 2000, 472).

Moreover, people in economically advanced areas such as the mid- and downstream Yangzi regions increasingly demanded Southeast Asian products such as tin, pepper, birds’ nests, and marine and forest products (Rowe 1998, 179). Tin was used for tea containers and for burning imitation paper notes during rituals, while rattan was used for a variety of purposes, including furniture making. The demand for these products can be related to the growing “consumer society,” and the consumption of Southeast Asian exotic primary products must have been a sort of “Middle class luxury,” as Kenneth Pomeranz has suggested. It was also in the eighteenth century that royal cuisine spread among a wider strata of people. The boom in commercialized eating places might have stimulated the consumption of Southeast Asian ingredients (McNeill 1994, 325–326; Pomeranz 2000, 114, 142, 151, 158). Trade in sea cucumber started only in the late seventeenth century, and it expanded into a business of considerable scale in the mid-eighteenth century (Sutherland 2000). Edible products such as shark’s fin, birds’ nests, and sea cucumber were still high-priced, but the availability of a wide range of goods with different prices exported from various ports in Southeast Asia (Milburn [1813] 1999, Vol. 2, 388–433) indicates that people from various strata consumed them. Changing lifestyles in the economically advanced areas of China impacted the pattern of Sino-Southeast Asian trade.

It was the migration of Chinese workers that enabled the significant increase in the Southeast Asian production of certain China-bound products, such as tin and pepper, as well as gold and gambier, which were also partly circulated in Southeast Asia, during the eighteenth century. Chinese miners, who had developed copper and silver in Yunnan for domestic coinage, further extended their activities beyond the borders into regions having similar resources in the northern hills of present-day Burma, Laos, and Vietnam by the mid-eighteenth century. After the mid-eighteenth century, tin mines in Bangka and Kelantan, Perak, and later Selangor on the Malay Peninsula became sites of systematic exploitation after the large-scale migration of Chinese (mainly Hakka) miners, often at the request of local rulers. Teochew and Hakka migrants also exploited gold mines in West Kalimantan after the mid-eighteenth century. Miners organized their joint enterprises called kongsi, which often became quite independent from local states (Trocki 1997, 88–94; Blussé 1999, 123; Reid 2004, 24–25; 2011, 24–30). Chinese migrants began pepper cultivation on a large scale in Brunei, Riau, Terengganu, Phuket, and Chantaburi (southeast corner of Siam) in the mid- to late eighteenth century, although it was Acehnese growers who expanded pepper production much more dramatically after the 1790s.2) Gambier, an astringent obtained from the gum of a Sumatran shrub, was another product cultivated on a large scale by Chinese workers in Riau in the late eighteenth century, and later also in Singapore. Chinese sugar production increased in Siam in the early nineteenth century, stimulated by the immigration of Teochew cultivators from the Swatow region, especially in Nakhonchaisi in the Southeast (Reid 1997b, 72–75; 2004, 26–28; Trocki 1997, 88–90; Bulbeck et al. 1998, 118).

Apart from miners and agricultural laborers, an increasing number of Chinese ­traders sailed from the Fujian and Guangdong coasts for Southeast Asian seas in the eighteenth century. Following the loosening of the Qing maritime bans, junks set sail to various places in Southeast Asia, such as North and Central Vietnam, Saigon, Hatien, Bangkok, Melaka and other ports on the Malay Peninsula, Bagansiapiapi and other ports in Sumatra, Riau-Lingga, Brunei and other ports in Kalimantan, Makassar, Sulu, Manila, and Penang, although by 1840 their main destination was Singapore. Chinese junks based in Bangkok and Saigon also joined the trade between Southeast Asian ports and south China. Products from Chinese-run mines and agricultural gardens were almost exclusively loaded on Chinese junks. Chinese traders also transported marine, forest, and other tropical products from various Southeast Asian ports to the south China coast, in return for porcelain, silk, ironware, and various other Chinese household items. They preferred a “free port” outside the Dutch sphere of influence for this trade, because they disliked Dutch customs and interventions, and more importantly because the commodities they needed were not much available in Dutch ports as the Dutch were not interested in those kinds of products (Reid 1997b, 62–67; 2004, 22–28; Blussé 1999, 121–127; Tagliacozzo 2004, 40–43).

In response to the arrival of an increasing number of Chinese junks, Southeast Asian traders brought marine and forest products—which were in demand in China—from their producing regions to various transit ports in Southeast Asia (Tagliacozzo 2011, 434–437). Among the various groups of Southeast Asian traders, Malays, Iranun, and especially Bugis played an important role in collecting marine and forest products. After the VOC-Makassar war in the 1660s, Bugis had migrated to scattered places in the Malay-­Indonesian Archipelago and created their settlements throughout insular Southeast Asia, such as the east and west coasts of Kalimantan, the Malay Peninsula, and the Riau-Lingga Islands (Andaya 1995). Making use of their extended networks between these settlements and their homeland in South Sulawesi, they transported marine and forest products to transit ports throughout insular Southeast Asia from Junk Ceylon to Sulu (Lewis 1970, 115–116; Sutherland 2000, 452–459). Bugis and other Southeast Asian traders also redistributed Chinese, Indian, and Western products as well as Southeast Asian products, such as gambier, a material for betel chewing, and die materials including wax for textile production, for local consumption to various places in Southeast Asia.

Another factor that stimulated Sino-Southeast Asian trade was British country traders coming from India.3) They also collected products that were in demand in China and brought them to Canton (Guangzhou), the only port in Qing China that was open to Western traders, in order to facilitate the British tea trade there (Reid 1997b, 61; Milburn [1813] 1999, Vol. 2, 388–433). As European traders competed fiercely in the booming tea trade between south China and northwest Europe, it became important for them to obtain commodities in Asia that were in demand in China, because they did not have attractive trade items from their home countries apart from precious silver. Country traders visiting a number of ports throughout insular Southeast Asia played an important role in collecting items that were in demand in China, in return for opium, cotton and cotton cloth, gunpowder, and arms. Opium was especially in demand among Chinese laborers in mines and agricultural gardens (Trocki 2011, 85, 89). According to trade statistics in Canton, tin and pepper always accounted for a constant share of the country traders’ imports to Canton, although their main Asian commodities were Indian cotton and opium (Pritchard 1936, 174–180, 401–402; Ota 2006, 117–123). In Southeast Asia, marine and forest products were also important components of country traders’ business, although the trade amount is not clear (Lewis 1970, 117–120; Trocki 1979, 8–17; Warren 1981, 38–66; Vos 1993, 121–126; Tagliacozzo 2004, 37–40).

The development of Sino-Southeast Asian trade also meant a reorganization of the Southeast Asian economy. Many places became producing regions to support the growing consumption in China. Growing Chinese demand for Southeast Asian tropical products as well as new trade items such as Indian opium and Western armaments transformed the age-old Sino-Southeast Asian trade in the mid-eighteenth century.

Qualification of Data

The following sections discuss the trade structure in the Dutch Outer Islands ports in the years 1846–69, examining the trade statistics created in these ports (Batavia ­Departement van Financien 1851–70).4) The discussion starts with an examination of the coverage and nature of this data set, by comparing it with other statistical sources.

Table 1 indicates the exports from the Indonesian Archipelago outside Java in selected years from 1846 to 1869. Row (a) shows the data created in Java on imports from the areas W. L. Korthals Altes called “the Outer Islands” to Java and Madura (Korthals Altes 1991). In fact, this category consists of Sumatra, Dutch Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, the Maluku Islands, and others (not specified). Apparently this category includes Bali, which was not a part of Dutch Outer Islands ports, and it is likely that it includes independent states in North Sumatra including Aceh, because there was little reason for Dutch customs officers in Java to have turned away ships from these states. Row (d) shows data created in Dutch Outer Islands ports on the exports from these ports to Java and Madura. At first sight rows (a) and (d) seem to indicate almost the same trade between almost identical islands, but the exports indicated in row (d) are much smaller than those shown in row (a). This means that a large number of ships from these islands bound for Java and Madura did not go through official checks in their departing ports. Ships from Aceh, Bali, and other independent states certainly came without any Dutch checks. The data set used for row (d) thus covers only a small part of the trade. In fact, if we compare the data in rows (a) and (d), this data set is likely to have covered about 30–40 percent of the actual trade between the above-mentioned islands and Java and Madura. We will return to this point later when we discuss the composition of trade.

Table 1 Exports from Various Parts of the Indonesian Archipelago, 1846–69 (Dutch Guilders)


Row (b) of Table 1 indicates data created in Singapore on imports from Sumatra, Borneo, Bali, Riau, Lombok, and Sulawesi. These figures were obtained by converting the original data in Spanish dollars to Dutch guilders at the rate of 1 Spanish dollar to 2.55 Dutch guilders (Cowan 1950, 21). The figures in row (d) are relatively close to those in row (e), the data created in the Dutch Outer Islands ports on the exports from these ports to the Straits Settlements. However, this fact casts doubt on the accuracy of the figures in row (b). There are several reasons to assume that the actual imports from the indicated islands to Singapore were larger than shown here. Rows (d) and (e) show that almost the same amounts were exported from the Dutch Outer Islands ports to Java and Madura on the one hand and to the Straits Settlements on the other. It is unlikely that in the Dutch Outer Islands ports, ships bound for either the Straits Settlements or Java and Madura were subjected to greater official checks than other ships; therefore, Singapore perhaps imported almost the same amounts as Java did as shown in row (a). Aceh must have exported a larger amount of items to Singapore than to Java, considering its stronger trade relationship with Singapore than with Java, although it sold its largest export commodity, pepper, mostly to US ships. These observations seem to suggest that the trade indicated in row (b) was not accurately recorded for some reason in the free port of Singapore, where no customs duty was levied. We should assume that the actual trade between the islands in row (b) and Singapore was greater than indicated here, and the trade that went through official checks in Dutch Outer Islands ports (row [e]) was only a part of it.

Importantly, total exports from the Dutch Outer Islands ports (row [l]) grew more sharply than the exports indicated in Java and Singapore statistics (rows [a] and [b]). This suggests that the growing figures in row (l) mean not only a trade increase but also a strengthening of Dutch control on trade. In another words, as the Dutch checked more and more departing ships, trade figures appear to be growing more sharply than they actually were. Thus, caution must be taken to qualify the meaning of the trade increase indicated in the data set, although it is still possible to assume that trade did increase, considering the steady increase in the figures that appear in Java and Singapore statistics (rows [a] and [b]).

In spite of these qualifications, this data set is useful for understanding the nature of trade in regard to trade amounts in different ports, the diversity of traded commodities, export destinations, and original places of import. As mentioned before, the original information of this data set does not seem to be strongly biased with respect to the characterization of trade by geographical and commodity composition, apart from the lack of information on smuggling, a problem for any official trade records. If there is any bias in this data set, it may have underestimated China-bound non-colonial products, because Dutch officers were hardly interested in such products. It is very important that this data set includes the above-mentioned information, such as trade amounts in different ports and diverse trade commodities. Using this information, the following sections will focus on breakouts of trade in terms of factors such as trade items and export destinations rather than the trend of trade growth, which cannot be analyzed precisely for the above-mentioned reason.

Export Commodities in Outer Islands Ports

Fig. 2 and Table 2 show major export commodities in each of the Dutch Outer Islands ports. Scales of trade were very different among these ports. West Sumatra (mostly Padang), the largest exporter, occupied 31.8 percent of the total in 1869, followed by Makassar (19.3 percent), Riau (11 percent), and Belitung (8.6 percent). In the west of Makassar, trade gradually became concentrated in larger ports such as Padang, Riau, Palembang, Belitung, and Banjarmasin. In the eastern part, Menado became an important port largely because of coffee exports, while ports in the Maluku Islands and Timor were left out of the lucrative trade in the other areas.


Fig. 2 Exports from the Dutch Outer Islands Ports in 1846 and 1869
Source: Table 2.
Note: Places without data for 1846 indicate information on 1869 only.

Table 2 Exports from the Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69 (Dutch Guilders)


Table 2-Continued


Table 2-Continued


As Table 3 shows, it is possible to organize the export commodities roughly into two categories: (1) products for Western countries (Europe and the United States), and (2) products for China (partly for Southeast Asia). The latter category can be further divided into (a) Chinese products and (b) local products, although there are not a few exceptions, as explained below. Products for Western countries were produced on a large scale under the supervision of the colonial government or Western (mostly Dutch) private enterprises. Coffee cultivation in West Sumatra was a typical example of products promoted by the government, although coffee gardens were also opened on local initiatives in North and Central Sulawesi (the Minahasa and Toraja regions). Cacao and tobacco cultivation also started in Western-funded plantations in several places, although the volume of production remained small during the period under study (Table 2). Chinese products were produced by Chinese labor, often in the kongsi style: for example, pepper and gambier in Riau, gold in West Kalimantan (upstream of Pontianak), and tin in Bangka. Meanwhile, a variety of products collected by Southeast Asians without farming, cultivation, and capital investment fall into the category of local products. These were largely marine and forest products exported mainly to China and parts of Southeast Asia. The “others” in the local products (Table 3) are those difficult to categorize. They include items such as leather and elephant tusks, for example, all collected in a similar manner. Not all the export destinations are clear in this group of products, but there is little doubt that they were not for industrial use, and that almost all of them were consumed in China and Southeast Asia.

Table 3 Exports from the Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69 (Dutch Guilders)


Western impacts were important for export growth in only a few areas. Padang in West Sumatra was the largest coffee-exporting port throughout the period under study. The Dutch colonial government introduced coffee cultivation in the West Sumatran highlands, in order to stabilize local society after the end of the anti-Dutch Padri War (1821–37). Coffee production developed rapidly until around 1870 (Dobbin 1983, 235–236). Another example is tin from Belitung. The region exported a large amount of tin after 1860, when the Billiton Company financed by Dutch entrepreneurs started operations (Lindblad 2002, 95). For this reason, tin from Belitung has been placed in the category of “products for Western countries” in Table 3.

However, apart from coffee and some other cash crops, the major traded commodities in the period under study show a strong continuity from earlier periods. As Table 2 shows, they were pepper, gambier, tin, and above all marine and forest products. They were almost identical to the commodities actively exported during the Chinese century from many places in Southeast Asia to China, as discussed in the earlier section.

The continuity of export commodities, however, does not mean that ports continued to export these products in the same manner as they had done during the earlier period. On the contrary, in most places, new Western impacts and existing local and Chinese factors were inevitably intertwined.

Makassar, the second-largest port, was a typical case of such intertwined developments. The most important factor behind the prosperous trade in Makassar was the Dutch decision to make it a free port, which led to increasing visits from non-Dutch ships, foreign and local, and the growth of trade with China and Singapore (Poelinggomang 1993, 66–68; Lindblad 2002, 90). The largest export item from Makassar after the 1850s was coffee. In the Toraja highlands local people had cultivated coffee for a long time, but production increased remarkably in the mid-nineteenth century, when the Bugis opened inland commercial routes (Yamashita 1988, 54–55). On the other hand, more than half of the Makassar exports were marine and forest products, even after the 1850s, when coffee production increased. In fact, Makassar was by far the most important (re)export center for marine products throughout the period under study (Fig. 2 and Table 2). No one has studied the collecting and trading system of marine products in Makassar in the mid-nineteenth century, but it is very possible that the eighteenth-century local network, which Heather Sutherland has discussed, kept functioning to collect almost identical products, such as sea cucumber and tortoiseshell, from the nearby waters well into the nineteenth century (Sutherland 2000; 2011).

The increase in pepper and gambier production in Riau was a combined result of Chinese and Western impacts. The production in Chinese-run gardens increased especially after the 1820s, when Singapore developed as a center for export and consumption. Gambier had been consumed in south China and Southeast Asia for betel chewing, but after the 1830s it largely went to European markets for their dyeing and tanning industries, although Chinese laborers continuously cultivated it (Elson [1992] 1999, 135; ­Turnbull 2009, 63). This is why gambier from Riau has been categorized with “products for Western countries” in Table 3.

Forest products and the “others” in local products were the most common commodities exported from almost all the Dutch Outer Islands ports (Table 2). In West Kalimantan, larger-scale collection of rattan and other forest products started around 1860, as Chinese and coastal Malay traders were involved in this business. They organ­ized inland Dayak collectors in a more commercialized way (Somers Heidhues 2003). Similar developments took place in Southeast Kalimantan, although trade information from this area is not included in the data set under study (Knapen 2001).

Total exports from all the Dutch Outer Islands ports appear to have become 3.8 times larger in the data set under study during the period 1846–69 (Table 3). The largest growth took place in coffee. However, it is remarkable that the exports of local products also steadily increased. Their share in total exports shrank, but their values increased almost three times. The share of Chinese products shrank substantially, but in absolute terms the value of exports declined only slightly. The upshot was that the total value of China-bound (partly Southeast Asia-bound) local and Chinese products was still greater than exports to Western markets until 1859. In 1869, around the year coffee production reached its peak in West Sumatra (Dobbin 1983, 236), products for China and Southeast Asian markets still accounted for around 45 percent of exports, while the rest went to Europe and the United States. Exports to China and Southeast Asia may have been greater than indicated in Table 3, considering the possible bias of the data set mentioned before. Non-colonial exports from the Dutch Outer Islands ports were still much smaller than the total exports from Java (Table 1, row [m]), which consisted mostly of colonial products. However, considering the fact that the statistics created for the Dutch Outer Islands ports covered only a part (30–40 percent, as mentioned before) of the exports from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and other islands of the Indonesian Archipelago, the actual export of non-colonial products from these islands would have been 2.5 to 3.3 times larger than indicated in Table 3. Exports of China-bound local products were therefore substantial and not really “minor,” as noted by Lindblad (2002).

Export Destinations

Although Dutch colonial officers always lamented that large quantities of commodities from the Outer Islands were brought not to Batavia but to Singapore, Lindblad suggests that the importance of Java as a trade partner of the Outer Islands must also be fairly assessed. Examining the trade volume in these two principal colonial ports, Lindblad argues that the trade between the Outer Islands and Java in fact steadily grew, although the former were more strongly linked to the trade rhythm in Singapore (Lindblad 1989).

Fig. 3 and Table 4 show where each of the Dutch Outer Islands ports exported their products. The total figures at the bottom of Table 4 (“All Total”) indicate that the Outer Islands ports were connected to both the Straits Settlements (mostly Singapore) and Java, almost equally in volume. This fact supports Lindblad’s argument.


Fig. 3 Export Destinations from the Dutch Outer Islands Ports in 1846 and 1869
Source: Table 3.
Note: Places without data for 1846 indicate information on 1869 only.

Table 4 Export Destinations of Products from Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69 (Dutch Guilders)


Table 4-Continued


If we focus on individual ports, however, the difference in major export destinations of each port is very large (Fig. 3 and Table 4). In principle, ports relatively close to ­Singapore, such as Riau, Sambas, and Pontianak, exported more to Singapore, although they still exported a certain portion to Java. Ports that had easier access to Java than to Singapore, such as Benkulen, Lampung, and Banjarmasin, were much more strongly connected to Java.

The strong connection to the Netherlands is noticeable only in West Sumatra. Its ports (mostly Padang) exported a large proportion of coffee to the Netherlands only after the early 1850s. Until then more than half of their commodities (mostly coffee) were sent to Singapore. The sudden drop in Singapore’s share, replaced by the Netherlands, was apparently a result of the Dutch policy aimed at exporting as much coffee as possible to the home country.

What is also remarkable is that most of the Dutch Outer Islands ports did not have strong ties with China in the period under study. Junk traffic between the south China coast and the Indonesian Archipelago was active until around 1820 (Crawfurd 1820, Vol. 3, 180–185). Chinese traders were still actively operating in these waters, but they were now connecting the archipelago ports with Singapore. This is discussed later. Although Makassar is geographically closer to Java, its trade was more strongly connected to Singapore and other places. There is little doubt that this was a result of the aforementioned Dutch free port policy in Makassar. China reemerged as an important trade partner of Makassar by 1850, while trade ties with European countries also became stronger after the 1850s. Makassar prospered as an international transit port under the Dutch free-port policy, which was a resurgence with a similar trade pattern in the seven­teenth and eighteenth centuries, as discussed by Sutherland (Sutherland 2000; 2011).

An interesting connection is the one between Menado and Siam and Manila (Table 4). The interregional trade in Menado should be studied further.

In this way, all of the Dutch Outer Islands ports had multiple export destinations. Although the Batavian government attempted to integrate the trade into its Java-centered network, these ports maintained their links with regions outside the Dutch sphere of influence. Maintaining multiple destinations must have helped the regions around the Dutch Outer Islands ports strengthen their ability to respond to changing market situations. The data suggest that local and Chinese workers flexibly changed and expanded their production to the most promising products. The regions around the Dutch Outer Islands ports were thus not subjugated to the Dutch colonial economy; they expanded their transborder network not only to Singapore, but also via Makassar to non-Dutch Western countries, China, Manila, and other Southeast Asian regions. Going back to Dick’s argument, “All Total” of Table 4 (at the bottom) shows that the connection with Java was weakening, with its share among export destinations reducing from more than 45 percent to less than 30 percent. This supports Dick’s argument that a large part of the Indonesian Archipelago was not fully integrated into the Dutch East Indies. However, his contention that the Outer Islands were connected less strongly with Java than with other parts of Southeast Asia may be overstated. The share of the Straits Settlements as a destination from the Dutch Outer Islands ports also reduced, as exports to Europe and the United States grew rapidly, largely because of coffee production in West Sumatra and North and Central Sulawesi. The Dutch Outer Islands ports were developing multi­directional links with the Straits Settlements, Java, other parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Imported Items

Fig. 4 and Table 5 indicate major imports into the Dutch Outer Islands ports. It should be noted that “European textiles” and “other European products,” whose imports had been negligible until the eighteenth century, became by far the most import commodity in the nineteenth century. This was a common trend in all the Outer Islands ports, without any significant regional difference. Atsushi Kobayashi’s paper in this focus explains that the largest European item reexported from Singapore to other parts of Southeast Asia was British cotton goods. Kobayashi argues that the rapid expansion of the British cotton trade was a result of the tariff arrangements between British and Dutch colonial authorities in the 1840s. The import of Indian textiles was shrinking every year as cheaper British cotton goods flooded in, while that of Indian opium became more important. This was a result of the British policy in Bengal, where the colonizer dominated and promoted opium production. Household items, including all kinds of daily-use items such as porcelain, ironware, and tobacco, were imported mostly from China and partly from Manila and Siam. These items were popular among not only Chinese immigrants but also local people.


Fig. 4 Imports into the Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69 (1,000 Dutch Guilders)
Source: Table 5.

Table 5 Imports into Dutch Outer Islands Ports, 1846–69 (Dutch Guilders)


Changes in the import commodities from the earlier period are thus remarkable, in contrast to the fact that almost identical items were continuously exported. In the earlier periods Chinese household items were probably the most important commodities in the Sino-Southeast Asian trade, while textiles from India and other parts of Southeast Asia were also in strong demand throughout the Indonesian Archipelago (Milburn [1813] 1999, Vol. 2, 388–433). During the period under study, however, local people were increasingly consuming cheaper British cotton goods.

As Kobayashi explains in this focus, British cotton goods were distributed from Singapore to other parts of Southeast Asia. In other words, cheap British cotton goods were powerful commodities that played an important role in the rise of Singapore into by far the most important hub in insular Southeast Asia, including the Dutch Outer Islands ports. The rise of Singapore marked a new era, as such a strong center had not existed before. Through the consumption of British cotton goods, local people around the Dutch Outer Islands ports experienced the shifting politico-economic structure of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago. Nevertheless, large parts of the Dutch Outer Islands ports were producing existing types of commodities destined for the China market, in return for British cotton goods.


In terms of traders, the existing structure largely continued from earlier periods but some modern factors also played an important role. The Bugis were the main players in the early Singapore trade with the Indonesian Archipelago, extending their networks on a scale larger than ever before to Sumbawa, Bali, Lombok, Flores, Timor, New Guinea, and Borneo (Tagliacozzo 2004, 31). After the 1830s, Chinese based in Singapore joined their initiative. Among them, those who obtained Western sailing ships became important players (Wong 1960, 74–84; Reid 1993, 28–29). In other words, newly emerged merchants in Singapore took a leading position, making use of new, if not the newest, technology. However, the Bugis who commanded pinisi—traditional sailing ships in the eastern part of the Indonesian Archipelago—continued to play an important role, especially between Surabaya and the eastern part of the archipelago. These Chinese and Bugis traders carried products for the Chinese and Southeast Asian markets to Singapore and major ports in Java, and in return redistributed various imported items, among them British cotton goods, from these ports to various places in the archipelago, as Kobayashi mentions.

Dutch companies also participated in inter-island shipping. The Dutch Trading Company (Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij), established in 1824 and strongly supported by the government, opened regular inter-island routes, but its business met fierce competition from cheap Asian shipping businesses. After 1870, the Dutch East Indies Steamboat Company (Nederlandsch-Indië Stoomvaart Maatschappij), founded in 1842, provided cheap rates thanks to government subsidies and gradually controlled the inter-island shipping market. In the 1890s, the Royal Shipping Company (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij), founded in 1888, established control over inter-island shipping, stabilizing the business with privileges such as a monopoly over the transport of mail and official goods and personnel. However, it is worth noting that in the following depression period, cheaper traditional Bugis shipping recovered and rapidly increased in Makassar after 1916 and in Surabaya after 1926 (Dick 1975, 74–77; Poelinggomang 1993, 66–69; Lindblad 2002, 88–92, 99). These long rivalries would not have developed unless Bugis and other Asian shipping remained dominant in the period under study.


At the beginning of this paper, two views on the relative importance of China-oriented trade in nineteenth-century Southeast Asia were mentioned. Some scholars who claim the importance of this type of trade tend to emphasize the continuity from the previous periods, especially the eighteenth century. Others do not evaluate this type of trade as important, seemingly assuming that the rise of Singapore and the increase in the production of colonial products marked a fundamental transformation in economic structure, especially in the western part of the Indonesian Archipelago.

This paper is a compromise between these two views. Trade statistics on the Dutch Outer Islands ports that have been examined in this paper reveal that these ports continued to export China-bound (partly Southeast Asia-bound) products, such as pepper, forest products, and other kinds of local products. At the same time, the production of coffee in West Sumatra and tin in Belitung developed on the Dutch initiative. In many cases, however, exports grew due to a combination of Chinese and local initiatives and Western impacts. This was typical in the case of marine product collection in Makassar and pepper and gambier cultivation in Riau. In addition, the most common feature was that the Dutch Outer Islands ports—even though they were exporting China-bound products—imported increasing amounts of British cotton goods.

As a result of these developments, a new trade structure emerged in the period under study. It was to bring tropical products out to China and Southeast Asia in the existing manner, and to bring in British cotton goods in a new manner that became noticeable after the Anglo-Dutch tariff arrangement came to be stabilized in the 1840s. In this way the existing China-oriented trade and the new colonial trade, linked to Western capitalism, interacted and combined with each other. The establishment of this combined trade pattern was an important factor for promoting an active trade in the nineteenth century, in addition to well-recognized benefits of Western impacts, such as the development of physical, social, and economic infrastructures—including port facilities and modern legal and financial systems in major ports—and government and private investments.

The data set in this study also reveals that the Dutch Outer Islands ports exported marine and forest products and other kinds of China-bound local products in almost the same volumes as colonial products in the 1850s and 1860s, when exports of the latter grew remarkably (Table 3). Their exports were still smaller than the exports from Java, which consisted mostly of colonial products (Table 1), but the volume of China-bound local products was not insignificant.

Importantly, although the ports examined in this paper substantially lost their traditional direct links with south China, they established strong links with Singapore, while Makassar reestablished its age-old ties with China, and to a lesser degree with Manila and other Southeast Asian regions. This is how the Dutch Outer Islands ports were as strongly tied with other parts of Southeast Asia as with the Java-centered colonial economy. Going back to the issue of when the Chinese century ended, if we focus only on Chinese trade and migration (and production by Chinese migrants), as previous studies have, the Chinese century seems to have faded away in the mid-eighteenth century. However, if we focus on the structure of China-oriented trade, the production and trade pattern of China-bound products continued well into the late 1860s, in a reorganized network more concentrated in Singapore and to a much lesser degree in Makassar. This transborder network beyond the Dutch sphere of influence was a source of the strength that the regions around these ports maintained, in the form of a steady development of trade. Western capitalism and colonialism provided Bugis, Chinese, and other Asian traders with opportunities for trading British cotton goods for China-bound products. They took advantage of these opportunities and expanded their activities on a scale larger than ever before. As a result of such interactions, trade steadily developed during the period under study.

Accepted: August 19, 2013


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1) According to James Lee, the population of China increased from about 150 million in 1700 to 400 million in 1850 (Lee 1982: 294–295).

2) Aceh’s exports rapidly increased to peak at 9,000 tons in 1824, and US ships provided the pepper for China, the United States, and Europe (Bulbeck et al. 1998: 87–91).

3) Country traders were private Asia-based traders who conducted business in Asia, mainly between India, Southeast Asia, and China, under license from the British government in India. Although their vessels bore the British flag, they were crewed predominantly by Indians with a few European officers.

4) As Table 1 shows, the statistical sources of the Dutch Outer Islands ports use the terms “import” and “export” for trade with Java and Madura, as if they were foreign countries. As this usage of these terms probably reflects contemporary people’s perceptions, this paper indicates the trade between these regions as import and export.