Jan Pieterszoon Coen

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Jan Pieterszoon Coen
Jan Pieterszoon Coen.jpg
Jan Pieterszoon Coen
4th Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies
In office
30 April 1618 – 1 February 1623
Preceded by Laurens Reael
Succeeded by Pieter de Carpentier
In office
30 September 1627 – 21 September 1629
Preceded by Pieter de Carpentier
Succeeded by Jacques Specx
Personal details
Born (1587-01-08)8 January 1587
Hoorn, Dutch Republic
Died 21 September 1629(1629-09-21) (aged 42)
Batavia, Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia)
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Colonial administrator

Jan Pieterszoon Coen (8 January 1587 – 21 September 1629), the founder of Batavia,[1] was an officer of the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia (VOC) in the early seventeenth century, holding two terms as its Governor-General 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. A famed quote of his from 1618, "Despair not, spare your enemies not, for God is with us", illustrates his single-minded ruthlessness, as well as his unstinting belief in the divinely-sanctioned nature of his project. The utilization of such self-professed divine sanction in the use of violence pursuant to his ultimate goals of Monopoly Trade 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 means 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 for such a relatively violent period of history. When Saartje Specx, a girl whom he had been entrusted to care for, was found in a garden in the arms of a soldier, Pieter Cortenhoeff, Coen showed no mercy in having Cortenhoeff beheaded. Specx only escaped the death penalty by drowning because she was still underage.

Further but more extensive actions perpetrated by order of Coen, are recounted in a BBC Television documentary series "The Spice Trail" (episode 2: "Nutmeg and Cloves").[2] The program also contains details of wanton acts of destruction committed by the Dutch in the spice islands of (now) eastern Indonesia, the purpose of which was to create scarcity of natural produce in order to maintain price levels.


File:Jan Pietersz. Coen.JPG
Statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Hoorn
File:Gereja Tua Belanda.jpg
Memorial plaque relating to the church where Coen was buried, Wayang Museum, Jakarta

Coen was born at Hoorn on 8 January 1587 and raised by his family in accordance with strict Calvinist principles. In 1601 he travelled to Rome to study trade in the offices of the Fleming Joost de Visscher (known in Italy as Justus Pescatore), where he learned the art of bookkeeping. Joining the Dutch United East India Company (VOC), he made trading voyages to East Indies in 1607 with the fleet of Pieter Verhoeff. During the journey, Verhoeff and 50 of his men were killed during negotiations with the chiefs of the Banda Islands. Upon his return to Holland 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 made himself so remarkable by the success of his practice of commerce, that in October 1613 was appointed accountant-general of all VOC offices in East Indies and president of the head office in Bantam and of Jacatra (Jayakarta).[1] In 1614, he was made director-general, second in command. On 25 October 1617 the XVII Lords of the VOC appointed him their 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 an armed assault of Banda using Japanese mercenaries, taking the island of Lonthor by force after encountering some fierce resistance, mostly by cannons that the natives had acquired from the English. Many thousands of inhabitants were massacred and replaced by slave labour 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.

On account 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 had taken control over 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 founded on its ruins the new Dutch town, which he forthwith proclaimed the capital of the Dutch East Indies.[1] 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.[1] 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 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. However, Agung's military was poorly armed and had inadequate provisions of food, and was never able to capture the city.[1]

During Agung's second siege Coen suddenly died on 21 September 1629, likely due to the cholera outbreak in Batavia during this siege.


The Coen River in Queensland, Australia was named after him.[3] The town of Coen takes its name from that river.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Coen, Jan Pieterszoon". Library Index. Retrieved 17 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. *[1]; Kate Humble: "The Spice Trail" (part 2 of 3): "Nutmeg and Cloves"
  3. "Coen River (entry 47590)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 1 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Coen (entry 7669)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 1 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

See also