Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Hatred of the Dutch

Year by year the jealousy of the Dutch grew, until in 1622 it burst out in bitter hatred.

At Ambonia in the Molucca Islands the Dutch had built a large factory and a strong fort where they had two hundred soldiers.

The British too, had a factory there. But it was only an ordinary house without fortifications or defences of any kind. They had no soldiers, and they numbered only eighteen traders.

Suddenly one day the Dutch seized all the British, loaded them with fetters, and threw them into dark and horrible dungeons. They did this pretending to have discovered a plot to take the fort.

Next day the prisoners were brought out of their dungeons one by one, and were told to confess their share in the plot. But there had been no plot, so the Englishmen could confess nothing. Then in the horrible manner of the time, the Dutch tortured them to make them confess. With the rack, with fire and with water, the poor wretches were tortured, until at last, in order to free themselves from the torment, they were willing to confess to anything, and to say any words which might be put into their mouths.

But although they confessed to a plot, and accused each other of taking part in it, that did not save them. They were all condemned to death. Once more, heavily laden with fetters, they were thrown into the dungeons there to await death.

Now some courage came back to the poor men. They were not afraid to die, but they wanted their fellow-countrymen to know that they died innocent of any plot against the Dutch. One of them had a Prayer Book, and in that he wrote a few pitiful words. "We be judged to death," he wrote, "this 5th of March Anno 1622. We through torment, were constrained to speak that which we never meant nor once imagined. They tortured us with that extreme torture of fire and water that flesh and blood could not endure it. But this we take upon our deaths, that they have put us to death guiltless of that we are accused. And so farewell. Written in the dark."

Through the long sad night the prisoners comforted each other. They asked pardon, and freely forgave each other for the false things they had said, then praying and singing psalms they waited for the morning.

When day came they were led out to die. Guarded by soldiers they were marched through the town so that all might see the triumph of the Dutch. Then they were led to the place of execution and their heads were cut off.

When the news of this cruelty reached England, the people were filled with horror and anger. But the matter was hushed and the Dutch were never punished for what they had done.

The rivalry between the two nations now became even more bitter than before. For a time the Dutch were the more successful, and instead of making money the English East India Company began to lose it. As they had been driven from Java, they became very anxious to set up a factory on the east coast of India. But from place to place they were hunted about by the jealousy of the Dutch and the dislike of the Indian rulers.

At last a trader called Day bought a piece of land from one of the native princes. This was the first land owned by the British in India. It was only a narrow strip of sandy beach about five miles long and one wide, but it was a foothold. Here in 1639, the British built a fort which they called Fort St. George. This was the beginning of the town of Madras.

Day had many difficulties to fight. Both the Portuguese and the Dutch had factories near Fort St. George, and the Dutch especially tried to make the Indian prince forbid the British to build a fort. The East India Company too had at this time little money to spare, and some of the Council were not well pleased at the thought of all that would be spent on a fort, which they thought of as unnecessary.

But at last every difficulty was overcome. The little British fortress was finished. Brass cannon shone at the loopholes and the Union Jack floated from the walls.

Within the walls were houses for all the company's staff. And here they lived very much like a large family. In the morning they went to chapel and heard prayers read by the chaplain; they all dined and supped together in the great hall, and when work was over for the day they met in their pleasant gardens and amused themselves with shooting, archery and bowls. But in those days no ladies were allowed to go to India, and if any of the men were married they had to leave their wives at home.

Outside the walls of Madras a native town grew up quickly. For the Hindu people soon heard of the new town, and, as they were not allowed to live within its walls, they built their little mud and bamboo huts without. Under the trees which grew near they set up their looms, and wove and printed in the open air the cottons and muslins which the British were so eager to buy. So the fort where the British lived came to be called "white town" and the native village without the walls was called "black town."

By degrees the British got leave in various ways to build other factories. One day the daughter of the Great Mogul set herself on fire and was very badly burned. The native doctors did not know what to do. So the British doctor from Surat was sent for. He cured the Princess very quickly, and the mogul was so delighted that he told the doctor to ask for whatever reward he liked. He asked that the Company might be allowed to build a factory at the town of Hooghly on the Hooghly river. This they were allowed to do, but they were forbidden to build a fort or to land a cannon.

Then when Charles ii . of England married Princess Catherine of Portugal, he received the Island of Bombay as part of her dowry. But Charles did not care for a possession which was so far away, and which was said, too, to be damp and unhealthy. So he gave it to the Company for £10 a year. The Portuguese, who had already settled there, were not very pleased at being handed over to the British. But they soon found that they were free, or freer than they had been under their own king, and they settled down quietly. The Company strengthened the castle which the Portuguese had already built. And although the climate was so unhealthy that no European could live there for more than three years at a time, the harbour was so good that in about sixteen years it became the chief trading port on the west coast. Now it is the second city in the Empire, and one of the healthiest towns in India. For the marshes have been drained and the forests of cocoa-nut trees, which kept off the fresh sea breezes and made the town unhealthy, have been removed.

About this time the Great Mogul tried to make every one in India Mohammedan, as he was. He persecuted those who would not become Mohammedan, and among other things he made them pay a heavy tax. The Nawab, as a native prince who ruled for the Mogul was called, now insisted that the British at Hooghly should pay the tax too. This, and other oppressions of the Nawab, at last became so unbearable that the British left Hooghly and went back to Madras.

Soon after this the Nawab of Bengal was changed, and the new ruler asked the British to return. They did go back, but not to Hooghly. Instead they built their factory at a little village twenty miles nearer the sea, but it was still without any fortifications. A few years later the persecutions of the Mogul became so bad that the Hindus rebelled. Then the Nawab gave the British leave to fortify their factory against the rebels. So they built a fort called Fort William. They also bought three small native villages. And this was the beginning of the beautiful city of Calcutta which is now the capital of British India.

Thus at the beginning of the eighteenth century the British had a firm footing in India. They had three fortresses—Bombay castle on the west, Fort St. George at Madras on the south-east coast, and Fort William at Calcutta in the north-east—in this way commanding trade from all directions.

Soon, from these three towns as head-quarters, other factories began to be dotted all along the coast and far inland. These three towns were called Presidency towns as a head or president of the Company lived in each. Under the president there were merchants, factors, writers and apprentices. Every week the president and four or five of the chief men met in council to arrange the business of the Company. Within the walls of the factory or fort the president was as powerful as the Viceroy of India is to-day. Every British factory was ruled by British law as if it had been a town at home. And out of such small beginnings our great Indian Empire has grown. To-day a large part of the west coast is still called the Bombay Presidency, and in the north is the Bengal Presidency. They take their names from those far-off days when the Company first began to trade.

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