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Causes And Effects Of The Amboyna Massacre

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The Amboyna Massacre of 1623 was the torture and execution of twenty-one people on a treason charge done by the local Dutch authorities. These people included ten Englishmen (trading partners with Dutch since 1619), ten Japanese (employed by Dutch East India Company), and one Portuguese. It took place on Amboyna Island which is present-day Ambon Island, Maluku Islands, Indonesia. This horrendous conflict is the result of the fierce animosity between the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company due to the successful spice trade. The spice was extremely attractive due to the high demand for assorted spices such as cinnamon, pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.

Causes of the Amboyna Massacre:

  • The Ambon’s clove trade attracted the Portuguese; they even named the island and established a settlement in 1521. Then, the Dutch seized the Portuguese fort in 1605 to take over the lucrative spice trade.
  • After the Dutch East India Company conquered the Portuguese fortress of Victoria at Amboyna in 1605, they wanted to keep the other European countries out of these islands through sheer force. The Dutch did this because they were trying to monopolize the spice trade. 
  • The Europeans were looking for fruitful opportunities all over the world. This irritated the English East India Company because they also had great interests in these islands. The governments of both countries had been trying for an accord for many years but this incident put a stop to that goal. The companies had been made subject to the Treaty of Defence in 1619 forging cooperation in the East Indies. The merchants now had to share the spice market and trading posts in the East Indies. But relations between the nations were still suspicious in spite of the treaty.

The Incident of the Amboyna Massacre

  • In 1623, Herman van Speult, the local Dutch governor, thought that English merchants with assistance from Japanese mercenaries conspired to kill him and overpower the Dutch garrison as soon as an English ship anchored as reinforcements. He believed this based on the confession of a lone Japanese soldier under torture. This man also implicated Gabriel Towerson who was the chief factor or merchant of the East India Company.
  • Then, Speult called for the arrest of the alleged conspirators and charged them with treason. Of course, under torture, the suspects confessed to the plot and after being found guilty by the court in Amboina, they were executed on February 27, 1623. So, any hope of Anglo-Dutch cooperation was thought to be inconceivable; this marked the inception of Dutch domination in the Indies.

Effects of the Amboyna Massacre:

  • After the incident, the acquitted and pardoned made their way to the capital of the Dutch East Indies, Batavia, to complain about the Amboyna affair. Since the complaints didn’t get any solutions, they sailed back to England where this incident caused an uproar. 
  • The English and Dutch argued about what should be done next. The English wanted reparations and punishment for the Amboina judges since in the eyes of the English, this was murder. The suggestion of a joint Anglo-Dutch commission of inquiry was also declined.
  • A court of inquiry was organized to investigate this event and the witnesses were again cross-examined. A draft verdict with an acquittal for the accused was presented to the English King Charles I in 1632 for his approval. This was agreed upon previously by the two governments; it was rejected and, unfortunately, the Dutch authorities released the accused judges. Towson’s heirs and others were compensated by the Dutch East India Company.
  • The English were not happy with the trial’s outcome. Afterwards, the Dutch and the British both issued competing pamphlets attacking the other side for their actions at Amboyna. These pamphlets were used as a justification for war in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654). 
  • There were four Anglo-Dutch Wars in the mid-17th to late 18th century; these naval conflicts were trade and overseas colonies. The brochure was also referenced regarding the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). This matter was also raised during the Third Second Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674) in a play called  “Amboyna or the Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants” by John Dryden. Luckily, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784) was over Dutch trade with Britain’s enemies during the War of American Independence. After the Amboyna Massacre, the English decreased their claim in the East Indies and concentrated their attention on the Indian Subcontinent. 


Last Updated : 29 Nov, 2022
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