Analysing a Primary Source: The Journal of John Jourdain

918 words | 4 page(s)

The source to be analysed in this paper is an extract from ‘The Journal of John Jourdain: Describing his experiences in in Arabia, India and the Malay Archipelago.’ The extract is entitled ‘A True Relation of the Hollanders abuses offered to our nation in the East Indies since the year 1612.’ It is dated 1613, putting it in an ideal historical location to contribute to research surrounding the activities of international trade and merchant shipping.

The extract tells of an encounter between John Jourdain and certain officers of the Dutch East India Trading Company. Throughout the encounter Jourdain attempts to procure ‘cloves’ from various locations and is continually intimidated by Dutch officers seeking to maintain a monopoly over the produce of the area. The piece devotes a significant amount of attention to both the benevolent attitudes of the producers towards English traders and to the force and intimidation used by the Dutch in order to maintain their position.

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Jourdain begins the extract by describing how in January 1613 an agreement was struck in order facilitate the buying and selling of goods at a competitive advantage for all traders. The author travels in April to Hitto in order to take part in the administration of this exchange. He informs the readers straight away that a Dutch factory was presence already located on the island. A tension is immediately introduced as Jourdain describes how Dutch were attempting to persuade traders not to buy local produce such as cloves and spices directly, allowing them to maintain an a monopoly on these goods. Jourdain states that he initially ignored these suggestions and began in enquire with local people as the possibility of buying directly from them.

He describes how the governor of the island came aboard his ship and pleaded with him to stop his inquiries as he had received threats from Dutch merchants that they would attack and burn the town if it was found that producers were selling directly to other parties. The governor adds that if Jourdain would remove himself to another secret location then he would be able to receive goods cheaply.

Upon arriving at the suggested location, Jourdain states that he was met unexpectedly by five Dutch commanders and that they had met with governer of Hitto and repeated their threats to him regarding the selling of produce. The governor then informs Jourdain that if he was to send for support then the islanders would testify that the Dutch were engaging in deliberate intimidation in order to secure trading rights. Throughout this exchange Jourdain writes that the governor informed him several times that, were it not for Dutch intimidation, he would gladly host and trade with English merchants but that he does not feel he is currently able to do this. After having confronted the Dutch general about this Jourdain leaves and states that residents of the Island exclaimed that they would dearly like to trade with ‘their friends the English.’ (322.)

The following night Jourdain relates that he spoke again with others about their desire to trade, but that again Dutch officers had intervened and had informed that the English navy would be unable to protect them from the consequences. Despite this they arrange to deliver a collection of cloves. Once again Dutch officers intervene, both by intimidating local sellers and by threatening direct force against Jourdain and his crew. The episode ends with Jourdain trading despite of the intimidation and travelling to other locations where he describes that the Dutch also attempted to intimidate the merchants, but they were once again able to ignore this intimidation.

This sources relationship to any overall argument is obviously complicated and nuanced. On one level it would seem to support the claim made by Pomeranzk and Topik that ‘violence was a great competitive advantage when it could be used to create monopoly conditions.’ (2012, 151.) Throughout the extract it is made evident that the Dutch are willing to resort to violence in order to maintain the trade conditions which are most favourable to them and it is clear that the producers are intimidated by the potential reality of this violence.

Most interesting, however, is the position of the differing parties in relation to the threat of violence. Only once is violence threatened against English merchant and it is made clear that this threat can be ignored. In contrast the producers on the islands Jourdain visits are portrayed as entirely passive. English traders were known to resort to violence as often as their other European counterparts and it seems unlikely that, were the relative situations to be reversed that they would have welcomed intervention in their trading patterns. The extract describes a situation in which the English are seen as benevolent visitors only because they stand in distinction to those who already posses monopoly.

In conclusion, the piece does not so much refute the claim that violence is an inherent part of the establishment of trade monopolies so much as problomatise the idea of assigning the source of this violence to one or other particular party. Ultimately, it is the producers who are represented as constantly susceptible to force and it seems to be unreasonable to claim, as is one of the pieces primary concerns, that the potential for this violence can located in only one party.

  • Jourdain, John. The Journal of John Jourdin: Describing his Experiences in Arabia, India and the Malay Archipelago. Digitised by Internet Archive.
  • Pomeranz, Kenneth L. & Topik, Steven C. (2012) The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture

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