Book Review-‘The Company Fortress: Military engineering and the Dutch East India Company in South Asia, 1638–1795, by E. Odegard

By Andrew Lambert, published May 2021


Dutch rule in Asia in the era of the Dutch East India Company (VoC) was sustained by fortified ports and strategic locations, supported with small armies moved by sea to enhance the defences. The failure of any one element in this strategy would bring down the rest. The VoC was a major economic and political force in the Dutch Republic, which had played a key role in developing the artillery forts of the seventeenth century during the Eighty Years War for independence. In Asia the Dutch had seized Portuguese colonies in the first half of the eighteenth century and developed a base at Batavia, now Jakarta, in Indonesia. The forts in Sri Lanka and southern India were outliers from the Indonesian core of the empire. The Dutch used forts to control the Sri Lankan coast, imposing a profitable monopoly on the export of cinnamon, and most faced inland, configured to resist attack by local powers, not European forces. The garrisons were small by European standards, built around European troops recruited in Holland and sent out by sea. Little use was made of local recruiting until near the end of the VoC’s existence, in contrast to British practice. Dominated by commercial returns the VoC did not invest in an engineering school and many of the forts were designed by amateurs or men with some foreign experience, which led to design weaknesses…

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Filed under: Other (Early Modern) | Other (Eighteenth C) | Indian Ocean | Pacific
Subjects include: Administration | Harbours & Dockyards | Strategy & Diplomacy

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