The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) was established as a chartered company in 1602 when the Dutch government granted it a monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. No other traders were allowed due to this monopoly. So letters about trade other than the VOC correspondence cannot exist. Until 1788, private letters between the settlements and patria were all read and censored by the VOC and sent in a closed box until May 1788, as they could contain unallowed trade matters or confidential information about the VOC interests that could fall into the hands of, for example, the British. Although there were heavy fines on it, it happened that letters were given secretly to a friend on board a ship with the desired destination. This was mostly indicated in the lower left corner of the cover.

Netherlands East Indies, map of Jansonius, 1630
...the beautiful realm of INSULINDE that winds there around the equator, like an emerald belt... (from: Multatuli, Max Havelaar)

The person and/or the ship to whom the letter was entrusted was indicated on front of the letter, followed by the letters D.G.G. = Dien God Geleide or Q.D.C. = Quem Deus Conservat, both meaning Whom God May Preserve. This was not quite unnecessary because the ship could be captured by ships of foreign nations at wartime, by pirates or by bad weather. Up to 1788 the VOC prescribed that letters should be read and censored by the gouvernment before they were sent in a closed box on one of their ships. Letters to officials of the VOC like the High Gouvernment in Batavia, directors or merchants were always sent by ships of the Company. They did not have to be censored.

In May 1788 the VOC decided to establish a regular mail service between the Netherlands and its settlements. They built 10 packet boats for the service between the Netherlands, Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon and Batavia. Special handstamps were made with the postal rate and the monogram of the company in four different values. The rates were not based on distance and/or weight but on the format/size of the letter. According to the "Plan-Posterijen", as the VOC stipulations are called, the handstamps were used in the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies on outgoing mail. However, we also see them applied on incoming mail. The rate had to be paid by the addressee. The handstamps were also provided to the VOC settlements in Ceylon and Cape of Good Hope for the same purpose. This was also intended for China and four settlements in India, but no covers proving they were provided and used there are known.

The first voyage by fast VOC packet was carried out by the packet Maria Louisa of the chamber Amsterdam. Captain was Anthonie Franciscus Steffers (ca 1750-1795), who was born in Zwolle. The ship departed from Texel on 1 September 1788 to Cape of Good Hope. She brought the set of VOC handstamps to the Cape (WCA C-622,2-4; RPSL LP 123-230/1, article of K. Adema). She then sailed on to Batavia and arrived in Insulinde on 11 February 1789. On 5 March, she sailed back home again and arrived savely at Texel on 7 September 1789.

In early 1795, intervention by French revolutionary forces led to the downfall of the old Dutch Republic. In January 1795 the Batavian Republic (from October 1801 called Batavian Commonwealth) was proclaimed. It was succeeded in 1806 by the Kingdom of Holland with Louis Napoleon as monarch. W.H. Daendels was appointed Governor-General of the Dutch possessions in the East Indies. He did much efforts to improve the postal facilities. New postal regulations appeared in 1808 and 1809, in which the rates did no longer depend on the format of a letter but on weight and distance.

18 September 1811 Java was occupied by the British. Thomas Stamford Raffles became Lieutenant-Governor until March 1816, when the East Indies returned to the Netherlands.

Ship letters

In the beginning of the 19th century letters to and from the Netherlands East Indies (or Dutch East Indies were transported by ship via the Cape of Good Hope. Letters were given with the captain of a ship. Arriving at the port, the captain gave the letters to the postal administration, which gave him compensation for this. A fixed rate for ship letters was calculated to the addressee.

The date on which a rate became applicable differed between the Netherlands and its colony. The rates were first expressed in stuiver.1 August 1826 the guilder was introduced in the Dutch East Indies. Since then the postal rates were indicated in Dutch (silver) cent or Dutch Indies cent koper (copper), also called duiten. In the Netherlands the rates were expressed in cent only from 1 January 1827.
The basic ship letter rate up to 1 lood became 60 cent, being 12 Dutch stuiver or 15 Dutch Indies stuiver koper. 15 cent was for the captain.

The Dutch stuiver was equal to 5 cent but the Dutch Indies stuiver koper was only 4 Dutch Indies cent koper.

The rates for ship letters were for the first weight class:

Dutch Indies
1 lood
8 stuivers
8 stuivers
1 lood
12 stuivers
15 stuivers
16 wigtjes
12 stuivers
15 stuivers
16 wigtjes
60 cents
60 cents
15 wigtjes
40 cents
48 duiten
15 wigtjes
30 cents
36 duiten

Letter from Zwolle to Salatiga, Java, 13 April 1839. By ship from Den Helder and the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia. Ship letter rate in the Dutch East Indies 1-8-1826 to 22-7-1850, 0 - 1 lood: 60 cent.

Letter sent 20 March 1852 per "Aldebaran", captain B.G. Meyboom from Soerabaja via Cape of Good Hope and Saint Helena to Den Helder for onward transportation to Zwolle. Oval ship letter handstamp ONGEFRANKEERD / ZEE BRIEF / SOURABAYA in blue and on arrival oval datestamp ZEE BRIEF / DEN · HELDER in red. Dutch ship letter rate 1-9-1850 to 30-8-1855, 15 - 50 wigtjes: 40 x 2 = 80 cent (x 1,2 = 96 Dutch Indies duiten, indicated and erased in upper right corner).


The Overland Mail Route

From 1844 the Netherlands could use Thomas Waghorn's Overland Mail Route. The route went from Alexandria on the Nile, then by camel through the desert to Suez and with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P & O) to Singapore. There the mail was picked up by Dutch ships. The use of the Overland Mail Route was regulated in the Postal Convention with England of 1 January 1844. Post could be sent to London for forwarding via Marseille or from Southampton via Gibraltar and Malta to Alexandria. The use of the cheaper direct route from the Netherlands to Marseille was also possible and was mostly used. Later on the mail could also run via the Mediterranean sea ports Trieste, Brindisi and Genoa.

The rates were much higher than those for ship letters.


Letter from Zwolle to Padang, Dutch East Indies, sent "By land post via Marseille" on 23 December 1864. Arrived in Padang on 27 February 1865. Postage paid by the sender, indicated with FRANCO in box. The postage paid by the sender is indicated on reverse : 90 cents. Trial cds ZWOLLE / 23/12 / 4-12 / 64, Ø 20 mm in red.


The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal, constructed between 1859 and 1869 by the French Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez under Ferdinand de Lesseps, was opened 17 November 1869. The first packets to use the waterway in April 1870 were from the French shipping company Messageries Impériales (MI), called Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes (MM) from 1871. The mail connection to Ceylon, Singapore, China and Japan was called the Ligne N.
The British P&O packets had just built a rail link between the Nile and Suez, and continued to use this for mail and passengers for several more years.

From 13 December 1870 to 18 January 1872 the route via Marseilles was not used by countries north of France due to the Franco-Prussian war. The mail was directed via Germany to Brindisi in Southern Italy. After the war, the P&O continued to use Brindisi as their port of departure for Alexandria.


5 cent postcard from Batavia via Brindisi to Zwolle, 21-2-1883. Route handstamp NED. INDIË / OVER / BRINDISI. Forwarded to Terschelling and then to Zaandam. Rate for a postcard by mail to the Netherlands 1-4-1879 to 28-2-1907: 7½ cents. Paid too little 2½ cents x 2 = 5 cents additional charge of postage. Postage due handstamp T and indicated in blue the postage still to be paid by the addressee.

The Dutch company Stoomvaart-Maatschappij “Nederland” (SMN) got a contract for the mail to the Dutch East Indies in 1871, departing from Nieuwediep and since 1879 from IJmuiden, the Netherlands they sailed through the Suez Canal to the Dutcch Indies. However, most of the mail was sent by train to the Mediterranean ports for this was a faster route. Between 20 April 1882 and 25 September 1888 the SMN called at Marseilles to take the mail to the Dutch East Indies. The Rotterdamsche Lloyd (RL), founded 1875, got a mail contract in 1883. From March 1883, they departed from Rotterdam and called at Southampton and Marseilles.


Last update 04.12.2023 9:23 PM->

Copyright © 2019 - G.L. van Welie FRPSL
Secretary of the Nederlandse Academie voor Filatelie
Representative of the Royal Philatelic Society London for the Netherlands

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