The East India Company's decisions about where to go and how to behave in the unknown were – like those of all humans - deeply guided by their feelings. Attitudes of trust, respect, greed, envy, distrust or even hate and violence guided their actions on board of the ships as well as in relation to the foreign cultures and societies they encountered on their journey and as trading partners.

As members of the Dutch East India Company people like Dirk Hartog had to leave their families and communities to spend long months at sea and in Dutch trading ports across the Indian Ocean such as Batavia (today Jakarta ), the Spice Islands in Indonesia or in Malacca in Malaysia. Their journeys were hazardous, and the competition with other European powers like Portugal, Spain and England was strong and often marked by violent conflicts.

‘Emotional intelligence' was needed to successfully govern the East India Company so as to prevent mutiny on board, which was not always achieved as the infamous mutiny on board of the ship Batavia which was wrecked at the Western Australian coast shows.

The objects we see here in this exhibition tell stories of the humans who produced, traded and used them – and their feelings which guided their decisions and behaviour. The Dutch ventured into the Indian Ocean with a desire for profitable products – such as spices, porcelain and silk—and they used diplomacy or violence to obtain them. In doing so they engaged with cultures and people that were previously unknown to them; their fears, insecurities or admiration are evident in their writings of the time. The objects they brought back with them to Europe included consumer goods for the elite such as spices and porcelain which filled their owners with pride and showed off their wealth. Other objects- such as the musket balls form the Batavia – are a reminder of the violence that went hand in hand with these trading enterprises. And others still like the Dutch paintings and the cradle made in India are evidence of the longing, joys and sorrows that drive human endeavours.

This audio guide was produced with the support of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (1100-1800)

ARC Centre of Excellence
for the History of Emotions