Memoir of Hendrick Zwaardecroon, commandeur of Jaffnapatam (afterwards Governor-General of Nederlands India) 1697. / For the guidance of the council of Jaffnapatam, during his absence at the coast of Malabar.

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Memoirs and Instructions of Dutch Governors, Commandeurs, &c.
Hendrick Zwaardecroon,
Commandeur of Jaffnapatam,

(afterwards Governor-General of Nederlands India),
For the Guidance of
The Council of Jaffnapatam, During His Absence at the Coast of Malabar.
H. C. Cottle, Government Printer, Ceylon.


This Memoir of Commandeur Zwaardecroon was, as stated, compiled and left by him in 1697 for the instruction and guidance of the Political Council of Jaffnapatam during his absence from the “Commandement” on special duty as Commissioner to the Coast of Malabar. He did not, however, return to his post, having been appointed Director of Surat on the termination of his Commission. Of the many compilations of the same kind prepared by successive Commandeurs on the standing orders of the Supreme Government at Batavia, this of Zwaardecroon is one of the most exhaustive and authoritative in regard to the Dutch Company’s affairs in the north of the Island. It was quoted and referred to from time to time during almost the whole period of the Dutch rule in Ceylon. Its value will be found to consist chiefly in the light it throws on such matters as native industries, sources of revenue, and the condition of the people. Many obscure terms, some local, some obsolete, such as “officie gelden,” “adigary,” “alphandigo,” &c, which occur in the old records, will be found explained here for the first time; and the topographical information is both full and accurate. In a word, the work bears the impress not only of a man of great powers of observation and sound judgment, but also of a strong and capable ruler. His independent character is shown in the plain-spoken manner in which he marks his resentment of the methods adopted at headquarters in regard to appeals from the native subjects of the Commandement. That a man possessed of such intelligence and independence of character should in the course of time have risen to the highest post in the Company’s service, viz., that of Governor-General of Nederlands India, was in the natural course of events.

The following brief personal account of him, based on information collected from various sources, will, I am sure, be of some interest.

Hendrick, or Henricus, Zwaardecroon was born at Rotterdam on January 26, 1667. His father, Theophilus Zwaardecroon, son of an older Henricus Zwaardecroon, was Rentmeester, or Steward, to Jonker Gysbrecht van Mathenesse, his mother being Margaretha van Heulen. He came out to the East in 1684 as Secretary to the High Commissioner Hendrick Adriaan van Rhude, Lord of Mydrecht, to whom frequent reference is made in the Memoir. Having been first attached to the adelborsten (lit. “noble youths”), a regiment composed of gentlemen’s sons, he, shortly after his arrival in Batavia, exchanged from the Military to the Civil Service of the Company, and passed rapidly through the grades of boekhouder, onderkoopman, and koopman. In 1694 he was appointed Commandeur of Jaffnapatam with the rank of opperkoopman. This Memoir is the record of his three years’ administration of the Commandement. After four years’ service at Surat, he was appointed Secretary to the Supreme Government at Batavia, being admitted the following year (August 4, 1704) an Extraordinary Councillor of India (Raad extra-ordinair van Ned. Indië). In 1709 he became President of the Board of Dike-reeves (College van Heemraden), and, in 1715, was elevated to the rank of a Councillor in Ordinary. His modest disposition and unambitious character will be seen from the fact that, although twice offered the Governor-Generalship, he declined the honour on the ground that he did not feel himself qualified to accept it. But he was at last prevailed upon to do so, and formally received his appointment on November 13, 1718. The appointment was confirmed by the Chamber of XVII, in the Netherlands on September 10, 1720. He remained at the head of the Government of India up to October 16, 1724, when he retired at his own instance. He never returned to the Fatherland, but lived a simple and unostentatious life in Batavia up to his death. The following passage, which I quote from my Report on the Dutch Records,1 gives an account of his death and burial:—“His death occurred at Batavia on August 12, 1728, some years after his retirement. At his special desire the burial took place in the graveyard attached to the Portuguese Church outside the town. His grave is still to be seen on the left side of the entrance to the church. This church and graveyard were intended for the humbler section of the community; and Zwaardecroon, says an old writer (Hofhout), chose this burial place, because he wished to lie beside the ‘common people.’ This is said to have been characteristic of the man, who, as long as he lived, took pains to maintain by ostentatious display the dignity and the honour of the Honourable Company which he served, but at his death, though of gentle descent himself, preferred to be buried among the poor and lowly than among the high and mighty of the land.2 His funeral as described in the Dagh Register des Casteels, Batavia, August 16, 1728, was one of great magnificence.”

When Councillor of India, Zwaardecroon was commissioned by the Government of India to compile a descriptive account of Malabar and Coromandel, a work which he appears to have satisfactorily accomplished. During his Governor-Generalship he undertook for the first time, in 1723, the planting of coffee within the territories under his rule. For his exceptional services to the Company in introducing coffee and the silk worm industry into Java he was much commended by the Directors of the East India Company, and was presented by them with a silver tankard inlaid with gold, bearing a suitable inscription on the lid.3

Of his marriage and descendants I have not been able to obtain any definite information. He appears to have married in Batavia, but the lady’s name does not occur. By this marriage he had two children: a daughter Hillegonda, who married Cornelis van Berendrecht, “waterfiskal” of Netherlands India, and a son, Hendrick Zwaardecroon, who is mentioned in 1703.

R. G. Anthonisz,

Government Archivist.

1 Note on p. 40.

2 “Want, de keuse van zyne begraafplaats mocht van nederigheid getuigen—zoolang de oud Gouverneur-Generaal onbegraven was had hy zekere rol te spelen, en zelf had Zwaardecroon maatregelen genomen, op dat ook zyne laatste verschyning onder de levenden de compagnie waardig mocht wesen, die hy gediend had.”—De Haan, De Portugeesche Buitenkerk, p. 40.

3 Van Rhede van der Kloot, De Gouverneurs-Generaal en Commissarissen-Generaal van Nederlandsch-Indië, 1610–1888.