The Dutch Indies, also known as the Netherlands Indies (Nederlands(ch)-Indië) was a Dutch colony consisting of Java, Sumatra, Lesser Sundas, Madura, Celebes, Moluccas, Western New Guinea, and two thirds of Borneo. It was formed from the nationalized colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Dutch government in 1800. The name was translated by the English as the Dutch East Indies, to keep it distinct from the Dutch West Indies. After the Japanese occupation and WWII, and then the Independence movement, modern day Indonesia was formed.
Centuries before Europeans arrived, the Indonesian archipelago supported various states, including commercially-oriented coastal trading states and inland agrarian states. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese in the late fifteenth century. Following the disruption of Dutch access to spices in Europe, the first Dutch expedition set sail for the East Indies in 1595 to access spices directly from Asia. When it made a 400% profit on its return, other Dutch expeditions soon followed. Recognizing the potential of the East Indies trade, the Dutch government amalgamated the competing companies into the United East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC).
The VOC was granted a charter to wage war, build fortresses, and make treaties across Asia. A capital was established in Batavia (now Jakarta), which became the center of the VOC’s Asian trading network. To their original monopolies on nutmeg, peppers, cloves and cinnamon, the company and later colonial administrations introduced non-indigenous cash crops like coffee, tea, cacao, tobacco, rubber, sugar and opium, and safeguarded their commercial interests by taking over surrounding territory. Smuggling, the ongoing expense of war, corruption, and mismanagement led to bankruptcy by the end of the eighteenth century. The company was formally dissolved in 1800 and its colonial possessions in the Indonesian archipelago (including much of Java, parts of Sumatra, much of Maluku, and the hinterlands of ports such as Makasar, Manado, and Kupang) were nationalized under the Dutch Republic as the Dutch East Indies.
From the arrival of the first Dutch ships in the late sixteenth century, to the declaration of independence in 1945, Dutch control over the Indonesian archipelago was always tenuous. Although Java was dominated by the Dutch, many areas remained independent throughout much of this time, including Aceh, Bali, Lombok and Borneo. There were numerous wars and disturbances across the archipelago as various indigenous groups resisted efforts to establish a Dutch hegemony, which weakened Dutch control and tied up its military forces. Piracy remained a problem until the mid-nineteenth century. Finally in the early twentieth century, imperial dominance was extended across what was to become the territory of modern-day Indonesia.
Packets plied between Amsterdam and Batavia via the Cape from 1786. Hand-stamped postal markings are known from 1789 and datestamps from 1811 during the British period.
In 1806, with the Netherlands under French domination, Napoleon appointed his brother Louis Bonaparte to the Dutch throne, which led to the 1808 appointment of Marshall Herman Willem Daendels as Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. In 1811, British forces occupied several Dutch East Indies ports including Java and Thomas Stamford Raffles became Lieutenant Governor. Dutch control was restored in 1816. Under the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty, the Dutch secured British settlements such as Bengkulu in Sumatra, in exchange for ceding control of their possessions in the Malay Peninsula and Dutch India. The resulting borders between British and Dutch possessions remain between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Since the establishment of the VOC in the seventeenth century, the expansion of Dutch territory had been a business matter. Graaf van den Bosch’s Governor-generalship (1830–1835) confirmed profitability as the foundation of official policy, restricting its attention to Java, Sumatra and Bangka. However, from about 1840, Dutch national expansionism saw them wage a series of wars to enlarge and consolidate their possessions in the outer islands. Motivations included: the protection of areas already held; the intervention of Dutch officials ambitious for glory or promotion; and to establish Dutch claims throughout the archipelago to prevent intervention from other Western powers during the European push for colonial possessions. As exploitation of Indonesian resources expanded off Java, most of the outer islands came under direct Dutch government control or influence.
The Dutch subjugated the Minangkabau of Sumatra in the Padri War (1821–38) and the Java War (1825–30) ended significant Javanese resistance. The Banjarmasin War (1859–1863) in southeast Kalimantan resulted in the defeat of the Sultan. After failed expeditions to conquer Bali in 1846 and 1848, an 1849 intervention brought northern Bali under Dutch control. The most prolonged military expedition was the Aceh War in which a Dutch invasion in 1873 was met with indigenous guerrilla resistance and ended with an Acehnese surrender in 1912. Disturbances continued to break out on both Java and Sumatra during the remainder of the nineteenth century.
The island of Lombok came under Dutch control in 1894, and Batak resistance in northern Sumatra was quashed in 1895. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the balance of military power shifted towards the industrializing Dutch and against pre-industrial independent indigenous Indonesian polities as the technology gap widened. Military leaders and Dutch politicians believed they had a moral duty to free the native Indonesian peoples from indigenous rulers who were considered oppressive, backward, or disrespectful of international law.
Although Indonesian rebellions broke out, direct colonial rule was extended throughout the rest of the archipelago from 1901 to 1910 and control taken from the remaining independent local rulers. Southwestern Sulawesi was occupied in 1905–06, the island of Bali was subjugated with military conquests in 1906 and 1908, as were the remaining independent kingdoms in Maluku, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Nusa Tenggara.
Other rulers including the Sultans of Tidore in Maluku, Pontianak (Kalimantan), and Palembang in Sumatra, requested Dutch protection from independent neighbors thereby avoiding Dutch military conquest and were able to negotiate better conditions under colonial rule. The Bird’s Head Peninsula (Western New Guinea), was brought under Dutch administration in 1920. This final territorial range would form the territory of the Republic of Indonesia.
The Netherlands capitulated their European territory to Germany on May 14, 1940. The royal family fled to exile in Britain. Germany and Japan were Axis allies. On September 27, 1940, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Japan signed a treaty lining out “spheres of influence”. The Dutch East Indies fell into Japan’s sphere.
The Netherlands, Britain and the United States tried to defend the colony from the Japanese forces as they moved south in late 1941 in search of Dutch oil. On January 10, 1942, during the Dutch East Indies Campaign, Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies as part of the Pacific War. The rubber plantations and oil fields of the Dutch East Indies were considered crucial for the Japanese war effort. Allied forces were quickly overwhelmed by the Japanese and on March 8, 1942, the Royal Dutch East Indies Army surrendered in Java,
Fueled by the Japanese Light of Asia war propaganda and the Indonesian National Awakening, a vast majority of the indigenous Dutch East Indies population first welcomed the Japanese as liberators from the colonial Dutch empire, but this sentiment quickly changed as the occupation turned out to be far more oppressive and ruinous than the Dutch colonial government. The Japanese occupation during World War II brought about the fall of the colonial state in Indonesia, as the Japanese removed as much of the Dutch government structure as they could, replacing it with their own regime. Although the top positions were held by the Japanese, the internment of all Dutch citizens meant that Indonesians filled many leadership and administrative positions. In contrast to Dutch repression of Indonesian nationalism, the Japanese allowed indigenous leaders to forge links amongst the masses, and they trained and armed the younger generations.
According to a United Nations report, four million people died in Indonesia as a result of the Japanese occupation. Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, nationalist leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesian independence. A four and a half-year struggle followed as the Dutch tried to re-establish their colony; although Dutch forces re-occupied most of Indonesia’s territory a guerilla struggle ensued, and the majority of Indonesians, and ultimately international opinion, favored Indonesian independence. In December 1949, the Netherlands formally recognized Indonesian sovereignty with the exception of the Netherlands New Guinea (Western New Guinea). Sukarno’s government campaigned for Indonesian control of the territory, and with pressure from the United States, the Netherlands agreed to the New York Agreement which ceded the territory to Indonesian administration in May 1963.
The first Netherlands Indies stamps had been issued on April 1, 1864, depicting King William III. From 1883, low values had a design based on the numeral of value, while higher values continued to portray the monarch, which from 1892 was Queen Wilhelmina. Not until the 1930s did native scenes began to appear on the stamps. Even then, these were very much of a colonial nature, usually aiming to glorify the goodwill of the Dutch towards the indigenous population. Charity and welfare issues were joined by low-value definitive designs showing rice cultivation with the aid of buffalo, from 1933, and native dancers, in 1941. An airmail service of KLM started in 1928.
During World War II, the Japanese divided the Netherlands Indies into three areas: Java, Sumatra, and Borneo & The Great East (which included Sulawesi, the Moluccas and New Guinea). Only Java received new stamps throughout the occupation, with a First Anniversary of Occupation set in 1943 followed by two others depicting local scenes. Both Sumatra and Borneo also got new definitive stamps in 1943, but otherwise used overprints of existing stamps from the Netherlands Indies, Japan and Malaya. The Borneo administration kept things relatively simple by mainly using the so-called ‘anchor’ overprint, albeit in numerous varieties. Sumatra started off with provincial overprints in dozens of different types and colors. These were followed by the so-called semi-general overprints, consisting of a single line of Japanese text, and later by general overprints, which had two lines of Japanese text plus bars to obliterate the face of Queen Wilhelmina; superstition dictated that she should not be allowed to stare at the Japanese from off the mail. These overprints were initially applied by hand, and subsequently by machine.
Once the war was over, Dutch rule was readily restored in the areas which were under the control of American and Australian forces. The old stamps bearing the Queen’s portrait were reintroduced, although this was something of a propaganda blunder as it looked like part of a plan to simply re-establish colonial power. When some stocks of stamps fell into the wrong hands, new stocks were overprinted 1947 to validate them, but still the Dutch clung to their colonial-style designs.
In Java and Sumatra, meanwhile, the Dutch failed to regain their authority because revolution broke out. On August 17, 1945, just two days after the Japanese surrender, the country’s independence was declared as the Republic of Indonesia. The Republic first used up existing stocks of stamps with Japanese overprints, applying their own overprints on them. These mainly consist of Repoeblik Indonesia in various guises, including abbreviations. In late 1945 came the first new issue, celebrating the declaration of independence with two different designs depicting a bull, which can be found perforated or imperforate. This was followed by three sets in 1946. In September 1948, the country was officially renamed Indonesia, anticipating a subsequent transfer of sovereignty. Existing Netherlands Indies stamps ranging in value from 15 cents to 25 guilders were reissued with the old name obliterated and Indonesia overprinted. For 1949, a new set of definitives was issued, with the new country name, a new currency of sen and rupiah replacing cents and guilders, and no royal portrait. The lower values had the denomination prominent, while the higher values illustrated the portal of the temple of Tjandi Poentadewa.
On December 27, 1949, the Dutch government finally transferred the sovereignty of the Indies to the Indonesians, with the exception of New Guinea, which would remain a Dutch territory until 1962.
Scott #31 was released on July 1, 1900, overprinting a Netherlands 10-cent grey lilac stamp with NED.-INDIE in black across the bottom and adding the surcharge 10 Ct. across the top.