Anthony Meuza Van Diemen

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Anthony Meuza Van Diemen

Anthony Meuza Van Diemen (1593-1645) was a Dutch colonial official and merchant. As a governor general of the Dutch East Indies, he did much to develop Batavia and the Indies and to expand Dutch influence in East Asia.

Anthony Van Diemen was born at Culemborg, Netherlands. Like many patricians' sons, he was destined to be a merchant, and in 1616 he set himself up in trade in Amsterdam. A year later, as a result of unfortunate advice, he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Unable to repay his creditors, he turned for employment to the Dutch East India Company, which turned him down as a poor risk.

Van Diemen finally succeeded in signing up as a soldier under the alias Thonisz Meeuwisz and arrived in Java in August 1618. He quickly attracted the attention of Governor General Jan Coen, who appointed him a clerk in his office. On Jan. 17, 1630, Van Diemen married Maria van Aelst in Batavia. Highly successful in his association with Coen, Van Diemen was appointed director of the commercial section of the company and in 1631 returned with the fleet to Amsterdam as admiral. In 1633 he sailed once again for the Dutch East Indies and on the way discovered an unknown island in the Indian Ocean which he called Nieuw Amsterdam, or New Amsterdam, the name it bears today.

Van Diemen was Coen's choice as successor to the governor generalship, but Jacques Specx and Hendrik Brouwer both held this post prior to Van Diemen's succession to it on New Year's Day, 1636. At the end of that year he sailed with a force to Amboina and Ceram to put down a revolt and from there went to Makassar in an attempt to end the years-long fighting.

In addition to his own discovery, Van Diemen actively encouraged exploration and assisted in providing expeditions, two to northern Japan and environs and two to Australia, during the course of which present-day Tasmania (first named Van Diemen's Land) and New Zealand were discovered. He died on April 19, 1645, in Batavia after an illness.

Van Diemen's most brilliant achievements were his successful struggle against the Portuguese in Ceylon and Malacca, the signing of advantageous treaties with Acheh in northern Sumatra and with Ternate and Tidore in the Moluccas, particularly in connection with the spice trade, and the establishment of trade relations with China, Japan, and Tonkin.

If Coen founded Batavia, Van Diemen left his stamp on it as the center of company power and as an administrative center. He also built two churches and introduced a legal code called the Batavian Statutes (1642). As an expander of the Dutch overseas empire, he is second only to Coen; although he was governor general for a scant 9 years, Van Diemen's rule encompasses one of the most eventful periods in Dutch overseas history.

Further Reading

Eduard Servaas de Klerck, History of the Netherlands East Indies (2 vols., 1938), contains a good biographical account of Van Diemen and is the best source in English. See also John Horace Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963), and Charles R. Boxer, Dutch Sea-borne Empire, 1600-1800 (1965). □