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The Dutch East India Company and Mysore, 1762-1790 Review


In the second half of the 18th century, probably the strongest, most active, and most dynamic of the Southern Indian independent states was Mysore, which fought multiple wars with Britain, aspired to build up its own navy, and whose armies traversed the Deccan and from the Coromandel Coast to the Malabar Coast. This raised a delicate question for the Dutch East India Company, which despite having declined from its previous position of dominance in India, still had substantial interests in Southern India, in the states of Travancore, and Cochin, threatened by Mysorean expansion. The Dutch, as related in the book The Dutch East India Company and Mysore 1762-1790 by Jan von Lohuizen, were engaged in a delicate diplomatic struggle, to defend their position in the region, cope with expanding British influence, and balance the interests of Mysore and their own states. Lohuizen's book unfortunately is rather flat, one-sided, bogged down in minutiae, and lacking in context, and generally not worth the read about what could have been an otherwise fascinating period.

The Kingdom of Mysore at its greatest extent.

The Kingdom of Mysore at its greatest extent.

The organization of the book is relatively simple, in a mostly chronological layout which starts out with the initial Dutch contacts with Mysore under Hyder Ali in the 1760s, then delineated a second period of increasing Mysorean aggressiveness after 1775. It covers the Dutch embassies in Mysore, at Seringapatam, and Dutch-Mysorean cooperation in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. It concludes with a rather positive perspective on Dutch attempts to maintain their influence in the region and the inevitable problems of a declining and stagnant state attempting to deal with more dynamic and powerful rivals.

The Dutch East India Company and Mysore has the unfortunate habit of being dragged down into minutiae. The endless procession of tiny details concerning diplomatic missions, notes, small attitudes towards third party states - it is difficult to convey just how lacking in general vision the book is at some times - terribly often in fact, with long sections near the middle being a horrific drag to get through. it is an insufferable bore for the general reader to make it through these seemingly endless wastes of pettiness which make no attempt to relate themselves to a broader picture.

This is magnified by the unfortunate lack of maps, contextual geography, or state descriptions. The book, written for a Western audience presumably, seems to assume that the reader is familiar with the little-known and often strange Indian place names and the relative positions of Indian states in the balance of power of the second half of the 18th century. missing this crucial information necessary for a good geographic and diplomatic context undermines the understanding of the book's import. The reader is constantly forced to look up place names, states, and regions, a frustrating and distracting endeavor.

Matched to this is a lack of explanation concerning the diplomatic, economic, and military objectives of Mysore. The book is almost entirely focused on what the Dutch East India Company wanted and what its policy was towards Mysore and the states along the Malabar Coast - and yet for a book whose centerpiece if Mysore, the other makes little to examine the relationship from the Mysorean perspective. Lohuizen manages to convingly demonstrate that Mysore and the Dutch East India Company had a relations grounded in enmity, this based on the Mysorean attempts at expanding into territories in the southern tip of India such as Cochin and Travancore. This perspective seems, if Lohuizen's quotes are taken at face value, as being in contradiction with previous views which assumed a commonality of Mysorean-Dutch interests in opposing English expansion. Why did Mysore pursue this policy of territorial aggrandizement against the Malabar states, despite it clearly running the risk of alienating the Dutch, losing the friendship of one of the few states which could have assisted them against the greater threats of the British? Were they simply unaware of the Dutch determination to defend their influence in Cochin and Travancore? What did the Mysoreans seek to gain? Loot, ports, simply territory, economic production? What sort of alternates were considered for Mysorean foreign policy? The lack of context prevents a fuller understanding of regional power dynamics.

This lack of context extends to limited depiction or analysis of the cultural component of diplomacy and differing mindsets. Indian states must have had radically altered conceptions of statecraft, state power, and state objectives, was well as the formal structure of state-to-state diplomacy - and yet this never comes into focus. A discussing of how diplomatic mediums differed between the Dutch and Mysore would have been much appreciated.

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What redeeming factors does the book possess after this long litany of woes? For one, it does make a conclusive case for Mysore and the VOC/Dutch having hostile, or at least violently unpredictable, relations. It presents a more nuanced view of Dutch policy in South India, showing that the Dutch continued to exert influence in Travancore and Cochin up until the French Revolution and the expulsion of the Dutch from the region. it does a good job of examining the cooperation between the Dutch and the Mysoreans during the Third Anglo-Mysorean War, and how Mysorean troops fought along the Dutch. And its plentiful minutiae means that for a really dedicated reader, it could potentially offer a trove of useful details for Dutch relations with Travancore and Cochin. These don't make it into a great book by any means, but they do offer some redemption.

© 2021 Ryan C Thomas

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