In episode 2 of the podcast Nooit Bewust Opgeslagen we look at the economic history of Rotterdam’s slavery past. The old city ports were especially important: from shipyards, the regional head offices of the VOC and the WIC, to stately mansions paid for with money earned in the slave trade.
1. Statue of Piet Hein in Delfshaven
‘Admiral Pieter Pieterszoon Heyn. The grateful progeny. Unveiled: 17 October 1870’ is stated on the statue of Piet Hein in Delfshaven. During unveiling by King Willem III, the statue was a little more to the west, on Piet Heynsplein, but has been at this location since 1966. Hein was mainly known for conquering the silver fleet, with the money being awarded to the authorities behind the colonial system. A portrait of Hein used to hang in the office of the Rotterdam West India Company.
2. VOC building in Delfshaven
The Piet Hein statue looks out over the Achterhaven in Delfshaven, where an old East India Company Association (VOC) building is located. This building was part of a shipyard. It is mainly the West India Company (WIC) that is known for its part in the slave trade in the Netherlands. What is less well-known is that the VOC was also involved in slavery.
Vessels were built in Delfshaven for the VOC. “There were dozens to hundreds of people working here”, explained Gerhard de Kok in episode 2 of the podcast Nooit Bewust Opgeslagen. “These included carpenters, blacksmiths, ropemakers; really all kinds of professions.” De Kok further described that many people from the area around the Achterhaven were involved in the slave trade, directly or indirectly. After all, it wasn’t only a vessel that was needed for the journey, but also bread, beer, gunpowder and much, much more.
3. Lloydkade and Sint Jobshaven
In the 20th century, vessels arrived at this part of Rotterdam with, for instance, repatriates from the Dutch East Indies (December 1945). Within just a few months in 1951, around 12,500 people arrived in the Netherlands from the Moluccan Islands on eleven vessels. These were members of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL). Indonesia became independent in 1950, and the army was disbanded. The Dutch government had promised that these former soldiers and their families would be able to return to the Moluccan Islands, but this promise was never honoured. The Müllerpier can also be found close to Lloydkade; a name that is a reference to the city’s colonial past. The Rotterdam slavery monument was erected on the Müllerpier in 2013.
The Leuvehaven is now surrounded by high buildings. Nothing remains from the time that stately merchant houses used to be located along this water. One of these houses is known to be paid for with money earned in the slave trade. That building belonged to the young Josua van Belle. Looking at this image, it must be one of the buildings on the right, with blue roof tiles on the front. Although it is not known exactly which house it is exactly.
It cost almost 19,000 guilders to construct this townhouse with stable and coach house in 1723. The young Josua received the money from his father, who was also called Josua. Josua senior had become rich through the slave trade while in the service of the Spanish King. Back in Rotterdam, Van Belle was offered all kinds of senior positions. For instance, he was Director of the VOC and Mayor of Rotterdam. After serving in Spain, his brother, Pedro van Belle, started work for the WIC and was posted to various countries including Curaçao. The townhouse stood on Leuvehaven in the centre of Rotterdam for almost two centuries. It was demolished in 1913 to make way for the construction of a large office building.
Those able to live in a stately area in Rotterdam in the 18th century probably lived in the Boompjeskade district. The entire area, including the harbours Haringvliet and Boerengat, was the economic heart of Rotterdam’s colonial history. The East India House, the regional headquarters of the VOC, could also be found on the Boompjes. From this building, but also from the West India House on Admiraliteitskade, important decisions were taken about the colonial trade and about many people’s lives. The East India House was lost during an air raid during the Second World War.