Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff

Last updated
Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff
Gustaaf Willem baron van Imhoff2.jpg
Governor of Dutch Ceylon
In office
23 July 1736 12 March 1740
Preceded by Jan Maccare (acting)
Succeeded by Willem Maurits Bruyninck
of the Dutch East Indies
In office
28 May 1743 1 November 1750
Preceded by Johannes Thedens
Succeeded by Jacob Mossel
Personal details
Born(1705-08-08)8 August 1705
Leer, East Frisia
Died1 November 1750(1750-11-01) (aged 45)
Batavia, Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia)

Gustaaf Willem, Baron van Imhoff (8 August 1705 – 1 November 1750) was a Dutch colonial administrator for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He served as Governor of Ceylon from 1736 to 1740 and as Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1743 until his death in 1750 at Istana Cipanas.


Early years

Van Imhoff was born into an East Frisian aristocratic family. His father, Wilhelm Heinrich Freiherr von Imhoff, came from the town of Leer in northwestern Germany, a few kilometers from the Dutch border.

In 1725 Van Imhoff entered into the service of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), then colonial capital of the Dutch East Indies. Van Imhoff was promoted several times within the company before being appointed colonial governor in Ceylon (Modern-day Sri Lanka) on 23 July 1736.


Van Imhoff's tenure as governor of Ceylon put an end to the chaos that had pervaded the previous administration. He established constructive relations with Vira Narendra Sinha, King of Kandy.

King Narendra was married to a Tamil princess of Madurai (Tamil Nadu, India), and their child, Sri Vijaya Rajasinha who succeeded him after Narendra's death on 24 May 1739, was seen to be more of a Tamil than Sinhalese (the majority ethnic group in Ceylon). Van Imhoff was concerned about this royal succession as closer contacts between the Tamils of Ceylon (under King Sri Vijaya Rajasinha) and the Tamils of south India was seen as a threat to the Dutch East India Company's commercial monopoly.[ citation needed ]

In his letters, Van Imhoff expressed his surprise that the Sinhalese people had accepted such a king, considering their haughty attitude towards the Tamils of India. However, Van Imhoff saw an interesting opportunity in this turn of events and proposed to the Lords Seventeen ( Heeren XVII , the directors of the VOC) that the Kingdom of Ceylon be divided in two. They rejected the proposition as war was deemed as too costly.[ citation needed ]

Despite the profitable production of spices, the colony was always in a state of deficit because its profits were allotted to the VOC in general, not to the colony itself. This practice prevented the Governors from becoming too extravagant in their habits, as was the case in other colonies.

Travancore–Dutch War

In January 1739, Imhoff travelled to the port of Cochin on the south west coast of India with a view to authoring a report on the state of Dutch Malabar for the VOC's governors in Batavia. He found that the expansionist aims of Maharajah Marthanda Varma of Travancore threatened the VOC's power in the region and decided to use force to ensure that the local Malabar rulers fulfilled their trade contracts with the VOC. Imhoff demanded that Marthanda Varma restore the annexed kingdom of Kayamkulam to its former ruling princess, threatening to invade Travancore should the Maharajah refuse. Marthanda Varma countered that he would overcome any Dutch forces that were sent to his kingdom, going on to say that he was considering an invasion of Europe. [1]

The situation on the Malabar Coast triggered the Travancore–Dutch War, a conflict unauthorised by the Dutch government in Batavia. [1] At the subsequent 1741 Battle of Colachel, the Dutch were routed, triggering a series of events that eventually led to the Treaty of Mavelikkara in 1753, under which both parties agreed to live in peace. [2]


The arrest of Van Imhoff Trapping of three councilmen of Dutch East Indies.jpg
The arrest of Van Imhoff

On 12 March 1740, Willem Maurits Bruyninck replaced Van Imhoff as governor of Ceylon and Imhoff returned to Batavia, which he found in a precarious situation. Former Governor-General Adriaan Valckenier believed that the Chinese population in the area around Batavia had grown too large. His plan to relocate the unemployed population to Ceylon and the Cape Colony in South Africa failed when a rumour alleging that the Dutch were planning to throw Chinese people overboard on the high seas led to an insurrection against the VOC in which 50 Dutch soldiers were killed. Valckenier had then responded with a counter-attack on 9 October 1740 that was meant to put insurgents under control. This quickly got out of hand, and – despite an amnesty proclaimed on 11 October – led to the 1740 Batavia massacre which went on for several days and which killed anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 mostly Chinese inhabitants.

Van Imhoff voiced opposition to this brutal policy, which led to his arrest and deportation back to the Dutch Republic. However, upon his arrival, the Lords Seventeen decided to name him Governor-general of the Dutch East Indies and sent him back to Batavia.[ citation needed ]

En route to Batavia, Van Imhoff visited the Dutch colony in Cape Town, in the Cape Colony, where he discovered that Dutch settlers were penetrating increasingly further into the interior, and were losing contact with the VOC. Van Imhoff proposed improving education efforts and the work of the Protestant Church in the colony.[ citation needed ]

In May 1743, Van Imhoff began his tenure in Batavia, which was in the midst of a war. The Javanese princes took advantage of the chaotic situation following Valckenier's actions to begin a war against the VOC. Van Imhoff succeeded in reestablishing peace and began several reforms. He founded a Latin school, opened the first post offices in the Dutch East Indies, built a hospital and launched a newspaper. He also founded the city of Buitenzorg and suppressed opium trade. In 1746, Imhoff embarked on a tour of Java to inspect the company's holdings and decided on several institutional reforms.[ citation needed ]

Van Imhoff's tenure was also marked by catastrophe. A ship, the Hofwegen , was struck by lightning and exploded in the port of Batavia along with six tons of silver, totalling around 600,000 Dutch florins. Ultimately, Van Imhoff's progressive policies made him many enemies. Van Imhoff's want of diplomacy and his lack of respect for local customs caused the colony to become embroiled in the third war of Javanese succession.

Put in an untenable position by his enemies, Van Imhoff wanted to resign from his post, but the VOC would not allow it. Van Imhoff was forced to remain in office until his death in 1750, having come to believe that most of his work had been done in vain. During his stay in Batavia, Van Imhoff stayed in a historic governor's residence. The original 18th century building is restored as Toko Merah. [3]

Related Research Articles

Travancore Historic state in India

The Kingdom of Travancore (Thiruvithamkoor) was an Indian kingdom from c.870 CE until 1949 CE. It was ruled by the Travancore Royal Family from Padmanabhapuram, and later Thiruvananthapuram. At its zenith, the kingdom covered most of modern-day central and southern Kerala with the Thachudaya Kaimal's enclave of Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikkam temple in the neighbouring Kingdom of Cochin, as well as the district of Kanyakumari, now in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The official flag of the state was red with a dextrally-coiled silver conch shell at its center. In the early 19th century, the kingdom became a princely state of the British Empire. The Travancore Government took many progressive steps on the socio-economic front and during the reign of Maharajah Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, Travancore became the second most prosperous princely state in British India, with reputed achievements in education, political administration, public work and social reforms. In 1903-1904 the total revenue of the state was Rs.1,02,01,900.

Marthanda Varma King of Travancore

Marthanda Varma, known as the Maker of Modern Travancore, was ruler of the Indian kingdom of Travancore (Venadu) from 1729 until his death in 1758. He was succeeded by Rama Varma (1758–98).

Battle of Colachel Battle of the Travancore-Dutch War

The Battle of Colachel was fought on 10 August 1741 [O.S. 31 July 1741] between the Indian kingdom of Travancore and the Dutch East India Company, during the Travancore-Dutch War. Travancore, under Raja Marthanda Varma, defeated the Dutch East India Company. The defeat of the Dutch by Travancore is considered the earliest example of an organised power from Asia overcoming European military technology and tactics. The Dutch never recovered from the defeat and no longer posed a large colonial threat to India.

Dutch India former settlements and trading posts of the Dutch East India Company on the Indian subcontinent

Dutch India consisted of the settlements and trading posts of the Dutch East India Company on the Indian subcontinent. It is only used as a geographical definition, as there has never been a political authority ruling all Dutch India. Instead, Dutch India was divided into the governorates Dutch Ceylon and Dutch Coromandel, the commandment Dutch Malabar, and the directorates Dutch Bengal and Dutch Suratte.

Dharma Raja Maharaja of Travancore

Dharma RajaKarthika Thirunal Rama Varma was the Maharajah of Travancore from 1758 until his death in 1798. He succeeded his uncle Marthanda Varma, who is credited with the title of "maker of modern Travancore". During his reign Dharma Raja not only retained all the territories his predecessor had gained but administered the kingdom with success. He was addressed as Dharma Raja on account of his strict adherence to Dharma Sastra, the principles of justice by providing asylum to thousands of Hindus and Christians fleeing Malabar during the religious and military onslaught of Tipu Sultan.

Travancore–Dutch War

The Travancore–Dutch War was a war between the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Indian kingdom of Travancore, culminating in the Battle of Colachel in 1741.

Philippus Baldaeus Dutch Christian missionary

Philips Baelde or Father Philippus Baldaeus, was a Dutch minister. He went to Jaffna during the Dutch period in Ceylon with an invading Dutch force. As the second European after Abraham Rogerius he documented the life, language and culture of Tamil people, living in the north of the island. It is a great historical record, and it was immediately published in Dutch and German. English translation was published by Ceylon Government Railway (1960).

Eustachius De Lannoy Flemish naval commander

Eustache Benoît de Lannoy was a French-born naval commander of the Dutch East India Company, who was sent by the company to help establish a trading post at Colachel, Southern India, but was defeated at the Battle of Colachel by the Travancore army under Maharaja Marthanda Varma in 1741, and subsequently became a valiant and successful commander of the same foreign army that had defeated him. His role as military commander of the Travancore army was instrumental in the later military successes and exploits of Travancore under Marthanda Varma.

Ramayyan Dalawa Administrator and politician

Ramayyan was the Dewan of Travancore state, India, during 1737 and 1756 and was responsible for the consolidation and expansion of that kingdom after the defeat of the Dutch at the 1741 Battle of Colachel during the reign of Maharajah Marthanda Varma, the creator of modern Travancore.

Adriaan Valckenier Governor General of Dutch East Indies

Adriaan Valckenier was Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1737 to 1741. Mainly remembered for his involvement in the 1740 Batavia massacre, Valckenier later died in a prison in Batavia.

Johannes Thedens Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies

Johannes Thedens was Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 6 November 1741 until 28 May 1743.

Travancore royal family

The Travancore Royal Family was the ruling house of the Kingdom of Travancore. They lost their ruling rights in 1949 when Travancore merged with the Indian Union and their remaining privileges were abolished by the Indian Union in 1971. The family are descended from the Ay/Venad family, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas. The ruler in that bloodline was Maharaja Sree Moolam Thirunal, as the family of Maharaja Chithira Thirunal and successors.

Jacob Mossel Dutch colonial governor

Jacob Mossel went from being a common sailor to become Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1750 to 1761.

Hendrick Zwaardecroon Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies

Hendrick or Henricus Zwaardecroon was Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1718 until 1725.

1740 Batavia massacre Pogrom of ethnic Chinese in the port city of Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies

The 1740 Batavia massacre was a pogrom in which Dutch East Indies soldiers and native collaborators killed ethnic Chinese residents of the port city of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. The violence in the city lasted from 9 October 1740 until 22 October, with minor skirmishes outside the walls continuing late into November that year. Historians have estimated that at least 10,000 ethnic Chinese were massacred; just 600 to 3,000 are believed to have survived.

Gerard Pietersz Hulft Dutch general

Gerard Pietersz. Hulft, was a Dutch general. In 1655 he was sent with a fleet to Ceylon and died in action.

Dutch Malabar

Dutch Malabar, also known by the name of its main settlement Cochin, was the title of a commandment of the Dutch East India Company on the Malabar Coast between 1661 and 1795, and is part of what is today collectively referred to as Dutch India. Dutch presence in the region started with the capture of Portuguese Quilon, and ended with the occupation of Malabar by the British in 1795. They possessed military outposts in 11 locations: Alleppey, Ayacotta, Chendamangalam, Pappinivattom, Ponnani, Pallipuram, Cranganore, Chetwai, Cannanore, Cochin, and Quilon.

Jan Macaré was an acting Dutch Governor of Ceylon during an interregnum from 7 June 1736 until 23 July 1736.

Lubbert Jan baron van Eck was the 31st Governor of Ceylon during the Dutch period in Ceylon.

Adriaen Adriaensz Roothaes was a Dutch captain, Commander of Galle, Ceylon, and acting Governor of Dutch Ceylon from November 1664 to April 1665.


  1. 1 2 Koshy 1989, p. 61.
  2. Koshy 1989, p. 107.
  3. Gunawan Tjahjono, ed. (1998). Architecture . Indonesian Heritage. 6. Singapore: Archipelago Press. p.  112. ISBN   981-3018-30-5.