The copper engraved view shows the city Goa on the west coast of India. Goa has been an important port under Portuguese rule, that would last for four and a half centuries, from 1510 until 1961.
Historical Context: The Rise and Fall of Portuguese Hegemony in India
The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama was the first European in modern times to make the sea voyage from Europe to India in 1498. Within only a few years, Portugal became a great force along the West Coast of India, establishing numerous coastal outposts.
The old town of Goa was founded during the 15th Century by the Bijapur Sultanate, which then controlled much of Southern India, functioning as one of their alternate capitals. Goa was captured by the Portuguese in 1510, who made Goa the capital of their growing Indian Empire. The city became quite wealthy as a great entrepôt for the global spice trade. Vast amount of money were spent on grand churches and public buildings, and the city became a vibrant cosmopolitan centre. The present view shows the city during its heyday, which lasted from 1575 to 1625.
Through the 16th Century, as far as Europeans were concerned, the Indian Ocean was a ‘Portuguese Lake’, with the vast riches of the Indian Subcontinent flowing exclusively to Lisbon. Merchants and leaders of other European powers were highly envious of Portugal’s bounty. However, there were many factors that strongly inhibited others from attempting to open trade with India.
First, even sailing to India was exceedingly dangerous, as it was absolutely necessary to be able to comprehend the cycle
of the monsoons, not an easy task when lacking reliable sailing directions. Moreover, without access to re-victualing bases, such as those set up by the Portuguese in Africa, most European ships would run out of provisions before reaching India. Added to that, the Indian Ocean was thick with pirates, for which meandering ships were easy prey.
Even if one managed to arrive in India safely, a
foreign expedition would have had to run a gauntlet
of fierce opposition. The Portuguese never hesitated to use brute force against and both foreigners and uncooperative Indians. Even if one survived this spirited reception, it would be difficult to forge productive contacts with local Indian traders, as the political situation within the coastal Indian states
was highly unstable. Even if a foreign party managed to run all of these obstacles, and managed to fill their holds with precious Indian cargo, they would still have to make to back to Europe!
The Portuguese were well aware that without excellent and highly detailed intelligence, their European
rivals would likely refrain from mounting a serious challenge to their hegemony in the Indian Ocean.
For decades they managed to prevent sensitive and useful intelligence from being widely disseminated, threatening their own officials with severe repercussions if they so as much uttered a word. However, in the 1580s, they trusted the wrong man.
Enter Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611), one of the most fascinating and consequential figures
of his time. A Dutch merchant, explorer and writer he was responsible for what can be considered one of the grandest and most consequential schemes of corporate espionage ever undertaken.
While the Dutch Republic was in the midst of fighting a long and ultimately successful struggle for independence from Spain, the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), Dutch merchants marveled at the vast wealth generated by Spain from the Americas and Portugal from Asia.
Linschoten, as a teenager from the small port of Enkhuizen, was captivated by Iberia’s empires and
in 1576 traveled to Seville, Spain to join his elder brother, Willem, who was working there as merchant. Linschoten subsequently moved to Lisbon, where he soon ingratiated himself with grandees in the mercantile community.
Amazingly, in 1583, he was appointed secretary to Vicente da Fonseca, the incoming Archbishop of Goa. He soon set sail for Goa and spent over five years there, where in his official capacity he was given free access to the most sensitive Portuguese documents and secret manuscript maps. He also extensively interviewed mariners and adventurers who had travelled to various parts of India and who had undertaken voyages to places such as China, the Moluccas (the “Spice Islands”) and Japan. No non-Portuguese Westerner had ever been privy to such precious intelligence on India and the Far East.
Linschoten retuned to the Netherlands in 1592. In 1594 and 1595, he accompanied Willem Barentsz on two voyages to the Russian Arctic, in search of the Northeast Passage.
Beginning in 1595, the momentous nature of Linschoten’s designs were revealed. Working with Cornelis Claesz, an Amsterdam publisher who was an authority on maritime affairs, Linschoten issued the first detailed and accurate published book of sailing directions for navigation through the Indian Ocean and beyond to the Far East, entitled Reys-gheschrift vande navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten (1595).
His next work, Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert
van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, 1579-1592 (1596), translated
as ‘Travel account of the voyage of the sailor Jan Huyghen van Linschoten to the Portuguese East India’, was even more shocking. It contained a number of excellent maps based on copies of Portuguese manuscript charts stolen by Linschoten, including a map of Goa, which was the original antecedent of the present map. Along with sailing directions, it gave detailed information on the nature of Portuguese strength and their modus operendi in South and East Asia. It also gave specific information on how
to interact with various regional powers and where valuable commodities could be acquired.
In essence, Linschoten published a clear, highly detailed and broadly accurate ‘How-to’ guide for Europeans to successfully open up trade with India and East Asia. The Itinerario was translated and published in English and German (in 1598), Latin (1599) and in French (1610). It represented a worst-case scenario for the Portuguese, and it was not long before merchants and courtiers all across Europe were reading Lisbon’s most sensitive trade secrets.
In response, the English formed the East India Company (the EIC) in 1600, followed by the Dutch, who set up the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (the VOC) in 1602. It was not long before these new players were in India, successfully dismantling the Portuguese trading monopoly.
Jacob van der Schley
Jacob van der Schley was a dutch engraver and artist, who studied under the French engraver Bernard Picart (1673-1733) since he was 12. He engraved plates for Histoire de l'origine et des premiers progrès de l'imprimerie and numerous maps for Camps topographiques de la campagne de MDCCLVII, en Westphalie, published by du Bois in The Hague in 1770.
His most famous series of engravings are plates and maps for the monumental Hague edition of Histoire Générale Des Voyages by Antoine François Prévost d'Exiles (1697 – 1763). The work was published in 20 volumes between 1747 – 1780 with many plates based on the engravings by Jacques Nicolas Bellin. This view comes from the 10. volume of Histoire Générale, published in 1755.