The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700 by Subrahmanyam Sanjay

The Portuguese Empire in Asia, 1500-1700 by Subrahmanyam Sanjay

Author:Subrahmanyam, Sanjay.
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781118274026
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Published: 2012-02-27T16:00:00+00:00

Syriam and Hurmuz: The Beginnings of Retreat

The first real blows came however neither in the Mughal territories, nor in those of the Safavids, nor indeed in Japan. Rather, they came from the Dutch, who, in 1605, took Ambon, and also occupied a Spanish fort at Tidore; but the Spaniards recovered soon, making inroads into Ternate, while the Portuguese continued to procure cloves and spices via Makassar, which emerged by 1610 as a major entrepôt in eastern Indonesia. Far more telling and significant a blow came from quite a different quarter, namely Burma, We have seen how after the collapse of Nanda-bayin's kingdom in the late 1590s, Filipe de Brito had managed to carve out for the Estado da Índia (and for himself) a position in the Irrawaddy delta port of Syriam, from where he collected customs on shipping from Coromandel, and sought to restrict navigation in the coastal waters between Arakan and the upper Malay peninsula by means of a small flotilla. It appears that Brito in the decade and more that he ran this customs-house never remitted any money to Goa, but the significance of Syriam is still undoubted. Early Dutch expeditions to Masulipatnam (which they visited first in 1605), were greatly concerned with Syriam, and the Dutch factor Pieter Willemszoon, who visited Arakan in these years, is quite explicit in suggesting that Dutch trade in the Bay of Bengal could never make inroads until the Syriam menace was combated (Terpstra 1911). His report, entitled “Information of the Bay of Bengala and Arracan,” was delivered to Pieter Ysaacx Eyloff at the Masulipatnam factory in May 1608, and states:

After I had arrived safely in Arracan, I found the King there, who had come back some five months before from Pegu, where he had besieged the castle of St. Jago (where one Phillipe de Britto maintains himself with around three to four hundred Portuguese, Mestiços and Topasses, and some five to six hundred Peguers), with around one hundred thousand men (sic) and around 150 foists and three thousand galeasses or praus, but he could not take the above mentioned castle …

A great trade and profits are derived from this Bay, and but for the fact that this peace (dese peys) has been concluded before our arrival, we too could have taken part in it, [though] the Portuguese will do their best to close it off so that it might cause great losses (achterdeel) to the Company and the East India trade, but on the contrary if the Portuguese are driven out of Pegu then they will be excluded from Porto Pequeno to Martabaen, yea in truth from St. Thome to Malacca, and besides the Moors of Maslipatam and Choromandel will also sing more sweetly.

(De Jonge 1865: 288–9)

However, despite his success in staving off the threat from Arakan, things were not running all that smoothly for Filipe de Brito, who, unfortunately for himself and the Estado was unable to make common cause with the greater part of the Portuguese and mestiços of


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