Capture of Malacca Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The capture of the Portuguese-controlled Malayan port of Malacca by the Dutch allowed the small but powerful European nation to dominate European trade with Southeast Asia and ended Portugal’s monopoly on trade in the Indian Ocean.

Summary of Event

Located on the southwest coast of what is today mainland Malaysia Malaysia , the port of Malacca (or Melaka) was founded early in the fourteenth century, according to legend by a prince of a once-powerful empire on the large island of Sumatra. The port’s deep waters and its strategic location on what would become known as the Strait of Malacca, separating the Malay Peninsula from Sumatra, ensured that it would share in the rich commerce passing among India, China, and the East Indies. Its position near the mouth of the Malacca River also ensured it a share of the trade in tin being mined inland. [kw]Capture of Malacca (Jan. 14, 1641) [kw]Malacca, Capture of (Jan. 14, 1641) Expansion and land acquisition;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Trade and commerce;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Transportation;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Colonization;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Southeast Asia;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Malaysia;Jan. 14, 1641: Capture of Malacca [1380] Malacca, capture of (1641) Trade;Netherlands in Southeast Asia

Malacca became the largest city in Southeast Asia by the time Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean in 1497. The militarily superior Portuguese were determined to control the rich spice trade of the Indian Ocean, and one of da Gama’s successors, Afonso de Albuquerque, laid siege to the city in 1511. The Portuguese quickly overwhelmed the Malay forces, beginning a heavy-handed and largely disruptive occupation that would last for 130 years. By the early seventeenth century, however, the aggressive Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company;Malaysia (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was contesting Portuguese control of the region and its trade and, in some cases, enlisting the aid of Portugal’s Malay enemies. Colonization;Portugal of Malacca

Dutch designs on Malacca date from 1606. In May of that year, Admiral Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge Matelieff de Jonge, Cornelis concluded a treaty with the nearby Malay kingdom of Johore (Johor), whose ruling family had once controlled Malacca. Under the pact, the sultan agreed to allow the Dutch to remain in Malacca if they drove out the hated Portuguese. That summer, the admiral laid siege to the city, but the arrival of a fleet under the command of the viceroy of the Portuguese colony of Goa in India frustrated his plans. Colonization;Netherlands of Malacca

The Dutch made further vain attempts on Malacca in 1608, in 1615, and throughout the 1620’. A blockade in 1633 also proved unsuccessful, but by the mid-1630’, the Dutch had assumed virtual control of the strait itself. In 1636, they managed to sink several Portuguese ships in Malacca’s harbor, and in June of 1640, under the direction of Sergeant Major Adrian Antonissoon, Antonissoon, Adrian they began a long and eventually successful siege of the Portuguese-controlled port. Although they had failed to obtain help from one enemy of the Portuguese, the sultan of Aceh in Sumatra, the Dutch were assisted by another: the sultan of Johore Johore , Abdul Jalil Shah III Abdul Jalil Shah III .

Malacca, whose population then numbered about 20,000, was defended by 250 to 350 Portuguese soldiers and 2,000 to 3,000 Asian troops under the command of its governor, Manuel de Sousa Coutinho Sousa Coutinho, Manuel de . The city’s main fortress, known as A Famosa (the famous), had been built more than a century before atop St. Paul’s Hill and was guarded by four bastion towers, a series of walls almost 8 feet (2.4 meters) thick, and a keep tower, or dungeon, 118 feet (36 meters) high. Its walls enclosed a governor’s palace, a school, a bishop’s palace, five churches, the houses of several religious orders, a prison, two hospitals, and a number of administrative buildings. One side of the fortress lay along the Malacca River, allowing for easy provisioning during siege, and two wells assured a supply of water. Toward the end of the sixteenth century Portuguese armaments included seventy cannon and fifty smaller guns.

At the onset of the siege, Dutch sergeant major Antonissoon had twelve large ships, six smaller sloops, and some fifteen hundred men under his command. In July of 1640, the sultan of Johore supplied significant reinforcements: a fleet of forty ships and another fifteen hundred men. Antonissoon landed his men north of Malacca near the settlement of Tranquerah and drove the settlement’s Portuguese defenders into the walls of A Famosa. The Dutch were then able to set up sixteen cannon and bombard the city. At the same time the Johorese maintained a blockade of the harbor and destroyed the crops growing in the surrounding fields, denying food to the city’s defenders.

Under such siege conditions, starvation spread throughout Malacca, reducing its surviving inhabitants to eating cats, rats, and, in some cases, the bodies of their fallen comrades. Sickness broke out among both the Portuguese and the Dutch, with the Dutch losing Antonissoon and two successors. Finally, on January 14, 1641, under the direction of Admiral Minne Williemson Kaartokoe, Kaartokoe, Minne Williemson the Dutch crossed the shallow Leleh River south of the city and succeeded in storming the bastion of São Domingo. The other bastions followed in quick succession, and Governor Sousa, himself gravely ill, surrendered. He died two days later and was buried with military honors by the Dutch victors.

Under the Portuguese, Malacca had been attacked twenty-four times, but this was the only occasion in which its massive walls had been breached. Most Portuguese buildings had been completely destroyed, and the fortress was in ruins. The siege had resulted directly or indirectly in the death of some seven thousand soldiers, sailors, and civilians, including fifteen hundred Dutch troops.


The Dutch conquest of Malacca was a pivotal event in the history of Southeast Asia. It spelled the end of Portuguese domination of trade in the Indian Ocean and signaled Dutch ascendancy throughout the region. Although for a time Portuguese traders redirected their efforts toward other ports, they had already lost momentum to their European rival.

More important, however, the Dutch conquest of Malacca resulted in further weakening of the city itself and in thwarting wider Malay aspirations. The sultan of Johore had, perhaps naïvely, expected the Dutch to turn over Malacca to his control, but found that the port had simply traded one master for another. Most Portuguese inhabitants of Malacca departed for Portuguese settlements in India and Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), and many Indian Hindus, who had collaborated with the Portuguese and so were distrusted by the Dutch, left as well. Soon after the Portuguese capitulation, a Dutch inspector recorded Malacca’s population at a mere 2,150, scarcely more than one-tenth of its size under the Portuguese. In a 1678 report to his superiors, the city’s Dutch governor cited a population of only 5,000.

Although Malacca eventually rebounded, the Dutch East India Company showed little interest in developing the Malay port, concentrating its resources instead on its new headquarters at Batavia Batavia (now called Jakarta) on the island of Java in Indonesia. Ultimately, the Dutch would prove as harmful as the Portuguese to Malacca and the Malay world.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoyt, Sarnia Hayes. Old Malacca. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. A brief history, with successive chapters dealing specifically with the Portuguese and Dutch periods. Includes color and black-and-white illustrations, maps, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Dianne. Jan Compagnie in the Straits of Malacca, 1641-1795. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1995. Lewis emphasizes the aftermath of Dutch conquest and occupation. Includes notes, appendices, a glossary, and a substantial bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Longmire, R. A. “Malacca and the Throat of Venice.” Asian Affairs 15 (1984): 179-185. A substantial review article discussing Sandhu and Wheatley’s 1983 book on Malacca.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Prakash, Om. “The Portuguese and the Dutch in Asian Maritime Trade: A Comparative Analysis.” In Merchants, Companies, and Trade: Europe and Asia in the Early Modern Era, edited by Sushil Chaudhury and Michel Morineau. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. An overview contrasting the Asian mercantile practices of the two nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandhu, Kernial Singh, and Paul Wheatley, eds. Melaka: The Transformation of a Malay Capital, c. 1400-1980. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. The standard work on the city, although the Portuguese period is slighted. Includes black-and-white and color illustrations and an extensive bibliography.
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Piet Hein; John IV; Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter; Abel Janszoon Tasman; Maarten Tromp; Zheng Chenggong. Malacca, capture of (1641) Trade;Netherlands in Southeast Asia

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