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Governer Coyett--Last Dutch Governor of Taiwan 弗里德里克?揆一 ——台湾末任荷兰总督Bill Brown plays the part of Frederic Coyett Last Dutch Governor of Taiwan  The other man is Scott Ballantyne Click for Gulangyu Main Page
Click for Chinese Version / 中文

When I played the part of Dutch Governor Frederic Coyett in a TV mini-series, and surrendered on bended knee to Koxinga, I wondered how the real Coyett would have felt—and now I know!

After a long search I bought from a bookseller in Holland a rare English translation of Coyett’s book “Neglected Formosa” .  Holland sentenced Coyett to death (transmuted to life imprisonment) for losing Taiwan to Koxinga, but Coyett put the blame where it was due by writing the “true story describing how, through neglect of the Dutch authorities in the East Indies, the Island of Formosa has been invaded, subdued, and conquered by the Chinese pirate Koxinga.”

Governor Coyett, the son of a noble Swedish family in Stockholm, wrote “Neglected Formosa” to prove that Dutch officials had ignored warnings about a Chinese invasion since as early as 1646. He cited, for example, this letter from the Batavia Council to Governor Verburg on 25 July, 1652:

“…numerous rumours are now current in China concerning the son of I-quan called Koxin, who, pressed hard by the Tartars, can no longer hold out in China, nor find himself safe there. He has therefore gone to sea with a great force, and adopted a course of piracy, intending to keep an eye on Formosa, with the view of ultimately settling down in that territory… we think it best to acquaint Your Honour with these reports, so that you may continue your preparations for defence and be constantly on your guard.”

In March 10, 1654, Formosan governor Cornelis Caesar confessed that the threat of an invasion by Koxinga made “his hairs stand on end.” Coyett wrote,
“But, if in 1653 this man’s hair already stood on end on account of the threats of a handful of harmless peasants, how would he have behaved had he been a governor of Formosa in 1661, when Koxinga, with all these and many more peasants, besides 25,000 well armed and intrepid soldiers hardened in warfare, invaded Formosa. Most probably his hair would not only have turned white overnight, but his heart would have sunk into his boots…”

Coyett repeatedly asked for reinforcements but the Dutch government, fixated with wresting Macao from the Portuguese, accused Coyett of worrying over nothing. When a reinforcement of 12 ships did show up in October, 1660, the Dutch admiral scoffed at the so-called threat. After a bitter argument with Coyett he sailed to Batavia with nine of the twelve ships, badmouthed Coyett, and helped persuade the Dutch to replace Coyett with Clenk as governor.

Even as Clenk was en route to Formosa, the Dutch learned of Koxinga’s invasion and sent a ship to return Clenk and inform Coyett that he was now Governor again. But Clenk never got the message, and when he saw the state of affairs in Formosa, he fled for Japan, leaving Coyett to fend for himself.

Koxinga demanded that Coyett surrender within 24 hours, but Coyett refused, even though he was hopelessly outnumbered and had no hope of reinforcement. Koxinga found he could not easily breach the castle’s defenses, so he settled in for a long siege, figuring to eventually starve them out.

Months later, a pitifully small relief force of ten ships and 700 Dutch soldiers showed up, and the Manchu governor-general of Fujian and Zhejiang also offered to help fight Koxinga—but Coyett’s hopes were dashed yet again. Coyett entrusted a Dutch admiral with messages and gifts for the Fujian governor, but the cowardly admiral panicked after Koxinga destroyed a few of his ships, and he fled home. Coyett was now truly on his own, against impossible odds.

In January, 1662, after months of bravely holding out against Koxinga’s siege, the Dutch surrendered. Koxinga, perhaps in recognition of Coyett’s futile but brave stand, allowed his enemies to leave on their own ships, sailing under their Dutch flag. But Coyett’s own countrymen were not as merciful as his adversary. Although Coyett was the only Dutch leader to show foresight, integrity and courage, Holland sentenced Coyett to death for his “failure.”

Fortunately, Coyett’s meticulous records, and his collection of journals and letters, proved the truth of the matter. After 9 years of exile he returned home with honor to write “Neglected Formosa”, which gives fascinating and often humorous insights into two great adversaries—Koxinga and Coyett.

Excerpts from Coyett’s “Neglected Formosa”

Coyett describes Koxinga’s troops: “He [Koxinga] had constructed no trenches nor erected any batteries, although he was well acquainted with the modes of warfare, and amply provided with heavy guns, as was proved during a later stage of the war. He evidently thought the Fort could be captured without any such trouble.
“The enemy’s soldiers used various kinds of weapons. Some were armed with bows and arrows hanging down their backs; others had nothing save a shield on the left arm, and a good sword in the right hand; while many wielded with both hands a formidable battle-sword fixed to a stick half the length of a man. Every one was protected over the upper part of the body with a coat of iron scales, fitting below one another like the slates of a roof, the arms and legs being left bare.

“This afforded complete protection from rifle bullets and yet left ample freedom to move, as those coats only reached down to the knees, and were very flexible at all the joints.
“The archers formed Koxinga’s best troops, and much depended on them, for even at a distance they contrived to handle their weapons with so great skill, that they very nearly eclipsed the riflemen.

“Every tenth man of them is a leader, who takes charge of and presses his men on to force themselves into the ranks of the enemy. With bent heads and their bodies hidden behind the shields, they try to break through the opposing ranks with such fury and dauntless courage, as if each one had still a spare body left at home. They continually press onwards, notwithstanding many are shot down; not stopping to consider, but ever rushing forward like mad dogs, not even looking round to see whether they are followed by their comrades or not.”

Koxinga’s Response to Dutch protestations of friendship: “[Holland’s friendship] held towards him was of the same nature as that held towards other Indian Potentates and Princes: namely, that from their side, it lasted just so long as there was any advantage to be gained by it; for if they saw it to be to their advantage, no such friendship was observed, but they would not scruple in the least to throw a net over any one’s head when it suited them to do so.”

Koxinga’s view on Taiwan’s relation to mainland China: “Hitherto this island [Taiwan] had always belonged to China, and the Dutch had doubtless been permitted to live there, seeing that the Chinese did not require it for themselves; but requiring it now, it was only fair that Dutch strangers, who came from far regions, should give way to the masters of the island….He came not with a view to wage war against the Company (although his men had on several occasions been very unkindly treated by them), but only to take possession of his belongings; and to prove that he had no intention to enrich himself with the Company’s means, he would allow them to embark their goods and effects in his own junks, and to break down the Castles and remove the cannon with other materials to Batavia; provided all this were done immediately. In that case, the friendship between him and the Company would remain undisturbed…”

The Dutch East India Company, in Dutch was Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC

Neglected Formosa in Dutch was Verwaerloosde Formosa Bill Brown plays the part of Frederic Coyett Last Dutch Governor of Taiwan  The other man is Scott Ballantyne

弗里德里克?揆一 ——台湾末任荷兰总督

















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