Brief History
Benkulen was set up shortly after the English East India Company was expelled from Bantam in 1682. The Dutch solicited and received the help of the local sultan in expelling the English in hopes of keeping control over the lucrative spice trade. Obviously, the English still wanted a slice of that very rich pie and so relocated to Benkulen on the island of Sumatra in 1685.

Indeed most of the pepper that had been exported from Bantam had actually been grown in southern Sumatra so it made sense for the English to redouble their efforts there. In 1685 the English negotiated a settlement at Benkulen, on the southwest coast near the important pepper collecting area of Silebar. the Dutch did try to intimidate the local Rajas under cover of suzerainty claims by their client Sultan of Bantam. However, the Sumatran rulers were keen to avoid having to pay for the luxury of selling their crops in Bantam when they could sell it directly in Benkulen.

Quickly, Benkulen came to dominate the sale of pepper to Europe in the Eighteenth Century, regularly sending between 453,600 and 907,200 kgs per year to London. In 1714, the English built Fort Marlborough to defend their profitable enclave from jealous rivals.

In the end, the port became a victim of its own success, as sailing ships got larger and faster and other areas were attracted to growing pepper the price of the commodity did ultimately fall. In the end, the British were content by 1825 to hand over the settlement in exchange for Malacca. This was largely due to the energetic influence of Benkulen's Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles. He was of the opinion that Singapore would be far more strategically important in the long run - especially due to the direction of trade to and from China. Malacca was more strategically important in the approaches to this new colony of Singapore. Whereas Benkulen was on the wrong side of Sumatra.

Benkulen can also be spelt Bencoolen and Bengkulu.

East India Company Flag
benkulen Map
Map of Benkulen
Benkulen Images
Administrators of Benkulen
1685 - 1825
Links about Benkulen
The Blessing
This site recounts the story of the East India Company ship from 1641 to 1653 as it plied the Spice Routes.
Suggested Reading
Nathaniel's Nutmeg
by Giles Milton

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