VOC Heritage in Asia: 
The Burghers of Ceylon

The VOC Heritage in Asia: The Burghers of Ceylon exhibition, features the social interaction in the VOC settlements in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The research is based on authentic documentation from primary sources.  

The Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) has left a huge reservoir of information which is found in archival collections in the Netherlands, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa.  

The aim of our project is to document the rich history of the former Dutch/European community in a series of exhibitions. The exhibition travels to five destinations; each exhibition is different. The exhibition is complemented by a comprehensive encyclopaedia which is divided into two segments – the historical contents and the family summaries.

Project Overview

The VOC heritage in Asia: The Burghers of Ceylon, exhibition is a history project which draws on material from the archives and libraries.

To enable a better understanding of settlement life in 18th century Ceylon, our project researched into primary sources thus finding authentic documentation of Dutch settlement life in Asia. The historical section of the exhibition, highlights the social life of the 17th-18th century of the Dutch Maritime occupation in Ceylon. The Company rules and regulations, moulded the social interaction of the Dutch (European) community with the indigenous population. The Dutch period also brought forward its own mestizo population.

The lives of the enslaved population in the Dutch settlements is documented in the wills and historical fragments regarding their lives and destinies.

The Ceylon Burghers are an ethnic group of mixed raced descendants of ancestors who were in service or otherwise linked to the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). With the Dutch capitulation in 1796, and in the years that followed, the Dutch community and the Portuguese mestizos accepted British sovereignty and were referred to by the new regime by the 1830’s as a mixed-race community who were to be known as the ‘Ceylon Burghers’.

To understand the making of the Ceylon Burghers, we made a comprehensive study of the families from the Company period. The exhibition features selected Dutch VOC personnel and the accompanying book includes the Company personnel and mainstream family names in Ceylon. The featured families are researched in the Company period, with additional 19th century data.

Exhibition Team

Martijn Maarleveld
Historian, Project Management

Martijn Maarleveld [MA], VOC & Colonial Historian, is responsible for the research. He has been working since 2007 on the early European ancestors collecting data from international archives and libraries. The rare data Maarleveld collected, contributed widely to enhance this exhibition.

Nina van Dort
Exhibition Curator, Art Management 

Nina van Dorth is coordinator and curator of the history project and is responsible for the historical and art management of the project. In addition, she is responsible for the graphic preparation of the family coat of arms, the documentation of historical photographs, contemporary paintings, art and craftsmanship.