Joris van Spilbergen (1568-1620) became the world’s eleventh circumnavigator (1614-17). He died as a poor man in Bergen op Zoom.
Though born in Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands, Spilbergen was an admiral of the Dutch Republic. His first major expedition was to Africa in 1596. In command of a fleet of a predecessor organization of the VOC (this Dutch East-India Company was founded in 1602), Spilbergen sailed to India in 1601.
In 1602, Spilbergen was the first Dutch seafarer who visited Ceylon, where he met the Sri Lankan king Vimaladharma Suriya from Kandy. Spilbergen could not land in Galle or any other harbour of the west or south of the island, but Batticaloa at the east coast was under control of the Kandyan Kingdom those days. So he landed in Batticaloa on May 29. In order to purchase spices and gems, Spilbergen negotiated with the Mudaliyar, the local chieftain in Batticaloa. In July, he also travelled to Kandy in order to meet the king. He assured the king, that the Dutch were enemies of the Portuguese and hoping to cooperate with the Sinhalese to drive out the Portuguese. Until then, Sri Lankans were of the opinion that all Eurpeans were Portuguese, and they learned quickly to use rivalries between Eurpean naval empires to form alliances with some European powers against others. Spilbergen was also interested in cinnamon trade with Ceylon, which was also known as “Cinnamon Island” during the colonial period.
Departing from Batticaloa, Spilbergen sailed to Aceh (North Sumatra). A journal of Spilbergen’s expedition to India, Ceylon and Southeast Asia has been preserved, recording the daily events of the voyage.
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