Abstract

This paper investigates developments in labour policies and social norms on gender and work from the perspective of colonial entanglements. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, work was seen a means to morally discipline the poor, both in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies. A prime example are the initiatives by Johannes van den Bosch, who first in 1818 established ‘peat colonies(!)’ in the Netherlands, where the urban poor were transported to become industrious agrarian workers. In 1830, the same Van den Bosch introduced the Cultivation System in the Netherlands Indies, likewise, to increase Javanese peasants’ industriousness. During the nineteenth century, ideals and practices of the male breadwinner started to pervade Dutch working – class households, and child and women’s labour laws we re issued. Instead, legislation in the Netherlands Indies was introduced very late and under heavy pressure of the international community. Not only did Dutch politicians consider it ‘natural’ that Indonesian women and children worked. What is more, they p resented the inherent differences between Indonesian and Dutch women as legitimation for the protection of the latter: a fine example of what Ann Stoler and Frederick Cooper have called a ‘grammar of difference’.

Abstract

Although child labor was a widespread phenomenon in the pre-industrial Dutch economy, we do not know very much about it. This article aims to expand our knowledge by looking at children’s work in several urban industries in the Dutch Republic. By investigating the kind of economic activities children performed, their starting age, working and living conditions and the amount of training they received, we want to typify pre-industrial child labour more specifically. Did children’s work serve as a necessary source of wage income, or rather as a vocational training for their later participation in the labour market? It will appear that this characterization as ‘work’ or ‘training’ depended largely on the child’s age, sex and social background. These distinctions may help further research on the performance of preindustrial economies, in which a demand for flexible labor played a crucial role.