The Manhattan Transfer and the Rhunhattan Tearoom

This year on 31 July 2017 we will record the 350 year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667 which ended the second Anglo-Dutch war. In one of the clauses in this document the Dutch exchanged the island of Manhattan for the nutmeg growing island of Rhun in what was to become the Dutch East Indies and therefore gained a complete monopoly over the nutmeg trade.


The nutmeg fruit showing the nut with its bright red outer covering of mace (Ian Burnet)

This was not just the real estate deal of the century but probably of the millenium. Who would have believed that Manhattan would become the ‘capital of the world’ and the valuable nutmeg island of Rhun would sink into obscurity?

Treaty of Breda

The last page of the Treaty of Breda, 1667 (Dutch Nationaal Archief)


The United Dutch East India Company (VOC) had captured the fort on the main Banda island from the Portuguese in 1605, which meant that when English East India Company ships arrived, they could only trade for nutmegs on the outer islands of Run and Ai.
Nathaniel Courthope anchored the English East India Company vessels Swan and Defense off the tiny island of Rhun in 1616 and because of the islanders antipathy to the Dutch, he was able to get them to sign their allegiance to King James I of England, in a document similar to the one posted below. This was the very first English colony and King James I was able to declare himself, ‘King of England, Scotland and Puloo Run’.

13_Letter from King James 1619 British Library

The document prepared by King James I allowing Asian potentates to submit to his rule. 1619      (British Library)

Ombak Putih

             The Ombak Putih anchored where the Swan and the Defence would have anchored off the island of Rhun in 1616.  (Ian Burnet)

On the other side of the world Dutch colonists acquired rights to the island of Manhattan in 1625 in exchange for sixty guilders of trade goods and named it Nieuw Amsterdam. In 1664 the English captured Nieuw Amsterdam and renamed it New York, leading to the exchange of these two islands under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

In September 2015 the conceptual artist Beatrice Glow created what she described as the Rhunhattan Tearoom in the Sunroom Project Space, of the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, New York. The exhibition consisted of acrylic and decal collage on ceramics, ink on paper and terracotta infused with the scents of colonial commerce such as cloves and nutmeg.

Rhun 3

The Rhunhatten Tearoom in the Sunroom Project Space, New York. (Beatrice Glow)

Rhun 15

Nutmeg decorated ceramic ware and maps of the Nutmeg Islands (Beatrice Glow)

Rhun 2

Detail of the ceramic ware and a map of the island of Rhun (Beatrice Glow)



Rhun 14

Detail of the ceramic ware and Fort Hollandia (Beatrice Glow)

During her residency at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University , Beatrice Glow investigated the social history of plants via spice routes and botanical expeditions, focusing on the historical relationship between two islands on opposite sites of the world: Mannahatta and Rhun. The islands, which were traded by the British and Dutch during the 17th century spice wars, are connected by both a botanical and colonial legacy. For more information on her work please follow this link:

The East Indies Exploration: Culture, Sea and Spice 2017 voyage on the Ombak Putih will reach the islands of Rhun and Banda to explore the spice plantations and the old colonial forts and buildings found there. For details of the voyage please go to:

East Indies Voyage

East Indies Exploration: Culture, Sea and Spice 2017 on the Ombak Putih (Ian Burnet)





About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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2 Responses to The Manhattan Transfer and the Rhunhattan Tearoom

  1. Randall Rutledge says:

    Quite a fascinating footnote in history with historic consequences. Having been to both islands I have to say that a break on R(h)un is more appealing than Manhattan!

    R Rutledge

  2. Loris says:

    Loved this, Ian! What a fantastic connection to New York – who knew?

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