[Footnote 6: Supposing these troy pounds, the value may be estimated at L. 240,000 sterling.—E.]
The Dutch East India Company has long entertained a project of building ships at this island, as its timber is so good that ships built here are expected to last forty or fifty years, whereas those of Europe seldom last more than twelve or thirteen years. The Dutch have a strong fort and great factory at Jambee, and another at Siack, both in this island. This last place is excessively unwholesome, owing to the following circumstance, which certainly might be obviated. It stands on the great river Andragheira, into which, at one season of the year, there come vast shoals of large shads, a third part of their bulk being composed of their roes, which are accounted a great delicacy. Wherefore, after taking these out, the rest of the fish is thrown away, and as these lie in great heaps to corrupt, they exhale pestilential vapours and infect the air. The persons, therefore, who are sent to reside at Siack, are much of the same description with those formerly mentioned as sent to Banda, being of abandoned characters and desperate fortunes. There is another very considerable factory on the river Bencalis, which produces a large profit from the sale of cloth and opium, for which gold-dust is received in payment. This trade was discovered about forty years ago, that is, about the year 1680, by a factor, who carried it on privately for his own emolument for ten years, during which he acquired upwards of a ton of gold yearly, a Dutch phrase implying L. 10,000 sterling. He then resolved to secure what he had got by making a disclosure of this valuable branch of traffic to the company. There are also several Dutch establishments on what is called the West-coast of Sumatra.
A very powerful and warlike people subsists in this island, known to Europeans by the name of the Free-nation, who are equally averse from submitting either to the Sumatran sovereigns or Europeans, and have always defended themselves valiantly against both. All the natives of Sumatra are much more inclined to the English than the Dutch, perhaps because they are not under subjection to the former. But the latter use every precaution they can to prevent the natives from dealing with any except themselves. For a considerable time past, the chiefs at Padang have been so unlucky as to have their honesty much suspected, chiefly owing to their management of the mines, which do not turn out greatly to the profit of the company, while all their officers gain immense sums out of them, which the councils at Batavia are much dissatisfied with, yet cannot prevent. For this reason they change the chief very frequently, yet to little purpose.