Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Accounting and Finance


Significant developments in the prevailing accounting paradigm offer a rare opportunity to understand the forces that prompted methodological change. One such significant event occurred about the turn of the 16th century when the capitalistic form of double-entry bookkeeping, which allowed the return on invested capital to be precisely calculated, was developed. This innovation, together with the contiguous emergence of the public company, caused early 20th century economic historians to suggest a direct association between capitalistic double-entry bookkeeping and the development of the public company and that this conjunction gave rise to the modern capitalistic economy. Although considerable doubt surrounds this hypothesis, it is generally conceded that the nature of the complex interrelationship between capitalism, the capitalistic corporation and bookkeeping, remains to be determined. Accordingly, the primary purpose of this thesis is to add to the extant understanding of that relationship.

Empirical studies to test the relationship between bookkeeping and capitalism have been compromised by largely being confined to English archives. This history extends the scope of the extant research to an analysis of the archived records of the first public company, the Dutch East-India Company (VOC), that have thus far been ignored. The neglect of Dutch empirical resources is surprising because, in the early 17th century, when full capitalism was believed to have first emerged, Netherlands’ commercial organisation and bookkeeping practices led the world and informed English financial administration. To this end, the thesis combines information from the VOC’s archives with a contextual analysis to establish that Netherlands’ business practices were a consequence of the country’s social history, and that the VOC’s bookkeeping was a hybrid form based on northern European agents’ bookkeeping adapted to suit the northern European business venture. For the duration of the nearly two hundred years life, the VOC never produced public accounts of its financial affairs. Moreover, the VOC’s financial accounting was never designed as an aid to rational investment decision-making but a means of promoting sound stewardship and ensuring that the economic activity generated by the company’s activities was equitably distributed between the towns most directly involved in the company’s business.