Read CHAPTER VIII of On the Equator , free online book, by Harry de Windt, on ReadCentral.com.

Our days were now numbered in Sarawak, and we had but little time before us, as we intended making a journey to Java, the principal Dutch possession in the Eastern Archipelago, ere we returned to England.

Packing up now became the order of the day. The skins of beasts and birds of all kinds strewed the floor of our little bungalow, transforming it into a sort of miniature museum, for we had made a very fair collection considering our short stay in the country, including no less than one hundred different specimens of butterflies, three of the rare and lovely Brookeana amongst them. It may be of use to collectors of the latter to know that the safest and most convenient way of carrying them any distance is not to set them up when freshly caught, but to simply fold the wings back till they lie flat against each other, and place them thus singly in a common envelope. They will then keep for six months, or even more, unimpaired. This is a far simpler method than that of setting-up, which, even though the amateur be experienced in the art, is always open to the danger of the butterflies becoming detached and shaking to pieces in their box.

We left Kuching at midday on the 21st of July, after bidding adieu to all our friends, not without regret at leaving a land where we had passed so many pleasant days. The Raja Brooke (a small trading steamer of about 300 tons) was heavily laden, not only with cargo, but also with over 100 deck passengers Malays going on a “Haji pilgrimage” to Mecca. There was also on board an old Hindoo, the proprietor of a dancing bear, who had been making a good thing of it in the Sarawak capital. The captain, L., and I, were the only inmates of the saloon, and after dinner, it being a fine evening, we sent for our Hindoo friend and his bear to give us a private performance which had, however, to be suddenly nipped in the bud, the pilgrims insisting on coming aft en masse and joining in the fun.

We had a fine passage to Singapore, though half-way across a heavy squall struck us, and the sea, which half an hour before had been as smooth as glass, rose rapidly. The poor bear, especially, had a rough time of it, and narrowly escaped being washed overboard by one of the green seas which we shipped over the bows. The Raja Brooke, however, behaved uncommonly well throughout, and by sundown there was nothing left of the turmoil but a long, heavy swell, which, judging from the groans we heard forward, was playing the very deuce with the internal economy of the pilgrims! We reached Singapore in forty-nine hours, notwithstanding the storm and adverse wind a wonderfully quick run.

We accepted an invitation from the Dutch Consul to dinner the evening before our departure for Batavia, as we were anxious to obtain as much information as possible about Java; and the dinner being given in honour of the officers of a Dutch man-of-war then lying in the roads, we thought this a first-rate opportunity, but were doomed to disappointment. On our arrival “schnapps” before the feast had evidently been too much for them, and ere dinner was over they were all to use a mild expression overcome.

We left them at midnight to go on board our steamer, embracing each other and singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” at the top of their voice a performance hardly appreciated, I should imagine, by the occupants of the adjoining bungalows.

On arrival at the wharf, which our gharry driver had no little difficulty in finding in the darkness, we were much disappointed to find that the Messageries vessel had broken down, and that a small Dutch steamer, belonging to the Nederland Indische Stoomship Co., was to be her substitute for that voyage, and still more disgusted were we when shown into a stuffy little cabin containing three bunks, in one of which a fat Dutchman had already retired to rest, the other two being L.’s and my resting-place. We made the best of a bad job, however, and turned in, but not for long; certain animals, which shall be nameless, had already taken up their quarters in the berths, and resented our intrusion with such good effect that they drove us out of the little cabin and on deck, where, the weather being fine, we slept on the skylight the three remaining nights we stayed on board.

The days went by very wearily, for there was literally nothing to do on board; the passengers were all Dutch, speaking no English, and very little French; the cuisine on board was composed principally of grease, and what smelt like train-oil, add to this that the highest rate of speed ever attained by the Minister Frausen von der Putte was seven knots an hour, and I think the reader will agree with me that our journey across was anything but a pleasant one. We were not sorry, therefore, when at daybreak on the 31st of July the long low coast of Java came in sight, and shortly afterwards the lighthouse standing at the entrance of the canal leading up to the old town of Batavia. We anchored in the bay at nine o’clock, and awaited the arrival of the little tug which was to convey us to the custom-house, and which we could now see issuing from the mouth of the canal.

It may not be generally known that the Dutch possess nearly the whole of the Eastern Archipelago, with the exception of north and south-western Bornéo. Java is, however, their most important colony, and Batavia they have christened the “Paris of the East,” though I must acknowledge I have heard none but Dutchmen call it so.

The tug was alongside by ten o’clock, and we were soon aboard and entering the double sea wall which forms the canal. We passed on our right the large lighthouse which has proved so fatal a residence to Europeans, no less than five died within six months of its completion, and it has been found necessary to place Javanese in charge ever since, so unhealthy is the situation. Arrived at the custom-house we passed our boxes with some little trouble, and selecting a “kahar,” or species of carriage like a victoria, drawn by two ponies, we drove off to the Pension Nederlanden, to which hotel we had been recommended by our naval friends at Singapore.

The lower part of the town, or, as it is called, Old Batavia, consists entirely of warehouses, go-downs, and native houses. No Europeans can live here, so unhealthy is it, nor can even one night be passed in this quarter with impunity. The upper town which is named Weltereoden, “well content” consists of Government House and the houses of all the officials and merchants in Batavia. Most of these houses are situated around the “Koenig’s Plein,” a large grass plain some 1,000 yards in circumference, which in the time of the English occupation was used as a racecourse. On one side of this stands the governor’s palace, a large stone building of modern architecture, while on the other side of the plain is a statue of the Netherland lion. The inscription on this amused me not a little, as it commemorates the victory of the Belgians over the French at Waterloo, the British troops not being mentioned.

There are two ways of reaching Weltereoden from Old Batavia, by railway and tramcar. Where are there not tramcars now? Even the stately streets of Stamboul are not free from them. The street cab of Batavia is a “dos-a-dos” literally so called, as the passenger sits with his back to the driver’s, thus forming a mutual support.

Batavia is intersected by canals, the largest or main canal running alongside the road leading from the lower town to Weltereoden. As we drove along we saw hundreds of natives taking their morning dip in the dirty stream; though, as a matter of fact, they have no fixed time for their ablutions, but bathe at all hours of the day and night.

We reached the “Nederlanden” after half an hour’s drive. As all European houses in Java are built on the same principle, a description of our hotel may serve for all. The Nederlanden was built entirely on the ground floor, and having long wings which projected back for some 60 or 70 yards. In these wings are the bed-rooms of guests, while the centre building contains the drawing-room, dining-room, and sleeping apartments of the host and hostess. Under the verandah of the front portico stands a large round marble table, surrounded by about a dozen rocking-chairs. Here the men of the house congregate before dinner and breakfast for “Peyt,” a villainous compound which is drunk with gin, and is supposed to stimulate the appetite.

The food and cooking in Java may be said to be the worst, as are its hotels the dearest, in the world; and it seems surprising that the mode of living adopted by the Dutch in this trying climate does not injure their constitutions more than it does. The following may be taken as a specimen of the manner in which they live:

Breakfast, from 6 till 9, consisting of sardines, Bologna sausages, eggs, and cheese(!). 12.30: Dejeunner a la fourchette, a truly disgusting meal, its Dutch name being Ryst tafel, literally “Rice meal.” Rice is here the chief ingredient, accompanied by soup, fried fish, pork, pickled eggs, sardines, and various kinds of sambals also little seasoned messes, handed round with the boiled rice, which is eaten at the same time and off the same plate as all these condiments; a tough, underdone beefsteak and fried potatoes follow. Dinner is precisely the same, with the addition of sweets and dessert. And this from day to day invariably forms the Dutchman’s menu in Java.

Smoking is carried on throughout dinner and breakfast, which I was not sorry for, as it counteracted in some degree the smell arising from the abominable Ryst tafel.

The voracity of some of the European children during this meal at the Nederlanden was surprising, and I fairly trembled for the safety of one small boy, about eight years old, who appeared to swell visibly during breakfast, and took a short nap between each course. We christened him “The Fat Boy in ‘Pickwick.’”

The morning costume of the European lady in Java is apt to take a stranger by surprise. It consists of the Malay “sarong,” a loose clinging silk skirt which reaches to the ankles, the upper garment being the “Kabarga,” a long embroidered white linen jacket. The hair is worn loose, and the bare feet are thrust into half slippers embroidered with real gold and silver beads. This dress is worn from early morning till five o’clock in the afternoon, the Batavia calling hour. This costume has one great advantage, that of coolness, and would doubtless look becoming on a pretty woman, though as that article is very seldom, if ever, seen in Java, we had no opportunity of judging.

We were leaving for Buitenzorg (the country seat of Government) the day after our arrival at Batavia, and our preparations for the journey thither being complete, we took a stroll the evening of our arrival on the Koenig’s Plein. This, the Hyde Park of Batavia, is where the beauty and fashion of the capital take the air in the cool of the day.

Some of the carriages were not badly turned out, but we only saw one man riding (ladies never ride in Batavia), his nether-man encased in long jack-boots, and wearing a sombrero hat, and green hunting-coat! The effect of this get-up was somewhat marred by his mount a Deli pony so small that it took the rider all his time to keep his feet from dragging along the ground.

We left the next day at 11.30 a.m., by train, for Buitenzorg. This is thirty-five miles from Batavia, and stands 750 feet higher up in the hills. The Governor’s house here is a fine stone building, surrounded by a splendid park and grounds, and many of the merchants in the capital also own villas around. It is not unlike a German watering-place in aspect, and has been named by some “the Simla of the Dutch Indies,” though I should say this comparison was rather far-fetched.

The volcanic mountain of Gedeh, and the peak of Pangerango are plainly discernible from Buitenzorg, and a journey to the summit of the former is amply repaid by the splendid view thence obtained of the rich Preanger district. We paid a visit while here to the house of Mr. D., who has resided in Java for thirty years, and who owns a large estate (Koerapan) some eighteen miles out of Buitenzorg. He told us that coffee, tea, and rice were growing on the estate, and he was about to try cinchona (quinine). The latter is the most paying of all, and the soil and climate of Java are peculiarly adapted to its growth.

We made several excursions in addition to this while at Buitenzorg, but none worthy of record. In truth a more uninteresting country than this part of the island I have seldom seen, and, as L. remarked, very few weeks of Buitenzorg would fill Hanwell!

One incident, however, I should not omit to mention: a grand review of the troops was held during our stay here, in the Palace Park, and having obtained cards, we were admitted to view the proceedings. I was not impressed with the Javanese army, for a more wretched, undersized-looking set of men it has seldom been my lot to witness. It is not to be wondered at, after seeing them, that Atchin has held out so long, and unless a great reform takes place in the Dutch colonial army, it will probably continue to do so.

Europeans and natives are alike indiscriminately mixed up in their ranks, and it is no uncommon sight to see a Malay sergeant in command of a European guard. Their uniform did not tend to improve their personal appearance, consisting as it did of a thick blue cloth-tunic, with long skirts, a French képi, blue trousers, and bare feet. Considering this absurd dress, it is not to be wondered at that sunstroke is frequent among the European privates, most of whom are escaped French communists.

The garrison at Buitenzorg consisted of 800 men, but of these only about 600 were on parade the remainder being in hospital. I afterwards ascertained from the doctor in charge of this building that, thanks to fever, drink, and sunstroke, it was seldom empty, and that the death-rate amongst the European soldiers was exceedingly high.

We watched them going through their (so-called) drill for over an hour, and even in that short time three were carried off the field in a fainting condition.

On our return to the hotel we passed a criminal being taken to the railway station en route for Batavia, where he was to be executed on the morrow. Unlike Bornéo and other islands of the Archipelago, hanging is had recourse to in Java, and in Java alone, the mode of execution elsewhere being by kris. The following is an account of a Malay execution in the words of an eye-witness: “The criminal is led to the place of execution, and squats cross-legged on the ground, chewing penang or smoking, as a rule, up till the very last moment. The kris used on such occasions is about sixteen inches long by two broad, and quite straight. Grasping this weapon in both hands, the executioner steps up behind the prisoner, and thrusts it up to the hilt between the left shoulder-blade and neck of the victim. The heart is pierced immediately, and the criminal dies at once painlessly.” In Celebes, however, the mode of execution is far more barbarous. It is done in the same manner as the above, with the difference that the executioner takes two hours and sometimes three before he gives the final coup de grace. Advancing and returning from his victim, sometimes just drawing blood, until the poor wretch faints from fright, and is brought to with cold water, only to re-undergo fresh sufferings, until at length the heart is reached, and death puts an end to his tortures.

We returned to Batavia in a week, heartily sick of Buitenzorg and all its surroundings. The Nederlanden was in a perfect uproar when we arrived, for Mr. Wilson’s World-Wide Circus had just come from India for a stay of two months in Batavia, and nearly every available bed-room had been taken by them. We succeeded, however, in obtaining a shake-down, and attended the performance (a remarkably good one) on the Koenig’s Plein the same evening, after a very festive dinner at table d’hote with the troupe.

I have given but a very slight sketch of Java, as we saw so little of the island, and our stay there was so limited; nor had we the slightest desire to prolong it.

We reached Singapore on the 21st of July, and sailed for Europe on the 24th in the Messageries S.S. Amazone a splendid vessel, nearly the size of the Sindh, and quite equal to her in all other respects.

Staying a few days in Egypt, we thence embarked on board the P. and O. S.S. Australia for Gibraltar. L. left me at the latter place, returning direct to Southampton, while I arranged to proceed through Spain and via Paris, home.