Read CHAPTER I - HISTORICAL ACCOUNT UP TO THE PRESENT DAY of A Visit to Java With an Account of the Founding of Singapore , free online book, by W. Basil Worsfold, on ReadCentral.com.

Hindus Mohammedans Portuguese English Dutch
Legal basis of Dutch possession British occupation
Return of Dutch Culture system Eruption of Mount
Krakatoa.

In the centre of that region of countless islands termed not inaptly the “Summer of the World,” midmost of the Sunda group of which Sumatra lies to the west, and Flores to the east, with the fury of the tropical sun tempered by a physical formation which especially exposes it to the cooling influence of the ocean, lies the island of Java. Rich in historic remains of a bygone Hindu supremacy, when the mild countenance of Buddha gazed upon obedient multitudes, in memorials of Mohammedan, Portuguese, and Dutch seafaring enterprises, it is a country singularly alluring to the student and antiquarian. Nor is its present life less interesting. Densely populated by a simple and refined native race, who live for the most part in the midst of mountain glories and tropical verdure, itself the best example of a rival and successful system of colonization, modern Java is no mere tourist’s country, but one which possesses, and always has possessed, special attractions for the man of science and the political student.

From an immense mass of native tradition the main outlines of the history of the island can be disentangled with sufficient certainty.

Javanese tradition universally speaks of a personage called Saka, variously termed warrior, priest, and god, to whom is attributed the introduction of the arts of civilization, and whose advent marks the opening year of the native chronology. The first year of Saka corresponds to the seventy-eighth of the Christian era. There can be no doubt as to the region from which this extraneous civilization came. Native tradition and the vast religious monuments of the eastern and central districts alike point to an Indian colonization and supremacy; for the temples of Java bear the stamp of a culture and of an artistic and architectural genius superior to that possessed by a race, the sole record of whose national existence is contained in the meagre tradition of an immigration from the western lands about the Red Sea.

Sir Stamford Raffles, in his exhaustive history of Java, gives the names and dates of the Hindu monarchs, with an account of their conquests and administrations. But the native chronicles require to be carefully sifted, and to be supported by the record of the antiquarian remains, which supply an unfailing basis for, at any rate, the main outlines of the period. The oldest inscriptions are found on the west side of Buitenzorg, on river stones, and at Bekasi, on the east side of Batavia; they are written in Sanskrit characters of the oldest period, and, by comparison with the inscriptions of British India, indicate the existence of Hindu civilization in Java during the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ. The oldest dated inscription in Java (and in the Archipelago) is one bearing date 654 of Saka (A.D. 732). This is now in the museum at Batavia. It contains twelve verses in the Sanskrit tongue, and is about four feet in length by two in width, and about ten inches in depth.

The magnificent temple of Boro-Boedoer, of which Mr. Wallace says, “The amount of human labour and skill expended on the Great Pyramid of Egypt sinks into insignificance when compared with that required to complete this sculptured hill temple in the interior of Java,” and which will be separately described with the other religious monuments, was probably erected in the eighth or ninth century. It marks the highest point in the Hindu supremacy, and the time when the influence of Buddhism was supreme. At any rate, we have the witness of Fa Hian, a Chinese traveller, who visited the island in the fifteenth century, to the effect that at this later period “the Brahmíns were still very numerous, but the law of Buddha was no longer respected.”

The earliest European visitors tell us nothing of the two Hindu kingdoms, Pajajaran and Majapahit, so celebrated in the chronicles. They speak only of Sunda and its port Bantam; and they mention a certain prince, Fatelehan, as completing the Mohammedan conquest in 1524. Raffles, however, following the chronicles, focusses the overthrow of the Hindu supremacy in the capture of the city of Majapahit in 1478 A.D. In spite of the traditions which speak of a long period of fighting, it is probable that the conversion of the Javanese to the new religion was gradual and peaceable, being in the main the result of commerce. The temples, the head-quarters of the old religion, show no traces of violence. They were destroyed, says Dr. Leemans, simply by “carelessness, disuse, and nature,” not by a sanguinary war. Long before the Prince Fatelehan conquered the western kingdom of Sunda in 1524, Arab merchants had spread the principles of Islamism among the Javanese. It was just at the time of the establishment of the Mohammedan power that the first Europeans made their way to the island. Portuguese writers say that their people, after the conquest of Malacca in 1511, entered into relations with the inhabitants of Bantam, through Samian, a prince of Sunda, who had formerly lived at Malacca. Leme, a Portuguese sent by Albuquerque, Captain of Malacca, made a treaty with this Samian, and obtained permission to build a fortress at Bantam on condition that the prince and his subjects were protected from the Moors. In the realization of this object, an expedition was sent by the Portuguese king under command of Francesco de Sa; but before it reached the prince Bantam had been taken by treason, and the Mohammedan power established under Fatelehan. Henceforward the native rulers were Mohammedans, and the list of these sovereigns given by Raffles extends from A.D. 1477 to A.D. 1815.

The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch and English after some considerable interval. The first Dutch fleet, under the command of Admiral Houtman, sailed for Bantam in the year 1595. The prince, who was then at war with the Portuguese, allowed them to establish a factory there, and thus the first Dutch settlement in the East Indies was formed. Not long after, the English East India Company (immediately after their incorporation by Queen Elizabeth in 1601) despatched a force under Captain Lancaster. He succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the prince, who sent a letter to the English queen, which is still extant among the state records. This is noticeable as being the first settlement of the East India Company; and as showing that Hindustan, which now means India for most people, was not the original “India” of the company. In the subsequent quarrels between the natives and the Dutch, the English assisted the former so successfully that at one time the Dutch had to enter into a convention with the native chiefs and the English commander, by which they agreed to surrender their fort at Jakatra and evacuate the island. On the conclusion of peace, however, between the Dutch and English in Europe, and on the arrival of reinforcements under Jan Pietersen Koen, they changed their plans, and, instead of retiring from the island, proceeded to lay the foundations of an extensive settlement at Jakatra.

In the following year (1621) the name of Batavia was given to the settlement, and from this period onwards the Dutch continually increased their influence in the island, until in 1749 a deed containing a formal abdication of the sovereignty of the country was secured from the dying susunan (or Mohammedan emperor). In this the unfortunate prince “abdicates for himself and his heirs the sovereignty of the country, conferring the same on the Dutch East India Company, and leaving it to them to dispose of in future, to any person they might think competent to govern it for the benefit of the company and of Java." It is by virtue of this deed that the Dutch East India Company, and subsequently the Dutch Colonial Government, became practically landlord of the whole island. Since the Government assumed possession of the soil they have gradually bought up the previously existing rights of the native princes, and in return have guaranteed them certain revenues, which have now become in most cases mere official salaries. Among the rights which the Government secured, by thus becoming landlord of the island, was that of receiving one-fifth part both of the produce and of the labour of the Javan peasants. This fact that the mass of the Javan natives owed, as it were, feudal services to the Government explains the comparative ease with which, nearly a century later, the culture system was introduced.

The English settlement at Bantam was withdrawn in 1683, and no effort was made to interfere with the Dutch until the year 1811, when, owing to the conquests of Napoleon in Europe, the island had become a mere French province. In that year a British force reduced Java and its dependencies. During the short period of British occupation (1811-1816) extensive reforms were introduced by Sir Stamford Raffles, the lieutenant-governor. These reforms had for their object the improvement of the condition of the mass of Javan natives, and the liberation of the industries of the island from the restrictions placed upon them by the monopolist policy of the Dutch. Whatever may be the verdict of history as to the practical value of these proposals, the attempt to carry them out has at least left behind such a tradition of British justice as to cause a feeling of profound respect towards the English to be almost universally entertained in the island to this day.

In the settlement effected by the Treaty of London, in 1814, the British Government retained the Cape and Ceylon among the Dutch possessions acquired by conquest in the Napoleonic wars, but Java and its dependencies were restored to their former masters. A right of protectorate, however, over the neighbouring island of Sumatra belonged to the British crown until the year 1872, when it was surrendered in return for equivalent rights on the Gold Coast of Africa. This concession has proved a veritable damnosa hereditas to the Government of Netherlands India. The attempt to enforce the newly acquired rights over the Sumatrans resulted in the outbreak of the Atchinese war in 1873, an event which has involved the island of Java in serious financial difficulties, and imperilled the prestige of Holland in the East.

A great part of the special interest which attaches to Java is derived from the fact that it has been the scene of an interesting financial experiment. The history of the introduction of the culture system, and of its gradual abandonment in recent years, is so interesting as to require a separate chapter to itself, and it is only necessary to mention here just so much as is essential for the purposes of a historical sketch. The author of the proposal was General Van den Bosch, who became Governor-General in 1830. The system continued in full operation until the year 1871, when the Home Government passed an Act providing for the gradual abandonment of the Government sugar plantations. By the year 1890 sugar, by far the most important of the Javan industries, was practically freed from Government interference. At the present time it is in debate whether or not the coffee industry should be similarly treated.

This short historical sketch would be incomplete without some mention of an appalling and unique event in the history of the island. On the 27th of August, 1883, the green-clad island of Krakatoa, which rises for some three thousand feet out of the waters which separate Sumatra from Java the Straits of Sunda was the scene of a most terrific volcanic discharge. Whole towns were destroyed in both islands; but even more striking than the loss of human life and property is the fact, now satisfactorily established, that the discharge of ashes was so great as to cause a series of extraordinarily brilliant sunsets all over the world, while the force of the tidal wave was such as to affect the level of the water in the river Thames. In travelling from Batavia to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to meet with an officer in the employ of the Netherlands India Steamship Company, who was able to give me an actual narrative of his personal experience of this wonderful eruption. Mr. S was at that time second engineer on the steamship Governor-General Lowden, belonging to the same company. I cannot do better than close this chapter with his narrative.

“We were anchored off Telokbetong, in Sumatra, when the chief officer and myself observed a dark line out at sea which bore the appearance of a tidal wave. While we were remarking this, the captain (who was just then taking his bath) rushed on to the bridge, and telegraphed to the engine-room to steam slow ahead up to the anchors. I was engaged in carrying out this order when the wave came up to the ship. First she dropped; then heaved up and down for some five minutes. There were three waves. When I came on deck again, the long pier, which had been crowded with Europeans who had come out of the town (they had experienced a shock of earthquake during the night), this pier, the houses and offices, had disappeared, in fact, the whole town was gone. A Government steamboat lying at anchor (with steam up) in the bay was landed high on the tops of the palm trees in company with some native boats. That was the first intimation we received that Krakatoa was in eruption, and from that time, eight o’clock, onwards through the day the rumbling thunders never ceased, while the darkness increased to a thick impenetrable covering of smoky vapour. Shortly after this we got under way, and proceeded until the darkness made it impossible to go on further. It was while we were thus enveloped in darkness that the stones and cinders discharged by the mountain began to fall upon the ship. In a short time the canvas awning and the deck were covered with ashes and stones, to the depth of two feet, and all our available men were employed in removing the falling mass, which would otherwise have sunk the ship. We had a large number of natives on board, and a hundred and sixty European soldiers. The latter worked with the energy of despair at their task of clearing the deck, in spite of the twofold danger of being burnt and stunned by the hot falling stones. While we were engraved in this struggle, and enveloped in the sheer blackness of a veritable hell, a new and terrible danger came upon us. This was the approach of the tidal wave caused by the final eruption, which occurred about 12.30 to 1 p.m. The wave reached us at 2 p.m. or thereabouts, and made the ship tumble like a sea-saw. Sometimes she was almost straight on end, at other times she heaved over almost on her beam-ends. We were anchored and steaming up to our anchors as before, and as before we managed to escape destruction. All the passengers and the crew gave themselves up for lost, but there was no panic, and the captain handled the ship splendidly throughout. He received a gold medal from the Government in recognition of his indomitable courage in saving the ship and passengers. Well, you can fancy what it was like when I tell you that the captain was lashed with three ropes alongside the engine-room companion, while I was lashed down below to work the engines. The men were dashed from one side of the engine-room to the other.

“When we reached Angier we found no trace neither a splinter of wood nor a fraction of stone of the buildings of that once flourishing seaport. At Batavia the water was so dense from the floating lava (the deposit reached fifteen feet in depth) that we made our way to the shore on planks. Telokbetong was closed for three or four months, and on our return to Achin we could not land our passengers. At Batavia the tidal wave had penetrated almost to the town, where in the lower portion the houses were flooded by the Kali Bezar (great river). Business was suspended except by a few determined spirits who worked on by gaslight, so great was the alarm at the darkness and thunderous noises.”