Read CHAPTER XII - SOCIAL LIFE of A Visit to Java With an Account of the Founding of Singapore , free online book, by W. Basil Worsfold, on

Dutch society in the East Batavian etiquette
English residents Clubs Harmonie Concordia
Lawn-tennis Planters Horse-racing.

Boston is not the only place in the world which has decided upon insufficient evidence that it is the centre of the universe. We all of us have a weakness for the special form of civilization with which we are most familiar, and to discover excellences of character and manners essentially identical with those we have been taught to associate with a cherished society in our own country, in places where we least expect them, is part of the discipline of travel. In the Dutch over-sea settlements society is more exclusive and regulated by a more rigid code of etiquette than it is in Holland. Nor will it seem strange, when the special conditions of Javan life are remembered, that the persons composing this society should be indolent, luxurious, and imperious. On the other hand, an abundance of leisure, and a consciousness of racial superiority acquired by habits of command exercised for several generations, endow it with some of the finer qualities associated with ancient society based upon the institution of slavery.

Nor must we forget that the Dutch are not mere “birds of passage” in Java, as is the case with the English in India. On the contrary, the majority of the Dutch residents are persons whose families have been settled in the island for many generations, and who look upon Java as their home. One has only to look round in the streets of Weltevreden to realize the fact that Batavia is a colony, not merely a possession. From seven to eight in the morning, troops of boys and girls are to be seen going to school. The little girls are dressed in light materials; they do not wear either hats or bonnets, and rarely carry sunshades. The boys wear brown holland trousers and jackets, and the military cap of a continental school. Although children are sent to Holland for social reasons, the climate of Java does not require that painful separation of parents and children which is one of the disagreeable accidents of Indian life. On the contrary, the Dutch race appears to have developed favourably in Java, and the colonial-born women are famous for the beauty of their complexions and for the fineness of their physique. Another test of the social condition of a community is its shops. In Batavia there are excellent shops. Not merely can the newest books, and the cleverest etchings, and all the numberless refinements of Bond Street be obtained, but the manners of the tradespeople indicate that they are accustomed to deal with persons who require to be served promptly, and with the best.

In addition to the native and Chinese population, there are seven thousand Europeans resident in Batavia. As most of these latter are persons whose various employments allow them a good deal of “leisure,” there is a corresponding amount of social activity. This is regulated by the rules of old-fashioned continental society, with such innovations as have been rendered necessary or merely suggested by the special conditions of the place and climate. As the official class is the basis upon which Batavian society rests, it is not surprising that ceremony should play an important part in its system. Among European communities in warm countries, a considerable licence is generally allowed in the matter of dress; but in Batavia, etiquette requires a man to wear a frock coat and white gloves for paying a call. Moreover, before a call which is intended to initiate an acquaintance can be made, notice of the caller’s intention, and of the day proposed, must first be sent. These formal calls are made from seven to eight in the evening, and it is not considered polite to leave before the hour has expired. During this period iced water is handed round in elegant glasses, furnished with silver trays and tortoiseshell covers. Again, after introduction to an unmarried lady at a dance, a man is required to properly legitimize the acquaintance. In order to do this, he must be presented to the parents of the lady, if this has not already been done, and he is expected also to make the acquaintance of such of her relatives as are resident in the neighbourhood.

At the date of my visit (1890), the English community in Batavia consisted of fifty or sixty men and five ladies. Up to the last ten years there has been an English chaplain at Batavia; but there is some difficulty in raising the necessary stipend, and so the interesting little church is at present deserted. It is only quite recently that the English residents have received any sort of recognition in Batavian society. Now, however, they have succeeded in establishing two institutions a paper-chase (on horseback) and a lawn-tennis club, which are likely to modify the rigour of its etiquette.

The Dutch are famous for their clubs. These institutions flourish in Java, and in Batavia they contribute materially to the social life of the place. Among many others, the Societeit Harmonie and the Concordia are the most considerable. At both of them frequent concerts and dances are held. In connection with this latter amusement, it was interesting to find that all the dancing at Batavia was done on marble. I was told that it was not considered unpleasant, and that the only wooden floor in the island was in the Governor-General’s palace at Buitenzorg. The Harmonie is a large square building, surrounded on two sides with pórticos and verandahs, standing at the corner of Ryswyk. The main entrance leads into an extensive hall with white walls and a lofty roof supported by ranges of pillars. On the marble floor are arranged a number of small tables for light refreshments. To the right and left of this hall is the billiard-room and the reading-room. The former contains some twenty or thirty French and English tables; and the latter is well supplied with European papers and magazines. The two rooms are separated from the hall by light wooden screens, which allow the air to circulate freely from one to another, and in this way the whole building is kept pleasantly cool. The Harmonie was founded in 1815 during the British occupation. In 1889, shortly before my visit, a dinner was held commemorating the foundation of the club, and on each menu card an account of the event was printed, taken from the British Government Gazette published at the time. Compared with the Concordia, it is a civilian club; for, although this latter does not by any means restrict its membership to officers in the forces, the management is entirely in the hands of the military, who make the neighbourhood of the Waterloo Plain, where the club stands, a sort of military quarter. The Concordia gives an open-air concert every Saturday evening and every alternate Wednesday afternoon.

I went to one of the Saturday evening concerts, and enjoyed it very much. The air was warm and calm, and it was very pleasant to sit under the wide-spreading waringin trees and gaze up at the twinkling brightness of the stars through the screen of leaves. There was quite a crowd of members and their friends promenading or sitting in easy groups round the little iron tables. The kiosks were brilliantly lighted, but through the branches of the waringin trees the soft radiance of the moon could be seen shining upon the dull blue vault of the sky. The performance was given by the staff band, which never leaves Batavia, and is said to be the best in the East Indies. I give the programme:




3. Ouvertüre JELVA F. Reisiger.





7. Ouvertüre DIE FRAU MEISTERIN Fr. v. Suppe.

8. DIE Mühle IM SCHWARZWALD R. Eilenberg.


On Sunday afternoon a military band plays in the centre of the Waterloo Plain, and all Batavia turns out in carriages or on horseback to listen all Batavia, that is, with the exception of the very select few who keep to themselves almost entirely, or, if they attend a Concordia concert, never leave their carriages. This select few includes the highest officials and their families, personages such as the general and admiral, and the members of the East India Council. There is an interesting fact in connection with the admiral that recalls the time when the supremacy of the sea was the pride of the Dutch nation. The Governor-General, the general of the forces, and the admiral of the fleet all enjoy the title of “Excellency,” while they reside in Java; but, whereas the two former cease to be entitled to it when their term of command is over, the admiral is “his Excellency” to the end of his days.

As I mentioned before, the strictness of Batavian etiquette is likely to be modified by the introduction of a pastime so essentially English as lawn-tennis. The courts of the Bataviasche Lawn-tennis Club are in the Zoological Gardens, south of the King’s Plain. The club holds numerous tournaments in the course of the year, and competitions are established for both a ladies’ and gentlemen’s championship. The great majority of the men who play are English, but the ladies are, from the small number of English women in Batavia, almost exclusively Dutch. The holder of the championship of Batavia, and the secretary of the club, in 1890, was an Englishman, Mr. R. L. Burt. In addition to this club, the old Batavia cricket club, which has an excellent ground on the King’s Plain, has been practically converted into a men’s lawn-tennis club. I was told that as many as six double courts were to be seen in full play on ladies’ days at this club. So that it would appear that the Dutch ladies, at all events, have taken very kindly to lawn-tennis.

The style of living in Batavia is very similar to that of European society in India. The cheapness of labour and consequent number of servants give a certain air of luxury to even moderate establishments. The Malay cooks are particularly skilful in the matter of curreys, and in a good house a “rice-table” is a thing to be remembered. The neatness and quickness of the natives generally make them very suitable for the duties of domestic and body servants. A Batavian dinner is served at a late hour in a lofty and spacious apartment, which is one of a series of chambers through which the air freely circulates from the front to the back of the house. From this room the outside world is excluded only by partially drawn blinds, and through the open windows the perfumes of flowers or the sounds of music are borne in upon the guests. After dinner the party return to the portico in the front, which is almost as completely furnished as an inside room, and the rest of the evening is spent practically in the open air.

Beside the officials who are scattered over Java and the Dutch possessions in the East, the planters form an important element in the social life of the island. They are by no means exclusively Dutch, but the class includes a considerable number of Englishmen. Such men are usually drawn from the higher classes in Holland or in England, and are fairly wealthy and refined. Like the sheep farmers of Australia, they are exceedingly hospitable, and their bungalows are often convenient and even luxurious. Often, too, these latter are set in the midst of mountain scenery, and surrounded by charming gardens.

The planters are the representatives of the principle of free commerce, and the natural opponents of the official class. Everywhere among them complaints are heard of the prejudice displayed against private enterprise, and of unnecessary obstacles placed in their way by the controleurs and assistant-residents. As I have already mentioned, a planters’ union has lately been established for the purpose of protecting the planting interests. It meets at Soekaboemi, and it is hoped that, by means of concerted action, such grievances will be brought more effectively before the Government. After all, the planters are the real producers of the island, and their importance increases every year in proportion as the area of Government plantations is reduced. In many respects the planters are allied with the native princes. To a large extent the two classes lead the same life and share the same pursuits. They are both brought into close connection with the natives, and they both find their chief recreation in various forms of sport.

Horse-racing in particular has of late years developed very considerably. The principal meetings are held at Buitenzorg and at Bandong, the former in June and September, the latter in July. At Bandong the native princes turn out in force, and the native population hold a carnival in the town. One of the greatest patrons of the turf is the Regent of Tjandjoer. At the time of my visit he was the owner of the premier horse in the island Thistle, whose sire was Teviot of West Australia. The planters round Soekaboemi are also among the principal supporters of horse-racing in Java.

In Java, as elsewhere, they had a grievance. It was said that the owners of big studs of country-breds dominated the arrangements for events, and that the programmes were made up in favour of such native-bred horses to the exclusion of imported stock. Such a policy was regarded as unfavourable to the best interests of horse-racing in Java, since, instead of encouraging the importation of thoroughbreds from Australia and Europe, it tends to perpetuate the native race. The country-bred horse is undoubtedly a handsome-looking animal, but he exhibits a tendency to become weedy and razor-chested, and fails to carry a heavy weight from deficiency of bone. It is also found that the progeny of imported stock decline in quality both in size and stamina. This is the joint effect of climate and inferior food. Horses are trained merely on fresh grass and paddy (i.e. the ear and part of the stalk of the rice plant). Bandaging, I was told, was almost unknown; at the same time the animals were generally sound in feet and legs.

The average height of the country-bred horse is 14.3 to 15 hands; and good time over a mile is between 1 mi sec. and 1 mi sec., carrying at the rate of 75 lbs. (Dutch) for 4 feet, and one pound for every quarter of an inch in advance. In other words, a fifteen-hand horse carries about nine stone. There is no system of handicapping, but horses carry weight for inches; so that a horse may defeat a rival any number of times without effecting a change in the weights, and a known winner carries less weight than his defeated rival if the latter is an inch or two above him.

There are no recognized steeplechases, but generally one or two events at each meeting are reserved for gentlemen riders, and private matches are sometimes arranged. In 1888 the commandant at Buitenzorg offered a prize for a cross-country race for the purpose of encouraging riding among the officers. The event, however, was won by an English planter.

The Buitenzorg meetings are attended by all the best people in the island, and on the first day the Governor-General appears in state. The racing is fixed for the morning, and lasts from nine to twelve. It is a rather curious fact that in Java the starter has discarded the universal red flag, and waves a Dutch tricolour instead.