Save
Author:
Harry A. Poeze KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies Leiden The Netherlands

Search for other papers by Harry A. Poeze in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Open Access

Hans Redeker, Herman Willem Daendels (1762–1818): De kleine Napoleon. Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2023, 232 pp. ISBN: 9789464870237, price: EUR 24.90.

Born into a family of influential local-level officials in Hattem, Herman Willem Daendels soon outgrew his small hometown. After obtaining a degree with the University of Harderwijk, he became intensively involved in the conflict between Orangists and Patriots. The former, led by Stadtholder Willem V, were supported by Britain and Prussia. The latter sided with France, then scourged by revolutionary turmoil. Daendels soon joined the Patriot forces as an officer who rose to the highest ranks: general and even marshal. He was involved in armed confrontations with forces loyal to Willem. He became commander of the Patriot army, and was closely involved with French units sent to the Netherlands. Ultimately, in 1795, the Patriots won and an unruly period followed, including two coups in 1798, with the radical wing of the Patriots, supported by Daendels, taking over the country. In 1799, Daendels was commander-in-chief of the Patriot army that faced a British-Russian invasion in the North Holland province. Fighting ended in a draw, but the now Batavian Republic “lost” the negotiations. Daendels was relieved of his command and left for his home town Hattem to enjoy life as a pensioner. His nomination as governor-general of the Indies was unexpected, as he had no previous experience with the colony, nor any strategy. He arrived in 1808 and his office of only three years brought about great changes in the colony. Contacts between motherland and colony were effectively blocked by the British. Britain and France both had a naval force operating in the Indian Ocean. A British invasion on Java was expected. The Dutch had no naval force anymore and maritime trade was blocked. Attention in the motherland was restricted to writing long policy papers, analyzing the policies to follow after the bankruptcy of the VOC. The fate of the colony as a Dutch possession was in jeopardy. Daendels was the strong man to save Java and the Moluccas for the Dutch.

Hans Redeker (1945), a retired newspaper editor, has taken on the task of giving a fair portrait of the controversial Daendels, whose anti-Orangist opinions resulted in a negative picture in Dutch historiography. Only in the last decades has this interlude of Republicanism been given a fair deal, which also included new views on Daendels, However, some views remained unchanged, in particular about his personality. He was characterized as energetic, hot-tempered, impetuous, vain, cruel, overambitious, lacking self-control, fickle, easily angered, treating his subordinates arbitrarily, and untrustworthy in financial matters. But he was also daring and competent, as a commander and as a governor-general.

Redeker’s biography is rather unbalanced. It supplies a lot of details, but a general background is missing on the two decades, which regardless of the specific details, transformed the Netherlands to a modern state. Redeker charts the course of decision-making in The Hague. But regarding Daendels’ rule in the Indies, he relies on and follows closely Daendels’ own account as he described it in four defensive volumes (1814). Next, he summarizes the 360 page critique of Nicolaus Engelhard, his archenemy in the Indies and in Holland, which was published in 1816. The Indies years cover 70 pages of Redeker’s book—a fair share when considering these only lasted three years. This lack of balance occurs frequently. The author in general takes a neutral stand, but every now and then his own judgment is entered. Thus, Redeker’s assessment of the construction of the 1,000 km of the Great Post Road is rather neutral and extenuating. There is no serious discussion about the human sacrifice exacted from the Javanese. Editorial consultation would have resulted in the deletion of a few hundred exclamation marks! And where is the index?

H.B. van Rees, with the co-operation of A.C. Krijgsman, Het journaal van Luitenant ter Zee Willem Veerman 1808–1821: De belevenissen van een jonge officier in een woelige tijd. Hilversum: Verloren, 2023, 308 pp. ISBN: 9789464550535, price: EUR 35.00 (paperback).

The Maritime Museum in Amsterdam holds an extensive collection of maritime documents, which includes many log books. Of those that were preserved, one contains the extensive writings—which could be characterized as a combination of diary and log book—of Willem Veerman (1793–1824). At the age of eight he enlisted with the Dutch Navy, his parents probably unable to secure him a good education. The Dutch at the time were allies of the French and in maritime power far inferior to the British. Nonetheless, the Batavian Republic, as it was named, made a lot of effort to remain the ruling power in the Indies colony. Ships ventured to break the blockade, with some success, but not preventing Britain’s rule of the waves. Veerman was sent to the Indies and successfully evaded the British during his long journey. He was employed by the Navy after finishing his study at the Semarang Maritime School and became a Navy lieutenant. He was recalled to the Netherlands in 1810, but his ship was taken by the British and the whole crew became prisoner and was held in Britain. It took until 1814, after Napoleon was defeated, before the Dutch Navy could be deployed. A squadron of seven ships was brought together to travel to the Indies and restore as well as ascertain Dutch colonial claims.

Veerman was assigned as an officer on the ‘Admiraal Evertsen’. From the first day of the ship’s preparation, he was closely involved with this time-consuming piece of equipment. The commander of the ‘Evertsen’ was Q.M.R. VerHuell, who published a popular travelogue of the journey illustrated with fine drawings (1835). The eventful journey to the Indies began in October 1915 and took half a year, also due to British obstructions. One of the tasks of the squadron was to display Dutch power and impress this on competitors from abroad, including from the Indonesian islands. The Navy’s greatest worries concerned the Moluccas. These islands had enjoyed a rather benevolent British regime, allowing the islands to develop spice production and trading. With the Dutch return, strict rules and high taxes being reinstated and a revolt broke out in 1817. The ‘Evertsen’ was sent to the region and was actively involved in suppressing the revolt. This Pattimura Revolt ended in bloodshed, executions, and Dutch colonial rule restoring “tranquility and order”.

Next, the ‘Evertsen’ was involved in patrolling the archipelago and for months on end it was refurbished in Surabaya. At last, in February 1819, the ship was considered safe for the journey back. It was a wrong judgement, as it nearly sank in the Indian Ocean and barely succeeded in finding a safe haven on the Diego Garcia atoll. From there, the crew and passengers were shipped via Mauritius and St Helena to their motherland. In November 1919 they landed on Dutch shores. Of the original crew and passengers on the ‘Evertsen’, numbering 320, 130 had perished. Throughout the four years’ service of the ‘Evertsen’, Veerman kept notes of the journey. These were short and factual, for instance, the distance covered, weather conditions, coast observations, measuring the position of the ship, and a range of other details on the ship. As to the ship’s crew, he restricted himself to disciplinary measures, judged in court-martials, and naming the death. His own feelings become manifest in a few instances only. This is the case in his reports on the Pattimura Revolt. On this revolution, Veerman probably adds some new historical information. Further on, his account abounds with the names of materials and common parts of the sailing ships for the workmen to build, repair, and maintain.

This book is not for leisurely reading, but presents a treasure trove of specific maritime and Navy terminology. How the author/editor, a retired Navy officer, ever ‘discovered’ Veerman is a clear case of serendipity. As a tourist in Smyrna (now Izmir), he chanced upon a cemetery with the name-board Nederlandse Protestantse Kerk. There he saw the gravestone of Veerman, mentioning his death, rank, and the highest military decoration awarded to him. Van Rees’ curiosity was aroused, and ultimately resulted in this book. He does not include a complete transcription of the text, which makes for difficult reading, but alternates between the source text and an edited version of it. In the edited part, he also includes explanations and personal opinions. In this case, doing so may be the most suitable solution. As a whole, it is another proof of the fruitful and indispensable labor of freelance researchers in such fields as naval history. The book is enriched with 169 illustrations and 20 tables. As for criticism: more could have been done in the range of explaining the building and maintenance of the ‘Evertsen’, with all its specific terminology. It is indicated in the book that the names of all those who died, and who are listed in the book, might be used in genealogical research. This is not practical, as an index is sadly omitted. Measuring the labor to compile such an index is almost minimal, compared with the main work that went into writing this book.

Hans Straver, Wilhelm Leonard Ritter, 1799–1862: Schrijver in Indië. Hilversum: Verloren, 2023, 298 pp. ISBN: 9789464550528, price: EUR 35.00 (paperback).

In his capacity as a staff member of the Steunpunt Educatie Molukkers until his retirement in 2011, Hans Straver was the prolific author of a whole range of publications on all aspects of Moluccan society. These included pioneering works on the colonial period, with the VOC and Moluccans often being engaged in armed conflicts over the precious spices. In 2018, Straver published his PhD dissertation Vaders en dochters: Molukse historie in de Nederlandse literatuur van de negentiende eeuw en haar weerklank in Indonesië. One of the texts discussed was by Wilhelm Leonard Ritter (1799–1862): Toeloecabesie (1844, and with a new title, in 1861). Straver has now made Ritter the subject of a solid biography. Not much was known about Ritter’s life. Looking at his role in the cultural world of Batavia, this certainly is a pity. When writing their literary history of colonial Indies, E. du Perron and Rob Nieuwenhuys regretted the scarcity of information on Ritter. With this biography, Straver has now silenced all the voices asking for more information. His research is exhaustive and exemplary, and he consulted a mass of rare books and magazines. With meticulous care, newspapers were perused for relevant references. His admirable bibliography of Ritter’s works, published during his lifetime, lists a few hundred titles. Ritter’s posthumous publications are included in the text and the general bibliography, but are not listed separately.

Ritter was born in Haarlem into a middle class family. In 1813 he signed as a Navy medical aide. In 1815 he left for the Indies as part of the Dutch squadron tasked to restore Dutch authority. Ritter was involved in military action in South Celebes and was subsequently posted in West Borneo in 1822. In 1823 he left the Navy for the civil service. He was deeply involved in the Borneo conflicts in which the original inhabitants, the Chinese, and the Dutch colonial forces were embroiled in almost continuous conflict. Ritter did quite well and was made assistent-resident. However, his career ended when he was accused of financial irregularities. He was dismissed ignominiously in 1836, and fined a hundred thousand guilders that were not accounted for. Ritter even went to jail for three months. Deep poverty was his fate. Probably the Freemason’s Lodge supported him, as well as the influential Reverend Van Hoëvell. His literary talent was discovered and he contributed to a number of short-lived almanacs. Ritter’s fiction may be characterized as romanticized memoirs, societal sketches or romantic histories. In 1843, the first collection of such stories was published. These were received favorably. He was one of the few authors who gave the Indigenous people a relatively fair perspective in his stories. However, his initially sympathetic views of Indigenous people evolved into the mainstream colonial opinion that they were far from able to govern themselves. As editor, he was also involved with the first Indies newspaper, de Java-Bode, first published in 1852. With his co-editor Louis Tollens, Ritter played a pivotal role in Batavia’s cultural life. They were closely involved with the journalistic tropenstijl, leading to heated polemics and vendettas. Ritter returned to Haarlem in 1859. His plans to publish his works in the Netherlands resulted in two reprinted books, but eventually came to naught, in no small part because of his death in 1862.

But in an unexpected way, Ritter’s titles found a second life. His stories were adapted, revised, and translated into Malay. These were published without Ritter’s name, but authored by prolific pioneer authors of Malay fiction, such as Wiggers, Kommer, Pangemanann, and Tio Ie Soei. Some of his stories were adapted as part of a theater show called Komedi Stamboel. In 1930, even a silent movie was produced based on his work. To save them from oblivion Pramoedya Ananta Toer collected a number of these adapted novels in his Tempo doeloe: Antologi sastra pra-Indonesia (1982, 2003). As an early novelist on the Indies, Ritter was given a few pages in Du Perron’s and Nieuwenhuys’ anthologies, but it was only when the journal Indische Letteren was launched in 1986 that an almost steady flow of articles on diverse aspects of Ritter’s life and work were published. On the basis of many decades of searching and collecting, Straver has now given Ritter his rightful position in the literary history of the East Indies. He deserves a lot of praise for this.

Caroline de Westenholz, Louis Couperus, een verwende vagebond: De geïllustreerde biografie. Amterdam: Lias, 2023, 383 pp. ISBN: 9789088031281, price: EUR 34.99.

Caroline de Westenholz (1954) was and is closely involved with the memory of Louis Couperus (1863–1923), centered on the Couperus Society and the Couperus Museum. She is the chairperson of the society and became the founder of the museum in 1996. A museum dedicated to a single author is a rare appearance in the Netherlands. More or less of the same status is the Multatuli Museum in Amsterdam. The other four or five museums focusing on a single author cannot compete with Couperus and Multatuli as to the scale of their activities. De Westenholz took her share in the arrangement of special exhibitions, held twice a year since 1996. The present one shows the Museum’s alertness in its choice of subjects, with the present exhibition titled “Louis Couperus: Non-binary Avant la Lettre”. In the book itself this now fashionable term is not quoted or used. However, there is a frank acknowledgement of his homosexual and/or pedophilic dispositions. De Westenholz was the suitable candidate to write a profusely illustrated biography, wherein text and illustrations reinforce each other. Her book is the successor of F.L. Bastet’s 1991 publication De wereld van Louis Couperus.

Couperus was born into a family belonging to the highest ranks of the Indies government, the KNIL, and Indies trade and industry, but he was not born in the Indies and only went there at the age of nine. However, even in The Hague, the Indies were omnipresent in his family circles. In 1879, he was sent to the Netherlands for further study. Now a famous author, he was only to return in 1899—accompanied by his wife Elisabeth Baud (1867–1960), by then also a famous author—for a long journey during which he visited many of his relatives. Thus he stayed in Pasuruan, where he wrote his most famous novel De stille kracht (The Hidden Force), published in 1900. It was only in 1921 that he made his last Indies tour, on a contract to write travel accounts to be published in De Haagsche Post, a prominent weekly. His life, and some of his best novels, are permeated with the indelible stamp of the Indies. Couperus is also conscious of what he perceived as an unbridgeable distance between the Dutch colonials and the Indigenous Indonesians. De stille kracht is therefore also a fascinating account of the inescapable failure of Dutch colonialism. De Westenholz tells Couperus’ life story, discussing his publications—which were collected in fifty volumes of collected works (1988–1996)—and his experiences in the Netherlands, the Indies, and Italy, where he lived for many years, all duly referenced in 615 notes. Moreover, she includes more than 450 illustrations, making the book valuable property. What I missed in the text was a more extended discussion on the role of his wife—and also his grand-niece—Elisabeth Baud, whose importance can hardly be exaggerated. The absence of an index is reproachable.

Wil de Graaf, Naar Soerabaja: Het verhaal van mijn vader over de muiterij op De Zeven Provinciën. Amsterdam: Lanasta, 2023, 160 pp. ISBN: 9789464561500, price: EUR 22.99.

It is not uncommon for letters, novels, and other personal documents on the Indies to be kept, stored, and forgotten in chests sent from the Indies, often languishing in attics for decades. In most cases, it has taken many years before their contents have been reexamined. An unknown lot of documents have been thrown away. The traumatic experiences during the Japanese occupation and the violence following it made it seem better to forget and store these memories far away, whether in the mind or in a concrete format. A proverbial case is the memories of Antoon de Graaf (1912–2002). His children were aware that their father had collected documents on the dramatic events he became involved in, against his will, but which were to determine his life story in a decisive way. In 2017, his daughter Wil de Graaf (1952) started research on her father, which became more and more comprehensive.

In 1929, Antoon began service as a mariner. He was posted in the Indies in 1930 and was meant to expect an unobtrusive career. It was not to be. In February 1933, with Indonesia in deep crisis, De Graaf was on board of ‘De Zeven Provinciën’, anchored in Kotaradja. A substantial part of the crew was out on short leave, including the majority of officers. The Dutch Navy was in a state of unrest, as cuts in salaries were announced. These cuts were hardest on the Indigenous Navy men, resulting in strikes. On a substantial scale, these Indonesian Navy men protested in meetings of their trade unions and demonstrated in Surabaya. The European citizens and their press asked for tough measures, and thus showed their fear of the millions of Indonesians rising against their oppressors. The outcome of such a battle was easily to predict, but the Dutch, whether in the Indies or the motherland, chose to ignore this proverbial Mene Tekel. On ‘De Zeven Provinciën’, the tense situation prompted the Indonesians on board to act. They took over the ship, the officers aboard were locked in their room, and the Europeans of lower ranks were ordered not to interfere. The ship, operated by its Indonesian crew, steamed away—ironically, the Dutch did not believe that Indonesians were able to maneuver such a ship. The peaceful aim of the mutineers was to join their fellow-Navy men in Surabaya in their protest. The fear of the Dutch catalyzed in this mutiny. There was no room for compromise and the harshest measures were demanded, in the Indies and in the Netherlands. A bomb on the ship, causing 23 dead, led to the surrender of the protestors. The call for harsh sentences was commonplace. These were indeed passed on 181 defendants—47 Dutch and 134 Indonesians. Their legal processes were a mockery. De Graaf was accused of supporting the mutiny and was not given a chance to present his testimony. His treatment in jail was also substandard. He was given three years, in appeal even four years. He was released in 1937.

De Graaf gives an extensive account of his experiences during the mutiny, including the circumstances in prison. It is only the second direct source on the mutiny. De Graaf’s predecessor was Maud Boshart, Muiterij in de tropen: De eensgezinde strijd van blank en bruin op De Zeven Provinciën (Amsterdam: Communistische Partij van Nederland, 1949), reprinted by Bert Bakker (Amsterdam 1978), in which Boshart’s communist sympathies are clear. De Graaf adds valuable detail to the story of the mutiny. Wil de Graaf included the text of her father’s account, interspersing it with her clarifications. It is a method that works. It is praiseworthy that De Graaf mentions the two substantial Indonesian publications on the mutiny—Sedjarah pemberontakan di Kapal Tudjuh (Zeven Provinciën) by M. Sapija (Djakarta: Penerbit Pemuda, [1960]) and Pemberontakan di atas kapal Hr.Ms. De Zeven Provinciën (Jakarta: Direktorat Jenderal Bantuan Sosial, Departemen Sosial RI, 1980) edited by M. Widodo—thus avoiding a strong Dutch bias. The two titles are briefly characterized, and its information is sparingly used. To give the motivations and perspectives of the Indigenous mutineers greater depth, its information could have been used more generously.

Frank Vermeulen, Over Indië: Herinneringen aan Indonesië in de koloniale tijd. Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 2023, 240 pp. ISBN: 9789464560787, price: EUR 24.99.

From July 2020 until August 2022, Frank Vermeulen (1958), a journalist for NRC Handelsblad, published interviews with the last witnesses of the Dutch colonial rule, including the three years of Japanese occupation (1942–1945) and the Dutch-Indonesian War (1945–1949). These tragic years claimed thousands of casualties and ultimately caused hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens to return to a motherland that the greater part of them had never visited. To have conscious memories, these interviewees had to be of an advanced age and indeed they were. The sixteen men and fourteen women who told their stories were born between 1918 and 1938. In a few years, this small group will have faded away, no longer able to relate their experiences and feelings. Since the interview sessions, eleven of them have passed away. The interviews are edited: Vermeulen’s questions are omitted and the texts are reworked to make a continuous narrative—with telling results. The fine portraits included contribute to the book’s grip on the readers.

Of course, Vermeulen’s sample of interviewees is not representative. There is a bias towards the well-to-do Dutch upper-classes, with strong roots in the motherland, as well as the Indo-Europeans from various backgrounds. Few of the Chinese minority are included. Of the Indonesians who found a permanent livelihood in the Netherlands, only one person has made it into the book. There are a number of recurrent themes concerning life in the Indies. All-pervasive was the racism, on which a legal system was based that distinguished between the Europeans (of white and mixed descent) with Dutch connections, the Foreign Orientals (mostly Chinese), and the ‘natives’. In practice, this system resulted in strong socio-economic and legal repercussions. Skin color and descent for a great part determined opportunities and set limitations, for instance concerning jobs. Culturally, the Dutch, Indo, Chinese, and Indonesian experiences were worlds apart. In retrospect, almost all of the interviewees mention these aspects. Strikingly, opinions on the Japanese occupation, with its sufferings for the Dutch settlers, are mild. This goes as well for the revolution years. This mood of resignation maybe considered as a general feature of these stories. Of note are the relatively frequent comments on the forced prostitution during Japanese rule. The Bersiap understandably is given a lot of attention. Altogether, the book is an impressive collection of testimonies of the last eyewitnesses of the tragic decolonization, which upset the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. The value of the book was perceived by a wide readership, as it needed a reprint within a few months.

Robbert van Leeuwen, Zij wilden niet buigen: De guerrilla van het KNIL op Timor 1942. N.p.: n.n., 2023, xix+452 pp. ISBN: 97890364957, price: EUR 25.00 (to order via www.verzettimor1942.nl).

The battle for the Indies, between the Japanese and the Dutch East Indies armies, ended in a humiliating defeat for the KNIL. In a matter of weeks, the Indies territory was under Japanese rule. Dutch plans to organize guerilla resistance were soon thwarted. Only in New Guinea—part of the war’s frontline—and also Timor, fighting continued on a significant level. The Timor case is of interest. From a remote and economically useless island, it suddenly became an important location, caused by its colonial history. Timor was ‘forgotten’, when the VOC took over the Indies archipelago from the Portuguese. Thus, as an anomaly, East Timor remained Portuguese. The ‘motherland’ hardly showed an interest in Timor and the Dutch showed no interest in developing West Timor. When World War II reached the Indies, however, the British, Australians, and the Dutch had to reckon with a Japanese thrust against Australia, which might have used Portuguese Timor as a base. A preventive Allied occupation of the island was problematic as Portugal was a neutral country in the war. Their ongoing neutrality was considered important. The KNIL command was adamant to close the gap in its defense. Thus, East Timor became a bone of contention at the highest level. Together with the British and Australians, an occupation strategy was designed. In veiled language, the invasion was justified and a lot of diplomatic effort was invested. Be that as it may, the Dutch transgressed international law, with the British in their wake. The complication of Portugal’s neutrality always loomed, and all parties, including the Japanese, were aware of its sensitivity, especially in the first months of the war.

Robbert van Leeuwen, the author of this book, includes the colonial period, with the Dutch and Portuguese living undisturbed on the divided island, until World War II catapulted them into the highest decision-making bodies. These international dimensions are duly discussed. Interestingly, he also points to the lack of preparations and planning by the Japanese, also consulting Japanese sources, which show the almost permanent difference of opinion between the army and Navy. Nevertheless, on December 16, 1941, Dutch and Australian troops, numbering about 900 men, took over East Timor’s capital Dili, with the Portuguese governor acquiescing. On February 20, 1942, the Japanese landed and quickly took over the cities and strategic locations. The KNIL military performance was, as it had been in the whole of the Indies, unsatisfactory, as the Australians emphasized a number of times. Van Leeuwen is rather mild and points to the lack of training, modern material, and radio transmitters.

The Japanese were not able to make all the Allied military into POW s, and about 600 Australians and 250 KNIL military left their positions and began guerrilla warfare. Van Leeuwen reports closely and in minute detail the experiences of the Allied military, alternating the emphasis on Dutch, Australian, and Japanese troops. These three could all count on support from Indigenous Timorese, some supporting the Allies, some the Japanese, and some their own agenda, in which East versus West Timorese backgrounds might have been a factor. Timor saw the highest rate of bloodshed in the whole of the Indies. The Allied soldiers were able to sustain precarious positions thanks to provisions brought in secretly by boats from Australia, only a day away by ship. Thus, the Allies maintained themselves as a guerrilla force and inflicted meaningful losses on their opponent. At last, the annoyed Japanese brought in new troops and in December 1942 started to mop up the Allies. The Allied presence was once justified to support MacArthur’s drive, but he took another course. A second motive to cling to Timor was the satisfaction of holding on to Timor as a moral boost to the home front’s confidence. In the end, the Allied guerrillas were ordered to be evacuated. With the soldiers aboard, the ‘Armidale’ was sunk by Japanese planes, which also killed a hundred KNIL soldiers.

In the Dutch context, the whole Timor episode was mentioned in a few publications by J.J. Nortier, and one by Peter Romijn. Everything else was silence, in contradiction to the Australian memory of the Timor guerrilla, where an active combination of commemoration and publishing has kept the memory alive. A number of the children of these Timor veterans were unhappy with this state of affairs. A project team was constituted with the aim to collect material, in particular the personal reminiscences of KNIL military, to be combined in a monograph on the developments in Timor. Thanks to their efforts, this book has been published and a website set up (www.verzettimor1942.nl) with additional information. In Van Leeuwen (1994), a competent author was found, with a background in Japanese studies and history at Leiden University. There is not much to criticize. Only a detailed map is missing. The ones included are too general and partly illegible. A substantial part of its readership may look for information on family members. In this search, some form of index would have been very helpful.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 118 118 39
PDF Views & Downloads 192 192 54