06 January 2004

Scenes of Old Batavia

"In June 1775, C. P. Thunberg dined with a party of fifteen, on the eve of his departure for Japan. On his return at the beginning of 1777, he found that eleven of the fifteen were dead. Von Wollzagen found in 1792 that all his friends had died within a period of sixteen months. Of one hundred and fifty soldiers who arrived with the ship Morgenstern in 1770, only fifteen were alive four months later. Dysentery, typhus, typhoid and malaria were the principal diseases."

"In Batavia everybody drank a bottle of wine a day as a manner of course, quite apart from the beer, sake, spirits and so on which were consumed on the side. Heavy drinking was customary at parties. Visitors were given a toast with each glass of wine, principally no doubt to compensate for the lack of intelligent conversation. Official parties were punctuated with a numerous and official toast list, sometimes accompanied by cannon shots and three cheers. The widow of Governor-General van der Parra, about 1780, who according to contemporary witnesses was an exceptionally sober and strait-laced man, died long after her husband but still left forty-five hundred bottles of wine and over ten thousand bottles of beer."
In 1811, the British took control of Batavia. The Dutch resumed control in 1816.
"Today an average international gathering in the Far East would probably greet with amused incredulity the statement that a British government, of all groups, should have had a lightening, gay effect upon any society whatever, but so it was in 1811. In those days and by comparison with the slow Dutch, the British looked like tearing, merry madcaps."
SOURCE: Emily Hahn, Raffles of Singapore, as quoted in Nigel Barley, The Duke of Puddledock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles (Henry Holt, 1992).

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