Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 5, 2014

Raffles Rust

Filed under: Books,Jakarta — scotsabroad @ 6:56 am

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The name Stamford Raffles is famous for being the founder of a settlement that would become the city-state of Singapore. Hence the iconic hotel bearing his name in Singapore… and also our theatre complex at school.

However, Victoria Glendinning’s blurb, on the back of her biography about Raffles says … the life of the man defies definition: an English adventurer, disobedient employee of the East India Company, utopian imperialist, linguist, zoologist, civil servant and troublesome visionary. He was quite amazing. What he endured and the losses he suffered are unimaginable. He died of apoplexy in 1826. All biographers make it clear that he adored his first wife, who he married in England before sailing to Penang in 1805. Raffles took over the island of Java by force, defeating the Dutch,  in 1811 and became Governor. However, the island was to be unkind to him, as he lost his best friend within days of reaching Batavia – and Olivia died while they lived at Bogor in 1814. That same year he had to leave Java when Britain handed the island back to the newly formed United Kingdom of the Netherlands. We still drive on the left though. Batavia was known as the white man’s graveyard. Distempers were common. The Dutch had built canals that became stagnant and breeding areas for nasty stuff in the heat. They’re still there and they stink. The joke at the time was, if you met a guest for dinner that person would most likely be dead before you met them again. From malaria or dysentery usually, but also typhoid. Unfortunately, some things don’t change, the poor of Jakarta are still suffering from all of these.

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We found the graveyard where Olivia Raffles rests at Taman Prasasti. The graveyard is a lovely place just beyond the national museum. The majority of the gravestones in the cemetery are, not suprisingly, Dutch. They begin with the words, Hier Rust… There are a few old cannons and carriages on display at the entrance and an old horse-drawn hearse inside. It took a while to find Olivia’s grave. There is nothing to direct you to the left side of the cemetery by the railings. Cairo spotted it first. Her grave has some ugly concrete bollards around it.

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Needless to say the Scots get everywhere. Very close to Olivia’s grave is the chest-tomb of their very dear friend Dr. John Casper Leydon. He seems to have been quite a character and it is said, in love with Olivia. From Teviotdale in the Borders. Not always in good health, Jakarta had him dead in two days. He was friends with Walter Scott back home who wrote and published a poem as a memoir to him:

Quenched in his lamp of varied lore,

That loved the light of song to pour;

A distant and deadly shore

Has Leyden’s cold remains.

Today the weather was hot but we stayed and walked around the graveyard. Some interesting memorials. Ship’s captains and merchants. One large tomb had Dutch writing as well as some unusual text. There was a replica skull on the top of it – impaled on a spearhead. Fallen hunters of head-hunters? A Japanese memorial to their soldiers during WW2. I was wishing for some more references to the East India Company and the Dutch East India Company (VOP) but couldn’t find any. Around the back things were not so tranquil and ordered. There were numerous broken gravestones piled up against a wall. Has the graveyard been desecrated in the past?

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We come across the grave of a banker from Broughty Ferry. No change there.

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