Batavia, Dutch East Indies

Coat of Arms Batavia
Batavia, circa 1780

Batavia was the name of the capital city of the Dutch East Indies that corresponds to the present-day Central Jakarta. Just as modern Jakarta may refer to either the city itself or to the larger area of the city, with its geographic surroundings, which taken together is one of the provinces of Indonesia, Batavia can refer to the city proper as it existed then, with its various increases over time in urbanized acreage, or can refer to the surrounding hinterland.

The establishment of Batavia at the site of the razed city of Jayakarta by the Dutch in 1619 led to the Dutch colony that became modern Indonesia following World War II. Batavia became the center of the Dutch East India Company's trading network in Asia.[1]:10 Monopolies on nutmeg, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon were augmented by non-indigenous cash crops like coffee, tea, cacao, tobacco, rubber, sugar and opium. To safeguard their commercial interests, the company and the colonial administration, which replaced it in 1799, progressively absorbed surrounding territory.[1]:10

Batavia lies on the north coast of Java, in a sheltered bay, over a flat land consisting of marshland and hills, and crisscrossed with canals. The city consisted of two centers: Oud Batavia or Benedenstad ("Lower City"), the oldest, the lowest and the most unhealthy[clarification needed] part of the city, and Bovenstad ("Upper City"), the relatively newer city located on the higher ground to the south.

Batavia was a colonial city for about 320 years until 1942 when the Dutch East Indies fell under Japanese occupation during World War II. During the Japanese occupation and again after Indonesian nationalists declared independence on August 17, 1945, the city was renamed Jakarta.[2] After the war, the Dutch name "Batavia" remained internationally recognized until full Indonesian independence was achieved on 27 December 1949 and Jakarta was officially proclaimed the national capital of Indonesia.[2]

Dutch East India Company (1610–1799)

The period started with the founding of the walled city of Batavia by the Dutch East India Company following the destruction of the port city of Jayakarta. The period ends with the dissolution of the Dutch East India Company and the taking over of the Batavia by the colonial government.



This engraving of Jayakarta was made from an original work between 1605 and 1608. This is probably the only depiction of the city of Jayakarta before being razed by the Dutch to make way for the new walled city of Batavia.

In 1595, merchants from Amsterdam embarked upon an expedition to the East Indies archipelago. Under the command of Cornelis de Houtman, the expedition reached Bantam, capital of the Sultanate of Banten, and Jayakarta in 1596 to trade in spices.[citation needed]

In 1602, the English East India Company's first voyage, commanded by Sir James Lancaster, arrived in Aceh and sailed on to Bantam. There he was allowed to build a trading post that became the centre of English trade in Indonesia until 1682.[3]:29

In 1602, the Dutch government granted a monopoly on Asian trade to the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC); literally[4] United East Indian Company).[5]:26[6]:384–385 In 1603, the first permanent Dutch trading post in Indonesia was established in Bantam, West Java. In 1610, Prince Jayawikarta granted permission to Dutch merchants to build a wooden godown and houses on the east bank of the Ciliwung River, opposite to Jayakarta. This outpost was established in 1611.[7]:29

As Dutch power increased, Jayawikarta allowed the British to erect houses on the west bank of the Ciliwung River, as well as a fort close to his customs office post, to keep the forces balanced.

In December 1618, the tense relationship between Prince Jayawikarta and the Dutch escalated, and Jayawikarta's soldiers besieged the Dutch fortress, containing the godowns Nassau and Mauritius. A British fleet of 15 ships arrived under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale, an English naval commander and former governor of the Colony of Virginia. After a sea battle, the newly appointed Dutch governor, Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1618), escaped to the Moluccas to seek support (The Dutch had already overtaken the first of the Portuguese forts there in 1605). Meanwhile, the commander of the Dutch garrison, Pieter van den Broecke, along with five other men, was arrested during negotiations, as Jayawikarta believed that he had been deceived by the Dutch. Later,[when?] Jayawikarta and the British entered into a friendship agreement.

The Dutch army was on the verge of surrendering to the British when, in 1619, Banten sent a group of soldiers to summon Prince Jayawikarta. Jayawikarta's friendship agreement with the British was without prior approval from the Bantenese authorities. The conflict between Banten and Prince Jayawikarta, as well as the tense relationship between Banten and the British, presented a new opportunity for the Dutch.

Coen returned from the Moluccas with reinforcements on 28 May 1619[8] and razed Jayakarta to the ground on 30 May 1619,[9]:35 thereby expelling its population.[10]:50 Only the Padrão of Sunda Kelapa remained. Prince Jayawikarta retreated to Tanara, the eventual place of his death, in the interior of Banten. The Dutch established a closer relationship with Banten and assumed control of the port, which over time became the Dutch centre of power in the region.

Establishment of Batavia

Coat of arms of Batavia, bearing Coen's motto "Dispereert niet", meaning "never despair"[11]

The area that became Batavia came under Dutch control in 1619, initially as an expansion the original Dutch fort along with new building on the ruined area that had been Jayakarta.

On 2 July 1619, Coen decided to expand the original fort into a larger fortress. Coen sent the draft of the Kasteel van Batavia to the Netherlands on 7 October 1619. This new castle was much larger than the previous castle, with two northern bastions protecting the castle from attack from the sea.[12] The Dutch fortress garrison included hired soldiers from Japan, Germany, Scotland, Denmark and Belgium.[citation needed] The godowns Nassau and Mauritius were expanded with the erection of a new fort extension to the east on March 12, 1619, overseen by Commander Van Raay.[13]

Coen wished to name the new settlement "Nieuw-Hoorn" (after his birthplace, Hoorn), but was prevented from doing so by the board of the East India Company, the Heeren XVII.[13] "Batavia" was chosen to become the new name for the fort and settlement. The official naming ceremony took place on January 18, 1621.[13] It was named after the Germanic tribe of the Batavi — the inhabitant of Batavian region during Roman period, which at that time was believed that the tribe's members were the ancestors of the Dutch people. Jayakarta was then called "Batavia" for more than 300 years.[14]

Over time, there were three governmental administrations within the Batavia region.[15]:7 The initial authority, (Dutch: Hoge Regering; High Government), was established in 1609.[15]:7 This became the colonial government, consisting of the Governor-General and the Council of the Indies.[15]:7 The urban or civil administration of the city of Batavia, (Dutch: College van Schepenen; Council of Aldermen), was formed in 1620.[15]:9 On 24 June 1620 two Company officials and three free citizens or burghers were appointed to the first College van Schepenen College of Aldermen.[16] The local rural administration, (Dutch: College van Heemraden; District Council), was formed in 1664 but became fully functional in 1682.[15]:10

Batavia was founded as a trade and administrative centre of the Dutch East India Company; it was never intended to be a settlement for the Dutch people. Coen founded Batavia as a trading company, whereby a city's inhabitants would take care of the production and supply of food. As a result, there was no migration of Dutch families and, instead, a mixed society was formed. As the VOC preferred to maintain complete control over its business, a large number of slaves were employed. Batavia became an unattractive location for people who wanted to establish their own businesses.[citation needed]

The Javanese people were prohibited from settling in Batavia from the time of its foundation in 1619,[17]:194 as the Dutch feared an insurrection.[citation needed] Coen asked Willem Ysbrandtszoon Bontekoe, a skipper for the Dutch East India Company, to bring 1000 Chinese people to Batavia from Macao,[citation needed] but only a small segment of the 1000 survived the trip. In 1621, another attempt was initiated and 15,000 people were deported from the Banda Islands to Batavia, but only 600 survived the trip.[citation needed]

City growth inside the city wall – east of Ciliwung expansion

Batavia and its east-of-Ciliwung expansion.

From the beginning of its establishment, Batavia was planned following a well-defined layout.[18] In 1619, three trenches were dug to the east of the Ciliwung river, forming the first Dutch-made canals of Batavia. These three canals were named from south to north: Leeuwengracht (present Jalan Kali Besar Timur 3 or Jalan Kunir), Groenegracht (present Jalan Kali Besar Timur 1), and Steenhouwersgracht (present Jalan Nelayan Timur).[19] The area of the Castle starts to the north of Steenhouwersgracht, which began with a field (Kasteelplein) north of Steenhouwersgracht.[20] A town's market (a fish market) was established on the field.[20][19] The first church and town hall were built c.1622 on the east bank of the river, the exact point of this first building of the church-town hall of Batavia is at 6°07′56″S 106°48′42″E / 6°07′56″S 106°48′42″E / -6.132212; 106.811779.[20] This was replaced in the 1630s.

The coconut-tree-lined Tijgersgracht of Batavia, the longest and the most pleasant canal of Batavia until its modification in 1632.

Around 1627, the three canals were connected with each other with a new canal the Tijgersgracht (present Jalan Pos Kota – Jalan Lada). The coconut-tree lined Tijgersgracht is among the most pleasant canals in the walled city of Batavia. A contemporary observer writes: "Among the Grachts, the Tygersgracht is the most stately and most pleasant, both for the goodliness of its buildings, and the ornamentation of its streets, which afford a very agreeable shadow to those who pass along the street".[21] The Prinsestraat (present Jalan Cengkeh), which in the beginning formed the street that leads to the Castle, were established as an urban center, connecting the Castle south gate with the City Hall, forming an impressive vista on the seat of government.[18]

This eastern settlement of Batavia was protected by a long canal to the east of the settlement, forming a link between the castle moat and the Ciliwung river bend. This canal was not parallel with Tijgersgracht but slightly angled. The overall construction of the canal took more than 160,000 reals, and these were paid not by the Company, but mainly by the Chinese and other Europeans; partly because the Company had spent for the strengthening of the Castle (which was done by slaves and prisoners).[18] This short-lived outer canal would be redesigned few years after the Siege of Batavia.

City growth inside the city wall – completion of the wall

Map of Batavia after Specx completion of the city wall.

To the east of Batavia, Sultan Agung, king of the Mataram Sultanate (1613–1645) attained control of most of Java by defeating Surabaya in 1625.[5]:31 On 27 August 1628, Agung launched the Siege of Batavia.[9]:52 In his first attempt, he suffered heavy losses, retreated, and launched a second offensive in 1629.[5]:31[9]:52–53 This also failed; the Dutch fleet destroyed his supplies and ships, located in the harbors of Cirebon and Tegal.[9]:53 Mataram troops, starving and decimated by illness, retreated again.[9]:53 Sultan Agung then pursued his conquering ambitions in an eastward direction[9]:53 and attacked Blitar, Panarukan and the Kingdom of Blambangan in Eastern Java, a vassal of the Balinese kingdom of Gelgel.[9]:55

Following the siege, it was decided that Batavia would need a stronger defense system. Based on the military defensive engineering ideas by Simon Stevin, a Flemish mathematician and military engineer, governor-general Jacques Specx (1629–1632)[10]:463 designed a moat and city wall that surrounded the city; extensions of the city walls appeared to the west of Batavia and the city became completely enclosed. The city section within the defense lines was structured according to a grid plan, criss-crossed with canals that straightened the flow of the Ciliwung river.[citation needed] This area corresponds to present day Jakarta Old Town.

City growth outside the wall

In 1656, due to a conflict with Banten, the Javanese were not allowed to reside within the city walls and consequently settled outside Batavia. Only the Chinese people and the Mardijkers were allowed to settle within the walled city of Batavia. In 1659, a temporary peace with Banten enabled the city to grow and, during this period, more bamboo shacks appeared in Batavia. From 1667, bamboo houses, as well as the keeping of livestock, were banned within the city. Within Batavia's walls, the wealthy Dutch built tall houses and canals. As the city grew, the area outside the walls became an attraction for many people and suburbs began to develop outside the city walls.[citation needed]

The area outside the walls was considered unsafe for the non-native inhabitants of Batavia. The marsh area around Batavia could only be fully cultivated when a new peace treaty was signed with Banten in 1684 and country houses were subsequently established outside the city walls. The Chinese people began with the cultivation of sugarcane and tuak, with coffee a later addition.

The large-scale cultivation caused destruction to the environment, in addition to coastal erosion in the northern area of Batavia. Maintenance of the canal was extensive due to frequent closures and the continuous dredging that was required.

Massacre of Chinese

Engraving of the massacre of Chinese people in Batavia on October 9, 1740

The Batavian hinterland's sugar industry deteriorated in the 1730s.[15]:169[22]:29 There were numerous unemployed people and growing social disorder.[15]:169 In 1739, 10,574 registered Chinese were living in the Ommelanden.[15]:53 Tensions grew as the colonial government attempted to restrict Chinese immigration by implementing deportations to Ceylon and South Africa.[8] The Chinese became worried that they were to be thrown overboard to drown and riots erupted.[8][23]:99 10,000 Chinese were massacred between 9 October 1740 and 22 October.[8] During the following year, the few remaining Chinese inhabitants were moved to Glodok, outside the city walls.[24]


The area outside the walls (Dutch: Ommelanden; the surrounding area)[15] was considered unsafe for the non-native inhabitants of Batavia.[citation needed] The area was an important source of food crops and building materials.[15] The VOC set up a local government (Dutch: College van Heemraden; District Council) in 1664, but this only became fully functional in 1682.[15]:10 The marsh area around Batavia could only be fully cultivated when a new peace treaty was signed with Banten in 1684.[citation needed] Country houses were subsequently established outside the city walls.[citation needed] The Chinese people began with the cultivation of sugarcane[15]:6[25] and tuak, with coffee a later addition.[citation needed]

The large-scale cultivation caused destruction to the environment, in addition to coastal erosion in the northern area of Batavia. Maintenance of the canal was extensive due to frequent closures and the continuous dredging that was required.[26]

An image of Javanese commoner and Javanese warrior, from Homann's map of Batavia, 1733.

Other than country houses, most people in the Ommelanden people lived in various single ethnithicy kampungs, each with its own headman.[15]:5[27]


In the 18th century, Batavia became increasingly affected by malaria epidemics, as the marsh areas were breeding grounds for mosquitos.[28] The disease killed many Europeans, resulting in Batavia receiving the nickname, "Het kerkhof der Europeanen" ("the cemetery of the Europeans").[29][30] Wealthier European settlers, who could afford relocation, moved to southern areas of higher elevation.[23]:101 Eventually, the old city was dismantled in 1810.[citation needed]


Depiction of a Balinese slave in Batavia from Bali Chronicles by Willard Hanna, Cornelis de Bruyn artist. To avoid a revolt of the people of Java, many coolies and slaves were employed from places outside Java, such as Bali, the Moluccas, India, and China.

Batavia was founded as the trade and administrative center of the Dutch East India Company; it was never intended to be a settlement for the Dutch people. Coen founded Batavia for trade, with city's inhabitants taking care of the production and supply of food. As a result, there was no migration of intact Dutch families and there were few Dutch women in Batavia. A mixed society was formed, as relationships between Dutch men and Asian women did not usually result in marriage, and the women did not have the right of going with men who returned to the Dutch Republic. This societal pattern created a mixed group of mestizo descendants in Batavia. The sons of this mixed group often traveled to Europe to study, while the daughters were forced to remain in Batavia, with the latter often marrying Dutch East India Company (VOC) officials at a very young age.[citation needed]

As the VOC preferred to maintain complete control over its business, a large number of slaves was employed. Batavia became an unattractive location for people who wanted to establish their own businesses.[citation needed]

The women in Batavia developed into an important feature of the social network of Batavia; they were accustomed to dealing with slaves and spoke the same language, mostly Portuguese and Malay. Eventually, many of these women effectively became widows, as their husbands left Batavia to return to the Netherlands, and their children were often removed as well. These women were known as snaar ("string").

Most of Batavia's residents were of Asian descent. Thousands of slaves were brought from India and Arakan and, later, slaves were brought from Bali and Sulawesi. To avoid an uprising, a decision was made to free the Javanese people from slavery. Chinese people made up the largest group in Batavia, with most of them merchants and labourers. The Chinese people were the most decisive group in the development of Batavia. There was also a large group of freed slaves, usually Portuguese-speaking Asian Christians, that was formerly under the rule of the Portuguese. The group's members were made prisoners by the VOC during numerous conflicts with the Portuguese. Portuguese was the dominant language in Batavia until the late 18th century, when the language was slowly replaced with Dutch and Malay. Additionally, there were also Malays, as well as Muslim and Hindu merchants from India.

Initially, these different ethnic groups lived alongside each other; however, in 1688, complete segregation was enacted upon the indigenous population. Each ethnic group was forced to live in its own established village outside the city wall. There were Javanese villages for Javanese people, Moluccan villages for the Moluccans, and so on. Each person was tagged with a tag to identify them with their own ethnic group; later, this identity tag was replaced with a parchment. Reporting was compulsory for intermarriage that involved different ethnic groups.[citation needed]

Within Batavia's walls, the wealthy Dutch built tall houses and canals. Commercial opportunities attracted Indonesian and especially Chinese immigrants, with the increasing population numbers creating a burden upon the city. In the 18th century, more than 60% of Batavia's population consisted of slaves working for the VOC. The slaves were mostly engaged to undertake housework, while working and living conditions were generally reasonable.[citation needed] Laws were enacted that protected slaves against overly cruel actions from their masters; for example, Christian slaves were given freedom after the death of their masters, while some slaves were allowed to own a store and make money to buy their freedom. Sometimes, slaves fled and established gangs that would roam throughout the area.[citation needed]

Though from the beginning of the VOC establishment Batavia became the political and administrative center of the Dutch East Indies as well as the major port in Southeast Asian trade, the population of the city proper remained relatively small. In the early 1800s, estimates of its population were still smaller than that of Surabaya, though it would overtake that city by the end of that century: the first complete census survey of 1920 returned a population of 306,000, compared to 192,000 for Surabaya, 158,000 for Semarang and 134,000 for Surakarta. By then the population grew fast, as ten years later it exceeded half a million.[31]