395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum

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395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The Stadhuis was the seat of the city government during the VOC and the Dutch East Indies era and now serves as the Jakarta Historical Museum Photo credit: Gunawan Kartapranata, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

IO – The History of Jakarta Museum was originally the stadhuis or town hall of Batavia. It was rebuilt three times and the first Stadhuis built on the site of what is now the History of Jakarta Museum, was erected in 1627; making this year the 395th anniversary of the Jakarta Stadhuis building.

Batavia as Jakarta was once known, was based on Simon Stevin’s ‘Ideal Plan for a City’. In this city plan, the place where the second axis crosses the first axis is where the central square of the city is located. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was known as Stadhuisplein. It is now known as Taman Fatahillah, and still exists in the same form as when the troops of Sultan Agung of Mataram attacked the town in 1628. The rectangular square has an area of 7,645 square meters, in the centre of which is a small octagonal building which used to be a water pump where ships crews and the inhabitants of Jakarta took their drinking water. It was connected by pipes to the Ciliwung River and to an area outside the walled town called Pancoran in the Glodok area. Due to sedimentation of the rivers and canals the water was not very good for long and later the water pump was demolished. It was restored in 1970 with the original pipes still intact.

Taman Fatahillah or Stadhuisplein was the most important square in Batavia and the most important buildings in the town were also once located there. The most important of them was the Stadhuis. When the first town hall in Batavia was built the square did not yet exist. The first stadhuis was built in the 1620s on what is now the Jalan Kali Besar Timur, just south of the drawbridge. This would have been just a few years after the VOC destroyed the town of Jacatra or Jayakarta, and established Batavia. The first Stadhuis was torn down 6 years later.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
A drawing of the second Stadhuis from 1629, appearing in Valentijn’s book of 1726. Note the flat roof for cannons. Photo credit: Tamla Alisjahbana/IO

When the second Stadhuis was built in 1627 there was a square albeit not as large as the one that exists now. At the time of the attack of the Sultan of Mataram the Stadhuisplein was enlarged by demolishing some houses and the church that stood to the south of the square, in order to create an open field across which the cannons on the roof of the Stadhuis could safely be fired at the attacking forces of Mataram. The square has since remained the same size.

The second Stadhuis was built on the site of where the History of Jakarta Museum stands now. To gain a bit of an understanding of what it was like then, it should be remembered that it was only in 1630 that the Ciliwung River was canalized in the Kota Tua section of town, to become the Kali Besar canal. Most of the structures and fortifications of Batavia were built between the 1620s and 1640s. The second Stadhuis would have looked very different from the Museum as it stands now as it had a flat roof on which cannons could be placed and as we know they were used against Sultan Agung’s forces. It is strange standing in front of the Museum now and imagining that once there was a raging battle here with cannons roaring and people dying. The many Jakartans including school children who like to visit the Museum on their days out, now create an atmosphere that could not be more different.

During Sultan Agung’s second siege of Batavia in 1629, Jan Pieterszoon Coen who established Batavia died of what is suspected to have been cholera for there was a cholera outbreak in Batavia at the time. He was first buried in the second Stadhuis. It must be remembered that there was then a chapel in the fort or Castle of Batavia and there was probably also a Christian place of worship in the second Stadhuis. These were the early days of the colony and there had been war raging off and on for the last two years. At the time no proper church had yet been built in Batavia. It was only several years later between 1632 and 1640 that the first church in Batavia was built namely, the Kruiskerk. Coen’s remains were then moved to the graveyard of the church. Later, the Kruiskerk was pulled down and a new church, the Kopelkerk took its place. In the 19th century the Kopelkerk was demolished after being heavily damaged by an earthquake. Later buildings were built on the site of the two churches, which have now become the Wayang Museum and there is a plaque in the Wayang Museum mentioning Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s grave. It is interesting to note that at Sultan Agung’s grave in Imogiri not far from the town of Jogjakarta, to this day there endures the legend that Coen’s remains were stolen and reburied under the steps leading to Sultan Agung’s grave. All that remains now of Jan Pieterszoon Coen at the History of Jakarta Museum are three copies in oil made in 1929 of portraits of him from the 17th century. The largest is a copy of a painting by Jacob Waben in 1625 which is now a part of the collection of the Westfries Museum in Hoorn. The other two are identical copies of the portrait of Coen at the Rijksmuseum thought to be by Philip Angel in 1650.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
Drawing of the third Stadhuis taken from ‘Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien’ by Francois Valentyn in 1724. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

In 1707 the second Stadhuis was torn down and construction was begun on a third town hall which in 1710 Governor General Abraham van Riebeck inaugurated. The inauguration plaque may still be seen on the building today. It was finally completed in 1712. Built in the style of Baroque Classicism, it is architecturally the most important building from the VOC period and one of the best examples of Dutch colonial architecture. The head of the VOC’s artisans, W. J. van de Velde, drew up the plans for the building and J. F. Kemmer, a German contractor from Brandenburg, constructed it. Van de Velde is said to have been influenced by the design of the city hall of Amsterdam which is now the Koninklijk Paleis op de Dam built in 1648 in a Baroque style with some Palladian influences.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The Stadhuis in July 1947 when the figure of Justice was still visible on its façade. Photo credit: Nationaal Archief, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the exterior of this third Stadhuis there was originally a niche in the roof of the portico for the figure of the Goddess of Justice as the building also served as a court as well as a town hall. To the left of the Goddess was the emblem of the VOC and to her right was the emblem of the city of Batavia. In the nineteenth century the front portico was remodeled. The original gable which is the roof of the portico and the central window below it, were originally curved in shape. A pediment also replaced the curved roof, and two windows of the same shape and size as the left and right windows replaced the central window. The niche for the Goddess of Justice was removed and she was placed on the top of the pediment. In 1957 she was removed altogether. The building has been restored several times in the 20th century but has kept basically the same shape and features since then.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
Door and barred window of the Stadhuis prison circa 1920. Photo credit: AnonymousUnknown author, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons .org /licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Stadhuis has served throughout most of its history as the office of the city administration. It has concurrently also served as a prison, a courthouse (the Bench of Magistrates, and the Court of Justice), the Civil Registry and the Orphans Chamber. The building was also the centre for the Batavia schutterij or militia. Among the most famous prisoners that have been held captive at the Stadhuis were Sheikh Yusuf and Prince Diponegoro.

Sheikh Yusuf was a prince from Makassar who commanded the armies of the Sultan of Banten against the VOC in the 17th century. He was captured and imprisoned in the Stadhuis and then later exiled to the VOC Cape colony in South Africa where he founded the first Muslim community. Later, he was made a national hero of both South Africa and Indonesia.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The hanging of two men in front of Batavia’s town hall between 1895 and 1925. Photo credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Prince Diponegoro was a nineteenth-century Javanese prince who led the Java Wars (1825-1830) against the colonial government and after his capture was also imprisoned in the Stadhuis. On the 2nd of April 2019 the Diponegoro Room was created at the History of Jakarta Museum in the room where he is thought to have been held prisoner. The eminent Diponegoro scholar, Dr Peter Carey advised with the creation of the Diponegoro room at the Museum. In the room are a bed with a mosquito net, a writing table and chair, a stand with umbrellas and a table with a bird cage. Diponegoro was later exiled to Makassar where he eventually died. After Indonesian independence Diponegoro was also made a national hero of Indonesia.

Both Sheikh Yusuf and Prince Diponegoro were fortunate not to have been held together with the common prisoners in the basement of the Stadshuis. These low ceilinged dungeons had scarcely any ventilation and were so unhealthy that nearly 85% of prisoners died there. One of the few prisoners who managed to escape was Untung Suropati, a Balinese slave who gathered runaway slaves and then led rebellions against the VOC in various parts of Java. On the square in front of the Stadhuis, prisoners were tortured and executed. The judges who had passed sentence would watch the gruesome sentences being carried out, from the balcony of the Stadhuis.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The Pieter Erberveld monument between 1900 and 1918, along the Jacatraweg on the wall of the place where he once lived. Photo credit: National Museum of World Cultures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of those unfortunates who was tortured and put to death was Pieter Erberveld. Erberveld was a Eurasian of German-Siamese origin and a resident of Batavia who was falsely accused of planning a massacre of the Dutch inhabitants of Batavia because of a land dispute with the VOC authorities. In 1722, he was drawn and quartered in the Gallows Field south of the Batavia Castle. A monument was erected in detestable memory of the traitor, on the garden walls of what had once been his land on what is now Jalan Pangeran Jayakarta, forbidding anyone to ever build, do woodwork, lay bricks or plant on the land again. Apparently, it is the oldest known building ban in the world. The Erberveld Monument was removed during the Second World War and is now in the courtyard of the History of Jakarta Museum.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The Stadhuis lite up in 1937 to celebrate the wedding of then Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard. Photo credit: AnonymousUnknown author, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

There were also happy events celebrated at the Stadhuis during its long history. One of these was the marriage of the Netherlands Indies archivist, E.C. Godée Molsbergen at the Stadhuis in 1924. To celebrate the marriage between then Princess Juliana and her husband Prince Bernhard in 1937, the Stadhuis was beautifully lit up in honor of the future queen of the Netherlands.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The marriage of the Netherlands East Indies Archivist, E.C. Godée Molsbergen at the Stadhuis in 1924. Photo credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The padrao of 1522 Photo credit: Hadiyana at the Indonesian language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creative commons .org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), via Wikimedia Commons

In the early 19th and 20th centuries the Stadhuis continued to be used by the city government. From 1913 till 1925 the city council met there. After 1925 it became the seat of the regional government of West Java. During the Second World War the Japanese resident had his office there. After the war it became a military office and in 1974 the Governor of Jakarta transformed it into the History of Jakarta Museum. The Museum houses one of the best collections of Dutch colonial furniture in the world with not only all periods and styles from the 17th till the 20th century represented but also the best pieces from those periods.

Beside the furniture collection, another interesting object in the Stadhuis is a replica of the padrao (the original is in the National Museum). This was discovered in 1918 at the place where Jl Nelayan Timur crosses Jl Cengkeh. In 1522 Portuguese envoy, Enrique Leme arrived and signed a Treaty of Friendship with the Kingdom of Pakuan Sunda. To mark the treaty, the padrao was erected. The padrao displays an armillary sphere, the symbol of the voyages of discovery of King Manuel I of Portugal (1495 to 1521). Below it is the cross of the Order of Christ which replaced the Knights Templar in Portugal.

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
Si Jagur cannon with offerings and flowers being viewed by two navy officers from the USS Augusta in 1932. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The clenched fist of the Si Jagur cannon was seen as a fertility symbol. Photo credit: Willem van de Poll, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Upon leaving the History of Jakarta Museum do not forget to visit the Si Jagur cannon in Taman Fatahillah, in front of the Museum. It was brought to Batavia in 1641 after the fall of Malacca. It is a Portuguese cannon and one end of the cannon ends in the form of a clenched fist or mano in fica which is a symbol of cohabitation. In the past, the clenched fist was considered a fertility symbol, and people would place flowers and offerings around the cannon in the hope of obtaining children. On it are inscribed in Latin the words Ex me ipsa renata sum which mean ‘Out of myself I am reborn’. It was cast from several cannons in Macau for the Portuguese Fortress of Malacca. The 20-pound cannon used to stand on one of the bastions of the Castle of Batavia guarding the entrance to the harbor of Sunda Kelapa. It was spared when Daendels demolished the fort. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

395th anniversary of the former Batavia Stadhuis, now the History of Jakarta Museum
The steam tram used to pass in front of the former Stadhuis. Photo credit: AnonymousUnknown author, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons