The Jalan Roa Malaka of Kota Tua Part III: The Europeans

This is the only known portrait of Johannes Rach. He sitting under the umbrella sketching. Photo credit: The Indonesian National Library

IO – Three groups of people lived in the Jalan Roa Malaka namely Indo-Portuguese, Chinese and Europeans. In Part III of this series we look at the Europeans. There were European houses on Jalan Kopi, Jalan Roa Malaka and Jalan Kali Besar Barat. Starting from the middle of the 17th century the European houses within the walled city became larger and grander. Those who could afford it lived on the smart Jalan Kali Besar Barat where in the first decades of the 18th century numerous patrician buildings were erected. They were in fact nothing more than enlarged versions of the small and high Batavian houses of the previous century.

The patrician houses were on the Jalan Kali Besar Barat which runs parallel to the east side of Roa Malaka. The back entrance to these 18th century houses were on the Roa Malaka. Here one sees upstairs the slave quarters and downstairs the kitchen and privy. From F. de Haan in Oud Batavia. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

European architectural style also influenced the style of the houses belonging to non-Europeans in the Kota Tua area. Chinese houses there usually showed European influences in their interiors. Examples of such Chinese houses can still be seen in the Chinese house on Jalan Roa Malaka which is now a garage for car repair, the remains of the old Chinese house in the courtyard of the school in Jalan Perniagaan and the Souw family house in the same area. During the 17th and 18th century, wealthy Chinese also built houses in the so called “Hollandse style” complete with top or step facades, high doors and windows with ornamented fanlights and sometimes even displayed imitation chimneys. The interiors of such houses remained Chinese in style however, although they often displayed Dutch elements as for example Baroque stucco work, glazed terracotta tiles as well as Dutch tiles such as the blue and white Delft tiles or the purple and white tiles from Rotterdam as in the Gedung Arsip. Such tiles were frequently decorated with drawings of Biblical scenes, flowers, animals, ships etc. The same trend also appeared in the interiors of so called Moorish houses in Pekojan. The styles and trends in the tiles lagged behind the fashions in Holland because it took so long for ships to sail from Holland to the Indies; such voyages could take up to a year and frequently merchants tried to send out-dated stock to the Indies and there were complaints about this from this from Batavia. The same applies to architectural styles which continued to be built long after they were no longer in fashion in Europe.

Two 18th century houses on Roea Malakka. One, a European house has no verandah. The other, a Chinese or Moorish one has a verandah. Next to them are narrow pavements of red brick so that people can keep their feet clean while walking as roads were not tarred. Photo credit: Detail from drawing by Johan Wolfgang Heydt, 1744.

A feature differentiating the Chinese and Moorish houses from the Hollandse style houses was that the Dutch houses never had a verandah in front of the house as it was felt that this would ruin the effect of the monumental style façade. The Chinese and the Moors who were usually traders with shops and who nearly always lived on top of their shops found such front verandahs very useful against the heat. Examples of houses in such style may still be found on the corner of Jalan Kunir and Jalan Teh, on Jalan Kopi, Jalan Langgar Tinggi in Pekojan and in the Pecinan area. Unfortunately, they are fast disappearing and many of those remaining are in a very dilapidated condition. In the 18th century there had evolved a hybrid form of Batavian Baroque and in the 19th century a Neo-Classical style.

One of the most famous European inhabitants of Jalan Rua Malaka was the famous 18th century artist Johannes Rach (1720-1783) although it is not known if he lived on Roea Malaka Nord or Zuid, nor is the number of his house known.

Johannes Rach was born in Copenhagen in 1720 to Christoffer Rach and Anne Kirstine Christens Dotter and is remembered for the many drawings of Batavia and its environs as well as other VOC settlements in Java, the Cape and Sri Langka, that he made during the 18th century. There were not many artists who painted or sketched Batavia during the 18th century and of course, the camera had not yet been invented. So, it is mainly through the works of Rach and a very small number of other 18th century artists’ that we have an idea of what Batavia looked like at the time.

The Portugusese Inner Church on Jalan Roa Malaka by Johannes Rach. Photo credit: The National Library of Indonesia

Rach’s father was an innkeeper and alcohol distiller but his son who showed artistic talents was able to develop his abilities by training for 6 years under the Danish court painter P. Wickman. Rach then worked in Copenhagen for the Danish court together with J.G. Hertzog producing mainly topographical pictures. From 1747 to 1750 Rach was painter and draughtsman at the Russian court of Saint Petersburg where he worked for the Empress Elizabeth. There he also produced some still life paintings. By 1750, he had settled as a painter in Harlem in the Netherlands. In April 1756 he married Maria Wilhelmina Valenzijn and the following year his daughter, Christina Maria, was born.

In 1762 he made the decision to leave Holland and he left from Rotterdam for Asia on a VOC ship, the Nord-Nieuwland. His painting career was probably not going well as he began a military career in the East as a gunner or canonnier. He left his wife and daughter behind in Amsterdam and he was never to see them again. His ship went first to Cape Town where he stayed for two years making topographical drawings. In 1764, he arrived in Batavia, where he began his military career in earnest. He worked as an ensign at the waterworks on the Molenvliet now known as Jalan Gajah Mada. At the same time however, he also continued his work as an artist of topographical views and landscapes. De Haan in his history of Batavia writes that Rach must have had friends or patrons in powerful places for unlike any other ensign he was given the opportunity to travel and draw – and indeed, he did.

The front façade of the manor house of Governor General Petrus Albertus van der Parra in Weltevreden by Rach. Photo credit: The National Library of Indonesia

Rach was a very good salesman and many wealthy members of the VOC elite ordered drawings of their grand mansions both within as well as outside the city walls or of street scenes or of the surrounding countryside. Among his most distinguished clientele were to be the governors general Van der Parra, Van Riemsdijk, De Klerk and Alting. In fact, Valckenier commissioned Rach to draw in a number of VOC settlements.

Jacobus C. M. Radermacher, the founder of the Batavia Society for the Arts and Sciences. Photo credit: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Rach’s most important patrons appears to have been Jacob Cornelis Matthieu Radermacher (1741 – 24 December 1783) whose family held important and influential positions in the Netherlands. He was a botanist and a member of the Raad van Indie. Radermacher was also the founder of the Bataviaasche Gennotschap voor Kunst en Wetenschappen or Batavia Society for the Arts and Sciences and Rach became a member. Through Radermacher who lived just a road away on the Kali Besar West, Rach was able to come into contact with important members of the Batavia Society and even the Raad van Indie and many other of the most prominent burgers of Batavia society. The original plan was that the reports of the Society’s proceedings would be embellished with Rach’s drawings and the first proceedings published in the Netherlands did contain drawings by him. His drawings later also appeared in several other works such as those of Baron von Wurmb, Stravorinus, Thorn, Nieuhoff and of course De Haan’s classic work on the history of Batavia, Oud Batavia.

Rach came into contact with Governor General Reyner de Klerk who was the first president of the Batavia Society probably through Radermacher who was De Klerk’s step son-in-law. This is probably why there exists both front and back sketches of the Gedung Arsip which was then De Klerk’s manor house as well as a painting of it by Rach. There were very few artists or even draftsmen in the Indies at the time so, Rach’s talents would have been very much appreciated by those wealthy enough to be able to afford an interest in the arts. Radermacher’s family owned the largest collection of Rach drawings which they later presented to the Batavia Society. The Batavia Society collected Rach’s drawings and looked after them. Altogether, they managed to collect 202 of his drawings. Part of the collections of this society later became the nucleus for Indonesia’s National Library and it is there that the largest collection of Rach drawings are preserved today.

Rear view of Reyner de Klerk’s house, now known as the Gedung Arsip Nasional RI on Jalan Gajah Mada by Johannes Rach. De Klerk stands in the garden with what is probably his wife, Sophia Francina Westpalm. Photo credit: The National Library of Indonesia

In a time before the advent of photography Rach was quite organized and recruited assistants, who worked in his style. One of these was a fellow ensign named Laurent Lusson who apparently, often wrote the captions in French. Rach created a standard of production where he created standard views which could be adapted to his buyer’s taste as regards colours, decorations and the people on them. When he drew Governor Van Riemsdijk’s manor he included in the picture Van Riemsdijk’s new coach and all the paraphernalia of state that his position entitled. De Haan is of the opinion that many of Rach’s figures are in fact sketches of his customers. So, he believes that the figures in front of Governor General Altings’ manor house are indeed Alting and his wife; as the figures in the picture of the rear side of De Klerk’s manor are most likely De Klerk and his wife Sophia Francina West palm.

Through his important connections Rach was able to travel to and make drawings of Kandy in Sri Langka, Bengal in India, Japan, the Banda Islands and the Vorstenlanden or Principalities of Java. Another further indulgence was that 5 months after De Klerk became governor general, Rach was promoted to captain bypassing the rank of lieutenant completely – after 12 years as ensign. Later he succeeded in attaining the rank of majoor der artillerie or major of artillery. He made a drawing of himself as major of artillery with two military guards beside him as appropriate to his rank and station.

Military exercises of the artillery in a field on the Slingerland estate near the beach at Ancol by Johannes Rach. Photo credit: The National Library of Indonesia

Johannes Rach had a large household on the Roea Malakka as he was a man of some prominence. This included a large staff of domestic slaves as was common in those days and horses and carriages. He died in 1783 and on the 5th of August 1783 he made his last journey from the Roea Malakka as his body was brought from his house in the Roea Malakka to be buried at the Dutch Reformed Church (now the Museum Wayang) on the Stadhuisplein now known as Taman Fatahilah. Although he was a Lutheran as most people in Denmark were at the time, when he came to the Dutch East Indies he became a member of the Dutch Reformed Church as this was better for his career. At the time the Dutch Reformed Church was the official religion in Batavia. The first Lutheran minister only arrived in Batavia in 1746. However, Rach had been brought up in the Lutheran faith and as he lay dying in his house he asked for Jan Brandes another 18th century draughtsman and artist of Batavia who also happened to be the Lutheran minister, to be at his side. He died leaving a considerable inheritance to his wife and daughter in Amsterdam. Ironically, in the same year his patron Radermacher also died, killed during a mutiny on board the ship he was on while en route home to Holland.

De Haan states that Rach’s work is not without its faults. The buildings are not always correctly depicted as is to be seen in his drawings of the Stadhuis or Town Hall and the Waterkasteel or Water Castle. Shadows do not always fall correctly and his figures are frequently badly drawn. Nevertheless, without his drawings we would not have an image of 18th century Batavia which seems to have been a beautiful town with orderly streets and canals lined with trees and beautiful houses and mansions. His work also gives us a glimpse of the different people inhabiting that 18th century Batavian world. At the end of the day one can say Rach’s works from Copenhagen and Indonesia are a valuable source of architectural and cultural historic knowledge for people today. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read:

Part I:

Part II:

Part IV: