Arriving in the Indies

A historical perspective on life in colonial Indonesia starting in 1927.

Johan de WittFrom all accounts the arrival in Batavia during the latter part of 1927 must have been one full of incredible anguish coupled with limitless possibilities for a richer life.

Stories must have run rampant during the ocean crossing about what to expect upon arrival in the Indies and many of these would have been either highly exaggerated or completely fabricated.

Nevertheless, for those passengers on board, the tales, whether tall or not, were none the wiser during this stage of their journey east.

It has become clear through written accounts of the time that for a lot of people making this voyage from Holland, assimilation to the East and its way of life was simply never to become normal. 

For others, the exact opposite would hold true. 

For them, making the journey provided an immediate ascent in social standing that could never have been reached had they remained in the Netherlands. By virtue of being European they were, without further need of credentials, deemed superior.

The depression of the twenties struck the world hard and the Indies did not escape unscathed. This period of economic gloom coincided with a considerably ramped up influx of immigrants from the Netherlands.

Prior to the early part of the twentieth century very few women made the journey east. The reasons were simple; poor health conditions, poor cultural activities, poor social life, poor marriage prospects, and little to no female company.

The boredom that would ensue upon arrival in the Indies, for a woman, was written about time and again and sent many of the more naive homeward bound within a year. Either leaving their husbands behind to continue working or offering up an ultimatum.

By 1915 on, this situation began to change dramatically for several reasons.

The catalyst was the Dutch Administration back in The Hague. At the turn of the century Holland’s policy’s regarding the Indies underwent a complete overhaul and entered an era of moral judgment rather than colonial oppression. The call to make these changes were brought on by the citizens of Holland who by this time were already looking to free the Indies from Dutch rule and oppression; at the very least they wished to give the native people a voice of their own.

In so doing, many areas of Indies life changed.

Education became a major issue as did basic health care and civil rights. The main areas that received focus were those that directly benefited the societies of the major metropolitan areas; namely Batavia and Bandung. In these areas not only were the above three staples of a sound life improved but so were the social, cultural and entertainment aspects of the vastly European society.

By 1927 these new measures had fully taken root.

Batavia and Bandung were the tropical sister cities of Amsterdam and Paris. Dutchmen and women had been arriving in droves throughout the past twelve years. This, along with the depression had placed severe strains on the resources of the Indies administration and their staff.  A call to duty back in the Netherlands would be necessary if these stresses were to be overcome.

During the 1920’s the Dutch government requested of its civil servants, volunteers to start a new life in the Indies. The call to duty must have profoundly affected my grandfather, a police detective in the Royal Dutch Police Force.

At age 29 with a wife, two daughters under the age of 2 years and a good career, Stephanus Hendricus Gerichhausen chose to uproot his family and head to the other side of the world.

Stepping from the gangplank of the Johan de Witt as it lay moored in Tandjung Priok must have prompted a wondrous sense of discovery and unmasked the spirit of pioneering in many who gazed wide-eyed at the legendary jewel of the east.

This moniker which had for a dozen or more decades caused the imagination of countless Europeans to swirl with fantastic exotic delight and intrigue now became a reality.

Batavia had long ago lost any real claim to that prestigious title but for those arriving for the first time, seeking a better life, a healthier climate, and a more enriched style of living, then it is undoubtedly the looking glass through which their eyes were cast.

For more on this four part series see;
Living in the Indies , Surviving in the Indies , Departing the Indies

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33 thoughts on “Arriving in the Indies

  1. It is fascinating, and poetic too, to read and imagine the stories of old “pioneers”, when traveling from one corner of the world to another could only be done by sea. My great grandfather moved from Fukuoka with his 18 year-old bride looking for greener grass in coastal Peru. Knowing the history can be used as a meditation technique.

    It’s also interesting what you say about not many women wanting to move; if I remember correctly, it was similar in Australia, where initially the ratio of men to women was 4 to 1.

    Thanks for the great story, Tim.

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  2. A very interesting account of Dutch emigration to Indonesia, beautifully written. I found all the family photos very fascinating and helps give a deeper human persepctive to the events of Dutch activity in Indonesia after WWI. Vijay

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  3. Hi Tim,

    What an incredible family story!!! I completely understand why it’s important to understand both history and the heritage we come from. It reveals much about ourselves.

    I have been able to trace my ancestry back to 1645 with my forefather who came to the new world that year on a boat by himself at 7 years old. He would become an indentured servant for 10 years and the land that today is Damascus, MD belonged to him by deed after fulfilling his servitude. His son would later be declared a Patriot by the Continental Congress.

    So, I really appreciate your story and learning about a different part of the world. I think we fail to understand that part of the globe and its relevance in modern times.

    I’m looking forward to the next article!!!!

    ~ Don Purdum

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great article! I knew about this and now I know something new. Thanks! Your Grandfather is a tough Cookie for moving ! I made a friend in my nursing assistant program and she just moved here from Uganda Africa. Never been to America Before. Never Been on a plane until she moved here. She gets lonely for her family back home and it reminds me of your story. Keep up the good work! 😉

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  5. Great article and amazing pictures! This article has refreshed some of my history class lessons and it also somehow relates to my great grandparents migration. They migrated in early 20th century (when subcontinent was under British rule) to Afghanistan. They were landlords and had good terms with Afghanistan’s royal family so they did well there. But after 20 years of exhile when they returned back to Pakistan (when the king was deposed) they were devastated because all their lands and property were illegally taken by government and other people. They also had to bear the loss of 21 family members just in one year.

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  6. This is such an intriguing way to learn about a part of the world about which I know almost nothing. I can really picture things through the eyes of your grandfather, rather than just reading in a history book. I already can’t wait to read more. There will be more, right?

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  7. I was caught by the statement of a journey causing an ascent in one’s social standing. I have noted this with the globalization that has occurred in the world. It is now so difficult to place a person’s origin easily as everyone is everywhere and their social standing also varied with the journey they have taken.

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  8. For your Grandfather to pack up his family and leave his career he must have felt something down in his soul. I truly admire that spirit. This is a great connection of history and your family. I truly love your stories they are always a pleasure to read. As always the pictures are amazing.

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    1. I am glad you enjoy my stories Niekka. I was a little hesitant about the historical perspective series as it is departure from what I usually write. The feedback I have been getting has been very encouraging so thank you.

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  9. Oh, my, your account reads like the historical fiction (and non-fiction) I so love!

    It’s beautiful how you have dedicated a blog to capturing the thoughts, culture, changes, and upheavals of your family’s migration. A tidbit (though no less monumental) we may never have known is the role “boredom” played in folk returning to their native land.

    Thanks for sharing these stories with us. I’m signing up for your updates (and coming back to read other accounts).

    — Vernessa Taylor (CoachNotes Blog)

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  10. Really interesting post Tim. In the U.S. we hear a lot about Europeans who emigrated here but nothing about those who chose to go to South America or Asia or Africa. You should be proud of your grandfather for making such a bold move. Maybe you inherited some adventure travel genes. Looking forward to future posts about your family’s history.

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  11. Fascinating article about arriving in the Indies and how your family relates to it personally. I recently visited the immigration station on Angel Island, off the coast of San Francisco. It was a truly moving experience to learn about the plight of the Chinese immigrants when they immigrated to The States in the 1800’s.

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    1. I have also visited Angel Island and also China Camp where the shrimpers village existed for many years. They definitely had a tough road ahead of them back then.

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  12. What a great article Tim, and such fabulous photo’s too. I confess I know little about Dutch colonies, so this was v. interesting to me. You can’t imagine what people thought as they stepped off the ships. Talk about a different life. Great diversion from your usual posts. More please:-)

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  13. Interesting to hear about your roots. Luckily the problems in the former Dutch colonies are negligable which unfortunately is not the case when it comes to the countries that were part of the British Empire. Tremendous problems still develop in the former empire. Most recently the Islamic State.

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  14. Tim, love this new series and look forward to the rest. I have always known about the Dutch East Indies of course, but I never was much interested, until now. I know about the loneliness of women. My parents emigrated from Holland in 1953 and my mother was so lonely for her mother at times. Nice that you included that part. Look forward to next week.
    Lenie

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  15. What an interesting story. I regret never having heard from my grandparents about their immigration but it wouldn’t have been as big a step. They just came from Denmark and Norway to the USA. Your grandfather will make a great core of your novel!

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  16. Your grand father was so courageous to take this bold step and I am amazed to know about your granny that she agreed with small kids to travel to other part of the world.
    You have a very interesting way to tell story.
    I am learning a lot about different places like Indonesia , Batavia, Bali from your posts and this time indies ,,,,, All Pakistanis are familiar with WI because of Cricket but now i know about Indies too.
    thank you it was a great post.

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    1. Absolutely right about the West Indies; another colonized area of the world. The Indies I am referring to are actually known as the Dutch East Indies because of the geographic location.

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  17. Enjoyed this as usual Tim. This is interesting history…and new to me. I keep trying to remember where the hell I was during history class!!! Very interesting to know your roots. What a courageous man your grandfather was. And your grandmother for going with him.

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    1. I have always tried to figure out his true motivation and after years of trying to figure it out my best guess is that he had an adventurous gene and so did his wife. Years ago I started writing notes for a novel about the whole era. I had originally assumed my mother would be the pivotal figure but as I researched and dug deeper it became very apparent that it was my grandfather who was the center of everything. He passed away some time ago; the family says he never got over the loss of having to leave Indonesia.

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