Gerard Derkenne - Letters from the East Indies
Batavia 13 August 1861
At last, dear Jan, sir, we arrived on August 8 at the anchorage, and left directly with a tambanger, namely a boat to the shore to the Marine Hotel.
Batavia is divided in several quarters as you probably know. The lower quarter is for offices and the upper on Weltevrede is for the inhabitants living in Villas and so on. It's like along the Scheveningse weg.
My boss was waiting for me at the marine hotel. He's Mr (RF) van Leeuwen, who already been living there for two months. He sincerely welcomed me. I was introduced to several youngsters among them several from Rotterdam. They were all very friendly. Yesterday evening I went to a concert of Robbio the violinist from Raganius. It was very good but expensive - five guilders.
Everyday life here is very expensive. Youíll pay five guilders a day just for lodgings. On top of that you can't take 10 steps because of the heat, so you have to take a carriage everywhere. You can hire one for six hours for 3.50 guilder.
The ship left this morning at seven oíclock. My generous boss will let me leave immediately, at his expenses, by boat, to Soerabaija. I'm expected there and the boat journey can take a long time.
Congratulations on being promoted to doctor in rights. The mail leaves tomorrow, I still have a lot to write. On Soerabaija Iíll reply to all the letters that are waiting. I'll send this one to Schiedam, because I donít think youíll still live in Utrecht. More will follow soon.
Still your friend
Letters written at sea
Qausque tandem? ( For how long does this go on?)
We've now been at sea 100 days. I've already torn up several letters because we haven't met a ship sailing homewards. You won't be surprised about the news here, you haven't missed a thing.
The voyage has been long, unpleasant, and uninteresting. As you know we went to sea on the 1st of April. We immediately came into a westerly wind, the wrong direction. I got terribly seasick. If you've ever been seasick you'll know what I'm talking about. Itís awful. After five days we got to Dover with all the ships that left Nieuw Diep with us. From there the weather was variable. We sighted Madera on April 23. But then the misery began. At Madera we still did eight miles an hour, but at the equator; what a misery. Choking hot 88 degrees, going down to 80 at night and no progress. We even went backwards. It was so deadly calm weather that people were gasping for air.
Sleep was impossible in my cabin, so I took my mattress to the deck. After a week of silence we passed the equator on May 14. You probably know that when you pass over the equator there's a bit of farce with some of the crew who are intent on making a fool of you.
The evening before a lifeboat came along side with the ships messenger and the captain asked in the name of Neptune, if there were any newcomers on board who needed to be baptized. The captain allowed the crew to throw some fireworks and burning tar barrels overboard, which looked nice on the water. The next morning after breakfast a crewmember dressed as Neptune came up on the afterdeck and read the laws and told us we could buy our freedom.
As soon as this all had been done everone sprayed water everywhere. The mate even got the captain. No-one had a dry stitch on their body.
After that we had a lot of adversityÖ. contrary winds etc etc.
After reaching the Cape of Good Hope there was a big storm. On June 14, the day we passed the cape, the storm raged so fiercely we just sat in our cabins. A huge wave broke through a canape one of the passengers was sitting under. The canape became too heavy and broke a barometer worth 100. The canape was also wrecked.
And on June 18 we had another storm. This time the waves came over and washed a sloop away, although it was thoroughly tied tight with ropes. The ropes broke like thin treads. We slowly made our way to the Amsterdam and Saint Paul islands . And again we were becalmed for three days.
At the cape it was very cold, and its not exactly warm now. We're heading for Java, and if everything goes well now weíll be in Batavia in 14 days. At Batavia the ship has to take on two tons of spices for the company. I think weíll stay there for a couple of days. It'll be a good opportunity to hand over my recommendation letters and get my bearings. I'm starting to look forward to the end of this voyage.As you know I love a crowd, but here there is nothing but air and water. Sometimes you see the shadow of a ship in the distance. We saw some ships close by but they were all English or American. Itís fun to see how they communicate. This is done with signal flags that are raised on top of each other. You can ask whatever you want. We have done it four times.
You can't imagine how useful your telescope is. Itís the best on board and the captain even offered 40 guilder for it, but he wonít get it. Itís indeed a beautiful piece for which I cannot thank you enough. I haven't seen many strange things only Dolphins, bonsters albacore, albatross and Cape pigeons etc. The last I caught myself with a fishhook with bacon. They are so greedy, they swallow the bait hook and all.
Life on board is boring. In the morning we have breakfast which I often have only with the captain. Itís always fried potatoes with cold meat, smoked meat, cheese and tea etc etc. The bread is bad since the yeast is no good.
The milk is often off because it has to be preserved in bottles. At noon there's coffee to drink. At three oíclock the captain often pours a Madera or Rheinwine. At 6 oíclock dinner. Thatís also very good. The captain has very good beer, so the food is pretty good, but the conversation is poor. The captain is a good guy, He's pretty decent, but in the afternoon youíll hear some very coarse stories, with some very colourful experiences woven through them.
At the start I had some disagreements with him and didn't speak to him for a oouple of days. This worked out very well and now we are best friends. The other passengers are a misery. Haije is from Amsterdam and is spoiled, dull, stupid and childish. He's going to a tobacco plantation on Soerabaija with 800 natives. He's promised himself to make his fortune within four years.
I told him his job looked very much like a white officer's cause he has to watch over the natives - we call them blues. The other passenger Mulder was a not so serious student in Groningen for six months. His clothes are filthy, he doesn't have any manners, he's always talking politics and says he's an atheist beacuse all the great men were. What a lot of nonsense.
So be careful of the men you choose as your fellow passnegers if ever you decide to come to the East Indies, because otherwise you'll be bored stiff.
I think, friend, you will get your long-wished for title of Mr before your name by now. You may think of your absent friend during the ceremony. I thought a lot about it as you may have read in your last letter. I was feeling bad about the sharp criticism in the form of an advice you gave me - criticism I did not deserve. You probably forgot you are a gentleman and have to control yourself.
This is the only unpleasant thing I have in the many pleasant memories of the happy hours and days we often had together.
I hope youíll be successful in all your businesses, and if we meet each other youíll be a successful lawyer with a lots of clients.
I imagine Gonnie and Willem's wishes would have been fulfilled by the time you get this. Iíve asked geneologists if this means you and I are now family, but they always say no.
Youíll have to follow their example soon. Iíll stick to my old system, not because I'm fond of freedom, but because I'm convinced Iíd be too troublesome and spoiled to make a good husband. I reckon it will be very hard to find a woman that can take care for me as sister Cato did in the past.
Again my thanks for the service you offered me giving your signature for the boat journey although its only a formality, I see it as a big responsibility to be grateful for ever.
August 6 1861
Since my last letter, the voyage has been very unpleasant. On July 23 we got the Headland in sight. And then it suddenly became silent. One mile further and we would have been in the wind and had anchor ground. But now we drifted away as fast as a bullet.
You cannot understand what an unpleasant 14 days we spent, because we had heavy storms, and contrary wind. We had to sail some degrees back to find a decent wind.
Now we're anchored some seven miles from Batavia because the weather is dead calm again.
The view of the land is beautiful you should see it, it would make a nice painting for your cupboard.
Yesterday we had merchants on board who had fruit and chicken for sale. You can buy a pineapple for 10 cents. They are awfully ugly guys and I cannot understand a word they are saying. I didnít even try to learn any othe language.
I hope I find a letter from you waiting in Soerabaija. Then Iíll write you further whatís happened to me.
Soerabaija 25 September 1861
I belive you've got my last letter. As you probably heard at home, Iím finally in Soearbaija. I arrived here on August 19.
I got your letter when I arrived. It was a bit short, the same as the one I received yesterday. I was hoping you'd write some details about your family.
You have to understand that the mail is one of the few highlights in this monotonous daily routine. I hope you will spare the time to keep me informed of your business and all the things concerning you.
Gonne's and Willem's marriage would have happened by now. Iím happy for them, and hope it will be a fertile union both physically and psychically. The wedding semms to have got a lot of attention. I was sorry I couldn't be at the ceremony, but I donít have to tell you that.
I wasnít even thinking about it, since I didnít know the exact date. I figured it was sometime in the middle of August. I've celebrated it since with a couple of housemates. We let a few corks go with a toast to absent friends and family.
Now you're probably thinking 'There goes Gerard with champagne'. But no my dear Jan, my present way of life is very different from the past. Judge yourself:
In the morning at 8.30 Iím picked up by the office car, arrive there and then I let the guard fetch my books. I settle myself behind the writing bench, light a cigar, and start working slowly on the debits and credits. This goes on until noon. Our boy bring me and and de Jongh some steak with potatoes. It's been the same for six weeks, though sometimes we eat at home with our boss. After this we relax for half an hour. Then it's work till 5 oíclock, without going home in between.
As you'll apprecaite this is not fun. In the evening I arrive home very tired. I bathe and change clothes, then I sit down at the front door in a schomelstoel and watch people passing by.
We live in a very good neighbourhood where many people pass by, including a lot of girls. At seven oíclock we have dinner at the hotel. At evening we have some spare time but there's nothing to do. Sunday evening nothing, Monday evening a menís singing group of which I'm a member, but which is very bad. We're singing Caicilia. Tuesday evening nothing, Wednesday evening a musical duet. Very bad. Thursday evening the instrumental part of Caecilia. Friday nothing.
Saturday is the best evening because there's music at the club. It's like this week in and week out. It wouldn't matter so much if there was some decent conversation amongst the youngsters, but there isn't. On the contrary there is a listless boredom which they can't see, to shake out of. They say itís because of the climate. In my opinion, youngsters here see everybody new as an intruder who is a threat to their career. They are only here for the money.
Iím convinced you can make a good career here if you have the will power. I hope I have. You'd have to be without any taste to go for those yellow Chinese and blue Java girls. I say they're ugly, but gently spoken. Among the ladies several have beautiful faces, but no conversation. They are incapable of giving you more than a one word answer.
My boss is a good fellow, but I have nothing to do with him, because he knows nothing about accounting. I say good morning, good evening end at the end of the month he pays my salary, thatís it.
Twice a month in the evening he holds a reception where we square dance and where Iím bored stiff like all the youngsters. I'm friendly with the agent and the other youngsters.
I bet you want to know what the accommodation is like. Most youngsters will stay at a guest-house, where youíll pay 200 guilder a month for food and board. I did this in the beginning, but they generally advised me to find a share apartment.
By coincidence somebody from the office had a house mate but was now alone and had space for another. I took this up because it was cheaper than the guest house. Now I live in a very decent house with 3 rooms, a very decent living gallery with some extensions for the servants, bathroom, stable for the horses and a cooling house. It sounds a lot but inside it looks a bit shabby. In my room is a bed, chair and hand basin, closet and thatís it. Our gallery is almost our living room and looks very respectful. If I could draw I would sketch it for you.
You can hang your portrait with the others in the gallery. The house costs 90 guilders a month. It sounds a lot but for the Dutch East Indies itís not. In the beginning it was rather empty. I do my best to get by as economically as possible, but so far it's not working out that way.
Iím very fond of de Jongh. It's a killer but I need him because I don't understand a thing of Malaysian. Heíll has to be my interpreter but this will change in time. This has been all about me!
I congratulated you before with your promotion. Now I hope youíll soon get a good office or a good post, and get married - well, that's your wish isnít it? Please to write me how you are doing and what your prospects are. You know how much Iím interested in you.
Big Josephine, my old charm, has become a nun. Forced to. Itís a strange story, too much to tell - I got it from R. Iíll have to apologize for the dirty stains on the paper. I'm writing by lamplight because tomorrow the mail is going and its too much or a problem to write from the office. Regards to your mother's family, the Verkerks etc. and when you have the opportunity also to Mr van Vloten, whom I still remember as a friend. Be so kind as to send me the letters in an unclosed envelope. I have free mail at the office so I don't close my letters until I know your address. I the meantime I stay as always your friend
My address is
Fred Overland mail
J.P v. Leeuwen en Co
Soerabaija 9 January 1862
I was very happy to get your three letters in quick succession, in which I learned to my sadness you were stationed in the Oppert. Later I learned you'd left for The Hague. You must blame my silence to the fact there is here nothing here that could possibly interest you. You will have heard little about me from Gonne and Cato. I's glad you found a pied-a-terre in Rotterdam, and donít have to go to Zijlenberg. It seems Gonne and Willem are keeping a good home. Based on the letters and various messages they seem to be very happy. It sure does me a lot of good. The messages from Holland are a constant satisfaction for me. I'm glad you've established yourself in The Hague. You must spent money even if you are in a small village. But now there is some profit in what you spend. After Rotterdam - and this is known all over the world - The Hague is known as the centre of Dutch civilisation. You can have lots of pleasures like, walking to Scheveningen, the forest when there is music, walking through the Veenestraat, Vijverberg etc. Opera. I reckon that if ever I come back with some money, and if I'm not to old, I would go and live in The Hague. Sometimes I enjoy the memory of the pleasant days and evenings I spent in your company. I especially remember the Ďscene ŗ quatre.í I bet you're calling on Cato Mulder. If so, give my regards to Josephine whoís according to the last mail is practicing there. If you are prevented from this, then do it Ďpour lŠmour de moií for my love. It will do her much pleasure to hear something of the Sunday gentleman. And while I'm on the subject, send my greetings to Noble H v Vlootens' sister.
I'm starting to think from your letters that you've got marriage plans: I think Iíll hear more from you about. Is it still the old charm?
Your drawing of how you inmagine my home is correct.
Imagine the gallery is furnished in front with a Pan-car, playing tables, table lamps, chairs against the wall next to the other portraits. Then your drawing would be perfect.
The house sometimes look its from the Steen family (expression used in the Netherlands for a mess. See the paintings of Jan Steen): a mess you cannot describe and where you can clearly see there is no womanís influence.
On Sunday we have fun by shooting bottles with a revolver, usually in our back yard. On Sunday I always stay at home because from 8 in the morning till 6 in the evening you cannot walk through the street because of the heat, but you can drive.
The fourteen days there's moonlight is an enjoyable period here. The weather is then perfect, and we often go driving in the carriage, sometimes for up to six hours. We pay a fixed price of three guilder.
The other half of the month it is dark and unpleasant at night. I havenít yet decided to get myself a maid like most of the youngsters here. We eat at home and therefore we have an old inland wife who can cook very well. She's also a pimp - a broker in warm flesh. Now and then she gets us the most beautiful girls in Soerabaija. Often on a Sunday we do something like that for entertainment.
So far I've been free of the evil things you can get from this, although most youngsters end up catching something. Recently the procurer holder got something from his steady girl, and had to stay in secondary hospital for six weeks.
On New Year's eve there was a lot of fun at the club. First I visited the church and afterwards to the pub. There was loads of fireworks. I got drunk from all the powder smoke, and got home pretty stewed. This is something seldom happens to me. Thatís why I mention it here, as I have my reputation, gained from several parties, to consider. Usually I can have bucket loads, but now Iím a bit ashamed of myself.
The new craze at the club is dancing, but I never visit much as it's so boring. Last Sunday we had a supper at the matron's which was also very boring. From 8 until 2am wew drank vin ordinaire, although the dishes were good. Every 14 days there's a reception, and to keep up appearances we have to go. Then itís also at 8 oíclock until midnight playing quadrille. Then I then Iím always bored and it costs me when I lose my money.
At the moment I have to do a lot of book work and because of this I'm very busy. I'm very staified with my position at the office: there are lots of future possibilities. But I'm also getting terribly thick around the middle and I find that unpleasant. At least I donít have any diseases.
There's nobody here I'm really friends with, execpt a marine officer, baron Collet díEscury a decent guy with a good sense of humour. He stays at my place when he's ashore.
That's about all dear Jan! Perhaps you would like to know more about the Chinese-Java girls, but I rather not tell you since itís all ÖÖÖ.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Your devoted friend
Write to me preferably directly at the enclosed address
Write as extra information
Per overland mail
H van leeuwen Soerabaija
I almost forgot to wish you happy new year. All the best to yourself family and friends
Excuse the bad handwriting
Soerabija 26 October 1861
As you don't want me to write so often, Iíve stopped writing a couple of times. Iím not able to hold back now, although nothing much has happened. I can tell you this since you don't exactly overload me with letters. It's been almost eight months since I left and in that time I've only had two letters from you. Maybe youíve got the idea that the less letters I get the more I'll appreciate them. Thatís true, but I prefer more letters because when you're stuck out here new mail is basically a highlight. Sorry, but please write a long letter now and then. You live in a civilized world, and you hear lots of stuff that is interesting to one who hears nothing.
I was glad to hear about the Gon and Willem's wedding. I wish I could have seen their faces when they met you in Cologne Cathedral.
I don't understand how you walked away from the Rotterdam fair. How's it possible that someone could prefer a voyage down the Rhine to the Rotterdam fair? You'd have been better off going at the end of August or the beginning of September. Early Autumn and the early twilight are much more poetic, but each to their own.
I do sincerely hope to hear from you soon that you've established yourself in a residence or wherever, and that you've got the placing you want.
Iím sincerely happy with all the attention Gonne and Willem got. There's a lot of marrying going on. Trees H with P. Marianne Smit G Es, new engagements like B v Valken with miss Ligtenberg etc etc. All fodder for the church. Shouldn't you be following all these examples soon? You'd do it here, I bet. But I have to say I'm basically against it on principle. The life as a young man is extremely boring. Here you aren't a young man but an old man. It's so boring, sleepy, and unexciting. From morning 8 30 office until 6 30 without going home in the meantime. Coming home youíre too tired to get dressed, but youíll have to get properly dressed for dinner.
After dinner I usually go to the club. I have a nap, read some brochures, play a game of pool and then go home, where I make it myself comfortable on a divan with a glass of brandy with water, which is the common drink here, and a cigar. Then around one oíclock I go to bed. The mosquitoes donít leave you alone. This is the common way things go over here. This evening there is a magic show at the club, nothing special. Last time there was a German comic show for the military, which was also very bad. Now youíll probably say 'You are not in the Dutch Indies for pleasure!', Iím aware of that, and it helps me concentrate on looking to the future, I want to get a promotion, and possibly get a bit further.
Last week I had to be present at the military court as Iím classified as sharpshooter.
But Iím afraid I cannot carry my gun, since Iím growing fatter and not stronger. I have contact with other guys that are also pale because of the climate but I still have a red colour.
Last week I had to play quadrille, for the first time of my life, at my boss' dinner. I did rather well and won a guilder. The dinners here in Soerabaija are not fun beacuse the ladies are far from entertaining. Thet say no more than yes or no and in between you hear ďYou donít have to say such a thingĒ if you give them a compliment. They are far from shy. In our neighbourhood we are in the midst of ladies. At 6 oíclock everybody sits on the stoop and we have the pleasure to have sit next to us two and further on again two and opposite of us a couple of very beautiful girls. Recently we messed up a bit. We had some young guys visiting us who were a bit noisy and boastful. But one time is nothing.
I'll remember your birthday soon and as always, and I'll toast your best wishes. You are always present in my mind. I hope all is well.
According to the news the German Opera isnít what it used to be. Iím glad Iím away otherwise I would depress me. Here at Caecilia its always the same and miserable acts, but the military music is reasonable.
That's about all my news. Iím very busy these days because Anthony Cleverijn - my 'solicitor holder' is in hospital, which is the common refuge for all young guys who have a probkem. His is gigantic, He has to get the heaviest treatment, including the Cidmans treatment. I'm sure you're familiar with it. I mean in theory.
My best regards to family, friends. Keep writing
Your friend Gerard
Mr J Heijligers
Soerabaija, 1 June 1862
Dear lawyer Jan,
A promise is a promise, as I keep on reminding myself. Now I think about it I actually made a promise to a lawyer and now I'm afraid such a lawful person could prosecute me. I'll try to fulfill it as soon as possible.
I was glad to get your various letters. They gave me a clear impression of your life nowadays. They clearly show you have studied, a fact which is visible in your style, because you describe things so clearly I can almost see them myself. I wish your letters would be an influence on me.
Let me tell you something about a native festival I attended on the occasion of the start of building of a governorsí house on Sidho Aidso about 18 poles from Soerabaija. Mr Lakervelds & Co took the job, and to celebrate this Lakerveld (formerly studied at the Delft academy for clerk and afterwards came to the Dutch Indies and was bought in a company by his rich parents) had invited some youngsters along, with me among them.
He's the leading person person. He's known for his good taste and joviality so nobody refused this invitation, even though it meant a fairly exhausting day.
We ordered mail horses for Sunday morning at 5 oíclock. I was appointed as butler and took care of all the necessaries. After a very pleasant trip - one of the wagons was decorated like the coaches at home but was completely open- we arrived at our destination. You possibly know that throughout the whole of Java along the main road are posts spaced one hour apart. They always change the horses there.
When we arrived we all looked a bit startled as we did't know where to get a bath and change. Trevelling here for one day is like travelling in Holland for two, because you have to bathe and dress in the daytime because of the heat. Lucky enough we saw some other youngsters who arrived before us, and they showed us an empty bamboo house which had two rotting couches and an old 'huisterwaarder' (of course in black) as furniture.
We put our luggage away and then sat on suitcases and pieces of wood to eat and drink. After that we went looking for the party. After walking up and down for a while, yelling and singing, we finally arrived at a colossal field on which were several sheds. They were completely open, being only four poles and a sloping roof each. Something like this. My drawings are even worse as I thought. Under all those sheds were a lot of chiefs from the interior, all smoking and amusing themselves by listening to the sound of the gamelang, an instrument made of brass kettles which they hit with a sort of stick. A melancholic sound, only a bit dull, accompanied by a sort of violin and the singing of Tandak girls what was indescribably ugly.
We sat there for a long while, then we went to the Governor's house where he had prepared everything for our arrival.
The Govenor was a very respectable old man who gave us a warm welcome. He was surrounded by other leaders all with very respectable faces. After we drank a slamat (a welcome drink) the Governor left and let the father (andre adipathi) get all the dancing girls to come in a circle so we could view them. After that he threw a girl into each of our laps. They were very sympathetic but not warm. We had a bit of fun with them and then they went dancing. You should try to picture such a dancing girls (In Malayan tongging) There are some quite beautiful girls among them. In terms of physical beauty and shapeliness, girls of 13 years are already good for it. Sometimes there is an elastic flexibility you will never see in a white. Forgive me for writing about this.
After the dance we went home, but first we each chose a girl to visit us. There is something that was done in broad daylight, they don't have a problem with that sort of thing here. We were a party of seven but only had three rooms, of which two had couches. I searched and found an empty chicken house. I let a them bring a mat and did my thing there. The owner or rather the housekeeper was furious because we didnít ask him for permission. So he went to the assistant governor to complain and exaggerated the story even though were women present. They blushed but laughed a lot, and ordered some food be sent to us, to keep us busy in a more silent way.
At five they had the ceremony to place the first stone for the new building. It came with a pretty impressive hangover, along with the inseparable Gamelang and Tandak party, which was held in the field. The placing of the first stone was a uninspired ceremony, with speeches in Malayan, drums etc etc. At eight there was a ball at the Governor's with 12 women and 30 men. We were all to tired to keep our eyes open, but waited around for the delicious soup we knew they would serve eventually. It was four o'clock in the morning, what with the toasts, drinks and two hours driving, before we got back home.
You cannot imagine what beautiful diamonds were on people's heads. It's a special honour they treat Europeans to here in the inland. I saw the governor, of course an inlander, was served by a kneeling girl. I wish you could have seen it. An inland funeral for an aristocrat often costs around 30000 to 40000.
You asked me if itís true there are signs placed on houses where girls to be married or virgins are for sale. It's true. Just recently a girl of 11 years was offered to one of my friends. Her virginity was for sale for the cost of one picol of rice - about 3-4 guilders. He wisely didn't take up the offer.
You asked about Wolsing - I don't really know. He used to be director of the Marina Establishment on Soerabaija, If Iím not wrong. A good friend of mine is about to come to Holland. He's Baron A Callot díEscuij, lieutenant at sea 2nd class. His old man used to be rear admiral and lives in Rijswijk, and his sister is married to Baron RoŽll. He left jsut a few days ago on the Jason of Batavia. Youíll see him in The Hague. He'll recognize you since when he slept with us on the mat his head was pointed towards your portrait. He was the only one on Soerabija who I could sincerely call a real friend. He was always clear in his opinion, an opposite from you, but not as calm as you.
When you speak him heíll tell you about the plays we've been performing. He has reddish hair and a friendly appearance. He left so unexpectedly I didn't get a chance to give him an introduction to you.
It pleased youíre doing so well and that you are enjoying yourself in Rotterdam, I think the suggestion we gave for becoming an uncle is taking way too long. I am about to be sent the
Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant Ė New Rotterdam Newspaper every day, so Iíll be quite well informed about city news.
How about it? Arenít you going to get married? Arenít you in love or something like that? Iím curious to hear something about that, and be honest.
Now Iíll stop my boring letter, there's no local news. My regards to all good friends and family. I almost forgot to tell you next month the Governor General will come here, and Iím going to be part of the audience. Boom ta da boom.
In the meantime you devoted friend
Soerabaija 7 August 1862
I donít have to tell you your several letters gave me a lot of pleasure, especially because of the interesting content and the way it was written. It makes me think my letters are not so frequent. But what do you expect - itís such an awful country that you cannot write even with the best will of the world. There's nothing really to write about even for work: so much so that one of our correspondents, a gossip, complained about it in his letters. Chinese parties, the costs of rice and bad monsoons are about the only things you can write about. So I am always sounding bored in my letters to you.
The newspapers will have mentioned the Governor General here. It wasnít so special. An opportunity for some ladies to show off their dresses and for the officers to walk in their beautiful costumes for the poor gunners. I was one of them, but I was sick of it.
Speaking of sickness, Iím now in hospital. I wrote home saying it was my foot, but think about it. Unfortunately itís for something higher up.
I think I wrote to you before about this hospital. You get to come here every year for treatment if you are a stranger or you donít have a family that can take care of you. Itís a building in beautiful surroundings, a big place surrounded by gigantic trees. There are two rows of buildings and a building for second and third class patients. By a side entrance you enter a gigantic garden in which the building for first class patients is. This is divided into big airy rooms, all with a view on the garden, very well made and managed.
In the morning at eight and in the evening at five the doctor with some assistants does his rounds and asks everybody if he has any complaints. It's all rather military: there's a watch guard of 30 men and the whole service is done by health officers and inside it's all military. I wouldnít have gone here, if the doctor hadnít prescribed leaches. These were badly applied and I bled for a long time afterwards. The office insisted I go, they didn't find it weird or strange. So one night I decided to go and Iím feeling much better. Iíve been here now for six days and hope to leave within a couple of days. The first day I only got one slice of bread and a cup of soup, in the evening a plate of rice gruel, The second day I got the same and the third day the same but with an extra a couple of eggs. On the fourth day I was promoted to bread, butter, eggs and coffee. At lunch - noon - I get soup, vegetables and meat, and at night rice with chicken. The rice they serve here is terrible, I donít eat ant of it.
The treatment in hospital is much cheaper than home. In hospital youíll pay 4.5 guilders a day, everything included. At home itís five guilders for a doctor's visit. But it will still be expensive because I have to keep paying for my room. Please remember to say it's my foot.
Trees' childbirth went very well, she seems good at it. That makes it one every year. I think sister Gonne will make me wait a long time before I can call myself uncle and you become a godfather. My regards to Dr van Voten if you see him. I shake your hand in my thoughts and I'll always be your devoted friend,
Soerabaija 16 October 1862
The mail doesn't leave until the 26th, but I found out, as so many times before, writing at the last moment doesnít leave enough time. So I prefer to use the spare moments I have now.
I'm sorry I'm not an artist so I could draw you my castle, but imagine an avenue.
The drawing isnít so good, but like the old priest would say: itís for explanation. At the right of the main building I live in room number three. The furniture is gathered, despite this I have to pay a valuable 120 guilder a month for food and indwelling. Nothing more as a bedstead, hand basin, table and 4 chairs, while I had to buy a couple of lamps a few small tables. And of course thereís no wallpaper.
The rooms are only six months old and because of the heat the planks on the attic are so dry you can see heaven through the roof tiles. I fear that when the monsoon comes there will be no lack of leaks. As you know itís a guest house owned by the widow of a former solicitor at Rommel who came over for a couple of years with 14 children: eight girls with five at marriageable age, with four who are already married and have doen rather well. Because of her exceptional position, Mrs van den Regt was helped by everybody when her husband died, and the young men that lived here don't give her a hard time at first, but nowadays the young men arenít so polite anymore. The table servants are dubious and they turn a deaf air to any complaints.
Our table can be terrible but also fabulous. There is no variety to the menu - potatoes thoughout the day. In the morning bread with eggs beef etc. At noon there is the rice table with curry, all spicy things and something with potatoes as dessert. At seven oíclock we have dinner. I donít know if you would like the rice table. Wen I was in my own house our cook could make it really spicy, but now in the hotel you only get cowardly curry and fruit.
There's an art to making a good plate of rice, Here is the recipe: Take a plate and a spoon, add rice (of course) then minced meat, curry sauce Spanish pepper (as much as you can handle), then mix it. Drink a glass of beer with it and you will have had a good meal. Forgive me this culinary writing. Who knows? One day I'll make it for you here or in Holland
Our group is composed off several contrary elements. First there are around six young men of the merchant offices. An engineer, two military doctors very nice young men, a carriage landlord called Riku whoís already been 15 years here, has earned 30,000 and now is trying to double his fortune by carriage rental - which here is a business where here you can make a lot of money. I regret the two doctors will be transferred soon. Their conversation is very pleasant while otherwise the discussions are always about trade, as usual.
You already know how one gets through a day in the East Indies. Bathing in the morning, going to the office until five oíclock drinking tea again, bathing, get dressed, dinner as long as possible. After this, you can ride a bit by moonlight, play some quadrille or undress and shoot the breeze. For this you dressed in a pair of very wide light sleep trousers and a linen shirt thatís like a an old fashioned farmers shirt, lie in a chair with a cigar in your mouth, a glass in your hand and talking or napping a bit what you prefer. The East Indies nights are fantastic, especially by moonlight. But we'll soon get the feared monsoon with its impassable roads. Every day the thunder roars until you shake and then there's rain. It's now lwading up to the monsoon, and so fiercely hot even the natives are getting fever.
The biggest help a young man can have is a house boy. I've had mine for eight months. He looks decent and clean, and I was pretty proud of him. The guys all steal, and mine also cheated me once so I had to send him away. If he had asked it I would have taken him back and I would have felt sorry for sending him away. Now without a good house boy I don't even know if my clothes are decently clean or in order. To give you a good idea how East Indie life is you must read Herinneringen Uit Den Loopbaan Van Een Indische Officier - Career Memories of an East Indies Officer by van Rees. Iíve seldom read a book that describes it so naturally.
Get well soon with your leg, keep yourself in good shape. I'm often thinking of you, your devoted friend
Soerabaija 9 February 1863
I have to pace my correspondence these days, as I am now the office correspondent, so writing personal letters becomes a real chore. I sincerely hope you wonít think the distance or new friends have replaced the importance of your friendship. You know how difficult it is to write if there is nothing to write about. My own letters appear to be usually very colourless but your letters are good to read.
Itís not that I have so many things to write today that I've picked up my pencil, but I do want to thank you for your very special and nice letter of the 27th December. Your idea of you seeing me live in Java Street in The Hague won't happen for a while yet, as it's bad times for everyone here at the moment. News has broken that the Schimmelpenninck household has been declared bankrupt, something nobody could have expected. Four Chinese, a Arab and an Armenian have also gone down, and there will come more. This is affecting everyone, including me. I didn't get an increase of salary, but I got an increase of work, so I have to work from home at night at least eight days a fortnight. I assure you, it's exhausting to work in this heat from nine to five and then from eight to ten at night.
Unfortunately I've become fatter and fatter and thatís not healthy in this climate. So I fear I could be working for nothing, and that I might never see my dear homeland again.
I envy your life. Don't ever think of coming here for pleasure because you could end up lost like the mail on the steamship Colombus.
Things in the East Indies are progressing. We've even got a beautiful building with a white marble floor imported from Holland.
They are also planning for an iron church which I presume will be placed in Soerabaija close to the sea for the sailors because the city is about half an hour from the quay.
Dr Excury is a damned good fellow but different. He's a weird sovereign who doesn't get embarrassed and gives little praise. He's loved by everybody. I hope you would say the same if you meet him.
I have taken a maid for my health. That's the expression they use here. This creature lives in a house of 5, gets 30 a month plus clothes, and for this she has to come every evening from seven till five in the morning to sleep with the signatory. The girl is very beautiful and white, in one word delicious. But very disrespectful and always wants more and more. I got sick of this on two occasions and threw her out of my room. Both times I was crazy enough to take her back.
Recently I had an argument with a native she lives with. It was at 11.30 at night. I was writing and she began telling me he had insulted me in the kampong. I let the guy be called and told him if I heard it one more time I would let him thrown in chains. He then started mouthing off and came in my door as if was going to fight with me. I took my dagger and told him firmly that if he took one step further I'd stab him. That stopped him for a moment so I took the advantage and gave him a firm left hand punch which made him stumble out of the room. I then locked the door. The guy was still shouting outside. Unluckily the kampong my room belongs to was completely empty because my neighbour was travelling. Thatís why I had to stay in my room. The next morning I ordered the police to arrest him and he got 25 days for it. I think I will have to dismiss my maid. She's becoming to rude and selfish. I don't think I'll get a person like her back soon. This will grate a bit with your Dutch ideas, but ask people who have been here, they'll tell you.
Who is Cato's suitor? Isnít it that Boers, the one who dropped out of college?
My greetings to your mother, family Sisters etc Write to me soon
Soerabaija, 24 July 1865
My dear friend Jan. Itís been a while since I wrote to you. Donít think this is because our old friendship is forgotten or that it's because I have new friends. Iíve never found friends here like I left behind in Holland. I havenít written to you because if I did you'd see how discioontented I am with life here in the East Indies. I didn't think this would be a good idea. I guess I have to just learn to go on living on my memories.
I have to appeal now for the friendship you cherish and perhaps even your sympathy. Please see Gonne and Willem and ask them for the details, I don't have the strength to write it again. They'll show you the letter in which I have described the terrible circumstances Iím in. Only you can save me.
Your devoted friend