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The Emergence of a Town

According to Ong Tae Hae, Batavia was a low city, probably compared to the cities in China such as Shang Hai, and the dwelling houses are dense (Ong 1849: 6). She was founded in 1619 on the ruins of the former principality of Jayakarta. Occupation and domination are the elements inherent in any colonial establishment’s foundation; however, in the case of Batavia, either the native population chose to follow their own rulers Jayawikarta Prince and fled to nearby Banten, or they were simply chased away (Blusse, 1986: 3).

Before the town was occupied by VOC and named Batavia, at this place there is already the palace of Jayawikarta Prince (Heuken, 1996: 28). Then after Jan Pieterszoon Coen the governour of VOC occupied the area, he built a fortress at the estuary of Ciliwung river. In the first half of 17th century, the Dutch constructed Batavia town as a walled city at the eastern side of Ciliwung River. Then in the mid of 17th century the west side of the river was built and walled to secure the city. Ciliwung river was then flow in the middle of the city as the source of water and where the harbor located. This is an ideal and genius urban design.

Leonard Blusse in his dissertation shows that Batavia was city of Chinese as the indigenous fled to Banten after the VOC occupied their town on May 30, 1619. The only population still stayed in Jakarta was the Chinese community in a very small number. The emptiness in the city gave difficulty for the Dutch to build their settlement and fortress against the enemy. Blusse said that the situation was like “a ruler without subjects is like a rider without a horse”. The Dutch barely needed people whom could be ruled and worked for the VOC. Hence Jan Pieter Zon Coen made all efforts to lure people from every where. To invite indigenous Javanese was impossible for him, hence he lure the Chinese who would become an important community in Batavia, the name of Jakarta after she fell to the VOC (Blusse, 1986: 52).

In the early stage of Batavia, there were two prominent in the Chinese community they were Jan Con and Bencong (Blusse, 1986:55), the later was the first Capitan. The Dutch satisfied and were content to  their leadership since the Chinese had paid seven times more to construction of the city wall (Blusse, 1986: 56). Blusse has shot the moment of the city construction and the Chinese has a tremendous role in the financial.

Batavia was built by the Chinese. From Blusse’s dissertation, the Chinese role in the construction of Batavia was not only their skill as mason but also as the contractors. Lim Lacco was the biggest contractor of that time. Were the other Dutch towns and the fortresses built by the Chinese? In the building of Batavia city, Jan Con got the job ordered by the new governor general Jacques Spex (1629-1632). However, during the sieges of the town in 1628 – 1629 by Sultan Agung,  many building projects had been neglected.

The new governor Hendrix Brouwer (1632-1636) ordered a canal to be dug on the western side of Batavia castle. The plan is motivated by the fact that Batavia town was still situated prim­arily on the eastern side of the meandering outlet of the Ciliwung. Hence, canalization at the west part should be done soon as urban development to this side cannot wait any longer. To carry out this project the Dutch was dependent upon Chinese contractors and labor brokers. According to Hendrick Brouwer the governor succeeding Spex,

"None of the Dutch burghers is willing to contract for build­ing projects such as the dredging of canals or the supply of wood, lime and stone. Only Chinese are engaged in this sector. Without their help the construction of Batavia's fortification and the city's present lay-out would have required many more years to complete." ( Blusse, 1986: 60-63).

As Batavia stood in the middle of hostile environment, loyal contractors such as Jan Con was needed by the Dutch. By that time he was awarded a new contract to dig the Chinese gracht, the Chinese canal. However in order to give Batavia a “Dutch appearance” the contract was canceled. As a substitute on May 13, 1636 Jan Con was awarded the con­struction of the Rhinoceros Gracht in the western half of the city at a price of 2/3 Rial or 32 Stuiver per cubic fathom. At the end of that same year, he completed the new Pasar Ikan or fish-market with a special canal added to it to facilitate the landing of fish. According to De Haan, during the same period, the indefatigable entrepreneur also provided the city with a deep moat, which surrounded its western and northern sides (De Haan 1935 I:79). Considering the fact that at the same time Jan Con became the chief supplier of lime, stone and wood for the fortification of Batavia castle and Batavia town, it is clear that his projects were most impressive in terms of magnitude, and labor involved (GM I:422). Yet, these pro­jects give us only a partial impression of the man's activities (Blusse, 1986: 63).

The cancellation of Chinese canal and the reason as to give a “Dutch appearance” to the city raise a hypothesis that there was no Chinese architecture in Batavia in that era. This hypothesis can be proved by Johannes Rach’s drawing in the 1760’s after the Chinese massacre. He drew a scene of Glodok outside the city wall with its Chinese temple in Chinese architecture. On the other hand according to another drawing by Nieuhoff, the Chinese hospital inside the city wall, which was built before the Chinese massacre, was in Dutch architecture.

 

 

Chinese Temple at Gang Petak Sembilan