What Was Indonesia’s First English Newspaper?

Posted on October 26th, 2010 at 6:04 am by Farah Fitriani


What was the first Indonesia’s English Newspaper? I know most of you (at least I did) thought it is Jakarta post, since it was founded in 1983 and still available now. But no, Jakarta Post is not the first. Java Government Gazette that was first launched in 1812 wass the first Indonesia’s English Newspaper.

The name might be not familiar, because it was ran only for 5 years before the Dutch government translated it. But Java Government Gazette successfully became the forerunner of Indonesia’s English Newspaper. Check the story below from Jakarta Globe:

The Jakarta Globe might be Indonesia’s newest English language newspaper, but which was its first? Many people assume that it was the Jakarta Post (founded in 1983), those with longer memories might recall the now defunct Indonesian Times (launched in 1974), or the Indonesian Observer (founded in 1955).

Fans of historic trivia might even suggest the short-lived Independent, a weekly newssheet printed in Jakarta at the end of World War II during the Allied re-occupation of Indonesia.

But in truth the inky ancestor of all those publications first rolled off the presses almost 200 years ago.

Its name was the Java Government Gazette. In 1811, Britain occupied Java, ousting Dutch colonial forces from the East Indies.

The invasion was a far-flung sideshow of the Napoleonic Wars causing havoc in Europe at the time: France had annexed Holland, making Dutch overseas possessions de facto enemy territory in British eyes.

For five years, Java and a scattering of other archipelago outposts were under a British administration based in Jakarta, then known as Batavia.

Under the energetic lieutenant governor, Thomas Stamford Raffles (who later founded Singapore), the administration implemented all sorts of changes — Indonesian traffic today travels on left as in Britain thanks to laws laid down in this period, for example.

Among the first innovations was the launch of a weekly newspaper.

An entire printing press was shipped in from Calcutta, but before the first edition of the Java Government Gazette hit the stands, the chief printer, Dr. Hunter, succumbed to Batavia’s notoriously insalubrious climate, and it was his young assistant, Amos H. Hubbard, who oversaw the launch of the paper.

Hubbard came from a family of venerable American newsmen.

His father was the proprietor of the Norwich Courier in Connecticut, and his older brother, Thomas, had worked as a government printer for the British in Calcutta.

Hubbard was the printer and the acting editor of the Gazette for its entire run. The first edition of the Java Government Gazette was delivered to subscribers on Feb. 29, 1812, and for the next four years it appeared without fail every Saturday.

It was a broadsheet, more or less the same size as your modern Globe, though it usually ran to only four pages.

The paper’s principal role was as a government mouthpiece.

The first column on its front page was usually taken up by the latest pronouncements from the lieutenant governor on issues as diverse as the official prices of opium and arak (palm wine), slave laws and the value of the official paper currency.

A strap-line under the imposing masthead declared that all such notifications were to “be considered official, and duly attended to accordingly by the parties concerned.”

Many Dutch citizens remained in Java during the British rule and these notices were usually also translated into Dutch.

But there was more to the Gazette than pronouncements and propaganda.

Scattered in its pages were intriguing advertisements for everything from “handsome second-hand carriages” to “valuable men and women slaves.”

There were also lively correspondence columns featuring haughty discussions of moral issues such as slavery and dueling, flowery poems from contributors and the occasional bout of literary bickering.

There was also plenty of local news.

Dramatic reports of bloody British victories over local rulers in Palembang and Yogyakarta were not uncommon, while descriptions of more peaceful encounters — usually penned by Hubbard himself — were full of intriguing color.

In March 1812, the Gazette reported a picnic hosted for the Sultans of Cirebon in Batavia.

The entertainment consisted of a “Malay dance” which did not go down well with the European observers: “Their uncouth attitude and gestures surprised the English spectators, whilst they evidently delighted the Javanese nobility.”

According to the article, following the festivities, the guests were ferried to a specially constructed bamboo bungalow on stilts in the middle of the Ciliwung River to engage in a spot of fishing.

Later the same year, the Gazette carried its debut sports report, covering the results of the first annual Salatiga horse races, held in the hills of Central Java.

There were also unintentionally hilarious editorials passing judgment on the standards of dress amongst Batavia’s resident Dutch women, and ethnographic reports on Balinese princes and Kalimantan tribes from intrepid English travelers.

The second half of the paper was filled with international news usually lifted wholesale from any Calcutta and London papers that arrived with passengers disembarking from sailing ships at Batavia’s teeming harbor.

News of the wars in Europe was often six months out-of-date. When a particularly exciting batch of overseas newspapers arrived in town, a special edition of the Gazette was hurried out midweek.

Editor Hubbard also oversaw the publication of the Java Annual Directory, which included full listings of government officials, services and private businesses, and was available to Gazette subscribers for 8 Java rupees (non-subscribers had to pay the full 12).

In 1815, the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, and Dutch sovereignty was re-established as Britain agreed to hand back the Indonesian territories it had seized four years earlier.

Raffles left for England in early 1816, and later in the year Dutchman Godert van der Capellen arrived to oversee the restoration of Dutch rule.

The Java Government Gazette limped on for a few months, and its front pages were peppered with advertisements for passages to England and for auctions of English homes and household goods.

Its readership was vanishing, and the number of columns filled with Dutch text rose.

The last edition of the Gazette went out to its dwindling body of subscribers on Aug. 10, 1816, almost exactly five years after the British first arrived in Java.

The paper was later replaced by the Dutch-language Bataviasche Courant.

Today, the role of the Java Government Gazette as the predecessor of modern Indonesia’s entire English-language print media has been largely forgotten, and back copies are few and far between.

As for what happened to the erstwhile editor, Hubbard — he did not join the initial English exodus in 1816.

What he did after the Gazette folded is not clear, but a rather sad little “situation wanted” ad near the bottom of page one of the last edition offers a clue: “A YOUNG MAN, who understands the Dutch Language, would have no objections to engage himself in any of the Merchant Houses — for particulars enquire at the Printing Office.”

The following year, Hubbard chartered a ship, filled its hold with his goods, and headed home to America. It was probably the best decision he could have made — he would have had a rather long wait for the next editorial position on an English language publication in Indonesia.

Sacred Cows and Burning Widows Feb. 29, 1812

A tantalizing glimpse of life in Bali:
“The Bali people pay divine honors to the Cow; they do not make use of its hide, nor will they sit upon it from reverential respect. The wife burns herself with the body of her deceased husband, she ascends the funeral pile, adorned with flowers, and holding in her hand a dove, which she liberates. On the bird’s flying off she leaps voluntarily into the fire.”

Toothless and Clueless Thieves Flee April 25, 1812

A pair of Indian servants on the run: “On Saturday morning, the 25th April, 1812, deserted from Surabaya, two Bengal servants, both named Peerbuccus, after robbing their employers of a considerable amount. One of them is a robust-looking man, about 35 years of age, and has lost many of his front teeth; he speaks the Malay language tolerable fluently, and has rather an effeminate voice. The other is a very tall, thin, black, miserable-looking creature, has no one good quality to recommend him and may be easily known from his great stupidity which approaches nearly to idiotism. Any person giving information so as they may be apprehended, shall be handsomely rewarded”

New Fashion Hits Batavia May 2, 1812

An editorial praises the latest trends among ladies of the city: “At the entertainment recently given at Batavia it was remarked how great an improvement has been introduced in respect to the attire of the Dutch Ladies since British authority has been established. The Cabaya appears now generally disused and the more elegant English costume adopted. We congratulate our friends on the amelioration of the public taste, because we see in it the dawn of still greater and more important improvements.”

Poison Pen Writer Says Sorry Dec. 12, 1813

A court-sanctioned apology from a foul-mouthed tax dodger, who “neglected to pay certain duties at Batavia”: “I John Williams Welsh, formerly known by the name of John Williams, commanding the ship Claudine, do this eleventh day of December 1813, before the Supreme Court of Judicature in Batavia, declare that on the ninth day of April 1812, I did at Surabaya write a most false, malicious, abusive and threatening letter, addressed to Messrs Wallis and Co. Prize Agents for the Captors of Java, and I do acknowledge that I wrote this letter under the impulse of passion, for had I at the time been capable of reflection, I must have been sensible that I had no reason whatever for using such gross and improper language.”

Rumble in the Jungle Dec. 14, 1814 A gruesome report of a fight between a tiger and a buffalo, a traditional entertainment for the guest of the sultan in Yogyakarta:

“A Royal Tyger … was enclosed together with a very fine Buffaloe of the true fighting breed, within a strong circular fence of about thirty yards in circumference. For some moments they stood on the defensive, each seeming unwilling to begin the fight; the appearance of the Tyger during this interval was highly characteristic of his nature; he seemed perfectly aware of the prowess of his adversary, and would fain have avoided the impending contest — his furious eyes which glared like fireballs, darted in wistful glances around him, apparently in search of the means of escape or of a less powerful antagonist on whom to wreak his vengeance. Meantime the Buffaloe stood as if conscious of superiority, steadily awaiting the attack of his formidable adversary. This state of inaction might have lasted for some time had not the Buffaloe been aroused to furious pitch of irritation by the application of bunches of nettles attached to long bamboos, which with the assistance of chilly water which was poured on him from above seemed at once to exhaust his caution and forbearance; he roared with pain and indignation, spurned the ground he trod on, and then darted with inconceivable velocity on his wary antagonist, who avoided his horns and fastened on his neck, which tore in a dreadful manner. As soon as the Buffaloe disengaged himself he charged again but with equal ill success, the Tyger still avoided the fury of his onset, yet seldom failed to inflict some terrible wound upon his opponent. In this manner the battle raged for nearly an hour, when the Buffaloe, contrary to the usual result, was completely defeated.”

The Java Government Gazette functioned as the British government’s mouthpiece in Indonesia. Besides the propaganda, however, the paper  also contained advertisements, correspondence columns, editorials as well as local and international news.

Launched in 1812, the Java Government Gazette was the forerunner of ?the country’s English-language print media.

News Source: The Jakarta Globe

Photo Source: The Jakarta Globe

Thank you Mr. Ahmad Saiful Muhajir for the news tips!

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