Repli­ca of the Bata­via Por­tal

His­to­ri­cal Model and Colo­ni­al Histo­ry

In 1628, a sand­stone por­tal was com­mis­sio­ned in Ams­ter­dam. Three months later, the portal’s com­pon­ents were ship­ped to the East Indies. The por­tal was inten­ded for use as a deco­ra­ti­ve ele­ment in the sea-side ent­rance gate of  the Bata­via fort­ress on the island of Java. Bata­via was estab­lished in 1619 by the Dutch East India Com­pa­ny (VOC for short) under Gover­nor Gene­ral Jan Pie­ter­zoon Coen, as the capi­tal of the Dutch East Indies for the VOC, beco­ming the VOC’s most important base for mili­ta­ry ope­ra­ti­ons, colo­nia­lism and trade in Asia. The city was built on the ruins of the ear­lier indi­ge­nous city Jay­a­kar­ta. In order to des­troy Jay­a­kar­ta and estab­lish their new head­quar­ters in its place, the VOC had ear­lier pro­vo­ked a con­flict with the local rulers. Coen sub­se­quent­ly orde­red all local peo­p­le to be label­led as Java­ne­se, expel­ling them from the loca­ti­on and imme­dia­te­ly estab­li­shing a fort­ress and a plan­ned city built based on the con­tem­po­ra­neous Dutch model. Over half of Batavia’s then popu­la­ti­on con­sis­ted of ens­laved peo­p­le. Other Bata­via inha­bi­tants included labou­rers from the Moluc­cas and Bali, Chi­ne­se trad­ers and a small Dutch eli­te. The VOC attempt­ed to con­so­li­da­te its posi­ti­on in the regi­on, con­ti­nu­al­ly expan­ding Batavia’s mili­ta­ry faci­li­ties. It was in this con­text that the sand­stone por­tal for the fort­ress was orde­red. The por­tal was inten­ded to sym­bo­li­se the aspi­ra­tio­nal  cul­tu­ral and mili­ta­ry domi­nan­ce of the Dutch.

The sand­stone for the por­tal evi­dent­ly came from the Coun­ty of Bent­heim, and was sub­se­quent­ly work­ed by stone­ma­sons in Ams­ter­dam befo­re being loa­ded onto the VOC ship Bata­via, which set sail in 1628. At that time, the VOC was alre­a­dy regu­lar­ly sai­ling to the East Indies, with many of the sail­ors and sol­diers on board VOC ships coming from the Coun­ty of Bent­heim and sur­roun­ding regi­ons. For the­se peo­p­le, the VOC offe­red a gate­way to the wider world. Peo­p­le from all social clas­ses joi­n­ed the VOC, testi­fy­ing to the ext­ent of the VOC’s inter­na­tio­nal net­work, a net­work which enab­led the VOC to main­tain its trade rou­tes over an exten­ded peri­od. 

On 4 June 1629, the Bata­via was wre­cked off the coast of Aus­tra­lia and sank, resul­ting in the por­tal fai­ling to reach its inten­ded desti­na­ti­on of Bata­via. The Bata­via wreck remain­ed on the sea flo­or, undis­tur­bed by human hands until, bet­ween 1970 and 1974, various items began to be sal­va­ged from the wreck site by archaeo­lo­gists asso­cia­ted with the West Aus­tra­li­an Muse­um. The­se included tim­bers from the Batavia’s port side stern, and the stones com­pri­sing the ori­gi­nal­ly envi­sa­ged Bata­via por­tal. 

The tel­ling of the histo­ry of this struc­tu­re ser­ves mul­ti­ple pur­po­ses, inclu­ding the inten­ti­on to sti­mu­la­te a cri­ti­cal exami­na­ti­on of his­to­ri­cal oppres­si­on and colo­ni­al explo­ita­ti­on. At the same time, the por­tal func­tions as a “strong sym­bol of under­stan­ding bet­ween peo­p­le with dif­fe­rent cul­tu­ral back­grounds” into the future (quo­te from the gree­ting of the Indo­ne­si­an Embas­sy read at the ope­ning of the repli­ca).