Ernst Haeckel visits “Lands Plantentuin” in Buitenzorg

Malayische Reisebriefe von Ernst Haeckel (1901): Aus Insulinde. By Ernst Haeckel. Verlag Emil Strauß.

On October 15, 1900, the famous German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) arrives at Batavia, present Djakarta. Within 15 minutes he is robbed of his passport and wallet. Even then old people were apparently a favorite target of pickpockets … Haeckel was a contemporary and good friend of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). He wrote scientific and popular science books on the theory of evolution. But he was also an accomplished aquarellist and he wrote a popular travel book on the Dutch East Indies.

Buitenplaats, from “Aus Insulinde Malayische Reisebriefe”

Since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, it was easier to travel from Europe to Asia and the number of tourists to Asia increased. Haeckel, now 66, was one of them. On September 5, 1900 he went to Genoa on board the German steamer “Oldenburg”. After short stops in Ceylon and Singapore, he reached the capital of the Dutch East Indies, Batavia, on October 15. The next day, after a train ride of one and a half hours, Buitenzorg. This place had a more pleasant climate than Batavia; Since 1747, the Governor-General had established himself here. Next to the governor’s mansion was the hortus botanicus of Java. It was here that Ernst Haeckel received a warm welcome.

Dutch and Germans

Ernst Haeckel described enthusiastically the origins of Lands Plantentuin, wondering that the garden had been under military supervision for a long time. According to him the Dutch had the same ancestors as the militaristic Germans… Heackel also criticised Leiden University because they supposedly had undermined the independence of the garden for a long time. Haeckel wrote with respect about the reputation of the garden and the scientists working there. He also mentioned that during his stay at Lands Plantent German scientists and officials from German West and East Africa, New Guinea and the Carolines visited the Dutch scientists to ask for their advice.

The volcano Salak, from “Aus Insulinde Malayische Reisebriefe”

Volcano views and Wanderbilder

Haeckel praised the view of Buitenzicht on the volcanoes Salak (2253 meters), Pangerango (3000 meters) and Gedeh (2962 meters) in the south. In the east of the garden was the Tjiliwong River, in the west the Tjidani. The exotic names are suitable for a shining tropical landscape from a different time. Haeckel wrote, photographed, made drawings and watercolors. The result was published in 1901: Aus Insulinde, Malay Reisebriefe. A folio with prints of the watercolors and pictures of his trips to Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies appeared in 1904: Wanderbilder. Those pictures are a pleasure to look at. They show a nice view of a world that no longer exists through the eyes of a bombastic man who is now famous and ridiculed.

Terminalia op Buitenzorg, Java. Door Haeckel gemaakt op 20 december 1900

Terminalia on Buitenzorg, Java.

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