When our Coral Expeditions cruise arrived in the town of Tobelo on the northwestern arm of the island of Halmahera in October 2018, the Dukono volcano was erupting ash. This should not have been a surprise since research shows that the volcano has been erupting almost continuously since 1978.
The Dukono volcano as seen from the Coral Discoverer
A rift in the earth’s mantle has caused a sea floor spreading zone between the islands of Sulawesi and Halmahere, causing subduction and related volcanic activity along the edge of both islands. There are sixteen volcanoes on the Halmahera volcanic arc, many of which are still active, and an equal number along the Sangihe volcanic arc.
This seafloor map shows the central ridge, like the larger mid-Atlantic ridge, formed by the intrusion of oceanic magma. This intrusion causes spreading of the sea floor and the related subduction zones are shown by the seafloor trenches developed on each side of the central ridge . The water filled sediments that are subducted into the earths interior then become superheated, melt the surrounding rocks, and cause the volcanic activity.
The related volcanoes can be best seen on this topographical map of Halmahera which shows a line of volcanoes formed along the western side of the island, including the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti and Makian which are offshore.
The Dukono volcano is only 10 km from the town of Tobelo. While we were there it was continuously erupting ash, but fortunately the wind was blowing to the northeast and away from the town.
The Dukono volcano as seen from the town of Tobelo
About half of everything Joseph Conrad ever wrote takes place in South-East Asia, six novels, plus more than a dozen short stories and novellas, which are all evocative of the exotic east. Although his love was for sailing ships and the world’s great oceans, his voyages on the tramp ship Vidar to the Java Sea, the Macassar Strait and the east coast of Borneo, inspired more of Conrad’s fiction than any other period in his life.
His Borneo books – Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, Lord Jim and The Rescue were all based on the places he had visited, the stories he had heard, and the people he had met during his voyages in the Indonesian archipelago. It is his excellent visual memory of people, landscape, estuaries, rivers, climate, jungle foliage, commerce, local politics, religion and dress that bring his fictional world to life.
In his novel Almayer’s Folly, Joseph Conrad describes the location of the village and trading post he calls Sambir as –
Forty miles up a river on the east coast of Borneo. A river and a settlement which he described as ‘One of the last, forgotten unknown places on earth’.
In his novel Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad describes the location of the village and trading post as –
Patusan is a remote district of a native-ruled State and the chief settlement bears the same name. At a point on the river about forty miles from the sea, where the first houses come into view, there can be seen rising above the level of the forest the summits of two steep hills.
For whatever reason, Joseph Conrad avoided directly naming the real location of this village and trading post so it took some time for determined literary detectives to track down the actual location of the fictional villages of ‘Sambir’ and ‘Patusan’ in remote East Borneo.
The first clue is the Vidar, the trading ship on which Joseph Conrad served as first mate, which he describes as being based in Singapore and having an Arab owner.
She was an Eastern ship, inasmuch as then she belonged to those seas. She traded among dark islands on a blue reef-scarred sea, with the Red Ensign over the taffrail and at her masthead a house-flag, also red, but with a green border and with a white crescent in it. For an Arab owned her, and a Syed at that. Hence the green border on the flag.
Joseph Conrad, The Shadow-Line
A search of the of the records reveals the following:
Joseph Conrad made four trading voyages to East Borneo on the Vidar from 1887 to 1889. The Singapore shipping records would have shown the destinations of the Vidar, including Tanjung Redeb on the Berau River and its trading voyage would be as shown on the map below:
‘The coast of Patusan is straight and somber, and faces a misty ocean. Red trails are seen like cataracts of rust streaming under the dark-green foliage of bushes and creepers clothing the low cliffs. Swampy plains open out at the mouth of rivers, with a view of jagged blue peaks beyond the vast forests. In the offing a chain of islands, dark, crumbling shapes, stand out in the everlasting sunlit haze like the remains of a wall breached by the sea.‘
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
The Berau is the main river up from the coast which Joseph Conrad named the ‘Pantai’ in Almayer’s Folly and An Outcast of the Islands, and the ‘Patusan’ in Lord Jim. The settlement of Tanjung Redeb, forty miles up the river, lies on a promontory at the confluence where the Segai River to the north and the Kelai River to the south join to form the Berau. Opposite on the north bank of the Segai is the settlement of Gunung Tabor and the old Rajah’s palace. Opposite on the east bank of the Kelai is the settlement of Sambaliung, where according to Conrad, the Bugis potentate Lakamba had built his stockade and where Syed Abdulla established his wharf and trading post. Joseph Conrad provides us a description of the settlement through the eyes of Kapar Almayer:
From the low point of land where Almayer stood he could see both branches of the river. The main stream of the Pantai was lost completely in darkness for the fire at the Rajah’s had gone out altogether, but up the Sambir Reach his eye could follow the long line of Malay houses crowding the bank, with here and there a dim light twinkling through bamboo walls, or a smoky torch burning on the platforms built out over the river. Further away, where the island ended in a low cliff, rose a dark mass of buildings towering above the Malay structures. Founded solidly on a firm ground with plenty of space, starred by many lights burning strong and white, with a suggestion of paraffin and lamp-glasses, stood the house and the godowns of Abdulla bin Selim.
The Book Launch for Eastern Voyages was held in front of the ‘Windjammers Statue’ at the Australian National Maritime Museum with the 1874 barque James Craig in the background. Commodore Christopher Rynd kindly performed the honours and below is the text from his speech:
“I grew up in the Far East and can recall from the early age hearing of Joseph Conrad. Later on, in going to sea and learning my business as a seaman officer in ships of trade I came to appreciate Conrad as the author who wrote with an authenticity that only one who has experience at sea and in command can.
In this book Ian brings his own unique knowledge of the geography and history of the Indonesian archipelago, of Malaya and Singapore, to enrich Conrad’s experiences and stories. Already the author of five books, the result of his own life and travels in this part of the world and the study of its history, Ian Burnet brings to this this book on Conrad and his Eastern Voyages a renewed appreciation of Conrad whose personal history is as fascinating as any character in his stories.
Ian’s book has made me appreciate afresh what an astute and perceptive observer Conrad was and of his writing style, crafted with the labour that only another author can appreciate. As a naturalised British citizen he wrote from a unique perspective of an outsider and wrote so well, in what was his third language, that his books were considered as English classics within his own lifetime.
As Ian Burnet has written in the first sentence of this book ‘The life of Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski reads like an adventure story, an adventure story written by somebody like Joseph Conrad’.
I warmly commend this book to you. And declare it launched”
Photographs are courtesy of Cathy Morrison and John Cardelli
Alfred Street Press is the publishing arm of Ian Burnet Books and was established to publish the book Joseph Conrad’s EASTERN VOYAGES – Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River.
This book tells the story of Joseph Conrad’s life at sea on the classic three-masted, square-rigged sailing ships before they were ultimately replaced by steamships. Joseph Conrad’s first books – Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, Lord Jim and The Rescue were all set in East Borneo and this book describes how these first books are related to the people he met and his own experiences as first mate on a trading vessel based out of Singapore.
The book can be purchased as an ebook from the usual online retailers or as a print book through the shop at :
For many of us, Joseph Conrad is a famous English author known for such books as Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, on which the films of the same name are based. Those of us who live in Sydney may, on seeing his plaque on Circular Quay’s writers walk, have been surprised that he had visited our shores.
However, Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages, the book under review, has many more surprises for us, and particularly for those with an interest in Indonesia. Far from being an “English author”, he was in fact born in Poland in 1857 and given the name of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. His childhood was one of severe deprivation: his father was a Polish patriot and the family was arrested by the Russians and banished to the severe climate of northern Russia. The hardship of his childhood included experiencing the death of his mother, his father’s severe ill health and his own ill health. The rest of his youth was spent in the Russian-held part of Poland and later in France. From an early age, Józef had his heart set on becoming a mariner. His life as a sailor began with four years on French ships before, at age of 21, he arrived in England in 1878 with minimal English and enlisted in the British merchant marine. For the next fifteen years Joseph Conrad, the name he had assumed, worked on a variety of ships as crew member (apprentice, able-bodied seaman), and then as third, second and first mate, until eventually achieving captain’s rank.
He spent much of his time as a mariner sailing in Southeast Asia between Singapore and Borneo. From very early on he came to love the sailing boats of the era and, later, captaining clippers between Europe and Australia. Many times, his life led to great adventures such as when he signed on with a Belgian company and travelled far inland into Africa up the Congo River, the experience that provided the basis of his novel Heart of Darkness. His intimate knowledge of the Indonesian archipelago arose from his four voyages as first mate on the steamship Vidar to a small trading post some forty miles up a river on the east coast of Borneo.
Burnet’s fascinating study shows how Conrad’s writings drew on his own experience and how the characters he met, particularly in Indonesia, became central to the wonderful novels that gave him such a central place in English literature. It is all the more astounding when one realises that English was in fact Conrad’s fourth language, after Polish, French and Russian. Through historical research and Conrad’s autobiographical writings, particularly A Personal Record, Burnet has managed to document the voyages the author made and the people he met that were later woven into his many novels. Indeed, in a masterful and incisive manner, Burnet analyses events and characters from Conrad’s own life to show how they inspired and indeed are reflected in the events and characters of Conrad’s The Rescue, Almayer’s Folly and An Outcast of the Islands.
Given the length of time Conrad spent in Borneo and in the Indonesian archipelago, it is clear he knew Malay, the lingua franca of the many linguistic communities of the islands, and was aware of colonial events and had met many local characters, including the descendants of James Brooke the Rajah of Sarawak. It is fascinating to see the way that the historical alliances and events of the colonial era are reflected in Conrad’s writing, all the more that he wrote his books from memory after he retired to England in 1893 at age 36. However, his desire to become a writer in later life is reflected in the fact that, during his many years at sea, he carried with him an outline manuscript for his first novel, Almayer’s Folly.
Aided by Conrad’s autobiographical writings, Burnet masterfully manages to blend Conrad’s own life experiences with the plots of his novels so that we have a real sense of daily life and adventure in Southeast Asia, and particularly the Dutch East Indies. The resulting book is highly recommended and will lead many of us to read or re-read Conrad’s books, with new understanding.
This review by Dr. Ron Witton is to be published in Our Indonesia Today.
The life of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski reads like an adventure story, an adventure story written by somebody like Joseph Conrad.
During the twenty years from the time that he left Poland in October 1874 until he signed off his last vessel in January 1894, Konrad had worked in ships. For fifteen of those years he served under the Red Ensign as a British merchant seaman and Konrad describes it as ‘the finest day in his life’ when in 1880 and at the age of twenty-three he received his certificate as a second mate in the British Merchant Navy. Eventually Konrad would make his home in England and apply for British nationality which was granted in 1886.
Konrad’s favoured destination was Asia, the bustling transit port of Singapore, the remote islands and ports of the Dutch East Indies. It was from Singapore that he made four voyages as first mate on the steamship Vidar to a small trading post which was forty miles up a river on the east coast of Borneo. A river and a settlement which he described as ‘One of the last, forgotten, unknown places on earth’ and where he would meet the people, places and events that he describes in his first novels.
Towards the end of his sailing career, at the age of 35, with no ship and no immediate prospect of a command, his days were empty. Idle in London he began to write of his experiences of the people he had met at that isolated trading post on the Berau River in Eastern Borneo. The idea of writing an entire book was then outside his imagination, but the characters he had met in Borneo began to visit him in the front sitting room of his furnished apartment in a Pimlico square.
About half of everything Joseph Conrad ever wrote takes place in South-East Asia, six novels, plus more than a dozen short stories and novellas, which are all evocative of the exotic east. Although his love was for sailing ships and the world’s great oceans, his voyages on the tramp ship Vidar to the Java Sea, the Macassar Strait and the east coast of Borneo, inspired more of Conrad’s fiction than any other period in his life. His Borneo books – Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, Lord Jim and The Rescue were all based the places he had visited, the stories he had heard, and the people he had met during his voyages in the Indonesian archipelago. It is his excellent visual memory of people, landscape, estuaries, rivers, climate, jungle foliage, commerce, local politics, religion and dress that bring his fictional world to life.
In Almayer’s Folly Conrad introduces us to the anti-hero of his first two novels, who is based on a Dutchman born in Java known as Charles Olmeijer, the resident trader of that small outpost on the Berau River. He left a deep impression on Conrad because of the vastness of his ambitions compared to his derelict appearance and his actual situation. Conrad later wrote that ‘If I had not got to know Almayer pretty well, it is almost certain there would never have been a line of mine in print’.
Almayer’s Folly, was published in 1895 under the anglicised name of Joseph Conrad and he then devoting himself full-time to writing. He wrote slowly, always struggling with deadlines and anxious about money. Although his work was frequently interrupted by agonising periods of writer’s block and persistent illnesses, he went on to write some 20 novels as well as some of the world’s greatest short fiction. His books were a critical success but he only obtained commercial success late in his career after the publication of Chance, one of his few novels that had a happy ending.
Conrad was important because he was an outsider who had not grown up with the popular myths of the glory of the British Empire. He became British but viewed the world from a non-British perspective and was one of the first English writers of the period to pierce the popular assumptions of superiority that had grown up around the British Empire, colonials and colonial life. The place he now occupies in letters is as the English critic Walter Allen wrote – ‘Conrad’s best work represents a body of achievement unequalled in English fiction this century by any writer except Henry James’. While Henry James wrote in a letter to Conrad – ‘No one has known – for intellectual use – the things you know, and you have, as the artist of the whole matter, an authority that no one has approached’. Conrad’s greatness lies in his ability to create an absolutely convincing illusion of reality and for Joseph Conrad his greatest honour was to have his novels regarded as English classics in his own lifetime and despite the fact that English was not his native language.
My interest in Conrad began when I arrived in Indonesia from the sea and as a young man around the same age as Joseph Conrad. During my years of residence and my travels throughout the archipelago, I, like Conrad, fell in love with its peoples, its extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages, cultures and its endlessly fascinating history.
In his writing Conrad was able to convert actual events of his own experience into enduring fiction and he once said that everything about his life can be found in his books. Because the material for his tales of Singapore and a Borneo River are mainly autobiographical, in the following chapters I am able to use a mixture of my words, together with his, to tell this story of Joseph Conrad’s eastern voyages and how he made the connection between his own life experiences and the characters and events in his first novels.
Almayer’s Folly, The Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue are often referred to as the Lingard Trilogy because of the continuing role of Tom Lingard, the ‘Rajah Laut’ or ‘King of the Sea’. It should be noted that the narrative sequence of these novels is in the reverse of the order in which they were written. In the latter part of this book I have taken the liberty to place the parts of these novels into their proper narrative sequence and focus on the back-story of his characters, which will, I hope, make it easier for readers to discover or rediscover Conrad’s genius.
When we think of the history of spice we often start with the protection rackets, piracy, and massacres of the East India companies. But the world trade in spices is not something that begins with the European age of sail in the sixteenth century. It’s far more ancient. The search for spice has led to travel, exploration and cross-cultural influences for millennia. The Indonesian maritime spice routes helped define the extent and culture of Nusantara, or what we now call Indonesia. Focussing on nutmeg and clove, this program explores the history of these ingredients from 3,500 years ago to today, with interviews, poetry, natural sound and music of the Spice Islands.
Michael BaldwinDuration: 33min 25secBroadcast: Tue 27 Apr 2021, 11:05am
MANY people pass by it today without a second glance.
I was going to write that people walk over it, but that’s wrong, as it’s usually roped off.
What I’m referring to is a rather marvellous curiosity of cartography underfoot as you enter the solemn State Library of NSW (aka the Mitchell Library) in Sydney.
For the past 81 years, this object has graced the library’s grand vestibule drawing attention (if you pause long enough) to a golden age of exploration in the vast, and then largely unknown, southern seas
After walking among imposing classic sandstone pillars into the cool interior of the entrance hall, you suddenly stumble across one of the library’s great treasures. It’s not hidden, but frozen in marble.
Here, you come face-to-face with the huge marble and terrazzo reproduction of a 17th century Dutch map. Made from yellowish marble to resemble an old map, it shows what was known then about the mystery continent (Australia) inset in brass. Also depicted are small sailing ships, a spouting whale and Latin inscriptions. It is bordered by wavy “ocean” lines of mosaic tiles.
Called the Bonaparte Tasman map, it ostensibly shows the two voyages of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (1642 and 1644). It depicts an incredible, but incomplete, chart of Australia, revealing his results of mapping western Cape York, the Gulf of Carpentaria, much of the WA coast and the southern part of Tasmania.
Evidence of these voyages largely depends on this map, as no original journals or ship logs have survived.
Particularly interesting is that the Dutch knew much about the shape of Australia well before English explorer James Cook came along 125 years later. That was in 1769-70 to chart the totally missing east coast of Terra Australis Incognita for European eyes.
The original, priceless Bonaparte Tasman chart was acquired by the Mitchell Library in 1933, six years before master craftsmen created Sydney’s marble floor map as a feature for the ‘new’ building, opened in 1942. The full story of getting the map involved a tip-off in 1926 from legendary anthropologist Daisy Bates, then living at the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, and the grandnephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. That, however, is a tale for another day.
But does the marble map tell the whole story? While no one doubts the authenticity of the marble floor from the map it was copied from, no one knows the date of the original chart. Was it compiled before 1647, or drawn even as late as the 1690s?
It was in the earlier period that explorer Abel Tasman ‘found’ Tasmania, New Zealand and north-west WA. But should he get all the glory?
Author Ian Burnet, who considers the marble piece to be Sydney’s greatest public artwork, thinks the map is the result of the accumulated wisdom of 16 separate voyages. These were undertaken by ships from Holland’s giant East India Company (or VOC) over 38 years, from 1606 to 1644 when Dutch traders dominated the East Indies (present Indonesia).
More information can be found in his book The Tasman Map
Abel Tasman and his ships Heemskerck and de Zeehaen encountered what he named as Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) on 24 November 1642. As the Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company based in Batavia (Jakarta) it was Anthony van Diemen who had commissioned their voyage of exploration.
As his ships rounded the southern part of Van Diemans Land they named the islands they encountered after the various members of the Council of the East Indies who along with Van Diemen had approved their expedition and formally signed the following resolution:
Since our predecessors the Lords Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen (deceased), Pieter de Carpentier, Henrick Brouwer and ourselves, pending their administration and ours, have been greatly inclined to forward the navigation to the partly known and still unexplored South and East land, in order to the direct discovery of the same, and to the consequent opening up of important countries or leastwise of convenient routes to well-known opulent markets, in such fashion that the same might in due time be used for the improvement and increase of the Company’s general prosperity.
Nevertheless up to this time no Christian kings, princes or commonwealth have seriously endeavoured to make timely discovery of the remaining unknown part of the terrestrial globe, although there are good reasons to suppose that it contains many excellent and fertile regions, seeing that it lies in the frigid, temperate and torrid zones, so that it must needs compromise well-populated districts in favourable climates and under propitious skies … there must be similar fertile and rich regions south of the Equator, of which matter we have conspicuous examples and clear proofs in the gold and silver bearing provinces of Peru, Chile, Monomtapa or Sofala … so that it may be confidently expected that the expense and trouble that must be bestowed in the eventual discovery of so large a portion of the world, will be rewarded with certain fruits of material profit and immortal fame.
As the expedition rounded the southern part of Van Diemens Land they named the islands they encountered after the Councillors of the Indies who had approved their expedition. Thus we have De Witt Island, Sweers Island, Maatsukyer Island, Borels Island, Maria Island (after Tasman’s wife) and Schouten Island. Names which still exist on the current maps of Tasmania.
It was on researching material for the book The Tasman Map that I saw a reference to ‘the unfortunate Joost Schouten’. A statement like this demands further investigation and after a quick search Wikipedia provided the answer:
In July 1644, Joost Schouten was accused of sodomy, a crime punishable by water or fire. He confessed to the crimes and offered no defence. After being tried and convicted, his sentence was mitigated in light of his distinguished record. The colony’s Governor-General, Anthony van Diemen ordered him strangled before being burnt at the stake. At least three of his sexual partners were subsequently tied in sacks and drowned.
After reaching what Tasman named Vanderlins Island and what is now the southern part of the Freycinet Peninsula, the expedition turned east to cross the Tasman Sea and reach the west coast of New Zealand. There is more information about the Tasman voyage in the book The Tasman Map.
Your Honours should know by experience that trade in Asia must be driven and maintained under the protection and favour of your Honour’s own weapons, and that the weapons must be paid for by the profits from the trade; so that we cannot carry on trade without war, nor war without trade.
— Jan Pieterszoon Coen, in a letter to the directors of the Dutch East India Company.
It was Jan Pieterszoon Coen who founded the port city of Batavia (Jakarta) in 1619 as a regional trading base, to build and repair ships, warehouse spices and to be the military and administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the East Indies. ‘King Coen’ or the ‘Butcher of Banda’ ruled his realm ruthlessly from 1618-1623 and from 1627-1634 delivering the VOC vast quantities of Asian commodities at low prices.
It was Jan Pieterszoon Coen who successfully developed the Intra-Asian trade which generated huge profits for the VOC and its shareholders, and it was these profits that drove the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch Art. He wrote of his business plan to the Directors of the VOC and the key message was ‘all without money from the Netherlands’:
Gujurati textiles must be traded for pepper and gold on the shores of Sumatra: Pepper from Banten for reales and textiles from the coast of Coromandel, Chinese goods and gold for sandalwood, pepper and reales, silver can be got from Japan for Chinese goods, the textiles from the Coromandel coast for spices, pieces of eight from Arabia for spices and other small goods, making sure that one compensates the other, and that all is done in ships without money from the Netherlands.
— Jan Pieterszoon Coen, in a letter to the directors of the Dutch East India Company.
Jan Pieterszoon Coen was a member of the Dutch fleet commanded by Admiral Verhoeven that sailed to the Banda Islands in 1609 with orders to build a fort and consolidate Dutch control over the nutmeg trade. As the walls of the fort rose, opposition from the Bandanese increased until the admiral was forced to arrange a peace meeting with the local chiefs. Jan Pieterszoon Coen narrowly escaped death when the Bandanese surrounded and killed Admiral Verhoeven, along with 42 Dutch soldiers and senior officials.
Jan Pieterszoon Coen was always going to take his revenge against the Bandanese and in 1621 he assembled a fleet of thirteen vessels and an army of over 1500 soldiers to sail from Batavia. After provocations from both sides he unleashed the Banda Massacre which is said to have killed as many as 15,000 islands and sent the remaining population into exile.
Coen’s lasting legacy was the Dutch monopoly over the growth of nutmeg and cloves in the Spice Islands, which he established by force of arms and the deaths, exile or enslavement of thousands of islanders. A statue stands in the town square of his hometown Hoorn in honour of its most famous son, but whatever honours and reputation as an empire builder Jan Pieterszoon Coen enjoyed during his lifetime, these were always accompanied by charges of barbarity and inhumanity.
In 1623 the Dutch East India Company sent an expedition of two ships, the Pera and the Arnhem, commanded by Jan Carstensz to explore what they later called the Gulf of Carpenteria. He named a river on Cape York Peninsula after Jan Pieterszoon Coen, as shown on the map below. Today that river is known as the Archer River and the name Coen River is given to one of its tributaries.
The township of Coen lies is on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula with the Coral Sea forming its eastern boundary. and the Gulf of Carpentaria forming its western boundary. The Peninsula Developmental Road 81 runs roughly north to south through the locality. and the township is located where this road crosses the Coen River. The township is 2,200 km northwest of Brisbane and in the 2016 census it had a population of only 364 people. I am not sure how many of the good people of Coen know the full history of the infamous Jan Pieterszoon Coen.