The Dukono Volcano on Halmahera

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.

Google Map

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.

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The Dukono volcano as seen from the town of Tobelo


A closer view of the erupting Dukono volcano


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The first appearance of the Spice Islands on a world map – the Atlas Miller (1519-1522)

Art and science join forces in the Portuguese atlas known as the Atlas Miller by the cartographers Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel, Jorge Reinel and the miniaturist António de Holanda, which is one of the wonders of sixteenth-century Portuguese cartography. The Atlas was created for the Portuguese King Manuel and was intended to display the wealth and power that Portugal had derived from its discoveries in Africa, India, South East Asia and the lands it had claimed.

Based on the map by  the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy from the second century AD of the known world, the planisphere of the Atlas Miller shows the Atlantic and Indian Oceans bounded by land.

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Planisphere of the known world from the Atlas Miller (1519-1522)

This masterpiece of geographic art portrays the known world before the departure of Ferdinand Magellan and his Armada de Moluccas, 500 years ago in 1519. This map of the world changed forever after the Armada de Moluccas found their way through the Strait of Magellan and then across the vast Pacific Ocean before they reached the Spice Islands in 1521.This voyage would become the greatest voyage in maritime history when the vessel Victoria captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522.


The first circumnavigation of the world by Magellan/Elcano  (Battista Agnese 1544)

Alfonso de Albuquerque aided by his Portuguese and Malabari forces had captured the strategic Asian city of Malacca in 1511 and the geographical depiction of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and the Riau Islands south of Singapore from the Atlas Miller are reasonably accurate even though the artistic illuminations by António de Holanda show the fantastic.

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Detail of the map of the Malay Peninsula from the Atlas Miller

Only a few months after the capture of Malacca, three Portuguese ships under the command of Antonio de Abreu sailed eastwards towards the Spice Islands. The small fleet comprised the flagship Santa Caterina, the Sabaia captained by Francisco Serrao and an unamed caravel captained by Alfonso Bisagudo. They were a crew of 120 including 60 Malays and Javanese, their pilot Nhahkoda Ishmael who was familiar with the trading route to the Spice Islands and Francisco Rodrigues the Portuguese pilot who chronicled their voyage. The fleet reached the tiny nutmeg islands of Banda, Api, Lontar, Ai and Run all of which are mere specks in the Banda Sea. It was after being shipwrecked on the return voyage that Francisco Serrao and his comrades were taken north to the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Machian and Bachan.

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The Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java and the islands of Eastern Indonesia from the Atlas Miller


The map of the Spice Islands from the Atlas Miller shows a mass of speculative islands however the one that shows some geographical accuracy are what appear to be the Banda islands as mapped by Francisco Rodrigues and showing the Portuguese flag .

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The Banda islands from the Atlas Miller

The chronicle and maps made by Francisco Rodrigues of the first Portuguese voyage to the Spice Islands in 1512 were lost to history until copies were discovered in 1937 in the archives of the Bibliotheque de l’Assemblee Nationale de France. Below is his more accurate depiction of the Banda islands.

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The Banda islands by Francisco Rodrigues 1512

At the top of the map of the Spice Islands in the Atlas Miller there appears to be a depiction of the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Machian and Bachan off the coast of Halmahera and these are probably derived by the Portuguese from either Francisco Serrao or Malay/Javanese maps of the period.

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Depiction of the clove islands from the Atlas Miller


For the complete story of the European discovery of the Spice Islands and the history, romance and adventure of the spice trade over 2000 years, please order the book Spice Islands from your favorite bookstore or online retailer as a paperback or e-book.

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The site of the Alfred Russel Wallace house on Ternate identified

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Map and View of Ternate showing Fort Oranje. J. Van den Bosch, 1818

NEW EVIDENCE: Site of Alfred Russel Wallace’s House in Ternate Identified

“Wallace’s Ternate house is the most important science history heritage site in Indonesia.”

Ternate, Tuesday 3 September 2019 – Rinto Taib, Head of History and Cultural Heritage, Department of Culture, Ternate, announced today that the most likely site of the Alfred Russel Wallace house in Ternate has been identified. Rinto was speaking during the Indonesian Creative Cities Conference and Festival being held in Ternate 2 -7 September 2019.

Wallace Press Conference

Rinto Taib speaking at the press conference, together with Paul Spencer Sochaczawski, Paul Whincup and Nicholas Hughes.

Wallace’s house in Ternate has become legendary. It was from here that Wallace sent his famous Ternate Letter to Charles Darwin, in March 1858, outlining his Theory of Evolution. Historians, academics and Wallace enthusiasts have attempted to locate Wallace’s house site since many years.

Wallace provides tantalising clues as to the location of his house in his book, The Malay Archipelago (1869). Two of the most important clues were that the house had “a deep well (that) supplied me with pure cold water” and that “just below my house is the fort”.

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First edition of the Malay Archipelago

Prof. Sangkot Marzuki, Past President, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, and Syamsir Andili, Mayor of Ternate, 2000-2010, made a preliminary identification of a site that matched most of Wallace’s description, in a paper presented to a Wallace event in Makassar in 2008. This first credible site was named the Santiong House.

George Beccaloni, UK Wallace historian, was the first to question the authenticity of the Santiong House as it failed to meet one critical clue described by Wallace, namely, that the fort was just below his house. Paul Whincup, a hydrogeologist based in Jakarta, subsequently collaborated with George Beccaloni, reasoning that evidence of old deep wells should still remain.

In early 2019, Ternate residents, Fiffy Sahib and Mudhi Aziz, conducted a survey of wells in the general area described by Wallace at the request of Whincup and Beccaloni. They identified seven old deep wells, one of which was located on a site that matched Wallace’s description exactly. The original house, made of wood and sago palm, had of course long since disappeared.

It is now agreed that this site, located on the intersection of Jalan Pipit and Jalan Merdeka facing the south-west bastion of Fort Oranje, is the most likely site of where Wallace lived and from where he despatched his famous ‘Letter from Ternate’.

ARW House, Ternate

Map of Ternate showing the presumed location of the ARW house.  (Paul Whincup)

Wallace’s house has enormous historical significance internationally and for Indonesia. And it has great potential for promoting tourism in Ternate. It is hoped that the land can be purchased and a replica of the original house is built on the site.

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Photo of Ternate showing the presumed location of the ARW house at 1. (Paul Whincup)


A replica of the Wallace House would complement the Spice Museum in Fort Oranje, showcasing Wallace’s explorations and scientific discoveries, and the intellectual achievements that Wallace made in documenting the biodiversity of Eastern Indonesia. It could also become an education centre to encourage much-needed biodiversity conservation efforts in the Maluku islands.

This year, 2019, is the 150th anniversary of Wallace’s publication, The Malay Archipelago (1869). It is appropriate that the search for his house has at last been realised.




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Soekarno, his exile in Ende and Pancasila

It was here in the Dutch Landraad courthouse in Bandung in 1930 that Soekarno gave his famous speech against colonialism, ‘Indonesia Menggugat’ or ‘Indonesia Accuses’ in the Dutch courtroom.


The Dutch Landraan courthouse in Bandung   photo – Ian Burnet

Here he is along with his fellow accused and their lawyers. Soekarno was never allowed to complete his statement to the court, proceedings were abandoned, and he was ultimately sentenced to four years in prison.


Soekarno with his co-accused and their lawyers

The building has since been restored as a museum dedicated to the memory of Soekarno and the three other leaders who were sentenced with him. In a beautiful touch of irony the restored building was officially opened by his daughter President Megawati Soekarno in 2002.

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photo – Ian Burnet

Still a determined republican, Soekarno was subsequently sent into internal exile in the town of Ende on the south coast of Central Flores where he and his family lived from 1934 until 1938. This photo shows a family group in front of his house in Ende with Soekarno standing on the right behind his wife Inggit.

Soekarno House Ende

After he became president the house was restored as a memorial, it still includes historic items from this same period and has become the main tourist attraction in Ende. Here is a photo of the house before an ugly statue of Soekarno had been placed in the front garden.

Soekarno House Ende restored



photo – Ian Burnet

About 700 meters from Soekarno’s house, was a breadfruit tree that directly faced Ende Beach. It is known that Soekarno often sat here to contemplate whilst envisioning a united country that would be called Indonesia. Indonesia’s First President claimed that it was on this very spot that the concept of Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of the Republic of Indonesia was conceived. Pancasila is recognized and accepted as the 5 Principles on which the Indonesian State and Nation are founded. Today, the Birth of Pancasila is commemorated every year on 1st of June, which is also a national holiday.


The Soekarno Statue, the  memorial pond and the breadfruit tree       photo – Ian Burnet

A Memorial Pond with a statue of a contemplating Soekarno have been constructed in the public gardens on this site where the five principles of Pancasila were first conceived. Comprising of two ancient Javanese words originally derived from Sanskrit: “pañca” (“five”) and “sīla” (“principles”), Pancasila is composed of five principles that are inter-related and inseparable from one another, these are:

1. Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa (Belief in the One Supreme God)
2. Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab (A Just and Civilized Humanity)
3. Persatuan Indonesia (The Unity of Indonesia)
4. Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan (Democracy led by the inherent wisdom of concensus arising from deliberation among popular representatives)
5. Keadilan Sosial Bagi Seluruh Rakyat Indonesia (Social Justice for all the people of Indonesia.)


“In this town I found five pearls and beneath this breadfruit tree were conceived the five concepts of Pancasila”  –   Soekarno

Indonesia is a multicultural nation, a very diverse country comprised of over 17,000 islands, hundreds of ethnic groups with their different languages, cultures, religions and ways of life. Indonesia’s Founding fathers wisely decided that the State Ideology should encompass and shelter the whole spectrum of Indonesian society, in which consensus for common good must be striven for, and justice is served and met. These principles are enshired in the Pancasila. And also based on these principles, Indonesia’s National Motto became “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, meaning: We are Many but we are One.

Soekarno more than any other leader of the Indonesian Republican movement was aware of the differences in religions and ways of life that a united Indonesia would need to encompass. Although born in East Java and brought up as a Muslim, his mother was Balinese, a Hindu, and he loved Balinese culture. Now for the four years of his internal exile on Flores he had walked, talked and lived in a predominantly Christian community and had also learned to appreciate their values.

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The Tasman Map – Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch Discoveries of Australia

Coming to a bookshop near you – the story of the Tasman Map

Rosenberg Front Cover Image

Every visitor who passes through the vestibule of the Mitchell Library stops to admire the magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map which fills the entire vestibule floor.

This story of the first Dutch voyages to discover Australia is set against the background of the struggle of the newly formed Dutch Republic to gain its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the struggle of the Dutch East India Company for trade supremacy in the East Indies against its Portuguese, Spanish and English rivals.

Over a period of only forty years from 1606 to 1644 and based on sixteen separate discoveries the first map of Australia took shape. The Tasman Map shows a recognizable outline of the north, west and south coasts of Australia that was not to change for another 125 years until the British explorer James Cook charted the east coast in 1770.

It was in 1925 and 1933 that the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia, acquired both the Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map. The story of how the library managed to acquire these treasures of Dutch exploration and cartography will bring new recognition to these icons of both Dutch and Australian history.

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The magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map in the vestibule of the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia

It is intriguing to speculate that the Tasman Bonaparte Map and the Tasman Huydecoper Journal may have both been compiled in Batavia in late 1644 or early 1645 for the Directors of the Dutch East India Company under Abel Tasman’s personal supervision. According to Paul Brunton, the Curator Emeritus at the Mitchell Library, it is certainly extraordinary that two key documents relating to Tasman’s voyages, the  Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map were acquired by the Mitchell Library from different sources at around the same time. It would be even more extraordinary if these documents had been compiled together in Batavia under Abel Tasman’s watch and are now reunited at the Mitchell Library after almost 400 years of separation.

It’s done, it’s dusted, its gone to the printers. Copies will be available in September and you can pre-order from your favorite bookshop.


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‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’ – The Darwin Earthquake

On June 24, Darwin was jolted by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake, prompting offices in the CBD to be evacuated. The epicentre was some 700 kilometres away to the north in the Banda Sea of Indonesia. But despite the distance, the quake rocked Darwin hard, because it occurred within the same tectonic plate, rather than at the boundary between two neighbouring plates.


Where the Australian Plate collides with Asia some of it has slid (subducted) under the volcanoes of Eastern Indonesia, and is descending into the mantle. This process is driven by buoyancy (the tendency of material to sink or float). Continental crust is more buoyant, and thus resists sinking into the mantle. Ocean crust, meanwhile, is denser and has more of a tendency to sink. As the Australian Plate (which includes New Guinea) travels northward, the front edge is high-density ocean crust, and the part following behind it is lower-density continental crust. The map below shows the plate boundaries and relevant movement within our region.


Plate Boundaries and relevent movement

Where one part of a plate subducts easily and starts to sink and the other wants to float and refuses to subduct, a tear can develop, and this is what is believed is happening north of Darwin. The northern edge of the Australian Plate used to be made up of ocean crust that is now completely subducted. The buoyant Australian continent is refusing to subduct, and as a result the ocean crust is tearing off as it sinks into the mantle.

This NASA image from satellite telemetry maps displays height above and depth below sea level. It shows the edge of the Asian continent at the Wallace Line  and how the Australian continent is impacting on the Indonesian island arc system along the edge of the Banda Sea.

Wallace Line 3

A useful analogy to visualise this is tearing a piece of cheese – the kind of pre-sliced, soft cheese that you put on your sandwiches. The picture below shows a piece of cheese that is bent around a cylinder (representing the descent of the plate into the mantle), and is torn along one edge.

darwin earthquake

The official earthquake record from the US Geological Survey indicates that this earthquake consisted of a combination of lateral displacement and vertical extension (lengthening), which is consistent with the cheese analogy. The vertical extension is caused by the stretching of the crust while lateral displacement, known as strike slip, probably accommodates the eastward movement required by the continuing attachment of the slab east of the earthquake. Earthquakes such as this occur within the Australian plate, and the seismic waves travel through the cold, strong Australian plate quite efficiently. This means that it did not lose much of its energy before reaching Darwin.

This blog is based on an article in ‘The Conversation’ by Brendan Duffy a Lecturer in Applied Geoscience at the University of Melbourne and Mark Quigley an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne.

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Dragon’s Paradise Lost – Varanus komodoensis

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I have always been curious whether the Komodo Dragon found on the island of Komodo, located between Sumbawa and Flores, is a large goanna (lizard) caused by island gigantisism or the last of the Australian megafauna, which we know from fossil evidence used to range over Australia up to 50,000 years ago . Well here is the answer:

Megalania is an extinct giant goanna or monitor lizard that was part of a megafaunal assemblage that inhabited southern Australia during the Pliestocene. The youngest fossil remains date to around 50,000 years ago. It is thought that the first aboriginal settlers of Australia would have encountered them and been a factor in their extinction.


Megalania skeletal reconstruction from the Melbourne Museum

Giant varanids were once a ubiquitous part of  Australasian faunas during the Neogene. Extinction played a pivotal role in the reduction of their ranges and diversity throughout the late Quaternary, leaving only Varanus komodoensis in Indonesia as an isolated long-term survivor. The events over the last two millennia now threaten its future survival.


Varanus komodoensis

Dragon’s Paradise Lost: Palaeobiogeography, Evolution and Extinction of the Largest-Ever Terrestrial Lizards (Varanidae)

The conclusion from the above paper published in the Public Library of Science reads:

We conclude that Varanus komodoensis is the last of a clade of giant varanids that was once a ubiquitous part of Australasia, distributed from Australia across Wallacea, as far as Java. There is now only a relict population on Flores and a few small adjacent islands. Komodo dragon distribution has also retracted significantly on Flores itself; being present at Liang Bua in the uplands of West Flores until ∼2 ka, but now only occurring in isolated habitats along the northern and western coastal lowlands. The retraction is likely due to habitat loss and persecution by modern humans over the last few millennia and emphasizes the continuing threat of extinction to this, the last of the giant varanids.

Komodo Claw

The armoured body and deadly claws of Varanus komodoensis

The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging and includes other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo.The Komodo dragon will attack children and there have been deaths in the few villages on the island but it rarely attacks adults.

The most well-known adult victim is Baron Von Reding Biberegg, a Swiss man who disappeared on Komodo Island in 1974. Walking inland with a group to observe the dragons, the Baron was breathing heavily and stopping frequently. He told the other members to go on ahead while he sat down to rest. He may have fallen asleep or suffered a medical condition for when his party returned all that remained was his hat, his camera and a bloody shoe.

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Who is this idiot?  What could I have been thinking?

My thanks to Oscar Croshaw for directing me to the paper on Dragon’s Paradise Lost

    To read more about Komodo Island and the Komodo Dragon find  the book                    Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia, by Ian Burnet




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In Search of the Wallace hut on the island of Waigio

In June and July 1860, Alfred Russel Wallace sailed north from the island of Ceram in Maluku to the island of Mysool and then to the south coast of the island of Waigio near Papua in search of Birds of Paradise.

Wallace Voyages

Wallace’s Voyages around the Indonesian Archipelago (Ian Burnet)

From Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago:

‘Leaving the village the next morning (July 1st) with a light wind, it took us all day to reach the entrance to the channel, which resembled a small river, and was concealed by a projecting point, so that it was no wonder that we did not discover it amid the dense forest vegetation which everywhere covers these islands to the water’s edge’.

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Searching for the ‘Wallace Hut’ on Waigio (Ian Burnet)

From Alfred Russel Wallace’s book The Malay Archipelago:

‘This part of Waigiou appears to consist of almost entirely of raised coral. The shores were a range of low limestone cliffs, worn out by water, so that the upper parts generally overhung. At distant intervals were little coves and openings, where small streams came from the interior; and in one of these we landed, pulling our boat up on a patch of white sandy beach. Immediately above was a large newly made plantation of yams and plantains, and a small hut, which the chief said we might have use of if it would do for me’.

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A sketch of Wallace working under his ‘dwarfs house’ from his book The Malay Archipelago

He spent from July to September 1860 in his hut and this is its description from The Malay Archipelago:

‘It was quite a dwarf’s house, just eight feet square, raised on posts so that the floor was four and half feet above the ground, and the highest part of the ridge only five feet above the floor. As I am six feet and an inch in my stockings, I looked at this with some dismay; but finding that the other houses were much further from water, were dreadfully dirty, and were crowded with people, I at once accepted the little one, and determined to make the best of it.

In the lower part I fixed up a small table, arranged my boxes, put up hanging shelves, laid a mat on the groundwith my wicker chair upon it, hung up another mat on the windward side, and then found that, by bending double and carefully creeping in, I could sit on my cahir with my head just clear of the ceiling. Here I lived pretty comfortably for six weeks, taking all my meals and doing all my work at my little table, to and from which I had to creep in a semi-horizontal position a dozen times a day; and after a few severe knocks on the head by suddenly rising from my chair, learned to accomodate myself to circumstances’.


The male Red Bird of Paradise performing its mating dance on Waigio

‘I began to think that we would not get this magnificent species. At length the fruit ripened on the fig tree close to my house and many birds came to feed on it; and one morning as I was taking my coffee a male paradise bird waa seen to settle on its top … the head back and shoulders are clothed with a rich yellow, the deep metal green colour of the throat extends further over the head, and the feathers are elongated on the forehead into two little erectile crests. The side plumes are shorter, but are of a rich red colour, terminating in delicate white points, and the middle tail feathers  are represented by two long rigid glossy ribbands, which are black, thin, semi-cylindrical and droop gracefully into a spiral curve’.

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The Wallace Hut as rebuilt by Seatrek Sailing Adventure and Flora and Fauna International (Jeffrey Mellefont)

This plaque at the Wallace Hut honours the memory of both Alfred Russel Wallace and of Tony Witten of Flora and Fauna International, who was instrumental in having it built.



Looking somewhat worse for wear (the hut that is) during our 2018 visit with Seatrek Sailing Adventures   (Richard Orr)

Find out more about the Alfred Russel Wallace, the Wallace Line and the region of Wallacea in Ian Burnet’s latest book – Where Australia Collides with Asia.

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