The Earth is a stage, and though it may be an advantage, even to the right comprehension of the play, to know its exact configuration, it is always the drama of human endeavour that will be the thing, with a ruling passion expressed by outward action, marching perhaps blindly to success or failure, which themselves are often undistinguishable from each other at first.
Of all the sciences, geography finds its origin in action, and, what is more, in adventurous action of the kind that appeals to sedentary people, who like to dream of arduous adventure in the manner of prisoners dreaming behind their bars of all the hardships and hazards of liberty, dear to the heart of man.
Joseph Conrad, National Geographic, March 1924
No region on his voyages across the world inspired Joseph Conrad more than the lush, green archipelago’s of South East Asia, the ancient city of Bangkok; the busy port of Singapore, awhisper with sea intrigue; the resource- rich forests of Borneo; the steamy, storm-crossed seas of South China, Celebes and Java; and the pirate-pillaged straits of Macassar and Malacca; these are the settings for the stories and novels of Conrad’s early work.
As shown in this painting of a Singapore harbour, Conrad’s time in the East coincided with the last days of sail, the rise of steam and the high water mark of colonial trade. His stories of Dutch traders, English adventurer’s, Brunei rovers and Malay, Bugis and Arab rulers unfold against a backdrop of exotic island landscapes, reef-sharpened shallows, and deadly straits. Conrad’s characters develop within a climate heavy with the threat of monsoon, typhoon or tsunami.
Joseph Conrad serves as first officer on the trading vessel Vidar from August 22, 1887 to January 4, 1888. His voyages along the treacherous Karimata and Macassar Strait to Tanjung Redeb in East Borneo inspired his books – Almayers Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, Lord Jim, Victory and The Rescue.
The Vidar was a Singapore ship captained by James Craig, with Joseph Conrad as the Chief Officer, two British engineers and a crew of Malays, Chinese and Indians from Singapore. Most of their cargo of English and Dutch goods would be unloaded in Macassar before they sailed on to collect rubber, rattan and other archipelago goods in the remote trading post of Tanjung Redeb on the northeast coast of Borneo, which became Sambir or Patusan in his books.
Joseph Conrad’s Eastern Voyages – Tales of Singapore and an East Borneo River
‘Ian Burnet’s book, published this year, is a very welcome addition to a complex area of Conrad’s life and writing. It is a curious feature of Conrad studies that few Conrad scholars have been to many of the places in the region that feature in his Malay fiction, and it is refreshing to read a book that contains Burnet’s knowledge of Indonesia and of Singapore. This, and his sensitive response to Conrad himself, make themselves felt throughout the short book, a book that would be justifiably classed as suggested reading for any reader or student of Conrad’s works set in this part of the world’.Andrew Francis – Joseph Conrad Society of America