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Malay Archipelago

Malay Archipelago (Maritime Southeast Asia): ° Bangladesh ° India ° Indonesia ° Malacca Strait ° Malaysia ° Maldives ° Myanmar (Burma) ° Pakistan ° Philippines ° Riau Islands ° Singapore ° Sri Lanka ° Thailand ° Timor

Malacca Strait

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the littoral states of the Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Indonesia controls the majority of the sea lane.

Commodore Dance and the Comte de Linois off the Straits of Malacca, February 15, 1804
Thomas Buttersworth

Commodore Dance and the Comte de Linois off the Straits of Malacca. February 1804. Thomas Buttersworth.

Singapore controls the smallest area of the strait, but the city-state enjoys the biggest economic benefit from shipping activities.

Colonies and India, December 17, 1886, London, United Kingdom

The Straits Settlements

The Legislative Council had been occupied with a debate on the Supply Bill. The unofficial members, including the Hon. T. Shelford, spoke their minds. Among other subjects were some very forcible remarks upon the correctness or otherwise of the statements that the poorer classes in Malacca were leaving the country; and it is stated that the Colonial Secretary and the Acting President Councillor of Malacca fell foul of the Free Press, and denied the correctness of the reports as to the native emigration from Malacca. Another subject was the proposed expenditure for a British Agent at Johore, about which the unofficial were of opinion that there was no necessity for such an appointment, as the officer would either have nothing to do, or create employment by causing misunderstandings; and that it was only the beginning of another expensive establishment, starting with one official at a salary of $300 a month, but soon creeping up with clerks, &c, to another unnecessary department. The Colonial Secretary stated that the appointment had been proposed at the express request of the Sultan. The vote was carried by the Government with a majority of two. A vote for $10,000 to build a residence for the proposed Agent at Johore was also carried by the Government majority of two. The Colonial Secretary moved that $30,000 be added to the Bill as a contribution of the Straits Settlements to the Jubilee Fund as a tribute of affection for the Queen and pride in being part of the British

Dutch East Indies. Indonesia, Sumatra, Malacca Strait, Riau. 1892. Mapmaker: Dornseiffen.

Britain's East India Company went out of existence in 1873. During its heyday, the East India Company not only established trade through Asia and the Middle East but also effectively became of the ruler of territories vastly larger than the United Kingdom itself.

In addition, it also created, rather than conquered, colonies. Singapore, for example, was an island with very few Malay inhabitants in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles purchased it for the Company from their ruler, the Sultan of Johor, and created what eventually became one of the world's greatest trans-shipment ports.


January 17, 1876, London and China Telegraph, London, United Kingdom


The report of Acting Consul General Low, on the trade and commerce of Borneo for the year 1874, has just been issued. The foreign trade of the Port of Brunei for that year consisted, as usual, chiefly of imports and exports to the British Colonies of Singapore and Labuan, and the results taken at Brunei are imports, from Singapore, 26,545, Labuan, 17,595, total, . 44,140, against a total of 31,840 in 1873. The trade with the provinces from Labuan was to the value of 33,326, against 30,268 in 1873, thus making the total British import trade at Brunei 77,466, against 56,466 in 1873. The total exports from. Brunei were 77,444 in 1874, against 56,161 in 1873, or an increase of 21,283. The Consul points out that if the valuable coal mines of Borneo be worked, "revenues would be obtainable which, while supporting the Eajahs, would permit the introduction of a regular fiscal system in place of the irregular exactions now made upon the people of the various rivers by their territorial lords." Mr. Low says :

I have known the coast for many years, and remember that in 1845 the trade of Borneo Proper was conducted with Singapore in a very few native prahees, which, at great risk, made annual voyages. It was dangerous at that time to move by sea from one village to another during the fine season, and the river of Brunei was annually blockaded by squadrons of Llancon and Balinini pirates. No instance of piracy has occurred during the last two years, on the whole coast line from. Tanjong Api to Sancakan Bay, a distance of 700 miles, and for many years no considerable fleet has been known to visit these waters.

Sir Henry Bulwer. That a steam vessel has been placed in the trade is entirely owing to the efforts of Sir Henry Bulwer in forcing this question on the attention of those whom it was intended to benefit. So apathetic and so averse to innovation were they, that every kind of objection was raised to the trial of the experiment, and it was only by great perseverance on Sir Henry's part that the necessary energy and enterprise could be aroused. This vessel, while paying as a commercial undertaking exceptionally well, has been of signal service in relieving the famine caused by the invasion of the small-pox, the ripening harvests having been abandoned ungarnered at its approach, and the whole community now see and acknowledge the propriety of Sir Henry's disinterested exertions. It is believed that it will soon be necessary to establish another vessel of the same size to carry the increasing trade of Brunei and Labuan to Singapore.

Merchants sailing the world also faced many natural disasters, such as Krakatoa Volcano which erupted in 1883. Its fine ashes followed wind streams as far away as over New York City, whereas the eruption's tidal waves reached the American West Coast.

Ocean Steamship carried inland in Sumatra by the tsunami from the Krakatoa eruption in 1883

Steamship carried inland after the eruption of Krakatoa.

At that very instant, Krakatoa vanished as if devoured by the sea, causing formidable tidal waves which in turn swept off just about everything alive from the surrounding coastal areas. However, the disappearance of the gigantic Krakatoa also meant the birth of small islands in its place, one of which is called Anak Krakatau or Krakatoa’s Child which is at present an extremely active young volcano. From both West Java’s West Coast and from Sumatra’s Lampung Province, this young and very active volcano is clearly visible. A boat trip to this place may be worth making.


Article 17, about the Company’s factory at Batavia from 1619-1740, is not so much the story of Dutch settlement, as it is one of a Chinese colonial town within Batavia. Batavia had been founded as the center of an inter-Asian maritime trading empire competing with the Spaniards and the Portuguese. When trade with the Dutch Republic became more important than Asian trade in the late 1600s, the Company gradually became a territorial power collecting tributary payments, and Batavia lost its position in the maritime trade empire.

Dutch East India Company.

Dutch East India Company.

Wood or Saw Mill on the island Two Miles from Batavia

Johann Wolfgang Heydt, an employee in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Ceylon in 1733.

Agriculture was almost completely controlled by the Chinese in Batavia by 1649, using both Javanese and Chinese labor. New Chinese immigration occurred after 1683. The effort to develop sugar plantations and sugar mills was almost entirely in the hands of the Chinese, and population was growing outside the city. The administrative system did not change to meet the needs of this rural population and the cooperation between the Dutch and the Chinese gradually deteriorated.

Krakatoa. "Illustrated London News."
September 1883.

Krakatoa. From the Illustrated London News. 1883.

When the sugar market declined, mass poverty, unemployment and ruin followed. The rural Chinese revolted in 1740. Not only were they defeated, but there was also a massacre of urban Chinese. By 1781, only sixty sugar mills were operating. Still, half of Batavia’s population profited from the industry. The company's encounters with foreign competitors eventually required it to assemble its own military and administrative departments, thereby becoming an imperial power in its own right, though the British government began to reign it in by the late eighteenth century.


A 19th century system of agricultural exploitation and taxation in kind in Java, Netherlands East Indies (NEI), introduced by governor-general Van den Bosch (1830 4) to pay for the expensive Java War (1825 30). The Javanese had to produce cash crops on an agreed proportion of their land, initially 20 per cent, which were shipped to The Netherlands and sold for the Dutch government by the Nederlandse Handelsmaatschappij (Netherlands Trading Company).

Stone Stupa. Borobudar, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia.

Stone Stupa. Java, Indonesia.

By 1850 about 45 per cent of the population of Java was subject to the system, which was liable to be abused by local officials, particularly in the selection of the land to be used, and the percentage of the yield involved. This policy led to an improvement of the NEI infrastructure, and was very profitable for The Netherlands, with profits from the colonies providing up to a third of the government income in the 1850s. But liberals regarded it as forced labour.

Bradstreet Rairden, Jr. (son of Mary Tarbox Rairden of Woolwich, Maine, and Captain Bradstreet Rairden of the 347-ton bark Henry Warren) went to sea in November 1874. He took command of the bark Evie Reed at Portland Maine in August 18, 1881 at the age of 23 and left the vessel due to sickness with Java fever, at Batavia, Java on March 1884. He settled at Aujer and set up as ship-chandler and commission merchant. He also became the United States consul in Batavia.

In July 1888, Emma Pray of the China trade ship Governor Goodwin, arrived at Anjer-Lor to discover that the ship chandlers were Scott and Rairden, "the only English speaking men in Anjer." When he met Emma, Mr. Rairden courteously invited her to "go down to his house, and see his wife, and said we ere to stop of tiffin with him. I didn't know that the had a wife," Emma commented, but went along anyway, to "a very pretty little house, and found Mrs. Rairden to be a young Englishwoman." Her maiden name was Frances Elizabeth Collins (born in Bootle, England, July 16, 1865); she had arrived in Java on the bark John A. Gaunt with her sister, her brother-in-law being the captain. Over the five weeks that the ship had lain in Anjer, Frances "met Mr. Rairden, became engaged to him, and two days before the vessel was to sail, they were married on board ship by a minister whom they sent for from Singapore.

The Indonesian coat of arms bears the inscription ‘Unity in Diversity’. There are over 300 socio-linguistic groups in Indonesia, each with a distinct culture and heritage. Only about one in six Indonesians speaks the national language at home. Even fewer speak Indonesian as their first language. The mother tongue of the vast majority is a regional language, for example, Javanese, Balinese, Minangkabau or Acehnese. Nursery rhymes, childhood stories, myths, legends and cultural mores are as diverse as the languages. Not surprisingly, most Indonesians first develop a regional identity, only learning the national language, Indonesian, when they begin school and with it an Indonesian identity.

January 29, 1896, Echo, London, United Kingdom

Strange Discovery in Java

While boring for water north of Burlington, Java, the operator who was running the drill, found it had struck a layer of sand and wet earth, in which was thickly mixed seaweed and small shells, at a depth of 150 feet. After passing through this the drill struck a mass of bones, that were so hard the 6-inch casing was broken and the drill destroyed. Samples of the bone brought to the surface show it to be pure ivory. It is thought to bo the bed of an ancient lake, and that the bones of some monster of a remote period have been discovered.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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