The Dutch built this fort on Kelor Island to help them protect nearby trading hub Onrust Island from British troops. (JG Photo/Emily Gilbert)

Ghosts of Dutch Colonialism in the Thousand Islands


AUGUST 09, 2019

Out of the hundreds of islands that make up the Thousand Islands, or Pulau Seribu, off the northern coast of Jakarta, only two have been turned into historical parks. Visitors have the opportunity to explore the ruins of what used to be important outposts of the Dutch East Indies Company: Onrust and Kelor Islands. 

Both islands are good options for tourists looking for a day trip from Jakarta because they can be only one hour's speedboat ride from Ancol in decent weather. 

The island's past lives have left a variety of archaeological features for visitors to see today. 

Visitors can explore the ruins of an old Dutch fort and see relics of the VOC. The only building left intact has been transformed into the Onrust Museum.

Since the island used to be a major trading hub, there is a lot of variety of what has been left behind. There is a cemetery with crumbling gravestones, old barracks once used by hajj pilgrims and an old Dutch canon for visitors to experience a bit of history. 

Onrust Island

The name of the island comes from the Dutch word for "unrest," chosen because of how busy it was when the Dutch ruled what is now Indonesia. The Dutch East Indies trading company used the island as a popular stop for ships, so people used to say there was "no rest" on the island because of the constant stream of activity. 

Some people outside the island called it "Ship Island" because of the many ships in its harbors when it was used by the VOC. 

Onrust was an important VOC port in the 17th century. It was a frequent stop for traders on their way to Batavia and the VOC used the island as a place to repair their ships and store valuable spices and other items. 

British troops attacked the Dutch outpost twice, destroying buildings, but the Dutch rebuilt and added a fort the second time. They also built a fort on nearby Kelor Island as a way to protect Onrust from the British. 

However, Onrust was destroyed again in 1883 when Mount Krakatau erupted and a massive tidal wave wiped out many of the structures on the island.

But the island's story does not stop there. It was used as a quarantine and medical facility for pilgrims returning from the hajj from 1911-1933. "There were around 35 barracks, each can accommodate around 100 hajj pilgrims. [In total] around 3500 pilgrims were accommodated in this 12-hectare island [every year]," Rosadi, a tour guide, said.

When the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942, they used Onrust Island as a prison. A few years later, after Indonesia gained its independence in 1945, the country used the island to quarantine people with infectious diseases like leprosy in the 1950s and 1960s. It also served as a homeless shelter in 1965. 

The island was cleaned a few years later and put on a path toward becoming a historic site. Former Jakarta Governor Ali Sadikin designated it as a historical park in 1972.

Some people say they have seen the ghost of a woman on the island. The ghost could be that of Maria Van de Velde, a Dutch woman who died on Onrust in 1721 when she was 28 years old. Her grave can still be found on the island. 

There are several explanations of how she died; some say she died while waiting for her loved one to return and others say she died of suicide. A more scientific explanation could be that she was one of the many Dutch people at that time to die of tropical diseases like malaria. 

"Some people say they've seen her ghost, but I don't know if that's true because I've never seen her myself," Rosadi said. "Maybe they just made up the story since the ghost they see resembles a Dutch woman."

Kelor Island

Neighboring Kelor Island is the second historic park in the Thousand Islands and is much smaller than Onrust Island. Its main feature is the ruins of a brick fort the Dutch built to guard strategic Onrust Island from British troops. The cylindrical structure appears in many photographs of the island and visitors can walk around inside it. 

Kelor has its own eerie history too. Before it was known as Kelor Island it was called Kerkhof Island, the Dutch word for "graveyard." 

In 1933, the VOC bombed a ship that had been hijacked by its workers who were upset by their wages being cut by 17 percent. The ship was on its way from Aceh to Surabaya. Some of the survivors were detained on Kelor Island, while the dead were buried on both Kelor and Onrust Islands, Rosadi said. The workers included Dutch and Indonesian people. The incident is known as "Peristiwa Kapal Tujuh" (The Incident of the Seventh Ship).