Monday, January 25, 2010

Lecture by Hans Pols: "Notes from Batavia, the European's Graveyard"

SCFS Researcher in History and Philosophy of Medicine, Hans Pols, will be giving a lecture on "Notes from Batavia, the European's Graveyard: the Debate on Acclimatisation in the Dutch East Indies, 1820-1860," this Saturday, 30 Jan, at 2pm, to the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine.

Large Conference Room (4.2)
Level 4, Kerry Packer Education Centre
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Johns Hopkins Drive

Soon after the conquest of Batavia in 1619, the city was nicknamed the “graveyard of Europeans” because of the unusually high mortality rate of soldiers and merchants there. Consequently, the Dutch East Indies company (VOC) maintained as few soldiers and officials there as possible. After the demise of the VOC in 1799, Batavia developed into a city of sorts—and the issue whether the Indies were suitable for European habitation came to dominate medical and civil discussions. Willem Bosch, the founder of the Batavia medical school in 1851 and chief of the Indies Civil Health Service, had calculated that European civilians who moved to the Indies sacrificed 60% of their life expectancy, while for soldiers it was a staggering 80%. A number of local physicians protested against these views by arguing that Europeans could maintain their health by following a set of sensible rules. They believed that special attention should be given to individuals who had arrived recently, because they would be unusually vulnerable to disease during the period of acclimatisation.
In this paper I will analyse the often acerbic discussions between the advocates of these different perspectives, which was conducted in the first volumes of the first magazine that appeared in the Indies. Participants in this debate were the aforementioned Willem Bosch; the German explorer Franz Junghuhn, who charted volcanos and produced the first map of Java; the irascible German physician Carl Waitz, who later advocated the water-cure as a panacea; Cornelis Swaving, a physician known for his impenetrable prose; and Pieter Bleeker, a physician who later became famous as an ichthyologist.

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