OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
I WONDER how many people who have been to Amsterdam or known any of our dear Dutch colleagues, are aware that when the league between the States of the Netherlands was established on the 16th of May, 1795, the name “Batavian Republic” was given to the new organization and that it was derived from that of the Batavi, an ancient German people who inhabited a part of the present Holland, who were brave, particularly strong in cavalry, who fought and afterwards faithfully served the Romans. This is interesting to us because we can now see where our modern Dutchman derived some of the conspicuous traits of his character. It was therefore from the old country that the conquerors of Java and founders of Batavia, capital city of all their East Indian empire, took the name
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that they gave to the city at which, at the end of our last chapter, we were getting ready to disembark.
The traveller is struck on arriving by the view of the great and roomy port, the superb anchorage, the numerous public buildings, palaces, naval stores, military hospital, theatre, the Society of Arts and Sciences, the different schools and the bustle of a huge commerce. The private houses, with their gardens and shade trees, their wide verandas and air of domestic comfort give an unmistakable oriental appearance to the town. The hotel at which I stopped on the 26th May, 1897, and which bears the appropriate title, Hôtel des Indes, offered a very agreeable contrast with our cramped quarters on shipboard. At the back of the house stretched a vast veranda paved with large marble tiles which gave an air of coolness that was most refreshing;in the compound near the house was a monster banyan tree, one of the largest I ever saw, whose umbrageous shade was peopled by a multitude of birds whose twitterings and love-calls made music
1In the Journal of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Vol. xxxvi, 1905). Mr. Juan Mencarini says: I have never seen such lavish use of white marble as in Java. The most unpretentious foreigner’s house is paved with this white stone, and elegant columns of the same material support the roofs of the entertaining rooms. In the evenings as one passes in front of these small but dainty-looking palaces, especial1y with open doors and windows splendidly lighted, the effect is superb and cannot easily be forgotten.
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throughout the whole day. Under its shade an army of Chinese and Javanese pedlars spread their enticing wares on the ground and used all the arts of cajolery to secure our custom. The spacious grounds were carpeted with green lawns and shade trees lined the walks. To the right and left stretched lines of guest-chambers giving on to brick-paved verandas, while now and again gallant little Timoor ponies came dashing up to the doors with their curious cabs filled with passengers. The spirited little beasts reminded me of the Shan ponies of Burma and it was a pleasure for any lover of horses to see them. I cannot say that the vehicles they drew were equally enticing, for the passengers had to sit back-to-back in jaunting-car fashion, all the time nursing the idea that they might be pitched out on the road when the ponies dashed around corners. I had the pleasure of making the personal acquaintance of the brother of Mrs. Campbell, F. T. S., of Soerabaya, who was good enough to show me some of the sights and see me safely aboard the steam launch that was to take us back to the ship. The ducking we got in transit is not a pleasant thing to recall, for it served as a sort of offset to the pleasant experiences of the day ashore.
We sailed the next morning for Semarang, our next Javan port of call and the port of the province of that name and lying about 280 miles east of
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Batavia. A fellow-passenger, well acquainted with the history of Java, told me that in the island there were about twenty-five millions of natives and but about five thousand Dutch. From his account it would appear that the first Dutch Governor must have been a terrible despot who obtained his ends by the unflinching use of cruelty. He offset his national stubbornness against the soft, sensual mildness of the Javanese. A story was told me to this effect. A broad, well-graded carriage road, necessary for military purposes, was wanted between two distant points. The chiefs were assembled and the situation explained to them. With oriental inertness they declared it impossible, for reasons stated. Thereupon the Governor, rising from his chair and looking at them with a Medusa-like countenance, said: “This carriage road is wanted within one month; it can be made; it shall be made; if it is not ready by the time specified I shall hang the chiefs.” He did hang them. The road was then finished in a hurry.
We reached Semarang the next morning and anchored in the roads all that day and the following night. We then moved on to Soerabaya and anchored at the mouth of the river, distant twenty-one miles from the town, which we could not visit, much to my regret, for I had anticipated the delight of seeing my friends, the Campbells. At 4 p.m. the
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same day we weighed anchor and sailed for Thursday Island, a stretch of six full days. On the morning after leaving Soerabaya we passed the Peak of Lombok, on the island known to outsiders under the same name but by the natives called Sassak: it is one of the Lesser Sunda islands, in the East Indian Archipelago. Since I passed that way the island has been placed under the direct government of the Dutch, the people being, however, left in the undisturbed exercise of their own laws, religions, customs and institutions.
The peak we saw is one of the southern chain of mountains which traverse the island; that is, I suppose so, for I was told that it was not more than 4,000 feet high, whereas the real Peak of Lombok towers to a height of 11,810 feet and is one of the highest volcanoes in the Archipelago. With the accompaniment of fine weather, varied on the sixth day by head winds which made us ship water at the bow and sent sheets of spray dashing across the upper deck, we reached Thursday Island, that surviving link between us and the sunken Lemuria, on the afternoon of the fifth of June. The ship came to an anchor four miles from the town and none of the passengers went ashore. By the courtesy of the Company’s local agent I was enabled to telegraph my coming arrival to our Queensland Branches and the Sydney Headquarters;
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this being their first intimation of my intended tour of observation. On Sunday, the 6th (June) we went through the Albany Pass of Torres Straits, seeing the pearling fleet at work on their fishing grounds.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica this fishery has, for over twenty-five years, given a magnificent return on the capital invested. Pearls of great value are occasionally obtained, and the shells realize from £100 to 150 per ton in London. As an instance of the value of this industry, it may be stated that in 1898, £100,000 worth of shells were exported to London, bringing in a revenue of £1,100 to Government, the shells having been to a great extent collected off the shallow reefs; diving is now prosecuted in deep water of twenty-five fathoms, causing frequent and fatal accidents to divers engaged. This is not to be wondered at since in the waters throng voracious fishes, such as sharks of all varieties, gigantic sword-fish and sawfish, and immense stinging rays.
As the well-informed reader knows, this sheet of water stretches between New Guinea and Australia and is so crowded with islets and reefs as to make its navigation very dangerous. It was discovered in 1606 by the Portuguese navigator, Luis de Torres, whose name it bears. Moving on towards Cooktown we encountered strong headwinds and
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were not at all sorry to reach the shelter of the Cooktown harbor on the 8th. After discharging some cargo we started again, reached Cairns, discharged cargo and resumed our voyage early that afternoon. The Company’s agent, who came aboard, got himself introduced to me and in conversation expressed his interest in Theosophy. The next day we reached Townsville at 5-30 p.m.--the end of my projected sea trip. I disembarked, went to the Criterion Hotel and, with the old journalistic instinct, paid a visit to the editor of the Bulletin to get his opinion about the chances of my having an audience at a lecture on Theosophy. It will be remembered that none of our people had been forewarned of my visit and so, of course, no preparations whatever had been made for my reception: moreover, our movement had not spread so far north. My editorial friend gave me so discouraging a forecast that I had serious doubts as to the advisability of my beginning a lecturing campaign at that point, and this opinion being strengthened by a jeweller who was himself very interested, I gave up the idea, took my luggage back to the ship, slept aboard and booked my passage for Rockhampton, which port we reached on the 13th, after passing on the way Bowen and Mackay. To reach Rockhampton we had to ascend the river forty-five miles. My telegram from Thursday Island
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having been misread, Mr. Will. Irwin, President of our local Branch, did not meet me, so I took a cab to his house and was given a most cordial welcome by himself, his wife and two daughters.
The next day was devoted to visits to our members and others. Coming from tropical Madras I found the temperature cold and the air biting at 47° F. As Miss Edger was making a tour just then in Queensland, it was manifestly the best course for us to meet and arrange the combining of the two tours in one, so we exchanged telegrams and appointed a meeting at Rockhampton. She arrived on the 17th June at 10 p.m. and was met at the landing by some of our leading members and myself. The projected agreement was made between us the next day, and the campaign was opened that evening with a lecture by myself on “TheTheosophical Society, Its Aims and Its Success.” We held a joint reception and question meeting the next evening at the house of Mr. Greenish, President of the Branch. On the 20th Miss Edger lectured at the School of Arts on “Reincarnation”, doing, as she always does, full justice to the subject. The 21st was a holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Record Reign Jubilee, and at 10-30 p.m. we two embarked on the steamer Burwah for Maryborough. We reached that place after a most comfortable voyage,
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at midnight on the 22nd and put up at the Custom House Hotel. The next day, however, we accepted a most cordial invitation to become the guests of Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Charlton, who did everything in their power to make us comfortable and happy.
On the 24th Miss Edger and I left by train for Bundaberg and reached there in three hours: Miss Edger becoming the guest of our colleague, Mrs. Nicoll, a kind, liberal woman, and I, of Mr. J. E. Turner, a wealthy drygoods merchant, who was as well provided with children as with the means to support them. A drive to the famous Mon Repos sugar works and plantation, which we found thoroughly well-appointed and successful, occupied a good part of the next day. There was a lecture at the theatre on the 27th evening by myself on the “History of the Theosophical Society”, and the next day, returning to Maryborough, the same lecture was given at the Town Hall. On Tuesday, the 29th, I presided at a lecture by Miss Edger in defence of Theosophy against an ill-natured attack on it by a local Presbyterian clergyman, who evidently believed there would not be room in heaven for his party and ours.
Miss Edger having been relieved of the responsibility of the General Secretaryship of our New Zealand Section and being free to work where she might choose, it occurred to me that it would be a
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great advantage to the Australasian Section if the Executive Committee should induce her to take the appointment of Travelling Inspector of Branches, and at a meeting of the Maryborough Branch on the evening of the 30th June the matter was broached and a unanimous vote of approval recorded. Not every one who has the privilege of Miss Edger’s acquaintance is aware of her claim to our respect by reason of her brilliant scholarship. Her sister was the first and she the second lady to take the degree of B.A. at the New Zealand University. Miss Edger won a Junior Scholarship (Latin, Mathematics, History and French) in 1878; a Senior Scholarship (Mathematics) in 1879; another one (English) in 1880; graduated B.A. in 1880, and M.A. in Arts, with Honors (Latin Language and English Literature) in 1881.
On the 2nd July she and I left by train for Brisbane, reached there at 6 p.m. and were given a reception by the local Branch. My old friend, Mr. Justice Paul, with whom I have been on cordial terms since my tour of 1891, made me an honorary member of the Johnsonian Club, at which I was enabled to make the acquaintance of all the cleverest men in. town. Old readers of this magazine1 will recall the circumstances of my visit
1The Theosophist in which these chapters originally appeared; vide O. D. L. Vol. IV, Chap. 16.
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to Australia in 1891 to inquire into the facts relating to the bequest to myself as P. T. S. of his whole estate by the late Carl H. Hartmann, of Toowoomba; of my refusal to accept the legacy because of its injustice to the family of the deceased; and of my appointment of Mr. Justice Paul as my personal attorney, with instructions to transfer the property to the natural heirs as soon as they could agree in the choice of somebody who should act for them collectively to take title and dispose of the estate according to their wishes. In previous allusions to this case I have mentioned the fact that owing to legal impediments I was not able to strip myself of the property until after the lapse of nearly six years: in fact, the transfer had only been made a short while before my present visit of 1897. The full particulars I learned on visiting the office of Mr. Macpherson, and he and Judge Paul sent to my hotel the subjoined notes, which have their place in a candid narrative of this sort, which aims to exhibit to the reader not only the details of the Society’s history but also the motives which actuate its responsible officers. I venture to say that there are few large societies like ours which would applaud and warmly endorse the action of their President which deprived them of a legacy of
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£5,000 because it connoted injustice. The notes of Judge Paul and Mr. Macpherson were worded as follows:
BRISBANE, 6th July 1897.
COL. H. S. OLCOTT,
President, Theosophical Society.
I have great pleasure in informing you that by your directions (contained in a Power of Attorney made about three years ago), in conjunction with Mr. P. Macpherson, your Solicitor, I have transferred all the real and personal property to Herman Hartmann, one of the sons and the nominee of the family of the late Carl H. Hartmann, of Toowoomba, Queensland, who had disposed by will of the whole of his property to you as President of the Theosophical Society.
Mr. Herman Hartmann expressed to me his heartfelt thanks and stated that he was very glad that his father had not left his property to a church.
(Sd.) GEO. W. PAUL.
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BRISBANE, 6th July 1897,
COL. H. S. OLCOTT,
President, Theosophical Society.
Referring to His Honor Judge Paul’s note to you of to-day, I have to explain that the delay which occurred in carrying your wishes into effect arose entirely through legal technicalities.
Pardon my expressing to you my admiration of your conduct in this matter and to say that it has been at once generous and just.
(Sd.) P. MACPHERSON.
During the next few days Miss Edger and I were occupied with visits and receptions and each of us lectured at different times to good audiences. On the ninth of the month a man named Buckmaster, formerly of the 4th U. S. Dragoons, came and showed me papers to prove that his aunt had left a legacy of £18,000 to the Roman Catholic Church and that the priests did not give the heirs a penny although they were in want. This and another case
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which was made public at about that time, in which the trustees of a Presbyterian Church had refused to give to the pauper sister of the testator who had left to them her whole property, even a pittance to save her from the Poorhouse, aroused public attention and restored our Society to the good opinion of the public and caused me to be received with great cordiality by my audiences during the remainder of the tour. The Sydney Bulletin, one of the most bitingly sarcastic of contemporary journals, had published a caricature in its issue of May 18th, 1891, an enlargement of which is in my possession. In this I was represented as sailing away on the steamer, while a black-clad clergyman was standing on the beach frantically waving his hand and shouting “Hi! I say, you have left something behind!” At the same time he points to a Hindu idol standing near-by on the beach, with the word “Theosophy” inscribed on its pedestal. This old friendly feeling towards us was now reawakened by the outcome of the Hartmann case. After a busy fortnight at Brisbane, Miss Edger left me on the 6th to go to Toowoomba by rail to keep a lecturing appointment, and I sailed for Sydney in the Warrage, one of the excellently appointed and comfortable coasting steamers that ply between the Australian, Tasmanian and New Zealand ports.