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NGALEUT BANDUNG: Preanger Planters, the Group of Failures

The story of the Preanger Planters in Priangan is not only a story of success. Behind it, there are also stories of failures.

Portrait of an office in the Parakan Salak plantation complex, Sukabumi. (Photo source: www.tropenmuseum.nl)

Penulis Alex Ari9 Desember 2023

BandungBergerak.id Preanger planters was the nickname for plantation owners in Priangan who were known as wealthy people with abundant assets. Today's definition of “sultan”. But there is no need to be dazzled by all their wealth because there are actually lessons to be learned from their life experiences. Not a few of these plantation owners were able to turn their fortunes around from failures to wealthy people.

Among the well-known plantation owner clans in Priangan were the Holle, van der Hucht, Kerkhoven and Bosscha families. Their struggle to reach the pinnacle of success was not an easy one. These families, whose stories are intertwined, were able to turn life's failures into successes. Here are some of their stories.

Bankruptcy is the Beginning of Everything

The story of the arrival of the plantation owner clan in Priangan begins with the failure of Pieter Holle’s sugar factory business. Around the 1840s his sugar plantation business in Koblenz, Germany, had to close due to bankruptcy. His brother-in-law named Williem van der Hucht then invited him to try his luck in the Dutch East Indies. Based on his experience as a captain of a merchant fleet, van der Hucht, who often stopped in the Dutch East Indies, knew of possible opportunities for business in the colony, especially in the plantation sector.

In 1843, the family of Pieter Holle and Willem van der Hucht went to the Dutch East Indies with high hopes of owning a plantation business. After sailing for six months on a sailing ship named “Sara Johanna” owned by Willem van der Hucht, they arrived in Batavia.

Taking advantage of the many tea and coffee plantations owned by the colonial government that were abandoned due to mismanagement, the two brothers-in-law succeeded in becoming plantation managers or administrators. Pieter Holle managed the Bolang plantation in South Bogor, while Willem van der Hucht managed the Cikopo and Parakan Salak plantations.

Just when life seemed to be going well for the Holle and van der Hucht families, a terrible ordeal came their way. In 1846 Pieter Holle died in quick succession, followed by Willem van der Hucht’s wife and two daughters. The cause was disease and the tropical climate. This left Alexandrine van der Hutch, Pieter Holle’s wife, with their seven children and Willem van der Hucht, the younger brother, with a daughter.

From this bitterness, Willem van der Hucht bounced back. Utilizing the 1870 Agrarian Law, he was able to own the Parakan Salak and Sinagar plantations in Sukabumi. It was through these two plantations that the van der Hucht family clan’s business developed and progressed.

Holle and van der Hucht pioneered the families that came later, and it all started with a failed business.

Portrait of Willem van der Hucht, one of the pioneers of the Preanger Planters. (Photo source: https://rkd.nl/explore/images/167398)
Portrait of Willem van der Hucht, one of the pioneers of the Preanger Planters. (Photo source: https://rkd.nl/explore/images/167398)

Kerkhoven Loses Family Legacy

The success of the van der Hucht and Holle families as plantation entrepreneurs in the Dutch East Indies inspired other family members in the Netherlands. Quoting from the Kerkhoven family story book written by Emilius Hubertus Kerkhoven and translated into English by his son, Johannes Eduard Kerkhoven, entitled “Kerkhoven: A History of Our Family” (2001), in 1844, Jan van der Hucht issued a pamphlet inviting people to consider moving to a colony in Java.

One of Willem van der Hucht’s older sisters, Anna Jacoba, married Johannes Kerkhoven, a businessman who owned the firm Kerkhoven & Co. Johannes Kerkhoven’s family became known as The Hundrians, in reference to the family’s land and house named Hunderen near the town of Twello.

Although Johannes Kerkhoven was known as a businessman, when he died in 1859 his estate had to be divided among 14 children. Each person only received a small inheritance. That’s why some of the Hunderians’ children chose to try their luck in the Dutch East Indies. One of them was the youngest, Eduard Julius Kerkhoven.

From a young age, E. J. Kerkhoven lacked academic talent and ability. He dropped out of college while studying law at Leiden University. Feeling that he had nothing else to offer to remain in the Netherlands, E. J. Kerkhoven followed in the footsteps of his uncle Willem van der Hucht to work on plantations in Dutch East Indies.

E. J. Kerkhoven arrived in the Dutch East Indies in 1861. Initially he was a personal assistant to Adriaan Holle, his cousin who managed the Parakan Salak plantation. E. J. Kerkhoven was then assigned by Willem van der Hucht to manage the Sinagar-Cirohani plantation. E.J. Kerkhoven’s fortunes as a Preanger Planters began to show. In his hands the Sinagar plantation became famous, even attracting many honored guests to visit. One of them was the crown prince of the Russian Empire, Alexander.

However, perhaps the most important role of E. J. Kerkhoven was to make the Sinagar plantation an apprentice place to educate his relatives who came to the Dutch East Indies and chose to become Preanger Planters. One of the results of Eduard Julius Kerkhoven’s upbringing and mentoring was Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha.

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Bosscha, the Son of a Professor who Didn’t Finish His Studies

If E. J. Kerkhoven had no interest in academics, it was different with his nephew, Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha. E. J. Kerkhoven’s older sister, Pauline Emilia Kerkhoven, was married to Johannes Bosscha, a physics professor at the polytechnic in Delf, the Netherlands. This kind of educated family background made Bosscha have an interest in the world of science and knowledge.

Bosscha had a physical disability. One of his legs is limping due to an injury to his back when he was young. Not only physical deficiencies, Bosscha also did not even graduate from college. He preferred to leave campus and did not complete his final project because he had a dispute with his supervisor. How ironic, the son of a professor chose to drop out of college!

Bosscha then chose to go to the Dutch East Indies in 1887. His goal is to become a plantation entrepreneur in Priangan or Preanger Palanters. To equip himself with the plantation business, Bosscha then worked as an apprentice at the Sinagar plantation managed by his uncle, Eduard Julius Kerkhoven.

Bosscha had tried the business by following his brother, Jan Bosscha, who opened a gold mine in Sambas, West Kalimantan in 1889. On the island of Borneo, Bosscha also tried to open a tea plantation in the Sanggau Ledo area. Both of these efforts failed. Bosscha returned to the Sinagar plantation in Sukabumi.

Bosscha’s business gradually improved after being chosen by his cousin, Rudolf Eduard Kerkhoven, the owner of the Gambung plantation in southern Bandung, to occupy the position of administrator at the Malabar Plantation in 1896. Successfully managing the Malabar Plantation, Bosscha then pioneered and owned many businesses. He became known as the “King of Tea Plantations in Priangan” (De Koning der Thee).

Bosscha also donated some of his assets to take part in various businesses that benefit many people. Among other things, the construction of the Deaf Mute Institute (Doofstommen Instituut) and the Blind House Institute (Blinden Instituut). Bosscha was also the President of the Board of Trustees for the Technische Hoogeschool (THS) Bandung. A proof that Bosscha, who failed to have a degree from his college, played a role in establishing the first technical high school in the Dutch East Indies.

The story of the Preanger Planters is not only a story of their success and high status in society. There are also stories of their failures.

* Translated from this article by Altaf Hasna Banafsaj.

Editor: Ahmad Fikri