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Bengkulu

sunny

I crashed out until 11 that morning but that was OK, since though I would only have one day to appreciate Bengkulu, its sights were all easily reachable in a convenient loop. A short stroll down to a headland revealed what little remained of Fort York, the first British stronghold here dating back to 1685, of which nothing is now left save the foundations which now serve as a picnic area cum viewpoint, staring out across a bay with a fine sandy beach. Much more extant is the nearby Fort Marlborough, an impressive and largely intact supercession constructed with very strong walls and a moat 1714-19. I crossed the drawbridge past heavily studded wooden doors into the entrance portal to immediately discover that 4 unfortunate colonials had unusually been buried under the entry ramp, including one which was related to be a "Henry Stirling of the Kingdom of Scotland and who departed this life on the first day of April 1744 aged 25 years".

The British garrison at "Bencoolen" as it was known wasnt exactly a roaring success. With many such incumbents succumbing to disease at an early age, its raison d'etre the quest for pepper only became belatedly profitable after 1816 with the arrival here of Raffles of Singapore fame. The fort was taken twice, once by local raiders immediately upon its completion in 1719, and then by the French in 1760. The colony's eventual success was then destined to be short lived, with the Brits ceding it to the Dutch in 1824 in exchange for Melaka. The sole snippet of new information I managed to glean from the few paltry storyboards around, written only in Bahasa, was that this deal was known as the Treaty of London. A chronology of the fort's history was also the first reference I had come across to what the Indonesian's referred to as "Agressi II", the Second Aggression. I would only discover later what that meant. A few rusty cannon still lay around, one still betraying a crown and what appeared to be FR, though I could not think to which British monarch that might relate. Another stood unusually on a wheeled trestle, dated 1868 and so probably Dutch, and there were also large turntables on the corner embattlements, the guns long gone. The arsenal was now but a black hole, and the barracks though still in good condition were absent of any interest. That was with the exception of the knowledge that the Dutch had held future president Soekarno here in exile for 4 years until the Japanese arrived in 1942. Not much of a salvation!

It was just amazing to find an outpost of British legacy in these parts, and the theme continued with another short stroll up to a small town centre park where lay ensconced the small whitewashed dome which was the Thomas Parr Monument. It was unmiraculous in itself and sat in memorial to a British governor who did not endear himself to the locals, they revolted and beheaded him in 1806. Within sight stood an all together much more grand monument, a very tall pinnacle in white marble which centred Lapangan Merdeka (Freedom Square). Upon one side a relief carving depicted Soekarno declaring the Proclamation of Independence, the other side showing what I initially took to be a celebration of the victory over communist insurgents in 1968, though it might have been the Japs. Opposite it lay a fine whitewashed palace with deer shading in its garden, the local governors house. From here I was let down by an inaccuracy of my map, but with a long sweltery hunt back and forth I finally managed to track down my next goal, the European cemetery. Here lay memories of British and Dutch unfortunates who had succumbed to the privations of hardship in tropical climes, there was a mausoleum to infant deaths and typically a sizeable plinth to a Dutch boy who had not yet turned 20. Some inscriptions told of military commanders whose lives had been cut short, and another very humble plaque only just discernible listed local names above one described as a Scots engineer. Even though its pedigree stretched into the twentieth century, the oldest name recorded had reached only 51 years. Though Fort Marlborough got a mention on some, palpably more inscriptions referred mystifyingly to Fort St. George, and there was even a Dutchman who had served at Fort de Koch, Bukittingi. The most striking revelation for me though was the discovery of a stone plinth mounted with a sadly eroded sculpture of Greyfriars Bobby, in precise copy of the original at Tollcross. There was unfortunately no inscription to bely its significance and it had rather insensitively been hidden behind a large block boasting of the cemetery's dubious renovation in modernity, but bloody hell what a discovery in these parts.

In searching out the cemetery I had also made a foray down to the nearby ocean, finding a very long fine beach which was unusual in not having been encroached upon by the city. Continuing my tour, a small traffic roundabout encircled the next point of note, a disappointingly small white obelisk known as the English Monument, which stood over the remains of a Captain Robert Hamilton, who died aged 38 in 1793 "in command of the troops, second member of the government". My sweltery trek continued past a very fine and large whitewashed angular mosque, and then past a Dutch villa which had also been used by Soekarno in exile. I resisted the doubtless underwhelming museum inside and so found myself in Bengkulu's main shopping street, where I promptly ODed on well earned isotonic drinks and local speciality Bakso, a meatball and noodle soup. With Bengkulu now superefficiently in the bag, I then excelled myself with 4 hours at a remarkably passable net cafe, by now weary of the thousandth "Hello mister' of the day on my traipse back to bed. I got some important catching up done with my writing for good measure that night, yet Bengkulu did not have the decency to reward me with a beer.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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