Tracing the long history of the postal service
By Ida Indawati Khouw
The beauty of the central post office on Jl. Pos in Central Jakarta is now fading away as it becomes masked by the stalls of sidewalk vendors mushrooming around the building. This is the 69th article on Batavia.
JAKARTA (JP): The postal service in Jakarta has a long history but people can no longer see historical sites where the development of this vital public service began as all of them no longer exist.
The history of Indonesia's postal service is itself quite a remarkable part of national history, as it relates to the construction of the Anyer-Panarukan road connecting the western and eastern parts of the island of Java.
The central post office building still exists at Jl. Pos in Central Jakarta, accentuated by beautiful and colorful glass windows and wall recesses.
The present office, however, is relatively new, developed on the site where the former post office building once existed until its demolition in 1913.
The first post office was built in the Pasar Ikan area, in the old port of Batavia, North Jakarta, during the authority of Governor General Gustaaf Willem Baron van Imhoff, who officially opened the office on Aug. 26, 1746.
At that time the main purpose for establishing the office was to guarantee the security of community letters, particularly for those involved in trade, and letters from the offices of VOC (Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, the Dutch trading company which was in power at the time) outside Batavia, as well as mail sent to and from the Netherlands.
The postal service system in the early days of Batavia was unique at that time, with letters only directed to the VOC officials, under orders that they should not contain any news related to the VOC's trading activities in Indonesia, to protect the secrecy of the company's operations.
The prohibition was so strict in order to guarantee that sources of valuable spices, of which trading was monopolized by VOC, would not become known to its competitors.
"Transgression of this regulation resulted in severe punishment, even exile," according to the book History of Posts and Telecommunications in Indonesia.
To fulfill the goal, all letters, which were first read by the head of the purchasing department before its contents were summarized in a book called "patria", were placed in a general box in Batavia.
The letters' arrival from the Netherlands were recorded in a book kept by the official confiscator. Then, those expecting letters from the Netherlands should first check the record book.
In 1633 a new system was imposed. Letters from the Netherlands were displayed at the City Hall (at the site where the Jakarta Historical Museum is now located in West Jakarta) after having been recorded by the official confiscator, forcing people to go to the City Hall to see whether they had any mail.
Postal services at that time were not regular and relied on the VOC's naval vessels. The journeys were complicated by the prevalence of pirates at that time.
"The company government once offered a reward of 500 rijksdaalder to whoever could capture the murderer of the employees at the Cirebon post office (in West Java) on 15th March 1798," the history book said.
Due to this problem, original letters were usually followed by a duplicate.
In those days, it took nine months for letters to arrive from the Netherlands to Indonesia and four months from Jakarta to Ambon.
Postal services showed significant progress during the French colonial era, between 1808 and 1811, where the country was under the government of Governor General Herman Willem Daendels, notorious for his iron-fist rule.
At that time, a 1,000-kilometer long postal highway connecting Anyer in West Java and Panarukan in East Java, stretching along the northern coast of Java, was constructed.
Construction of the gravel road, performed under a forced labor system which sacrificed thousands of indigenous Indonesian lives, was started in 1809 and completed a year later.
Its completion brought significant improvements in the postal service as it shortened trips between East and West Java to six days, a vast improvement from the previous 40 day journey.
The advanced payment system in the postal service was first introduced during the English occupation between 1811 and 1814, replicating the British postal system, while the first postage stamps were introduced here in 1864.
In Batavia, where postal service facilities were continuously improved, in 1835 the central post office was located at Waterlooplein (at Daendel's "palace" in Lapangan Banteng in Central Jakarta, which is now turned into the Ministry of Finance office). By 1853, it was relocated to nearby Post Weg (now Jl. Pos).
"The precise year when the central post office first operated from this site is not clear but it would have been between 1835 and 1853," Scott Merrillees writes in his book Batavia in the Nineteenth Century Photographs.
The central post office, which still operates today, was built only after 1913, following the demolition of the older building.
In the 1930s, postal service traffic had become very busy with about 28 million letters moving through Batavia's seven post offices annually, according to the book Batavia als Handels, Industrie en Woonstad (Batavia as a Commercial, Industrial and Residential Center).
"For delivery of letters (telegrams included) and the emptying of the post boxes, the postal service at Batavia has about 150 postmen, 175 bicycles, 8 delivery cars and 14 trucks ... ," the book recorded.
Now, the central post office on Jl. Pos is used as the office of the philatelic division of PT Pos Indonesia.
The interior of the art deco style building is primarily an oblong hall which enabled hundreds of employees to work together.
In the past, the 7,518-square-meter estate had a good ventilation system because of its high roof, however this has now changed due to the hall being partitioned.