While A’Famosa Fort in Melaka (Malacca) was the symbol of what was left behind by the Portuguese, the historical structures representing Dutch rule that still stand today in the heart of the city are Stadthuys and Christ Church.
I had wondered as to why the legacies of Dutch rule in Malacca were not as conspicuous compared to Portuguese rule even though the Dutch were in Malacca for 184 years compared to the Portuguese of 130 years.
There were reasons why this was so – firstly, Malacca was already declining as the Portuguese did not successfully maintain the glory and prosperity that the city was renowned for due to restrictive trade policies, competitions and wars. Secondly, the Dutch, namely, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had already established their economic and administrative centre in Batavia (Jakarta), thus they had no political and economic motivations to develop Malacca at the expense of Batavia. They only viewed Malacca as a potential conquest mainly to protect the Spice Route and to eliminate competitors.
By the time, the VOC conquered Malacca in 1641, Malacca ceased to be an important trading port. Furthermore, the Dutch allied with the Sultan of Johor who took advantage of Malacca’s decline in developing his seaport of Riau (an Indonesian island close to Singapore) and opening routes for all ships and marine commerce.
*Also Read: Portuguese Connection to Melaka (Malacca)
The area in which the Stadthuys and Christ Church buildings are located is known by a few names: Dutch Square, Red Square or The Clock Tower Area. Malaccans simply call it “Clock Tower” 😊
Because Stadthuys and Christ Church are widely promoted as symbols of Dutch rule in Malacca, and the fact that they are painted red, many people assume that any red building in that area is Dutch-made. Not true.
Many tourists also assume that the only Dutch buildings left in Melaka are just Stadthuys and Christ Church. Not true as well.
I’m not sure why or how the red colour became the trademark of Dutch Malacca history but during the course of my readings on Malacca history, I stumbled upon more interesting facts:
Stadthuys (meaning “town hall”) was the administrative centre for the Dutch and residence of the Governor of Dutch Malacca. It’s pronounced as “staad-huis” and Stadthuys of Malacca was originally designed after the Old Stadhuis of Hoorn in Netherlands. However, the Old Stadhuis of Hoorn no longer exists, as such, the only place in the world to see what it once looked like is in Melaka.
The Stadthuys building is now the History and Ethnography Museum.
2) Christ Church was built by the Dutch in 1741 to commemorate 100 years of the capture of Malacca from the Portuguese. Originally named as Bovenkerk by the Dutch, Christ Church became the replacement church after the ageing St. Paul’s Church on St Paul’s Hill could not accommodate the Dutch parish community.
The British renamed the church to Christ Church when Malacca was transferred to them under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty in 1824. Christ Church was then consecrated with the rites of Church of England, and is now the oldest functioning Protestant church in Malaysia.
3) The Stadthuys and Christ Church were originally painted white by the Dutch but the British painted the buildings terracotta red in 1911 for practical reason – a red exterior is easier to maintain compared to white exterior – very practical indeed.
4) More Dutch administrative buildings located adjacent to Christ Church on a narrow road formerly known as Riverside Road as it runs parallel to Melaka River. I remember making frequent trips to the General Post Office situated on the right side of Christ Church to send letters to pen pals overseas but now that building is converted into a Youth Museum and Art Gallery.
5) The Clock Tower is not Dutch but it was built in 1886 by a fourth-generation Chinese millionaire, Tan Jiak Kim to fulfil the desires of his father Tan Beng Swee to gift the clock tower to the people of Malacca.
The original clock was ordered from Smith & Sons Clockmakers of London but the clock was changed to Seiko in 1982 and that caused an uproar among the senior citizens of Melaka who still recalled the harsh treatment that they suffered during the Japanese Occupation in Second World War.
6) The Fountain – Queen Victoria Fountain – is definitely not Dutch-made. The Queen Victoria Fountain was built in 1901 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of her reign over the British Empire.
*Also Read: Harmony Street and Melaka River Cruise
7) There are other buildings located behind the Stadthuys that were originally built by the Dutch but not painted red. A short distance from A’Famosa Fort on Jalan Kota is the Department of Museums building which was formerly used by the senior VOC officers in the 1700s, and the Stamp Museum which was said to be occupied by a Dutch family (Westerhout) for nearly 300 years until Second World War. Both buildings were designed similar to Dutch colonial buildings in the tropics.
8) While much have been said about the administrative buildings of the Dutch but there is very little mention about the Dutch Village where their community used to live during colonial rule.
Many people are not aware that the Dutch Village area is on Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) and Jonker Street (Jonker Walk). Heeren Street or Heerenstraat means ‘First Class Gentleman Street’ in Dutch, so obviously the rich stayed on this street whereas Jonker Street or Jonkerstraat means ‘Nobleman Street’ where many traders and merchants’ townhouses were located.
By the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Dutch homes on Heeren Street were taken over the wealthy Straits-Chinese (Babas and Nyonyas), a community of mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage, and presently, those townhouses are converted into boutique hotels, private museums, galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes for tourism.
Similarly, for Jonker Street (originally pronounced as Yonker in Dutch), the merchants’ townhouses have also been converted into antique shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries. Many tourists are familiar with Jonker Walk, a bustling shopping market street on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
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