Bogor Botanical Gardens Mark Verdant Life — and Death
Simon Marcus Gower
As a place of man-made elegance, of nature landscaped and cultivated to please the senses, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Indonesia. It is too, perhaps surprisingly, a place where life and death come together, but this coming together too only seems to add to the charm and the sense of wonder of the place.
The grounds of the Bogor Botanical Gardens stretch over more than 75 hectares in the center of Bogor. They are effectively the center of the town, and this is essentially thanks to two men. First and arguably foremost there was the Dutch botanist Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt, who established the gardens in 1817. There was also Thomas Stamford Raffles.
In his tenure as the British governor of Java from 1811 to 1816 it was Raffles who first created a garden here. This was smaller than the one that we see today but was significant enough for him to apparently enlist the assistance of botanists from Kew Gardens in London. At that time Kew was already world renowned as a hugely important collection of plants and scientific research into them.
Today Kew remains a major center for botanists; it contains the largest collection of living plants in the world. Raffles then would seem to have been quite serious about establishing gardens in Bogor — or Buitenzorg as it then was known — but his time on Java came to an end and a significant factor in this probably was the death of his wife.
Lady Olivia Mariamne died of malaria on Nov. 26, 1814. Raffles had taken her to the Palace in the Gardens in the hope that she might recover but she did not. He then erected a monument to her in the Gardens that stills stands today. The inscription speaks volumes of his love for his lost wife, though parted from her he makes it clear that she remains in his heart.
The monument to Lady Raffles is an elegant white portico and is one of many memorials to the colonial deceased within the gardens. Not far from the distinguished and graceful monument is a stone tablet monument to the other man, and the foremost figure, in the establishment of gardens here.
After the departure of Raffles the Dutch returned as colonial rulers and it was under them that Reinwardt really established the gardens and became their first director. Within the precincts of the Gardens stands the Istana Bogor (Bogor Palace), but this looked different when Reinwardt established the gardens in 1817.
The original palace was built in the mid-18th century, but in 1834 death and destruction came to the palace and gardens. An earthquake caused enough of a disturbance for the nearby Mount Salak to erupt and this led to damage to the original palace. The rebuilding of the palace was completed in 1856 but was based on a single story construction to avoid too much further earthquake damage.
The gardens have, since their inception, been about exploring and preserving life. In 1817 — then known as Lands Plantentuin — the gardens were established as a center for research and development of plants and seeds. This is still very much in evidence today. The inheritance from the early to mid-19th century development of the gardens is an abundance of life. Plants and trees from around the globe grow here and provide homes for many animals.
Bats can be spotted resting during the day and taking to the air in noisy crowds at dusk in search of an evening meal. One of their favorite hang outs, literally, is across the small lake from the palace grounds. Here in a small secluded corner of the gardens is what is referred to as the Dutch Graveyard.
This is a part of the gardens literally hidden away behind curtain walls of tall bamboo. The leaves from the giant bamboos litter the graveyard but overall their effect is to make this one of the most, appropriately enough, restful places within the gardens.
Those that lie at rest here are mostly Dutch people from the colonial times, hence the name. Among them are two biologists that are noted to have been the first to reach the peak of the nearby Mount Pangrango. The oldest grave, that of a Dutch administrator, dates from 1784, but not all of the graves are Dutch.
A prominent grave is that of a Captain Joseph Drury R.N. who passed away in the mid-1830s. There are 40 graves here and they all have the hefty monumental character of burial tombs of the 18th and 19th century. This also signifies that these were some of the more influential people of the colonial times. This was after all a very prestigious place to be buried.
The gardens are a place of considerable prestige. As a collection and home for extensive and exotic plants and trees it is a special place. It is also a special place of memorial, from the memory of a much-loved British governor’s wife to the botanist and biologists that came to this place, worked here and carried out scientific exploration.
The great Botanical Gardens of Bogor are a place of great pleasure and leisure today and appreciation of both the wonders of the natural world and those that are responsible for bringing these gardens into existence.