In some respect the Napoleonic Wars were 'world wars' like those of the twentieth century where the two major wars were fought over several continents. The operations on Java originated in the conflict between Napoleon and his opponents. While fought far way from the main centres of struggle it was interesting for bringing Thomas Stamford Raffles t prominence, who would later go on to found Singapore. His governorship brought respite to the Javanese from Dutch Colonial rule and would prove a lightening rod for instability when the Dutch returned and tried to pick up from where they had left off.
This post is about the military campaign to seize Java by the British. It is a campaign that is not well known about but was conducted with much dash and skill by the British. The campaign was conducted quickly, keeping the Dutch and French forces on the run once the break-through was made.
The Napoleonic Wars were not just fought in Europe but across the globe as the various countries involved sought resources or attempted to block their enemies gaining resources. With the British victory at Trafalgar in 1805 Britain demonstrated that it controlled the seas. The following year Napoleon declared his brother, Louis Bonaparte, the King of Holland and Britain saw that move as a legitimate reason to seize Dutch overseas colonies, including Java. There was discussion over options with a number of plans discussed, including only minor attacks on a Dutch naval base at Gresik on the north coast of Java. Eventually Lord Minto, who was appointed Governor General of Bengal in 1807, decided that the British would invade Java to take possession of it.
The opposing commanders
Lord Minto. Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 1st Lord Minto, after graduating from university entered government service until he was elected to parliament. He was later sent to govern Corsica and then as a diplomat to India. His talent was recognised when he was sent to India as the Governor General. While not having a military background he decided to lead the Java expedition himself, possibly as he recognised that the military objective was to allow the British Honourable East India Company (HEIC) the means to secure the resources of Java.
Thomas Stamford Raffles. Raffles was based in Penang, Malaya when the expedition was first muted. He went to Calcutta in India in order to provide advice to Lord Minto about the venture. Lord Minto was impressed by Raffles and appointed him Agent and then eventually Secretary to the Governor General. Lord Minto also made him part of the expedition. Raffles played a key role, not only gathering information about Java but also making contact with the Javanese elite to determine how they would act when the British attacked. He was pleased to discover that the Javanese did not support the Dutch.
Major General Samuel Auchmuty. Was born in the American colonies but remained loyal to Britain through the American Revolution. He chose a military career but without private means to maintain him he established himself in the Indian Army to gain independent financial support. He served throughout the Napoleonic period including the disastrous British attempt to seize Buenos Aires; for which his career survived and was possibly enhanced.
Admiral Sir Robert Stopford. Admiral Stopfod had already experienced a distinguished career before the Java Expedition. He was actually the Commander in Chief of the South Africa Station when he was directed to support the Java Expedition.
Herman Willem Daendels. In 1807 Daendels was sent to the East Indies, the name of the Dutch possessions in the area as the Governor General with the mission to strengthen the defences. He had achieved much in a short term but at a major cost in life of the natives. He had not only improved fortresses but had also built the Great Post Road that ran the length of the Javanese north coast. He was reassigned back to the Grand Armee in the year before the invasion having prepared Java for an onslaught the Dutch and French probably suspected was coming.
Jan Willem Janssens. Daendels was replaced by Janssens, another career soldier. Janssens was a very competent administrator but was not a battlefield leader (1). He was barely established in Batavia when the British attacked about two months later. Much was asked of Janssens in the wake of the badly timed handover and it was possible that he had no more to give.
General de Brigade Jean-Marie Jumel. His actions during the defence were roundly criticised and it was being kind to say that he was a commander of moderate ability. He faced a challenge from the start in that he could not speak the native languages of his Dutch or local troops. He was appointed General de Brigade on 25 September 1810 and so was a General for almost a year when the British landed but he had only arrived in Java four months before the British and did not establish any rapport with his command. His reputation was not helped by his narrow escape at one juncture by wading a muddy river up to his neck nor by his eventual capture on 04 September 1811 when he arrived in Cirebon not aware that it had fallen to the British.
The opposing armies
British Forces. The British ground forces have been listed in other publications. They were a mix of British and HEIC forces with the usual ratios of Europeans and Indians giving a total of just over 12 000.
Ships: HMS:- Scipon (Flagship), Akbar, Barracouta, Bucephalus, Caroline, Cornelia, Dasher, Doris, Harpy, Hecate, Hesper, Hussar, Illustrious, Leda, Lion, Minden, Modeste, Nisus, Phaeton, Phobe, Presidente, Procris, Psyche, Samarange, Sir Francis Drake. HEIC:-Ariel, Aurora, Malabar, Mornington, Nautilus Psyche, Thetis, Vestal.
Troops: Elements of the RoyalArtillery, Bengal Artillery, Bengal Golandauz, Bengal Gun Lascars, Madras Horse Artillery and Madras Gun Lascars. Three cavalry squadrons, 22 Light Dragoons and a troop of Governor General's bodyguard. Of the infantry there were from British Army the 14 Foot, 59 Foot, 69 Foot, 78 Foot, 89 Foot as well as the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions of Bengal Volunteers, a Light infantry Battalion and 1st Bn, 20th (Marine) Regt, Bengal Native Infantry. There were also just over six companies of native pioneers with a small platoon of European Volunteers.
Dutch/French Forces. Approximately 11 - 14 000 (2) mixed French and Dutch with local auxiliaries as well as local Javanese contingents of differing motivations. The local Javanese contingents were not reliable with some taking advantage of Raffles' offers to quit the Dutch cause before or during the fighting. The breakdown of the forces was eleven infantry battalions, two jager battalions, four cavalry squadrons, a foot artillery battalion and three horse artillery companies, totalling 17 774 men, of which 12% were Europeans. These forces were not concentrated as the invading troops would be and the field army available to the Dutch and French was only about 8000 strong consisting of mainly unwilling Javanese. (source)
The units from India sailed in March 1811 to assemble at Malacca in Malaya with the month of May planned as the consolidation period. The fleet would not sail until June to give the force time to load the ships and obtain provisions. It also allowed Raffles time to contact the Javanese elite and also gather further information about Java for the coming campaign. In addition, because of his local knowledge Raffles plotted the course for the fleet from Malacca to Java.
On 11 June 1811 the venture commenced with the fleet pulling into the Straits of Malacca and heading southeast down the famous waterway to Batavia (modern day Jakarta). The voyage took six weeks during which some of the fighting vessels harassed the north coast of Java during the later part of July.
A Royal Navy party had already reconnoitered the coast of Java around Batavia and recommended Cillingching (Cilinching, in the north east suburbs of Jakarta) as the landing site. With that information the ships arrived in the morning at the location and commenced unloading the fighting force in the afternoon of 04 August. There were no specialised landing craft in those days only the ships boats so the landing proceeded slowly. Thankfully for the British force it was unopposed so all the forces could land without harassment, a job essentially completed with about 8000 troops landed that afternoon. The map below shows place names mentioned in the post.
The Dutch and French forces did not attempt to oppose the landings nor target the beach head. There was apparently some scouting by the Dutch but it was not done in force nor with much aggression. The British were able to consolidate their landing and began the march on Batavia.
In the morning of 08 August Batavia surrendered without a fight and by 1500 hours the British were conducting a formal handover of the city. A contemporary accountof the campaign records surprise that there was no Dutch attempt to hinder the British progress, given the limited routes to the city from the landing location and the closed countryside. The only real contact with the French was a scouting party that entered Batavia and had a desultory shoot-out with the British resulting in a French fatality before withdrawing again. As an aside, the story goes that no French Eagle standards were ready for the French forces in Java but plans existed to dispatch them, however those plans evaporated with the British capture of Batavia.
The first real fight between the two sides occurred on 10 August when the British advanced on the Dutch-French position at Weltevreden. The Dutch and French had prepared a location that was north of their major defensive position at Meester Cornellis. While not stated in the sources the defence ofWeltevreden was probably meant to delay the invading force to allow time for preparations at Meester Cornellis. A contemporary British source claims that the British attacking force was a mere 1400 strong while an on-line sourcegives the impression that since the Dutch losses were so large there must have been several thousand (possibly 3000 according to Harfield's book) Dutch, French and Javanese troops there.
The French General Jumel had his right flank protected by the obstacle of a canal while his left flank was open. He had been advised to protect the left but had ignored the imploring of Brigadier von Rantzau. The British forces primarily engaged were the 78th Regiment and the 89th Regiment. The blocking force had four field pieces to provide artillery support and to cover the natural obstacles of the marshly land and plantation, together with the abatis lacework that had been done of the approach road. It was a strong position but the left flank was the key weakness. It was not a push over for the British with the Dutch artillery taking a toll as the British advanced along the road. Even when the British started to come around the left flank of the position and onto the road at the rear of the position the gunners stayed by their guns to fight the British while the cavalry and infantry bid a hasty retreat. The British suffered 520 dead, the Dutch maybe 500 killed; and the road was open to the fortress of Meester Cornellis where Janssens had his main defensive position. The figures are hard to confirm with some sources giving lower figures although the figures quoted here come from a Dutch account of the battle.
Diplomacy accompanied the fighting with Lord Minto several times during the campaign attempting to gain Janssens' surrender with entreaties to see the hopelessness of the Dutch position. Janssens rebuffed these offers, although he would have known that no help was coming and that eventually it was likely that the British would wear him down.
Janssens' defence at Meester Cornellis may have given heart to his forces, as the British were forced to pause on 11 August and conduct a siege from 20 to 25 August. Although some British Dragoons had followed up the retreating Dutch from Weltevreden the force of 10 000 French troops in Meester Cornellis would be no easy rout. The fort had a protected northern approach by a series of redoubts. There was a river to the west and a canal on the eastern side that made flank attacks hard while the north and south had ditches that were flooded to add further obstacles. There were 280 cannon in the main structure and the surrounding redoubts.
The British prudently went for a deliberate siege. They fortified an area north of the cantonment at Meester Cornellis and emplaced some artillery there. The Dutch under Janssens believed that they could hold out long enough for the rainy season to come and therefore make life intolerable for the British, forcing them to lift the siege.
On 22 August a force of French cavalry sortied from Cornellis and had initial success in taking some of the British positions. Their victory was short lived and they were eventually driven off. Interestingly, given the apparent combat experience of French Forces in the midst of the Napoleonic conflicts, the seized British guns were not spiked. Whether these cavalry were themselves inexperienced or they had another intention is not covered in the sources.
General Auchmuty determined that he could not wait to be defeated by the rainy season and so ordered preparatory artillery fire against Meester Cornellis on 24 August. Twenty 18 pounders and eight mortars and howitzers were used by the British to pepper the area of Meester Cornellis. This fire was answered by the Dutch and an artillery duel lasted most of the day. on 25 August the firing started again but at a lower intensity.
A map taken from Thornshowing the attack at Meester Cornellis
A map after the map above from Thorn
The British had some information from a deserter, Sergeant Pauly, about a route around the eastern side of Meester Cornellis. Interestingly the Dutch and French also had a Scottish deserter who told them that an attack was imminent. So it was that on the evening of 25 August a British force began a flanking move along an eastern path beside the canal. There were two groups, the advance guard under Colonel Gillespie and the main body under Colonel Gibbs. Good progress was made although contact was lost between the two groups for some time but this did not hamper the attack.
With dawn breaking and the British launching a holding attack on the front of Meester Cornellis, Colonel Gillespie's forces fixed bayonets and attacked redoubt 3 that guarded a bridge into the camp. Despite the hail of Dutch bullets and artillery shots the British were able to capture the redoubt. Before the defenders could organise themselves the attackers continued the momentum and seized redoubt 4 before the defenders were in position. Colonel Gibbs' brigade joined in the British on-rush through the breached flank and his troops took redoubt 2 through heavy fighting against the defenders. The British were in for a shock at redoubt 2, as two Dutch officers decided that with the redoubt lost they werenot going to let the British take it intact and blew up the magazine with the forces still fighting above. The Dutch and French defenders could not take advantage of this sudden loss to the British momentum and soon the British were consolidating their hold on redoubt 2 while streaming onward to seize redoubt 1. The front of Meester Cornellis had been effectively wrest open. The Dutch/French cavalry appeared like they were going to charge but were discouraged by effective British fire and the presence of British cavalry. The British forces consolidated their hold on the redoubts and also specifically targeted artillery positions for capture.
Another British column also emerged on the southwest aspect of Meester Cornellis, effectively threatening the retreat for forces intending to fight another day. The Dutch and French troops began to collapse. There was a report that Janssens was captured by British Dragoons but was not recognised and so was able to escape. Jumel escaped in a way believed not to be commensurate with his rank when he jumped into a muddy river up to his neck and swam or waded away in the filth.
Up to 2000 of the French-Dutch-Javanese forces were killed and 6000 captured including a number of senior European officers. The defenders could not evacuate any artillery before the fortress was seized hampering any plans for another stand. The completeness of the British victory meant that very few troops were able to escape and no artillery was withdrawn to be used in other positions.
Janssens fled initially to Buitenzorg (Bogor) and received a message there from Lord Minto on 26 August calling on him to surrender the island. Janssens refused saying that the British had hardly occupied any of Java and that soon the fate of the conflict would favour him. He did not stay at Buitenzorg for long, perhaps realising that the communications network was along the north coast and that he would be isolated where he was. He moved eastwards to Cirebon on the coast and then on to Semarang in central Java.
Jumel did not fair well in the flight from Meester Cornellis. Janssens refused to speak to him and the remaining troops ignored him. Jumel decided that it was time to return to France and headed to Cirebon to find a ship to take him off Java. He did not notice the Union Jack hanging over the town when he arrived there in the morning of 04 September. He was unlucky in that the British had only captured the town a few hours before. The town capture had been bloodless with a British ship and embarked marines, including a troop of mounted marines, demanding the surrender of the town and the local Dutch commander obliging. This turn of events was typical of the surrender of many garrisons as British forces mopped up resistance in western Java.
General Auchmuty did not underestimate the ability of Janssens to rally local support amongst the Javanese Sultans and ordered a minor venture to Madura to head-off a Dutch inspired action by the local Sultan. Janssens was able to rally some Javanese rulers with their forces to his cause but their troops lacked modern weapons and had no experience with western style warfare. Semarang was also not a viable defensive position because it was on the coast and vulnerable to the Royal Navy bombarding it.
Initially, General Auchmuty thought that Janssens would move on to Surabaya in East Java to take advantage of the forces there and Lodewijk Fortress. General Auchmuty returned to Batavia so as to lead the pursuit personaly and embarked on several ships with accompanying British and Indian army troops. He then found out that Janssens was remaining in Semarang. Unfortunately the message did not get to the Navy warships accompanying Auchmuty's transports that were moving east to Surabaya in order to intercept Janssens.
On 12 September Auchmuty's first troops went ashore at Semarang and found that Janssens was in a fortress south of the town. Colonel Gibbs was given the task of attacking the fortress even though his 1400 troops were outnumbered. It was reasoned that most of the soldiers in the fortress were locally raised native forces and would not have the stomach to stand up to the battle hardened and disciplined British troops. The attack was launched at 0200 on 16 September and it carried the position without much loss of British life. The native troops broke quickly and killed some of their European officers in their haste to escape. Janssens once again fled but even he was losing the will to continue the fight. On 17 September he requested terms from Auchmuty, desiring to surrender to Lord Minto. General Auchmuty denied the request, stating that Janssens should surrender to himself or the war would continue.
The British pursuit began again on 18 September to pressure Janssens, who had fled south to Salatiga. The British forces did not have to fight the French-Dutch troops again as General Auchmuty's units were met on the northern outskirts of Salatiga, at Toentang with Janssens' surrender.
With the surrender of Janssens the war against the Dutch and French was over in Java. The Dutch and French forces were on the back foot after Meester Cornellis with one report claiming that at the surrender of Janssens forces there was only one musket left to surrender. The French forces stationed in Surabaya in East Java were still flying the French tri-colour on 28 September when the British sailed into the port. The French forces quickly surrendered when the British began making preparations to attack them.
Janssens departed Java on 18 October to be taken back to England as a prisoner but was exchanged in a prisoner swap with France a year later in November 1812. When the Netherlands threw-off the Napoleonic hegemon Janssens was appointed into a senior position in the new Netherlands Army but did not lead forces in the concluding battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
The British held Java and the HEIC was placed in charge. The occupation went well although there were a couple of rebellions by local Sultans in mid-1812 and the British were forced to suppress them. The rebellions were fanned by unhappiness with the situation but under Raffles an enlightened colonial policy was introduced and resistance waivered. Another major security concern erupted in 1815 when some Sepoys in consultation with local Javanese elements were planning a mutiny. The outbreak was cut-off before it erupted and several leaders were executed while others were sent back to India under guard.
To commemorate the campaign the HEIC had a medalstruck for the Sepoys, while British forces had to wait 35 years for a bar for the General Service Medal. The HEIC medal featured the victory at Meester Cornellis on one side and Persian script on the reverse commemorating the victory with the date of 1228 of the year of the Hijra. 1811 was written in Roman numerals around the edge of the medal.
The campaign was relatively quick and perhaps because of that it is little known against the background of the wider Napoleonic conflicts. Despite the quick victory, it is doubtful that the outcome was certain from the start. The British were fighting from an amphibious start and quickly secured Batavia as a base for further operations. The British also had an advantage in that they could concentrate their forces while the Dutch and French were spread out across Java to defend all possible landing areas. The Dutch and French did not have unity in command with the tensions caused by Jumel. In addition, Janssens arrived so soon before the landing of the British that he did not have time to establish himself in command before the fighting started. The Dutch and French could have have made the British suffer more than they did and possibly could have defeated the landing force. Java would probably have been isolated and so would not have had any impact beyond Southeast Asia but the moral victory may have meant much. As with a lot of history it was not a turning point in world affairs and with the restoration of Holland, Java eventually returned to the Dutch colonial fold. The presence of Raffles in Java is remembered by some but the battles that brought him there have been forgotten by most.
- Java Expedition (Wikipedia) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_Expedition
- Java Expedition 1811 (National Archives UK) - http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Java_Expedition_1811
- Herman Willem Daendels (Wikipedia) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Willem_Daendels
- Jan Willem Janssens (Wikipedia) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Willem_Janssens
- Lt-Gen Jan Willem Janssens (Geert van Uythoven) - http://home.wanadoo.nl/g.vanuythoven/Biographies/Janssens.htm
- Sir Samuel Auchmuty (Online Enclyclopedia) - http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/ARN_AUD/AUCHMUTY_SIR_SAMUEL_1756_1822_.html
- Raffles: The Definitive Biography by Maurice Collis (Amazon)
- Colonial Expeditions-East Indies 1811 (Naval History of Great Britain by William James) - http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/Naval_History/Vol_VI/P_026.html
- The British Invasion of Java in 1811: The Diary of Lieutenant William Fielding HEIC - http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/ow/222482118
- Alan Harfield, British and Indian Armies in the Esat Indies (1685-1935),Picton Publishing, 1984
- Alan Harfield, The Siege of Meester Cornelis, Java, August, 1811in The Journal of the Society for Army Histprical Research, No 72, 1994