IV.1 Urban Boards, Public and Religious Order

Governing and administering a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual city of around 100,000 inhabitants at the end of the seventeenth century was a real challenge. Various urban boards were appointed to oversee law and order, land surveys and property administration, matrimonial affairs, and the care of orphans and the poor. The College of Aldermen (1620-1809) was the most important body. It was housed in the Town Hall which is still located in the middle of Kota Batavia, the old town.

Public administration and law and order were also directly supported by several local notary (lawyer’s) offices, producing thousands of wills, contracts, agreements, affidavits and so forth. A District Council supervised the Environs of the city. Both the College of Aldermen and the District Council divided the city into blocks and neighbourhoods, each under its own head. A meticulous population administration helped to maintain a good overview of the multitude of different ethnic groups.

The Batavian Church Council administered four churches which together had some 5,000 members by 1700. Superintending private and public behaviour and maintaining strict norms, religion played an important part in the process of local Christianization and moral discipline. Muslim activities are more difficult to trace in the documents, but undoubtedly among the ninety percent of the population who was Asian, Islam was an important force, in particular, among the people living in the Batavian Environs. The majority of the Chinese maintained their own Buddhist and Taoist rituals. Together with their shadow plays, these rituals were often publicly enacted in the streets of Batavia.