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British Naval Power and its Influence on Indonesia, 1795–1942: An Historical Analysis

*Peter Carey  -  Oxford University, Indonesia
Christopher Reinhart  -  Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia

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Abstract
In Indonesian history, Britain has never been considered a prominent player in the politics of the archipelago. From an Indonesian perspective, the British presence only lasted a brief five years (1811–1816) during short-lived interregnum regime led by Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826). This began with the British seizure of Java from the Franco-Dutch administration of Marshal Daendels (1808-11) and his successor, General Janssens (May-September 1811), and ended with the formal return of the colony to the Netherlands on 19 August 1816. However, as this article demonstrates, Britain has had a long-lasting and decisive influence on modern Indonesian history, dating from the time when the archipelago entered the vortex of global conflict between Britain and Republican France in the 1790s. The presence of the British navy in Indonesian waters throughout the century and a half which followed Britain’s involvement in the War of the First Coalition (1792-97) dictated inter alia the foundation of new cities like Bandung which grew up along Daendels’ celebrated postweg (military postroad), the development of modern Javanese cartography, and even the fate of the exiled Java War leader, Prince Diponegoro. in distant Sulawesi (1830-55). This British naval presence had pluses and minuses for the Dutch. On the one hand, it was a guarantor of Dutch security from foreign seaborne invasion. On the other, it opened the possibility for British interference in the domestic politics of Holland’s vast Asian colony. As witnessed in the 20th-century, the existence of the Dutch as colonial masters in the Indonesian Archipelago was critically dependent on the naval defence screen provided by the British. When the British lost their major battleships (Prince of Wales and Repulse) to Japanese attack off the east coast of Malaya on 10 December 1941 and Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, the fate of the Dutch East Indies was sealed. Today, the vital role played by the Royal Navy in guaranteeing the archipelago’s security up to February 1942 has been replaced by that of the Honolulu-based US Seventh Fleet but the paradoxes of such protection have continued.
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Keywords: British Navy, British in Indonesia, Intercolonial Relations, Indonesian Navy Defence.

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