In 1888 the Royal Packet Navigation Company (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij, KPM) was founded to provide scheduled services between the remote islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. Twentyfive years later the shipping company had the situation firmly in hand. These were the heydays of modern Dutch imperialism, which saw sovereignty being established over the entire archipelago. The KPM performed so well in this period that it made itself indispensable. It had built up a closely-knit network of shipping lines and offices, and the government contracted it to transport men and munitions during military expeditions. This made it easier for the government to display its ‘presence’ in the Outer Regions and to exert its authority beyond Java. Showing the flag was an important sign of this control, and crews functioned as the government’s informal eyes and ears.
They were certainly blazing new trails. Much had to be overcome, even in the far corners of the archipelago: difficult waters, sandbanks that shifted with the tides, treacherous reefs, inadequate nautical charts and a dearth of lighthouses. Most coastlines lacked port facilities and ships had to be on- and offloaded at a roadstead, which was sometime hindered by unfavourable winds.
The cargo trade remained the most lucrative activity, despite the steady growth in passengers. The indigenous population also made increasing use of the ships, creating a market for their products in the region and beyond. Tourism throughout the archipelago increased because of the improved connections.
To further stimulate this, in 1911 the Guide through Netherlands India was published by J.H. de Bussy in Amsterdam on behalf of the KPM. This guide was richly illustrated with photographs. The cover design seems to be based on photographs from three albums (Alb. 198–200) in the Tropenmuseum collection. The shipping company presented them to Mrs A. Rühl-Van Swieten in Makassar on Celebes in 1914 as a keepsake of the trip her husband made in 1912 with L.J. Lambach. At the time, the latter was chairman of the Board and thus the most important KPM representative in the Netherlands East Indies. This explains the luxurious edition: more than 175 individual photographs glued to card stock in three separate cassettes.
E.H. Rühl entered the service of the shipping company on 22 May 1891 as a warehouse master in Batavia. The German photographer A. Person took the photographs. The leitmotiv in the albums is the KPM steamship in the background of the photographs. They wait at the roadstead, in the bay, or alongside a pier or quay – a powerful symbol of Western presence. The indigenous population can be seen in the foreground. This image recurs repeatedly in the series, which also includes photographs that were usually taken during trips such as this.
11,9 x 16,4cm (4 11/16 x 6 7/16in.)