Scots in Java: A Legacy of Commerce and Influence


The arrival of Scots in Java is intertwined with the advent of Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1811. Among those who made their mark was Alexander Loudon, an English soldier of Scottish origin. Despite the end of Raffles’ administration, Loudon and his descendants remained in Java. His son, James Loudon, formed a close friendship with Johannes van den Bosch, the architect of the cultuurstelsel system in the Dutch East Indies. This bond led to James securing management rights over indigo plantations in Pekalongan in 1830 and near Semarang in 1832.

Another notable figure in this Scottish influx was Gillian Maclaine, who arrived in Batavia in 1817 as part of the British East India Company (EIC) and East India Houses (EIH). According to Ulbe Bosma in “The Cultivation System (1830–1870) and Its Private Entrepreneurs on Colonial Java,” by 1823, 28 Scottish men over the age of 16 were residing in Java. Despite being part of Great Britain, these Scots were counted separately from the 65 English men present at the time.

Gillian Maclaine, only 22 when he first set foot in Batavia, hailed from a family of sheep farmers on the Movern Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands. His background facilitated connections with other Highland Scots, strengthening his foothold in Java. Among his key contacts was Colin McLean, a ship captain trading in the Indian and Southeast Asian regions, who became his principal business partner in exporting plantation commodities from Java and the Dutch East Indies.

Maclaine also collaborated with Edward Watson, a senior figure at EIH. In 1827, they founded Maclaine Watson, a trading firm that became a significant player in the commodity trade, headquartered in Batavia with branches in Semarang and Surabaya. They traded coffee from plantations in Surakarta and sugar from plantations in Semarang and Surabaya, employing workers from various groups, including Germans, Chinese, and local natives.

The success of Maclaine Watson in 1902 aroused envy in the Dutch East Indies Government, which viewed the firm as a threat due to its monopolistic tendencies. This rivalry was understandable, given that the government’s Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij (NHM) felt threatened by Maclaine Watson’s dominance.

Gillian Maclaine opened doors for other Scottish diasporas, especially in Java, his domain. The MacNeill brothers, John and Alexander, who were from the same area in Scotland, joined him in Java. They were mentioned by G. Roger Knight in his work “Trade and Empire in Early Nineteenth-Century Southeast Asia: Gillian Maclaine and his Business Network” as founders of MacNeill and Co., a firm that supported Maclaine Watson’s operations in Semarang. MacNeill and Co., often seen as the juniors to Maclaine Watson, contributed to a sense of a Highland Scottish business dynasty in Java.

Although less renowned than Gillian Maclaine, McLachlan also made his mark. If Maclaine was the Scottish ruler of sugar and coffee, McLachlan ruled over tea plantations, bolstered by his marriage to Wilhelmina Francois (Meinje) van der Hucht, from a family of tea plantation owners in West Java.

The Scots in Java were not only adept at business but also skilled at leveraging their networks, reading trends, seizing opportunities, and even strengthening their positions through marriage. Their influence extended beyond plantations into other business and economic spheres. For instance, within Gillian Maclaine’s network, William Menzies owned a villa in the mountains south of Jakarta, which Gillian described as higher than Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak.

Alexander Fraser, a committee member of De Javasche Bank in the 1870s, and his older brother, Arthur Fraser, who played a significant role in developing Java’s railway, further exemplified Scottish influence. Their presence in Java, though a minority, was significant and impactful.

To explore this Scottish legacy, one can visit the Museum Taman Prasasti Jakarta, where tombstones with Scottish names, such as John Lorimer and James Macnair, provide a historical record. Lorimer, a doctor born in Edinburgh, and Macnair, a trader from St. Ninians, Stirling District, highlight the enduring presence of Scots in Java.

These Scottish names, though few, demonstrate their considerable contributions to Java, deserving a place in Indonesian historiography. Their legacy of commerce, influence, and integration into local society is a testament to their adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit.


  1. Hello, thank you for the article, however, I think you will find that it was Alexander Loudon himself who managed the two plantations. His son James was only about 6-8 old in 1830 and 1832. See Regards, Jane Corin

    1. Dear Jane Corin,

      Thank you for pointing out the inaccuracy in the article. You're absolutely right, at that age it's highly unlikely James Loudon would have been managing plantations. Alexander Loudon being the manager himself makes much more sense.

      I appreciate you bringing this to my attention and sharing the helpful source.



Post a Comment