Saturday, 17 October 2009

26 August 1942

The terms of my contract, which I do not think I have yet enumerated were as follows:  Commencing salary 250 guilders per month rising by annual increments of 25 to 350 per month in the fifth year.  Six months European furlough on full salary at the expiry of 5 years service, passage, 2nd class, free to Europe and back again to Java in the event of the contract being renewed for a further period of 5 years.  Free house, fire and light.  Free medical attendance (excluding dental treatment and illness caused by misconduct), free Personal Tax and an allowance of 12 guilders per month for a garden coolie.  Also an allowance of 40 guilders and four days local leave every 3 months.  The most important item, however, was the bonus to which every employee was entitled and which was based on the profits made by the Company in the course of a year.  In the golden days of planting bonuses were often of such proportions as to ensure an employee being in a position to retire for life at the end of his first contract.  These days had gone for ever by 1926 but there were still reasonable prospects of being able to double one’s nominal salary.  Alas for my expectations.  Rubber began to slump in 1927 and by 1931 the bottom had fallen out of the market altogether.  My first year’s bonus was 760 guilders, and the next year’s 1200, and for the next three, what will all allowances cancelled and salary cut, I might claim that the company paid themselves back for the bonuses, I had received.  This wonderful contract, for all its lovely seals and flourishing signatures, although it protected the company against my leaving their service within the 5 year on pain of the payment of £100 plus so called ascertained damages, was, as far as my rights were concerned, only so much waste paper when the company’s results began to evidence themselves in the red figures.  In my fifth year, I was much worse off than when I started, receiving only 240 guilders a month and no extras whatever except hours, fire and light.  The Personal Tax I have mentioned is a Poll, or Head Tax imposed by the Dutch authorities in addition to usual Income Tax and is based on house rent and the possession of motorcars, cycles and horses.  The four days leave every 3 months were according to the contract, to be spent at one or other resort in the mountains for health’s sake but on occasion I have been  9 months at a stretch at Langen without any such break and sometimes simply because it did not suit the convenience of the manager, Fits Verploegh who was a big built, red faced  man of about 37 who has been planting since his 18th year.  He had an air of great authority and owed his position, I suspect to this more than to actual ability.  Although there was not a soul on Langen, who by reason of his position could dispute his title as manager, he always insisted in signing himself on all correspondence and reports as ‘Head Manager’. His policy was to keep his assistants as far as was possible from adding to their planting knowledge anything more than he himself chose to impart to them in somewhat patronising fashion.  He even went as far in this matter as to take great pains to prevent the circulation of any agricultural periodical which might reach him in his official capacity.  Practically every other manager I have known was insisted on his employees reading such papers in order that they might keep abreast of the latest methods and up to date as to experiments being carried out in their particular field.  Fitz Verploegh had an efficient secret service system recruited from the native overseers on every Division, by means of which, he kept himself informed of the state of work and of everything else on the Estate without being under the necessity of exerting himself in any way whatsoever.  I have known him not to stir from his house for a whole month on end and yet, to my amazement, at the end of that period, to send me his monthly report of sometimes 12 foolscap pages to translate and type and that report consisting of a wealth of detail which one would have sworn was impossible except by personal observation and inspection.  His spying proclivities extended on occasion even to pirate correspondence and quite frequently Fenton and I, at least, have had our letters from home passed on to us days after they arrived on the Estate and displaying obvious sings of having been tampered with.  This was on account of the fact that the Estate mail was fetched from Banjdar, the nearest village and post office, every day by a native postman specially employed for that purpose.  Letters etc were collected by an agent in Bandjar and locked in a post box carried by the postman and the duplicate key of which was held by the manager.  So all letters, no matter to whom addressed, were first delivered to the Big House and thereafter, often very much at leisure, further distribution took place.  We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that our letters were held up at the Big House from the date stamp of Bandjar post office.  While efforts were being made to form a Planters Union, we had ample proof that all letters and literature sent to each assistant individually on Langen by that body were suppressed.  It was a long established rule on Langen that each assistant should have one Sunday free every two weeks but this privilege was on most occasions torpedoed by the manager, who, making one of his rare appearances, would stroll along to the office resplendent in white ducks and topi on Saturday afternoons when wages were being paid out to the work people and say, ‘Well, gentlemen, what about a spot of hunting tomorrow?’  That meant getting up the next morning at the usual time and walking and running through the jungle from sometimes 7 am to 3 pm, more fatiguing than an ordinary day’s work.  To refuse would have been to bring upon one’s self the managerial displeasure and only one who has actually been employed on an Estate can appreciate the manifold ways and means which can be employed in the expression of that sentiment.  Fitz Verploegh has been known to confine an assistant who had offended him within the boundaries of his own Division.  It was an understood thing that even on a free Sunday we were not supposed to go beyond the Estate boundaries without first obtaining his august permission.  He was a perfect survival of the type, formerly very common, but fortunately even then almost extinct, which in the early days of planting considered itself absolute monarch of all it surveyed and whose power stopped not very far short of life and death over those under it.


Out from 2.45 to 4.30 pm.  No run or jerks.  One ballgame.  New command specs.   Rutherford Greeuw arrived.  Perry day before yesterday.  Cell inspection and search after lunch today, looking for razors and other sharp objects apparently.  My searches greatly taken up with Ineke’s photo on my table.  Took it up and pressed it against my mouth on leaving, smiling broadly.  Search very perfunctory – just looked into cupboard and did not even open suitcase – majority not so lucky.

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