The Problems of Krakatau
krakatau horizon
Rakata - 0 km             Lang Island - 3 km                                 Sebesi - 18 km    Sebuku - 26 km               Sumatra (Rajabasa) - 44 km

Peter J. van Dijk

This is a website about the history of the biological Krakatau research

Downloading of the pictures may take a while.....


The 1883 eruption                            Why is the biology of Krakatau important?              Where is Krakatau located?

Why did Melchior Treub initiate the research?                       The biological Krakatau problem

Krakatau expeditions

The controversy between Backer and Docters van Leeuwen                        Interview with Prof. H.C.D. de Wit                       
Criticism on Simon Winchester's Krakatao book                        Different impressions of pre-1883 Krakatau

Life has returned to Krakatau                        Treub                        Backer                        Docters van Leeuwen

Dammerman                        Ernst                        Justification                      Links    

"Krakatau is a shrine to biogeographers because its ecosystem was obliterated
 and founded anew within scientific memory."

                    From: The Song of the Dodo ~ island biogeography in an age of extinctions,
David Quammen 1996 , Scribner, Singapore (p136)

The 1883 Eruption
The Krakatau archipelago 
is located in the middle of Strait Sunda, which separates Java and Sumatra. On August 27th 1883 an enormous volcanic eruption blew away 2/3 of the main island and covered the three remnants, viz. Rakata, Verlaten Eiland (Abandoned Island) and Lang Eiland (Long Island) with of tenths of meters of hot burning ash. The islands, once clothed with a dense tropical rain forest,  were turned over night into barren rock.

Why is the Biology of Krakatau so important?
is famous for its volcanism and geology. There are several websites about this subject and there is the great book of Tom Simkin and Richard S. Fiske: Krakatau 1883. To the general public, Krakatau less well known for its biology. This is unfortunate because Krakatau is considered as the best studied case of primary succession in the humid tropics and it played a crucial role in the initial testing of the famous Theory of Island Biogeography by MacArthur and Wilson. Important scientific research is going on at the moment, building on and extending the time series of observations that were started just a few years after its eruption. 

Very little of value has been published about the history of the early biological research. The semi-scholar book by Ian Thornton ( Krakatau , the destruction and reassembly of an island ecosystem ) is incomplete and wrong at places and the popular book by Simon Winchester (Krakatoa, the day the world exploded) is full of errors and wrong conclusions. In those days Indonesia was a Dutch colony: the Dutch East Indies. Many of the historical sources are thus written in Dutch.


Why did Melchior Treub initiate the Biological Krakatau Research?
Islands were a hot topic in biology in the second half ot the nineteenth century. Darwin had written about 
the colonization of islands in The Origin of Species (1859).  Hooker had studied the vegetation of the 
Galapagos archipelago and described seed dispersal characteristics. Wallace had published Island Life
just three years before the Krakatau eruption. Two years after the eruption, in 1885, The Report on the
Present State of Knowledge of various Insular Floras, being an introduction to the First Three parts of the 
Botany of the Challenger Expedition
, by William Botting Hemsley was published. It reviewed what 
was known in those days about the composition and the origin of insular flora’s and acknowledged
Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker and Alfred Wallace as the founders of this branch of research. 
The review might “perhaps also serve as an indication to travelers of the nature and the extent 
of the observations required for the observation for the advancement of this most interesting
.” This was one year before the botanist Melchior Treub, director of the Buitenzorg Botanic
Gardens, first visited the Krakatau islands. 

In his report of that visit Treub refers to the Challenger review. He states that what is known about
the colonization of islands by direct observations is solely restricted to low coral islands. Although
the vegetation compositions of high oceanic islands had been investigated, e.g. San Juan and
Ascension Island, there were no direct observations about the flora development of higher islands. 
The sterilization of Krakatau was therefore a unique opportunity to collect the observations
needed for the advancement of this most interesting subject. Treub was fully convinced of the
complete sterilization and discusses the question in a separate paragraph of his report.
To use Treub’s observations 40 years later as support for the non-sterilization theory, like Backer
did - see below - , is outrageous. However as will become clear further on at this website, 
Backer had strong personal motives for his publication, and no interest at the recolonization 
of Krakatau at all. Unfortunately, Simon Winchester, and to a lesser extend Ian Thornton, missed this point.


The Biological Krakatau Problem
The biological krakatau problem was first explicitly formulated by Alfred Ernst in 1908:
How Krakatau, as an island of considerable height, acquires a new vegetation and by what
successive stages the new floral elements appear on the island and by what external agencies
the colonisation is effected.  It is confusing that Thornton and Winchester also use the Krakatau
problem for the controvesy that later arose between Backer and Docters van Leeuwen.

The most important early researchers of the Biological Krakatau Problem were:
1. Melchior Treub (1851 - 1910). Director of  the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (Bogor)(1880 -1909)
Cornelis Andries Backer (1874 - 1963). "Botanist for the Flora of Java"
3. Willem Marius Docters van Leeuwen (1880 - 1960)Director of  the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (1919 -1932)
4. Karel Willem Dammerman (1888 - 1951)Director of  the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (1932-1939)
5. Alfred Ernst (1875 - 1968). Professor at the University of Zürich

Krakatau expeditions

Although the Krakatau archipelago is not very remote, at about 175 km from Jakarta and in the middle of the busy Strait Sunda, well-planned and costly expeditions were needed. Strait Sunda is a continuation of the Indian Ocean; therefore waves can be towering high. Also the monsoons in the wet season can cause high seas. The landing on the shore of Krakatau is difficult because of the lack of sheltered bays and the high cliffs. All food and fresh water has to be brought in. Nevertheless a Swedish botanist, Olof Arrhenius, tried to reach Krakatau in 1921, using a local sailing boat. After three weary days he had to return to Java, without reaching his goal. Treub, Docters van Leeuwen and Dammerman made use of governmental steamers with a considerable crew. Consequently the expeditions had to be organized well in advance and were costly.

Listen here to the forest of Krakatau today (actually the end 1990's)   (back to the interview)

Strait Sunda Krakatau group

Left: The Krakatau archipelago is situated in the middle of Strait Sunda between Java and Sumatra. The islands of Sebesi and Seboekoe were less severely affected by the 1883 eruption and may have served as sources or as stepping stones for the plants and animals that recolonized the Krakatau islands. From the beach of Rakata these islands as well as the mountains of Sumatra are clearly visible (see the top of the website).  Right: The Krakatoa archipelago - the fourth island, Anak Krakatau (child of Krakatau), is a new volcano which arose in 1927 above sea level. The geologist Verbeek had predicted this in his Krakatau monograph in 1884. Satellite images from NASA.

      Rakata 1886
Rakata in 1886: The white and heavily eroded ash layer is clearly visible. For comparison: the
summit is 800 meters high.

                VERBEEK LANDING
Krakatau, June 1886, three years after the eruption.  Melchior Treub, Director of the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (standing left) is the first biologist visiting Krakatau, as member of a party led by the geologist Rogier Verbeek (middle).

                        Treub maanlandschap
Treub on Krakatau (lower left corner, sitting), May 1886. Almost three years after
the eruption the heavy rains have severely eroded the soft ash cover. The terrain
is almost impenetrable.


Treub's Note on the New Flora of Krakatau, published in the Annales du Jardin de Buitenzorg 1888, 7: 213-223. It was a summary of the presentation Treub gave at a meeting of the Academy of Sciences of Amsterdam on January 28th 1888. The article was reviewed in Nature by William Botting Hemsley, the author of the Challenger reports.

                          expedition 1908
                               The expedition of the Topographical Service to Krakatau in May 1908.  To
                                the left the botanist C.A. Backer.
In those days he firmly believed that all plant life
was completely destroyed. Twenty years later he had completely changed his mind. To
the right is the first zoologist visiting Krakatau, Edward Jacobson, holding a insect net.  
Before this first zoological expedition there had already been three botanical expeditions,
which led to Dammerman's (1948) comment that the case of Krakatau itself had been
neglected. He was clearly refering to the zoological side and not to the botanical side and
Simon Wincester therefore used Dammerman's citation on p367 in the wrong context.

Rakata in 1919

Rakata South East side, October 6th 1919, seen from the ship. In the foreground Casuarina
and Barringtonia forest. Lowest slopes of the mountain with grass-savannah (light) and scattered
groves (dark). A few year later the tree groves had fused and formed a continous forest and the grass-savannah has disappeared. Higher up, closed, uniform plant covering, consisting
of Cyrtandra sulcata.

                                 vegetation succession

The succession of the vegetation types on Krakatau in the first 50 years, based on W.M.
Docters van Leeuwen, 1936. Krakatau, 1883 to 1933 A. Botany.  E.J. Brill, Leiden.

                                 seed plant recolonization

The progression of the new Krakatau flora in the first 50 years. The number of seed plant
species found during the successive expeditions, in total and according to seed dispersal
mechanism. From: W.M. Docters van Leeuwen, 1936. Krakatau, 1883 to 1933 A. Botany.
E.J. Brill, Leiden.


       And idiot everywhere.............................

         Backer portait        bijschrift Backer        Docters van Leeuwen
          C.A. Backer (l) and W.M. Docters van Leeuwen (r) were no friends (understatement). Backer added "and
              idiot everywhere" to Docters van Leeuwens affiliation in his personal copy of the Krakatau Excursions
              Guide for the 4th Pan Pacific Science Congress that was held in Java in 1929.  Backer gave his own
              vision on the Krakatau colonization problem in a book that he freely distributed among the participants
              of that excursion. Nature (1930) remarked that it had to be regretted that mr. Backer had chosen the
              medium of a scientific work as a vent for the eruption of his own pent-up feelings.  Here Backer is wearing
              a toetoep, a typical white colonial jacket with high collar. Back in Holland he had a toetoep made of
              tweed. Ian Thornton describes Backer in his book as "something of an eccentric, for he had a sun helmet
              made up in tweed to wear in Holland". I suppose this is the wrong interpretation of the toetoep story.


The last page "The problem of Krakatao as seen by a Botanist", by C.A. Backer, formerly
government botanist for the flora of Java, Published by the Author. As was explained to me
by the late professor H.C.D. de Wit, the cover told the whole story: In Backer's view the
other Krakatau scientists had not sufficient knowledge of the Java flora, were amateurs,
no professional botanists. The reason for the publication had to do with the fact that Backer
was dismissed from his job as government botanist for the flora of Java. Part of the problems
between Backer and Docters van Leeuwen were due to the fact that Backer was a perfectionist
and therefore slow with publishing.

Listen here to the interview with the late Prof. H.C.D. De Wit, a colleague of Backer and Docters
van Leeuwen, made in May 1996
(in Dutch, for an English transcript click here).

            de Wit
Prof. H.C.D. de Wit, revisiting the Bogor Herbarium in 1994. De Wit was the curator of the Bogor Botanic Gardens during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese emperor was a marine biologist and therefore biologists received a somewhat better treatment than other people. After WWII De Wit first became an assistant professor of the Leiden Herbarium and later professor in Plant Taxonomy at Wageningen University.

A. about Backer and Docter van Leeuwen's personalities (switch off the Krakatau sound first).

B. about Backer's Krakatau book 


My criticism on Simon Winchester's Krakatoa book
I started to read Simon Winchester's book "Krakatoa - The day the world exploded" with much interest and pleasure. Until I reached chapter 10, The Rising of the Son. This chapter describes the birth of Anak Krakatau and the biology of Krakatau, which is a subject I am rather familiar with. What was written there was shockingly incorrect. Simon Winchester writes about the biological Krakatau research (p366): "And that was the shame of it: no one could henceforth ever be sure what had happened to Krakatoa's relic islets. Bad science in short, had left mankind puzzled, a raft of questions unanswered, and the Krakatoa Problem essentially unsolved and, very likely, for ever insoluble". Winchester also talks about sloppy fieldwork and hastily written conclusions. Strong words. Apparently Winchester stopped following Ian Thorton's book here, because he could have known that there were strong counter arguments against Backer's accusations. From the style of writing he also should have noticed that Backer had other motives than pure scientific. The fast development of the vegetation (“Clearly something had helped it”, p 359) is easy to explain by an blunder made by Simon Winchester himself. The expedition took place not one year after the previous one (As Winchester wrote), but eleven years later. In reality the rain forest of Krakatau is the best documented example of primary succession in the tropics and this we owe to the work of visionary scientist like Treub, Backer, Ernst, Jacobsen, Docters van Leeuwen, Dammerman and their successors. This is the pride of Krakatau!

(Actually, Simkim and Fiske reviewed the book in Science, and complained about the numerous errors in the geological part - thus nothing new) 



The Fourth Pan Pacific Science Congress, Krakatau excursion on May 13th 1929. Backer's 
extremely polemic book had been handed out on  the evening before.

Pacifci Science Congress Bandung

The plenary meeting of the Pacific Science Congress at Bandung, later that week. Docters van Leeuwen is sitting third from the left, Dammerman is sitting next to him, second from the left. Second form the right is prof. Went, who discovered  auxine together with his son Frits, who became a professor in plant physiology in the USA.


Different impressions of pre-1883 Krakatau                                 rakata-pre-eruption                

Computer-generated image of Krakatoa before the eruption (BBC)


Three times Rakata before the August 1883 eruption. Above, a realistic profile drawn in 1836,  below 
right the artist's impression from  The Illustrated London News , September 1883, which also covers 
The Day the World Exploded; and below left,  a BBC computer impression, apparently based on the
artist's impression.


Life has returned to Krakatau................

 Rakata at a distance

                     Rakata today from a distance

                     rakata today gap

Rakata from a distance (above) and below a gap inside the new Rakata rain forest in 1996.


Melchior Treub (1851 - 1910)

Treub with visitor

Melchior Treub (left) with an unknown visitor.

Treub initiated the biological Krakatau research. He visited Krakatau as the first biologist in 1886, thus almost three years after the eruption. Treub had arrived in 1880 in the Netherlands East Indies to become the director of the Botanical Gardens of Buitenzorg (now Bogor). He had studied at the Leiden University, together with Hugo de Vries (one of the re discoverers of Mendel’s works in 1900) and through De Vries he became aware of Darwin’s Origin of Species (De Vries had bought a second hand German translation). Treub was a cell biologist studying plant reproduction at the cellular level, which was a hot topic in these days. He had a limited knowledge of the Indonesian flora, but the plants which he collected were classified by the specialists of the herbarium. Treub was an excellent net worker and organizer and during his directorship the Botanic Gardens became an international research center for biology the tropics of high reputation. A large number of research institutes were founded and Treub organized international funds for scientists to come for a sabbatical to Buitenzorg. Treub took the initiative for the next Krakatau expeditions of 1897, 1906 and 1908, which were composed of foreign researchers like Penzig (It), Clautriau (Be), Ernst (Ch), Campbell (USA), Pulle (NL) and workers of the herbarium with a good knowledge of the local flora (Boerlage, Backer, Valeton, Raciborski). Treub had a poor health condition and therefore could not join the expeditions of 1906 and 1908. Moreover he became more and more involved in administration and had less time to do scientific research himself. He retired in 1909 and died in 1910 in the French Cote d’ Azure.

Cornelis Andries Backer  (1874 - 1963)

Backer op Java

Cornelis Andries Backer during a plant collection trip in Java on September 19th, 1913. The script on the backside reads: "The little rascal with the straw hat is me. Properly shaved. Indja was my mandoor (guardian of the coolies). His pride was to be allowed to carry my gun, which was only used for shooting plants out of unclimbable trees". From: Patricia Faasse (1995) Between Seasons and Science. SPB Academic Publishing, Amsterdam.

Backer was a teacher and a passionate amateur plant collector. He arrived in the Netherlands East Indies in 1901 to work for a boarding-school. He corresponded frequently with the Herbarium of Buitenzorg and Treub became impressed by his botanical knowledge. In 1905 Backer was offered a job as assistant of the Herbarium with the duty to write a school flora of Java. Treub sent Backer on two expeditions to Krakatau, in 1906 and in 1908. Backer wrote a rather brief report about the results of the 1908 expedition, in which he shows to be fully convinced of the full sterilization. Quite soon it became clear that the plant collections of the Buitenzorg Herbarium were inadequate for the preparation of the school flora. Backer therefore asked permission to collect plant material from underrepresented regions of Java. Because his chef at the Herbarium, J.J. Smith, disagreed, Backer was appointed as private-assistant of the director of the Botanic Gardens, J.C. Koningsberger, Treub’s successor,  with the title of Botanist for the Java Flora. In 1913 Backer became involved in a severe conflict with S.H. Koorders, a forester who had been stationed at the Herbarium for many years. Koorders had entered Backer’s territory by the publication of an Exkursionsflora von Java. In reaction Backer privately published a highly critical booklet, Kritiek op de Excursionsflora von Java, in many examples showing that Koorder’s flora was rubbish. Moreover Backer explicitly criticized several influential professors for writing positive reviews of Koorders’ flora (e.g. Merrill from Manila, Pulle from Utrecht). Koorder’s chef at the Department of Forestry tried to remove Backer from the Government Service, but failed because an investigation proved that Backer had been right. Docters van Leeuwen became director of the Botanic Gardens in 1918. He and Backer had completely different personalities and scientific interests. Backer criticized his chef in public. When the Botanic gardens had to restructure due to financial problems in 1924, Backer lost his job. Backer moved to the non-Governmental research institute for the Sugar cane cultures in Pasuruan, Eastern Java.  In 1929 the Fourth Pan Pacific Science Congress would be held in Java and the geological and biological Krakatau researches were going to be some of the highlights of that congress. Docters van Leeuwen’s research would play an important role and Backer took the opportunity to take revenge. For the first and only time in his life he wrote a book in English, published by himself, titled: The Problem of Krakatau, as seen by a Botanist, in which he criticised the sterilization theory and made Docters van Leeuwen ridiculous. This book was handed out to all of the participants at the beginning of the congress excursion to Krakatau. The book was reviewed in Science and Nature and other scientific journals. In 1931 Backer returned to the Netherlands, to become a guest worker of the National Herbarium at Leiden to complete the Flora of Java, in later years with Backhuizen van den Brinck as collaborator. In 1936 Backer became doctor honoris causa of the University of Utrecht. Two years after his death in 1963, his magnum opus, the Flora of Java, was published, an incredibly complete and flawless work, in English, due to the Indonesian independence.


Willem Marius Docters van Leeuwen (1880 - 1960)

High tea with Docters van Leeuwen

Willem Marius Docters van Leeuwen (left). Tea in front of the directors house in the Botanic gardens.
In the back the Treub laboratory is visible, which was used by foreign visitors during their Buitenzorg 
stay. It was opened in 1913, three years after Treub's death in Southern France.

Docters van Leeuwen became director of the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens in 1919. He was an all-round field biologist and a typical naturalist. DvL was fascinated by the Krakatau case and the research that was initiated by Treub, but that had not been continued under Koningsberger, Treub’s successor. Between 1919 and 1932 DvL made a large number of Krakatau expeditions. He was the first biologist to reach the 813 m high summit of Rakata (in 1908 a photographer had done this) and to investigate the higher parts of Rakata. He published about the progression of the Krakatau vegetation, compared its flora with that of other, less severely affected islands in the Sunda Strait. He gave presentations about this subject at various conferences. DvL was appointed as Botany professor at the Medical Faculty of Batavia. He was Backer’s chief but they could not get along very well. DvL succeeded in getting rid of Backer in 1924. The Krakatau excursions and presentations at the Fourth Pan Pacific Science Congress in June 1929 were to be the highlight of his scientific carrier. He produced the excursion guide to Krakatau, together with Dammerman and Stehn, which summarized all the botanical, zoological and geological researches so far. However, he was made ridiculous in Backer’s Krakatau book that was distributed freely among the excursionists. He left the Netherlands Indies in 1932 to return to Holland, as a consequence of cuts in the budget of the Botanical Garden, due to the world-wide economic crisis. He worked on the publication of a monograph concerning the botany of Krakatau in order to counter Backer’s allegations. This was published in 1936 and was positively reviewed in Nature. Docters van Leeuwen was a professor in tropical Botany at the University of Amsterdam from 1942 till 1951.


Karel Willem Dammerman (1888 - 1951)


Karel Willem Dammerman, left

Karel Willem Dammerman was a zoologist, working initially under Docters van Leeuwen at the Zoological Museum. Since 1919 Dammerman led the zoological part of the biological Krakatau research. Between 1920 and 1936 he visited the Krakatau group many times. He succeeded Docters van Leeuwen as the director of the Botanical Gardens in 1936. Dammerman wrote a voluminous monograph about the Zoology of Krakatau. He returned to the Netherlands with the English manuscript. During the German occupation it was impossible to print this. Therefore the monograph was published in 1948; twelve years after Dammerman did the last observations. He died just three year of the Botanic Gardens. Since 1919 Dammerman led the zoological part of the biological s later, in 1951. His bird data were used by MacArthur and Wilson to test their Theory of Island Biogeography.


Alfred Ernst (1875 - 1968)

Ernst en DVL

Krakatau 1932. In the middle Alfred Ernst, to his right, with hat, Docters van Leeuwen, further right 
Frits Went, (discoverer of the plant growth hormone auxin!, at that time personnel assistant of 
Docters van Leeuwen). Further Ernst's wife and
three assistants from the Botanic Gardens. 

Alfred Ernst was a Botany professor of the University of Zurich. He participated in the third Krakatau expedition in 1906, when he was a visiting scientist at the Botanical Gardens. Backer was also present at this expedition. Ernst was a plant geneticist and reproduction biologist. He word on the genetics of heterostyly in the genus Primula and on apomixis (clonal reproduction though seeds). He wrote a German book about the progression of the Krakatau flora, which was translated into English: The New Flora of the Volcanic Island of Krakatau (1909). Ernst visited the Krakatau islands again more than 25 years later, in 1932, accompanying Docters van Leeuwen on his last expedition. He wrote a second book in 1934: ‘Das Biologisches Krakatau Problem’. Ernst concluded that it was impossible to prove with full certainty that the sterilization had been complete, bit that the development of the vegetation showed that in any case the effect of the possible survivors had been negligible.


Transcript of the interview with H.C.D. de Wit about Backer and 
Docters van Leeuwen on May 13th 1996.


Part 1.

“Backer worked always, always and always. He was working during the regular hours, but the rest of the day he was also working. He had no family life. His children, which he called larvae, should not disturb him. If I remember well, he had reserved 1.5 hours on Sunday morning for his father duties. That was all, nothing more. He lived in Heemstede where he was sitting next to his Salamander heater, with besides it a heap of peat and wood for burning. He was working behind his desk, on enormous stack of sheets after the other. He wrote in Dutch, because he thought that if one wanted to read Backers papers, one should learn Dutch. Why not? Dutch people learned English to read English books. It was as simple as that.

That was Backer. And some one who, like him, did not work constantly and passionately according to the Backerian method, could drop dead. And Docters van Leeuwen did just the opposite. This was a first cause for the controversy. Docters van Leeuwen, the director of the Buitenzorg Botanic Gardens was a rather relaxed person, whereas Backer, the Botanist of the Flora of Java, was working like crazy. Backer was cross with Docters van Leeuwen because he did not work as fanatic as he did himself.

Backer said:  “Docters van Leeuwen is a nice chap, and you should not criticize him too much; he has reached the third year level of high school, level A. But that is all”. Of course Docters van Leeuwen did not like that very much. But Backer told this publicly to everybody who wanted to hear it. Backer said: “why not? There is no reason to keep this secret. Just ask the man. Ask him what he knows about botany. You will easily find out. It is obvious to everybody. I am not telling nonsense, you can check it. So this gave tension……..”


Part 2.

“So Backer wrote only in Dutch and anybody who wanted to read his works had to learn Dutch. Of course nobody did so and therefore foreigners never read Backer’s works. And therefore his works have never got recognition abroad. One year, I have forgotten which year, but it is the same year as that of the book you just showed me, The Problem of Krakatoa, a congress about Krakatau is organized in the Philippines. In those days people were very much interested in the question how a sterilized island would become recolonized again. Which plant species colonize the island, after how much time and which plants are able to cross 20 or 30 kilometres of sea? How does the vegetation recover? Docters van Leeuwen was strongly interested in these questions. And of course in principle this is interesting. Therefore Docters van Leeuwen is invited for the conference as one of the big shots, as an expert to give a presentation. And Backer heard about this. And therefore, for the first and only time in his life, Backer wrote a book in English: “The Problem of Krakatoa, as seen by a Botanist”. "As seen by a Botanist" because Docters van Leeuwen is not a botanist. In this book Backer shows that the Problem of Krakatau does not exist, because many people have visited the islands and by chance will have introduced all kinds of seed to the islands. The Problem of Krakatoa cannot be solved and it is an artificial non-problem. It is complete nonsense. And therefore he wrote that book. And he distributed it among the participants of the congress the day before the opening. Wasn’t the congress held in Batavia? This is how I remember it, I don’t know. I remember that it was in the Philippines, but it could have been in Jakarta. I think it was in Jakarta. All right, it could have been Jakarta. Did he distribute it at the Congress? Is this sure? Yes, yes, perhaps he organized in such a way that it was distributed. He himself was not at the congress. Well, in that case, his friends will have given a copy to all the participants. This is what he has done. And consequently the whole presentation of Docters van Leeuwen had become ridiculous. Yes this is how it happened. Docters van Leeuwen was made a fool. This was exactly what Backer intended. He was not at all interested in Krakatau, not at all!!!"

back to the tape

I visited the Krakatau islands in 1996 for a research program on the genetic consequences of recolonization by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO). In order to reconstruct the research history I spent some time in Archives and Libraries in the Netherlands.To get a better understanding of the history of the biological Krakatau research and the persons involved in it, I interviewed Prof. H.C.D. de Wit, a friend of C.A. Backer and colleague of Docters van Leeuwen,  Mrs. van Steenis-Kruseman, author of the Collectors volume of the Flora Malesiana and widow of  Prof. Van Steenis, formerly assistant of the Buitenzorg Herbarium and Mr. Hans Docters van Leeuwen, the son of the director of the Botanic Gardens at Buitenzorg and who visited the Krakatau Islands in 1924 as a boy.  Mr. Hans Docters van Leeuwen also allowed me to consult his father's correspondence about the Krakatau research. I want to thank Tracey Parrish and David Fullager for the sound recording of the forest of Krakatau today.

A fairly good account of the history of the biological research on Krakatau is given in Ian Thornton's Krakatau
- The Destruction and Reassembly of an Island Ecosystem
(1996 Harvard University Press London, England).

More pictures and information about C.A. Backer:
Flora Malesiana Collectors - Backer

Thesis Tracey Parrish (2002):  Krakatau: genetic consequences of island colonization (pdf)

Oxford University - School of Geography:  Krakatau Research Programme

Lecture of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker 1866: Insular Floras

The Challenger Expedition: Challenger Expedition (1872-1876)

Part one of the Botany of the Challenger Expedition: Botany I

The recolonization of the Icelandic volcanic island Surtsey:  life on Surtsey


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under development, more to follow .................