Mevr. J.M.C. Kloppenburg-Versteegh (1862-1948)

Mrs. J.M.C. Kloppenburg-Versteegh

Who was Mrs. Kloppenburg?

Mrs. Kloppenburg Versteegh was born Jans Versteegh in 1862 at 'Soekamangli', a large coffee plantation in the district of Weliri, just west of Semarang, Central Java. At age 7 she was sent to the boarding school run by the Ursuline nuns in Batavia (Jakarta) for a refined and well-rounded education.

In 1874 her parents faced serious financial problems. Her father, Carel Versteegh, once dubbed 'the coffee king of Java' could not meet his obligations as a result of a devastating coffee tree disease. In vain he had counted on a good harvest. Now, he had to sell off several of his plantations. He was able to keep 'Soekamangli', but his expenditures had to be drastically curtailed. No more expensive boarding schools. Jans had to come home to help her mother.

Jans mother, Albertina van Spreeuwenburg, looked after the healthcare of the people working on and around this huge plantation, using medicinal herbs. "The nonja besar (i.e. the memsahib, the lady) knew everything" as the local people said. At her mothers side Jans became familiar with indigenous plants and learned how to deal with ill people. This hands-on training lasted until she married Herman Kloppenburg in 1883.

Even then, as a wife and later as a mother, Jans pursued her interest in herbs, be it on a somewhat reduced scale. She became the president of a local healthcare society in Semarang. But she also was very much involved with the rapidly growing number of little Kloppenburgs that extended her family.

Then, in 1899, fate dealt a heavy blow. Her eldest daughter Tina died because of a wrong diagnosis and treatment from a practitioner of traditional Western medicine. In order to cope with her sorrow, Mrs. Kloppenburg totally immersed herself n the study of medicine involving indigenous herbs. One result hereof was the publication of her first book Indische planten en haar geneeskracht (Indigenous plants and their healing properties) in 1907.

Meanwhile it became common knowledge in Java that Mrs. Kloppenburg received and, where necessary, visited patients. Her name and her reputation as a healer were spreading rapidly. Meanwhile her husband Herman made his career in the banking world. The Kloppenburgs, not only because of their background but also through their own efforts and exemplary life style, became respected members of the Dutch society in the East Indies.

Mrs. Kloppenburg wanted to help other women cope with life in the Indies society. Based on her own experiences and inspired by her strictly adhered to catholic principles she wrote a handbook, titled Het leven van de Europeesche vrouw in Indië (The life of the European woman in the Indies) (1913).

After Herman's retirement (c. 1914), the Kloppenburg family went to live, first in Holland en then in Belgium. Here too, Mrs. Kloppenburg remained interested in growing of and experimenting with herbs, always supported by her daughter Troel, who looked after her and the household. Troel without a doubt also assisted her when the third book Eene nabetrachting (In Retrospect) (1940) was written, in which she once more justified the use of medicinal herbs against the critics who had accused her of quackery. In 1937 Mrs. Kloppenburg and Troel returned to the land of their birth. The colonial system was subject to drastic changes. Both of them felt happy and secure within the family circle. It was a false sense of security. What at first appeared to be a distant war became a tangible and cruel reality when the Japanese invaded the Indies in 1942.

During the Japanese occupation Mrs. Kloppenburg and Troel were not interned in a camp. The family properties, however, were either damaged or destroyed. The Indonesian Revolution that followed the Japanese occupation put the Kloppenburgs in a difficult position with internements for some and restrictions on liberty for others. During this period Mrs.Kloppenburg became seriously ill. There was no cure to be found; in 1948 she died in a western hospital in Malang.


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