Charles Emile Benjamins: 2. SEMARANG 1901-1911 - Page 3

Management of the doctor’s household and clinic:

In the early 1900s managing a household with a clinic attached in Semarang, involved a large staff. Grandmother employed some seventeen persons. See image 016 which shows eleven of her staff members and the son of the first coachman.

Underneath is a list of the domestic staff employed in Charles Emile’s household and clinic, which may be interesting for us, living in the twenty-first century.

Function Number Function Number
Major domus: chief of the household staff & butler 1 Cooks 2
Clinic assistants 2 Washing & ironing girls 2
Coachmen: one for the day & one for the night. 2 Floor cleaning girls 2
Grandmother Sorg’s servant 1 Garden: gardeners 2
Children’s personal servant 1 Whitewash man 1
The milch cow caretaker 1 Total 17 staff

We grandchildren were especially interested in the activities of two of the staff, the milch cow caretaker and the whitewash man: 

The milch cow caretaker and grand mother’s milch cows.

At Charles Emile’s request grandmother kept several cows to provide fresh milk for her children and selected patients. When in milk the cows were stabled in Semarang. The other cows were kept in the herd of the family Mc Gillevry who owned a tea plantation in Ungaran, which was located at a higher altitude above sea level, where the climate as cooler. The job of the milch cow caretaker, or milker, as he was called by grandmother, was the daily milking of the cows in Semarang and when needed, to bring the cows on foot from Semarang to Ungaran and back. During the absence of the milker while bringing cattle to Ungaran grandmother milked the cows herself.

The whitewash man

In the early 1900s on Java, walls of houses and gardens were whitewashed with quicklime, as modern wall paints on an oil basis were not yet available. Due to the size of the house and the garden walls, its intensive use and the effects of the tropical climate, the whitewash man had a full time job: after he had finished one part of the house he moved to another part and after he had covered all rooms and garden walls, he had to go back to the first room to apply the next coat of white wash.

1905 European study leave to specialize in ORL diseases

In May 1905 Charles Emile went to Europe for health reasons and took his mother and his sister-in-law Christina Hazenberg and her two children with him. The family stayed first in Paris, where he used the occasion to study ORL diseases with Professor Luc. There after the family traveled to Amsterdam where on 13 October Charles Emile married Christina Catharina, our grandmother in the offices of notary public Wertheim.
In early 1906 the family returned to Semarang where Charles Emile again opened his clinic. In addition to his very busy general medical practice he also started to receive patients with ear, nose or throat diseases.


In Semarang Charles Emile continued to improve his piano playing. He also regularly played piano trios with friends and was the instructor and conductor of a ladies’ choir that mainly sung 19th century choir music.


Another hobby of Charles Emile was photography, for which he used a camera with glass plates. He processed the exposed glass plates in the laboratory of his clinic, with the help of one of his clinic assistants. When making outdoor photographs, one of these assistants also joined him to carry the heavy equipment. It is particularly interesting to note that he also conquered the technique of taking pictures with artificial light, for which he used magnesium powder. See image 079, which was taken with magnesium lightning inside the Mendut Temple, part of the Borobudur temple complex, near Magelang, Central Java.
His magnificent collection of 124 photos, taken in Semarang during his ten years stay from 1901 to 1911, has been preserved. A selection of these photos is attached in annex 2. The entire collection can be seen on my website:, in the chapter: “The photo collection of Charles Emile Benjamins: Java 1901-1911”
Grandmother kept the collection of glass plates and camera till she died in 1976, but it is not known where these glass plates and camera are stored today. 

The following list shows the subjects of his photographs of which a small selection is shown in annex 2.

List of the subjects of photographs taken by Charles Emile :

I Youth 1873-1900 001-005
Semarang Family & House 1901-1911 006-028
Semarang Clinic CEB 1901-1911 029-034
II Semarang Chinese apothecary 035-041
Semarang town 1901-1911 042-067
III Trip to Borobudur 1909 068-081
Trip to Dieng Plateau 1910 082-096
Cogwheel railway Ambarawa-Bedono 1909? 097-099
IV Trip to East Java 6-20 July 1910 100-117
Bromo Trip 118-124
V. Utrecht The Netherlands 1911-1923 125-133
Groningen 1923-1939 134-138
ORLAS 1926-1939 139-146

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