Ambon Island is part of the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. The island has an area of 775 km² (300 sq mi.), and is mountainous, well watered, and fertile. The main city and seaport is Ambon (1990 pop. 275,888), which is also the capital of Maluku province. Ambon has an airport, and is home to the Pattimura University, a state university, and a few private universities.
Ambon Island lies off the south-west coast of the much larger Seram island. It is on the north side of the Banda Sea, part of a chain of volcanic isles that form a circle around the sea. It is 51 km (32 miles) in length, and is of very irregular shape, being almost divided into two. The south-eastern and smaller portion, a peninsula (called Leitimor) is united to the northern (Hitoe) by a narrow neck of land. Ambon city lies on the north-west of Leitimor, facing Hitoe, and has a safe harbor on Amboyna Bay.
The highest mountains, Wawani (1100 m/3609 ft) and Salahutu (1225 m/4020 ft.), have hot springs and solfataras. They are volcanoes, and the mountains of the neighboring Uliasser islands, extinct volcanoes. Granite and serpentine rocks predominate, but the shores of Amboyna Bay are of chalk, and contain stalactite caves.
Wild areas of Ambon Island are covered by tropical rainforest, part of the Seram rain forests ecoregion, together with neighboring Seram. Seram, Ambon, and most of Maluku are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continents, and have never been linked to the continents by land.
As a result of this isolation, Ambon has few indigenous mammals; birds are more abundant. The insect diversity of the island, however, is rich, particularly in butterflies. Seashells are obtained in great numbers and variety. Tortoise-shell is also exported.
The average temperature is 80 F., rarely sinking below 72. Rainfall can be heavy, especially after the eastern monsoons, and the island is vulnerable to violent typhoons. The dry season (October to April) is coincident with the period of the west monsoon.
Cassava and sago are the chief crops, which also include breadfruit, sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, pepper and cotton. and hunting and fishing supplement the diet. Nutmeg and cloves, were once the dominant export crops, and are now produced in limited quantities. Copra is also exported. Amboina wood, obtained from a local tree (Pterocarpus indicus), is highly valued for ornamental woodwork, is now mostly grown on Seram.
The Ambonese are of mixed Malay-Papuan origin. They are mostly Christians or Muslims. The predominant language of the island is Ambonese Malay, also called Ambonese. It developed as the trade language of central Maluku, and is spoken elsewhere in Maluku as a second language. Bilingualism in Indonesian is high around Ambon City. There are strong ethnic tensions on the island between Muslims and Christians.
The Portuguese were dispossessed by the Dutch already in 1605, when Steven van der Hagen took over the fort and without a single shot. Ambon was the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) from 1610 to 1619 until the founding of Batavia (now Jakarta) by the Dutch. About 1615 the British formed a settlement on the island at Cambello, which they retained until 1623, when it was destroyed by the Dutch. Frightful tortures inflicted on its unfortunate inhabitants were connected with its destruction. In 1654, after many fruitless negotiations, Oliver Cromwell compelled the United Provinces to give the sum of 300,000 gulden, as compensation to the descendants of those who suffered in the "Ambon Massacre", together with Manhattan. In 1673 the poet John Dryden produced his tragedy Amboyna; or the Cruelties of the Dutch to the English Merchants. In 1796 the British, under Admiral Rainier, captured Ambon, but restored it to the Dutch at the peace of Amiens, in 1802. It was retaken by the British in 1810, but once more restored to the Dutch in 1814. Ambon used to be the world center of clove production; until the nineteenth century, the Dutch prohibited the rearing of the clove-tree in all the other islands subject to their rule, in order to secure the monopoly to Ambon.
During the Dutch period, Ambon city was the seat of the Dutch resident and military commander of the Moluccas. The town was protected by Fort Victoria, and a 1911 encyclopedia characterized it as "a clean little town with wide streets, well planted". The population was divided into two classes orang burger or citizens, and orang negri or villagers, the former being a class of native origin enjoying certain privileges conferred on their ancestors by the old Dutch East India Company. There were also, besides the Dutch, some Arabs, Chinese and a few Portuguese settlers.
Ambon city was the site of a major Dutch military base, which was captured from Allied forces by the Japanese in the Battle of Ambon (1942), during World War II. The battle was followed by the summary execution of more than 300 Allied POWs, in the Laha massacre.
Indonesia declared its independence in 1945. As a result of ethnic and religious tensions, as well as President Sukarno's making of Indonesia a centralised state, Ambon was the scene of a revolt against the Indonesian government, which resulted in the rebellion of Republic of the South Moluccas in 1950.