Saturday, 28 June 2014

Singapura dilanggar todak: The mythical swordfish attack on Singapore

'Todak' is the Malay word for a small swordfish, needlefish or garfish - a fish which skims along the surface of the water with its snout in the air. It is a fish that frequently features in Malay myth and legend.

Munshi Abdullah recorded that the Orang Laut (Sea People) regarded as keramat (sacred) the Batu Kepala Todak, the 'Swordfish Head Rock'. It was among several others at the mouth of the Singapore River. This one was the abode of an evil spirit to whom they made vows and offerings and raised banners in its honour. According to the Hikayat Abdullah: "In the Singapore River estuary there were many large rocks, with little rivulets running between the fissures, moving like a snake that has been struck. Among these many rocks there was a sharp-pointed one shaped like the snout ot a swordfish. The Sea Gypsies used to call it the Swordfish's Head and believed it to be the abode of spirits. To this rock they all made pro-pitiatory offerings in their fear of it, placing bunting on it and treating it with reverence. 'If we do not pay our respects to it' they said 'When we go in and out of the shallows it will send us to destruction'. Every day they brought offerings and placed them on the rock."

"All along the shore there were hundreds of human skulls rolling about on the sand; some old, some new, some with hair still sticking to them, some with the teeth filed and others without. News of these skulls was brought to Colonel Farquhar and when he had seen them he ordered them to be gathered up and cast into the sea. So the people collected them in sacks and threw them into the sea. The Sea Gypsies were asked 'Whose are all these skulls?' and they replied 'These are the skulls of men who were robbed at sea. They were slaughtered here. Wherever a fleet of boats or a ship is plundered it is brought to this place for a division of the spoils. Sometimes there is wholesale slaughter among the crews when the cargo is grabbed. Sometimes the pirates tie people up and try out their weapons here along the sea shore'. Here too was the place where they went in for cock-fighting and gambling."

The peculiarly shaped spirit rock was blasted away by the British as a hazard to navigation. 


In the Sejarah Melayu is found the well-known story of the swordfish attack on Singapore. "After a while Singapura was attacked by swordfish, which leapt upon any one who was on the sea shore. If they attacked the victim in the chest, he was pierced through the chest and died: if they attacked the victim's neck, his head rolled off his shoulders and he died: and if they attacked the victim in the waist, he was pierced through the waist and died. So great was the number of those killed by the swordfish that there was a panic and people ran hither and thither crying, 'The swordfish are come to attack us! They have killed thousands of our people!'' And Paduka Sri Maharaja went forth on his elephant escorted by his ministersf137a war-chiefs, courtiers and heralds. And when he reached the sea shore he was astounded to see the havoc the swordfish had wrought; how not a victim of their attack had escaped; how those who had been stabbed rolledf over and over and died; and how the number of victims was ever mounting."

"And he ordered all his men to (stand side by side so as to) form a barricade of their shins, but the swordfish leapt upon them and any one they stabbed met his death. Like rain came the swordfish and the men they killed were past numbering. Presently a boy was heard to say, "What are we making this barricade of our legs for? Why are we deceiving ourselves? If we made a barricade of banana stems, would not that be better?" And when Paduka Sri Maharaja heard this he said, "That boy is right!", and he commanded his men to build a barricade of banana stems. And the swordfish came on; but as soon as they leapt, their snouts stuck on the banana stems, where they were cut down and killed in numbers past counting, and that was the end of the swordfish attack. Paduka Sri Maharaja then returned to the palace and his chiefs said to him, "Your Highness, that boy will grow into a very clever man. It would be as well to be rid of him!" And the king agreed and ordered the boy to be put to death. But when this boy was executed the guilt of his blood was laid on Singapura."

According to Singapore Malay folklore, Tanjong Pagar ('Fenced Headland') in Singapore  was where the boy ordered that a stockade of banana trees be erected to embed the 'swordfish' snouts when they charged ashore. For reward, the king, prompted by jealous ministers, had him done away with. In one story, the lad was loaded with chains and told to swim to the Indonesian island of Batam. He got as far as a reef called Alang Berantai ('Barrier of Chains') in the Main Strait of Singapore. Several place names derive from this story. When arrested, the boy was wounded in the scuffle and his blood gave colour to Bukit Merah ('Red Hill'). The final resting place of this too clever youth is near the navigational hazard of Batu Berhenti ('Stopping Place'). Admiralty Sailing Directions advised 'violent eddies and overfalls are usually to be met with' and ships should 'keep on the northern side of the strait'. Small boats and even motor-powered launches have been lost here, so it is not surprising that when the water is clear fisherfolk have seen a 'dato' keramat with crossed legs in meditation.

In actual fact, garfish or needlefish, like all ray-finned beloniforms, are capable of making short jumps out of the water at up to 60 km/h (37 mph). Since they swim near the surface, they often leap over the decks of shallow boats rather than going around. This jumping activity is greatly excited by artificial light at night; night fisherman and divers in areas across the Pacific Ocean have been "attacked" by schools of suddenly excited fish diving across the water towards the light source at high speed. Their sharp beaks are capable of inflicting deep puncture wounds, often breaking off inside the victim in the process. For many traditional Pacific Islander communities, who primarily fish on reefs from low boats, these fish represent an even greater risk of injury than sharks.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Battle of Prai, 1791

In 1791, the Sultan of Kedah attempted to seize Penang back from the East India Company and assembled a fleet of Illanoon prahus and a force of about 8,000-10,000 men in a series of forts at Prai. Below is an account of the ensuing battle, extracted from the subsequent dispatches of Francis Light to Lord Cornwallis, Governor of the Bengal Presidency.

Our apparent enemies are called Lanoons and consist of 37 large prows (perahus) from the island of Magindano of the Philippines, as well as 25 others from various places. This fleet sailed from Siak, a river on Sumatra opposite Malacca to attack Perak. The Dutch cruisers luckily entered the river before them and gave alarm to the Dutch fort. AS the Dutch cruisers carry 9 and 12 pounders, the Prows were afraid to come in reach of their fire. They landed in hopes the Malays in Perak would join them but receiving no assistance, they suddenly went off for two or three days and then returned. The enemy burnt and destroyed all the houses about the river's mouth and carried off the people. They came to Larut and about eight leagues to the northward of Perak, they stayed near fifteen days taking a number of merchant Prows that were coming here; from Larut they came to the river Kurau about seven leagues from here. From the prows that were plundered, we learned that their intention was to come this way to the Settlement and this made me summon the 'Princess Augusta', a ketch mounting 12 three-pounders, to come to the protection of this station.

On the 26th they appeared on the opposite shore and some of them had been at the Prye River just opposite to us.  They took away several fishermen. I armed the cruisers 'Dolphin' with two longboats and the 'Royal Admiral' to drive them away. The cruisers came up in the evening. The Prows formed a line at about six hundred yards distance; neither side made any attack. They sent a small boat to the Princess Augusta and said they were friends and going to Queda. After dusk, the Prows weighed anchor and ran off to the southward and in the morning they were out of sight. The cruisers had scarcely returned when the Prows retuned; before the cruisers could get up to them, again they were off. They were gone to the Boonting Islands near Queda and the cruisers were now watching their motions. The King of Queda had staked the mouth of the river and laid a chain across. At the same time he admitted the Lanoon into the Lolar River which is close to Boonting Island and under the pretence of fear had stopped all supplies from coming to the Settlement. The people in general are of the opinion that he has invited the Lanoon and promised them assistance of provisions, arms and ammunition, with the plunder of our place, which is not trifling. In various goods and merchandise, and in ships, this is not less than £300,000.

This formidable fleet failed to deliver the intended attack due to dissensions among the commanders of the fleet of Prows. However, on the 15th of March, the King of Queda began preparations for an attack; early in April, a large force of Malays, estimated by Captain Glass the commander of the Settlement garrison at 8,000-10,000 men, was concentrated at Prye on the mainland, while the fleet of Lanun Prows assembled in readiness to support of the Queda army. On the 19th, twenty of the Lanoon Prows quitted Qualla Mooda at the mouth of the Queda River and anchored under the Malay forts at Prye, which is on the opposite side of the harbour and within random shot of our forts. At the same time. they sent a letter to the Penggawa, who is chief of our Malays, desiring him to assemble all the Muslims in Penang to drive out the English. This letter the Penggawa immediately delivered to me.

It being now apparent that the Malay force was bent on accomplishing our destruction and Captain Glass was of the opinion that it was necessary for the security of the settlement to attack the enemy immediately. Accordingly, we fitted out four gunboats with the 'Dolphin', 'Princess Augusta' and 'Valiant' (a vessel belonging to the King of Acheh) to attack the Prows. Captain Glass embarked with three companies of Sepoys on boats at 4.00 a.m. on the 12th instant and having landed undiscovered on the opposite shore, surprised at dawn of day the fort upon the point. He dispersed with little loss the large force that had been collected for the fort's defence, then proceeding to the second fort, where the enemy made some show of resistance. But the Sepoys mounted the ramparts and soon put them to flight. Both these forts were immediately burned.

Under the commands of Lieutenant Raban and Mylne, the gunboats at daylight advanced to the attack of the fleet of Prows. For a considerable space of time, the gunboats bore heavy fire from the whole fleet; at length our vessels, which were retarded for want of wind, were rowed in and both troops and gunboats returned fire and the enemy's fire was silenced by noon. The enemy's forces retired out of sight and by the night of the 12th the Lanoon Prows absconded. On the 14th, the Prows again appeared at the mouth of the Prye River in great numbers and I desired Captain Glass to prepare for a second attack. Having refitted the gunboats and mounted an 18-pounder cannon on a large punt, the boats and vessels attacked the prows a second time on the morning of the 16th and, after a short action, made them retreat with great loss, pursuing them to the distance of four miles. Our loss, considering the number of the enemy and the heavy cannonade they kept up, was very small. Troops on land and sea showed the greatest steadiness; the vessels that were able to approach near enough to the Prows kept a well-directed fire.

A messenger arrived from the King of Queda with a letter blaming the affair on the bad conduct of his officers at Prye, denying any intention of attacking this settlement, requesting that he may still be allowed 10,000 Spanish dollars per annum and everything be forgot. To this I have not yet returned an answer. In the meantime, the King of Queda's Prows remain blocked up by our vessels in the Prye River.

The Battle of Kota Lama, Perak, 1876

Kota Lama, on the Perak River just north of Kuala Kangsar, was the scene of one of the last military engagements of the Perak War, on January 4th 1876. A force of 32 officers and men of the Naval Brigade, 100 Buffs, 40 Gurkhas, supported by 24-pounder rockets and 7-pounder guns, were ambushed and came to close quarters with a force of Malays and forced to retreat, losing two men speared to death. The account below is from  "Perak and the Malays: 'Sarong' and 'Kris' " by Major Frederick McNair (1878).

Among the principal events of the Perak War was the attack upon Kotah Lamah a place that had long been noted as a resort for the worst characters, and freebooters of the vilest description. In fact, Mr. Birch, during one of his visits was threatened by the people with loaded guns. 

On the arrival of the troops at Qualla Kungsa these people were not openly hostile. The acts of the head men of the place however at last called for interference; and as it became necessary to make an example of the village before the departure of the troops, it was determined to disarm the people. For this purpose a small force was sent up the river beyond Qualla Kungsa, and the demand for arms to be given up was acceded to on being made by Captain Speedy ; but armed men were seen rushing off, in two or three instances, to the jungle. 

Kota Lama today
The military force made their way right through the campong and back without being opposed ; and after this General Boss and his party landed at the middle of the village, and were searching the various houses to see that they contained none but women and children, when, under cover of a brisk fire, well maintained from the jungle, they were assailed by a body of fifty or sixty spear-armed Malays, who had been hidden amongst the trees. These men suddenly rushed out, and nearly succeeded in surrounding the little party, which had to retire fighting as they went, the marines and sailors maintaining a most gallant front till the river was reached. 

Shortly before this several officers had gone in the direction of the river, and Major Hawkins is supposed to have been following them when he received a frightful spear wound, the blade passing right through his chest. A sailor named Sloper ran to his help, and shot two Malays who were running up to continue the attack, when Major Hawkins is reported to have exclaimed : "Save yourself, you can do me no good now." The officers who had gone on towards the river now returned, and tried to move him, but they were compelled in turn to fall back towards the river, Surgeon Townsend being the first to be assailed by three Malays with spears. One he shot with his revolver, but the man struck him down in falling, and his two companions dashed in to spear him, when they were bayoneted by a couple of the seamen. This engagement was successful, however, from the fact that, large quantity of arms were taken, including lelahs and a 12-pounder iron gun, which was spiked and thrown into the river. 

Far from being disconcerted by their losses, the people of Kotah Lamah began soon after erecting stockades, and were guilty of so many lawless acts, that the Governor finally decided that a severe chastisement should be inflicted upon them, and for this purpose he consulted with General Colborne. The consequence was that a further expedition was arranged to be carried out against the Kotah Lamah people, the great body of whom had now gone farther up the river, to the two villages of Enggar and Prek; and this expedition was somewhat Lurried by an appeal for help which came from Eajah Muda Yusuf, whose people had been attacked by a body of the Kotah Lainah people, under Toh Sri Lela, their chief. This party was driven off by some of the Ghoorkhas, but unfortunately two of Rajah Yusuf's friendly Malays were killed and two wounded by mistake. 

The Enggor River, with the Perak River in the distance
The next day our forces were sent up the river to Enggar, where the Malays opened fire from two or three lelahs (cannon), but after a short and sharp return fire they were effectually driven out of their village. A portion of the force was then directed to bivouac in the village for the night, and then move forward and attack Prek, to which place Toh Sri Lela and his followers had fled. Here, the next day, the enemy were again driven out, making a precipitate retreat, a result which, when achieved, was followed by the return of our troops to Qualla Kungsa, the power of the Kotah Lamah chief being completely broken. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

How naughty children were punished in 1849

Extracted from the Hikayat Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, 1849

All manner of instruments for inflicting punishment were kept in the school, different kinds for different offences. There  was also  the sengkang, a punishment for  children; who  were always  squabbling or absconding or thieving. The child  was held with  his right hand up to his  left  ear, and was told to stand up and  sit  down over  and  over again, as  in the picture. 

There  was a punishment for pupils who were lazy in their  studies.  Smoke  was generated in a heap of  dry  coconut fibre  and  the  child  made  to  stand  astride it.  Sometimes dry  pepper was put in the fire.  The  reek  of the smoke  was most irritating and  caused a copious discharge from eyes and and  nose.  

There was the cane and the apit china. The apit china was made from four pieces of rattan, each about  six  inches long,  fitting together at  a point at  one  end  and  threaded  with  a long  piece of twine  at  the other, as in the picture. It was  used  for squeezing the fingers  together as  a punishment for  children  who  stole  or  hit their fellow-pupils. 

Another  was called  the kayu  palat. It  was made out of  a round piece of  wood  about  the  width  of  a  man's  chest.  Three holes  were pierced in  it,  those  on the right and  left carrying the knotted  ends of two pieces of cord  which passed  through the centre  hole.  It  was used  to punish children  who  ran away from school, or  who  climbed trees, or  who gazed at  their  friends.  The child's  feet  were put one into  each  ot  the  two loops of  the  cord which  was twisted upwards and  used to beat his soles.  

There was  also the rantai besi, a chain  six  feet  or  more  in length, nailed  to  the  end  of a beam.  The free  end  was  fitted  with  a lock-pin and  it  was  used to punish children who regularly  played truant or  were always quarrelling, or  who  did  not  listen  to  their parents' instructions  and  were  late for  school.  The  chain  was locked round  the  offender's  waist and  he was  made  to carry the  wooden beam  on his  shoulder  round  the  school. Sometimes  he was  left wearing the  chain  and  was  not  allowed home,  his  rice being sent to  him. 

There was a punishment for  children  who made mistakes  in  class.  A twisted  cord  was  fastened  round  the  child's waist  and  tied  to  a post. The child  was  then  told  to go on  with his writing until  it  was  done.  Not until  it  was finished  was he released, his  rice being sent  to  him by his parents. A punishment for  children  who were  verv badly  behaved, ones  who fought, ran away or  stole things was to gantung - hang them up  by their  two  hands  with  their  feet  off  the ground. Another punishment  for  those  who  misbehaved  and  stole  was  to place them  face downwards  on  the floor  and  beat them.  Another  for  children who  told  lies  or  used  bad language or  insulted people consisted  in putting,  pepper into  their  mouths.

A Singapore Slave Market, 1824

Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir's account of a slave market in Singapore in 1824, extracted from "Hikayat Abdullah" 

One day during the season when the Bugis come to Singapore I saw fifty or sixty slaves male and female being led by a Bugis man round the town; among them were old and young, some carrying babies, some sick. They were herded along by a Bugis driver, holding in his hand a cane with which he struck at them here, there and everywhere. I went up to the man and said "Of what races are these people?" and he pointed them out to me saying "This is a Mangarai family. Here's a man from Mandar." He added "If you go out into the harbour there is a boat which arrived yesterday carrying three or four hundred slaves." Feigning interest I asked: "What price are these, and what price are those?". He replied: "These are forty dollars and those thirty dollars each." Then I continued on my way. 

The next morning early I went out in the harbour to have a look. When I reached the boat, I found it full of slaves, about three hundred men, women and children. Some of the women were heavy with child, that is to say their hour had almost come, and seeing them my heart was moved with compassion. Hundreds of Chinese came to make purchases while I stood watching this pitiful sight, seeing pregnant women gazing at me with tear-stained eyes. It brought tears to my eyes also when I thought "Who are their husbands?" and when Ì saw the cruel way in which these slaves were treated. They were being handed rice in coconut shells and water in bamboo scoops just as one gives food to dogs. When I went down inside I saw many women, some mere girls, some adolescent and other already grown up. Some were fair, other dark. They were all shades of colour. There were some who did not understand Malay, with frizzy hair and black faces. Only their teeth showed white. They had fat stomachs and thick lips. 

The man who owned these slaves behaved like a beast, shameless and without fear of Allah. The younger girls hung round him while he behaved in a manner which it would be improper for me to describe in this book. For anyone who wished to buy these slave-girls he would open their clothing with all manner of gestures of which I am ashamed to write. The slave dealers behaved in the most savage manner, devoid of any spark of feeling, for I noticed that when the little children of the slaves cried they kicked them head over heels and struck their mothers with a cane, raising ugly weals on their bodies. To the young girls, who were in great demand, they gave a piece of cloth to wear, but they paid no attention to the aged and the sick. 

The greatest iniquity of all that I noticed was the selling of a woman to one man and of her child to another. The mother wept and the child screamed and screamed when she saw her mother being taken away. My feelings were so outraged by this scene that, had I been someone in authority, I would most certainly have punished the wicked man responsible for it. Furthermore those in charge of male slaves tied them round the waist like monkeys, one to each rope, made fast to the side of the boat. They relieved nature where they stood and the smell on the boat made one hold one's nose. The majority of the female slaves were Balinese and Bugis. They were bought up by men of all races, Chinese, Indians, Malays, who took them to wife and whose numerous progeny are here to the present day. There were also Malay boats bringing slaves from Siak. A great number of them came from the hinter-land of Siak, from Menangkabau and from Pekan Baharu. They were all being herded into Singapore, driven along the road and beaten with canes like goats being taken to market. 

That is how slaves were sold in those days both in Malacca and in Singapore, like a cattle market. I went back to the town and told Mr. Raffles all about what I had seen. He replied 'That business will not last much longer for the English are going to put a stop to it. It is a wicked thing and many people have gone and made reports about it to Parliament in England demanding that the slave trade shall cease", and he added "It is not only here that this sinful business goes on. To England too boatloads are brought from other countries, and thousands of the black men are turned into slaves. Then they are put up like goods for sale in all the countries of Europe. If we live to be old we may yet see all the slaves gain their freedom and become like ourselves.

*        *        *
Slavery in Singapore existed up for another 20 years after this. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, with the exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company," the "Island of Ceylon," and "the Island of Saint Helena"; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843. With the exception of the Straits Settlements, slavery continued to exist on the Malay Peninsula until the establishment of the Federated Malay States in the mid-1870s.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Captain Noordeen of the Malay Regiment

The very first Malay Regiment was not the regiment that was formed in Malaya in 1932 (later to become the modern-day Royal Malay Regiment). The British recruited local Malays in their wars with the kings of Ceylon and in 1801, these troops were formally admitted into the service of King George III as a regular British regiment of infantry on the line and called the Malay Regiment. In 1803, the Malay Regiment was defending a British garrison against the forces of the King of Kandy. The garrison was surrounded and finally surrendered to the Ceylonese after a bloody siege. Below is an account from James Cordiner's "Description of Ceylon" (1807) of what happened after and the loyalty of the Regiment's Malay Captain. 

Major Davie, unable effectually to resist the Kandyans, proposed an armistice, and a truce was agreed to, on condition that he should at once abandon Kandy, with all its military stores, to the Adigar, whilst the British troops, should march to Trincomalee. During this and the previous transactions, we cannot ascribe too much praise to the noble conduct of Captain Noordeen, the native commander of the troops of the Malay Regiment. Tempted with the most flattering offers by the native princes in the opposite army, he still maintained his integrity and declined them, and has left a noble instance of the faithfulness and fidelity of his nation. 

Every thing was agreed to — Major Davie and his officers were separated from the troops. However,the latter were marched into a narrow defile, then taken out two by two, and, in cold blood, massacred by the Kandyans, each successive pair being led to a distance from the larger company, and then murdered. The entire body of helpless sick left in the garrison hospital soon after shared the same fate. 

On the day the British soldiers were massacred by the Kandyan troops, Noordeen and his bother Karaeng Sapinine were ordered to be carried to the presence of the King of Kandy, and told that he wished to induce them to become the leaders of his Malay subjects and to fight for him. As they came into the royal presence, they refused to prostrate themselves on the ground to the King in the customary manner but instead saluted him respectfully. Their temerity did not anger the king and he repeated his offer to the brothers to become 'princes' over the Malays who resided in his kingdom. 

Both brothers refused the offer, explaining that they had taken an oath to the King of England and that acceptance of this offer would be treachery, saying that they would live and die in their master's service.

The King imprisoned them but, three weeks later, again requested them to join him, and again they refused. Following this, the king became very angry and ordered them to be executed. Their bodies were denied decent burials thrown onto the jungle to be devoured by wild beasts - an act that horrified and greatly offended his Malay subjects.

Such were the fearful effects of the unnecessary surrender of Major Davie, misconduct fortunately rare in the annals of British warfare. The darkest shades, however, are seldom without some bright spot to relieve them; and it is grateful to turn from the pusillanimity of one officer, (although a Briton,) to the devotion and heroism of another, and a Malay. We have already noticed the decision and fidelity of Captain Noordeen, in his fight with the Kandyans, as an enemy ; and as a captive, we shall find the same consistency persevered in with admirable strength of mind. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Johore Military Force and the 1915 Singapore Mutiny

Extracted from "The Johore Military Forces: The Oldest Army Of Malay Regulars In The Peninsula" by Tunku Shahriman Bin Tunku Sulaiman Journal Of The Malaysian Branch Of The Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 77, No. 2 (287)(2004), Pp. 95-105

Malaya was not much affected during the initial outbreak of the First World War as the countries surrounding her were either friendly to Britain or neutral. However, Sultan Ibrahim gave 'a most graceful proof of his loyal goodwill' when he placed himself and the Johore Military Force (JMF) at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding of the Troops, Straits Settlements. The Officer Administering the Government, R. J. Wilkinson, accepted his offer and from 10 August 1914, 112 officers and men were utilized at Woodlands, Kranji, and Seletar in Singapore where it was noted the men had done their duties 'willingly, cheerfully and smartly'. However, the Sultan's decision to send his men to Singapore had huge repercussions on the JMF, as it was there that the soldiers faced one of their biggest challenges to date.

In February 1915, the Singapore-based Indian Regiment, the 5th Light Infantry, was under orders to leave for Hong Kong. The sepoys (Indian Muslim soldiers), however, heard rumours that they would instead be sent to Europe or Turkey to fight fellow Muslims. There was already some resentment among the sepoys against the British for being at war with the Ottoman Empire which sided with Germany. The sepoys' anger had reached boiling point on 15 February when 800 Indian Muslim soldiers decided to stage a mutiny against the British.

When the decision to send the sepoys to Hong Kong was made, the acting General Officer Commanding of the Troops, Straits Settlements, Colonel D.H. Ridout, and the Sultan arranged for a contingent of the JMF to assist in garrison duties in Singapore. A detachment of 190 officers and men under Captain Cullimore was to guard the Kallang and Thompson Road reservoirs, the Tanjong Katong and Labrador cable stations, and to watch the enclosure in which German prisoners were confined at the Tanglin Prisoner of War camp. Apart from 200 rounds of ammunition held by the troops guarding Tanglin Barracks, those stationed elsewhere were without protection. Ever the conscientious ruler, the Sultan had accompanied his men and stayed at the Barracks until dark to ensure every-thing was in order. Only when he was satisfied did he return to Johore Bahru.

Neither the Sultan nor his men had any inkling of the mayhem they were to face on 15 February, a public holiday in celebration of the Chinese New Year festivities. The government perceived no signs of unrest or disloyalty among the 5th Light Infantry and, in fact, got the 'most positive assurances as to the loyalty of the Regiment'. All changed at 3 pm, however, when their officers were caught off guard after having a lie off after tiffin. A shot was fired at the Quarter Guard, signalling the start of the Sepoy Mutiny. Among the first victims were the regiment's own officers, Lieutenant H. S. Elliot and Captain M, F. A. Mclean.

From Alexandra Barracks, a party of 100 mutineers advanced towards the Tanglin detention camp with the intention of releasing the German prisoners. The guards at the Tanglin Barracks, consisting of the Volunteers under Second Lieutenant Montgomerie and the JMF, were unprepared for the uprising, which was to account for the high number of casualties, including Captain Cullimore. With almost no ammunition, the guards were forced to retreat to 'Woodneuk', the Singapore residence of the Sultan of Johore.

When the Sultan was alerted of the mutiny, he immediately left for Singapore with 150 of his troops and volunteers, but speedily returned to Johore Bahru when he heard that the mutineers had crossed over to his state. Despite their limitations, the Johore troops were successful in arresting and forcing the surrender of the mutineers both in Johore and Singapore. By 20 February, the Johore Forces and volunteers had captured 180 men, as well as taken 81 rifles, 75 bayonets, and 3,000 cartridges. 

The Sultan himself was responsible for the surrender of four mutineers in Kulai when he was told by a Tamil labourer of the odd sight of an Indian clad in Chinese clothing. With just two other men, Major Daud and an Afghan sergeant, he persuaded four mutineers armed with rifles and bayonets to surrender. They were taken to Johore Bahru in the Sultan's own car. The rebellion ended after ten days with approximately 40 people killed. Eventually, 36 sepoys were publicly executed.

The loyalty and bravery of the Johore troops were recognized when the Governor of Singapore, Sir Arthur Young, thanked them and the Sultan. Among other things, he said: 'Your Highness, as the representative of His Majesty the King, I wish to express to you my warmest thanks for the manner, the practical manner, in which you have shown your firm loyalty to the king and I thank you on behalf of the colony for the good work you have done for the Colony.

Monday, 12 May 2014

"A splendid thing to belong to such an Empire"

An account by the British Resident at Pahang, Hugh Clifford, of his conversations with Sultan Idris of Perak during the latter's visit to London for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, with some startling insights on how the Sultan saw his role in the British Empire.

The then Sultan of Perak had paid a long visit to England some eighteen months earlier and London wrought upon him no new impression. A man of fifty-three years of age, he had passed almost exactly half his life under Malay rule, and half under the new regime inaugurated by Great Britain. A man with eyes wherewith to see and a mind wherewith to judge, compare and think, he was in his day probably the most enlightened rulers of the Native States of the East, and a convinced apostle of British rule. 

He had seen in his own time his country pass from a mere wilderness of forest, threaded sparsely by sorry footpaths, into a land surprisingly wealthy and prosperous , over the face of which roads and railways run criss-cross like the meshes of a net. He had seen lawlessness, brigandage, rapine and constant internecine strife vanish and be replaced by a peacefulness unequalled in Piccadilly. He had seen the spear and the kris, which once ruled his world, laid aside in the glass cases of museums, or brought out only on State occasions  to deck courtly ceremonials. Moreover, he had seen his own ancestral lands, which of old lay fallow under dense jungle, opened up and made to produce rich revenues; blackest ignorance replaced by education; lack of sanitation by the wise respect for the laws of hygiene; and dire poverty by wealth and comfort. 

Though the sentimentalist may mourn the disappearance of much that was picturesque, of much that was attractive, yet these be wonderful changes for any man to have witnessed in the space of half a lifetime, still more to have had a hand in bringing to pass; and without disparaging the wisdom and self-devotion of his European advisers, it must be admitted that Perak owes a large share of its prosperity to the personal efforts of perhaps the greatest of the Sultans who have ever ruled over it.

But the thing that chiefly fired the Sultan's imagination was no one of the revolutions in fact and ideas to which I have alluded, for in all his talks with me it was not upon any of them that he insisted. The cardinal point which he gripped and which obviously filled him with pride, was the contrast between his own position in the world and that of the 27 members of his House who in unbroken line have ruled over his country in the past. 

They, he would say, were frogs beneath an inverted coconut shell who dreamed not that there was any world beyond the narrow limits in which they were pent. Shut off from the rest of mankind, living in the hearts of their vast forests, they ruled barbarously over a barbarous people. They were feared by their subjects above the Tiger and, with ample reason, they were loved less than he; they wrought much evil, and no good, to man or beast; and withal they were squalid folk, contented with a paltry state, living ignobly in a world that did not know the insignificant fact of their existence.

"It is wonderful thing," he said to me as we drove off the Horse Guards' Parade after the great Colonial Review. "These be but samples of the King's soldiers in distant lands. I saw our own people - a mere dozen or so - yet I know for how many that dozen stands. Mine is but a tiny country, while others that have sent men here today are vast. What a tremendous host do those whom we have seen this morning represent! Never since Allah first made the world hath there been so mighty a gathering! And this host is the host of my King!"

"It is a splendid thing to think that one belongs to such an Empire - that one is part of it! None of my forebears, stowed away in their forests, enjoyed the greatness that is mine, in that I am myself a portion of something so very great!"

That speech came from his heart, was no mere oriental hyperbole, for he spoke to me as friend to friend, and was not sparing of his criticisms when occasion arose. Observing all things with keen intelligence, criticising all that struck him as unworthy, praising everything that appealed to him as rightly belonging to the great Empire of which he felt himself to be a member, pleased by the kindness and courtesy extended to him, and looking forward with intense interest to the tremendous ceremony  which he had come so far to witness, the Sultan of Perak passed the days of his visit until that fateful Tuesday arrived upon which it was announced that King Edward was compelled to submit  to an immediate operation for appendicitis and that His Majesty's Coronation was indefinitely postponed. The blow was to us all a heavy one but from the Sultan there came no word concerning his personal disappointment.

"It is the will of Allah," he said simply. "Even our King is His servant to do with what He will; and I, who am the servant of the King, can do little to aid him in his extremity. But that little I will do. Today and tomorrow - until the danger to the King be passed - I go not forth from my dwelling. I will sembahyang hajat - recite prayers for my Intenton of the King's safety. To him my service is due, for to him I owe - everything."

And there I will leave him, clad simply in cotton garments, kneeling and prostrating himself upon his prayer carpet, making earnest supplications to the King of kings for the life of the ruler whose servants, in his name, have brought a malayan people out of the Land of Darkness and out of the House of Bondage. Surely there is hope for a race, let the pessimists say what they will, whose influence wins the love, admiration, confidence and ready support of such men as this - men with the clean mind, the keen intelligence and the kind heart of Sultan Idris of Perak - and makes of them loyal and enthusiastic Imperialists.

Extracted from 'Bushwhacking: and other Asiatic tales and memories' by Sir Hugh Charles Clifford (1929. London: Harper & Brothers)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Nakhoda Orlong

An abridged account by Frank Swettenham of the first failed British attack on Maharaja Lela's stronghold at Pasir Salak on December 7th, 1875, and the courage and loyalty of two Malay scouts who took part in that raid.

On the day after my arrival at Bandar Bharu, Captain Innes, R.E., came from Penang accompanied by two officers and 60 men of the First Battalion of H.M. loth Regiment, together with the Superintendent of the Penang Police H. Plunket and twenty native constables armed with rifles. When the news of Mr. Birch's murder reached that place, the nearest British Settlement, Captain Innes was sent with a force to take charge of the Residency. It is not my intention to detail the subsequent events except in so far as is necessary for a right understanding of an incident connected with the 
death of a man called Nakodah Orlong, a Sumatran Malay. 

With the force at our disposal, which included Lieut. Abbott, R.N., his four bluejackets, and about fifty so-called Sikhs, it was determined to attack Pasir Salak before the Maharaja Lela had time to collect a large following. An immediate advance was also considered advisable to prevent the number of our enemies being increased by what might look like our indecision. The distance from Bandar Bharu to Pasir Salak was five miles, every yard of it covered with vegetation of some sort, the only road a narrow path by the river-bank; moreover, Pasir Salak was not on our side of the river. It was, therefore, settled that we should start at daylight the next morning, the 7th November, in boats, that we should pole up stream two miles and walk the rest.

All that was wanted was a body of scouts to feel the way, and I undertook to find these. There were Raja Mahmud and his two followers, but it was hard to say where any other trustworthy Malays could be got at such short notice. Late that evening, however, Nakodah Orlong, whom I knew well, came in, and when I asked him if he would join us he at once consented, and said he could bring fourteen of his own men with him. That made us twenty, and was enough for the purpose.

We were up at 4.30 A.M. on the 7th, got all the men into boats, and made a start by 7.30 A.M. The river journey was accomplished without incident, a landing was effected, and the party moved off. The scouts were in front, followed at an interval by half the detachment of the lOth Captain Innes and the sailors with a rocket-tube came next, then the Sikhs and Penang Police under Mr. Plunket, and last of all the remainder of the 10th Regiment. We began the march gaily enough, not expecting to meet with any resistance till near Pasir Salak.

After walking a mile or so, always close by the river-bank, we came to a large field of Indian corn. The plants were eight or ten feet high, and so thick and close that it was impossible to see more than three or four yards in any direction; the ground between the corn-stalks was planted with hill-padi, and that was a couple of feet in height. On entering this field we opened out to cover as large a front as possible, and, when half way through the corn, passed a gigantic fig-tree growing on the edge of the river bank. On my right was Nakodah Orlong, and to the right of him one of his men called Alang; on my left was Raja Mahmud and the rest of the scouts. 

We had been walking fast, and of the rest of the force we could see and hear nothing. We were talking and laughing (being still a long way from Pasir Salak) when suddenly we came to the end of the cover, for the last few feet of the corn had been cut down. At this moment Nakodah Orlong said, "There they are," and the words were hardly out of his mouth when we were greeted by a volley from the enemy concealed behind a stockade not a dozen yards in front of us.

Nakodah Orlong fell without uttering another sound, and, the enemy maintaining a brisk fire, our position was so uncomfortable that my own inclination was unhesitatingly to get out of the way. Probably my intention was apparent, for Raja Mahmud said, "Stand fast and shoot." I was obliged to him and followed his advice, but as the Manila boy and I were the only possessors of shooting-weapons, and the enemy were hidden behind a rampart of logs and banana-stems, while we had no shelter whatever, our continued existence was due simply to their want of skill. The absurdity of the situation was apparent, and its unpleasantness was heightened by the opening of a brisk fusillade in our rear. That decided us and we stepped back under cover, and then moved to the sheltering trunk of the fig-tree.

Arrived there we found that besides Nakodah Orlong (about whose fate there was no doubt, for he fell within a yard of me), Alang was the only one missing. He was the last man on the right, and, as no one had seen him, we concluded that he also had been killed. It was at once proposed that we should go back and secure the bodies, but our own people keeping up a merciless discharge in rear, and the enemy doing their best in front, we were caught between two fires, and thought it best to try and stop our friends at any rate from shooting us. We shouted, but that, of course, was no use, no one could either see or hear us. Twice again during the day we were placed in the same uncomfortable position, and a man kneeling behind me was shot in the back of his thigh. Once also the Sikhs made a determined attack on the men with me as we were trying to outflank the Malays, and in spite of our shouts only desisted when almost within touch of us.

The enemy's stockade was a long rampart impenetrable to bullets; it was faced by a deep and wide ditch cut at right angles to the river, with one end on the bank and the other in high jungle. The work was backed by a thick plantation of bananas, affording perfect cover, and those defending it were commanded by the Maharaja Lela in person, and his father-in-law Pandak Indut, foremost of Mr. Birch's murderers. Our rockets, an old pattern, were ineffective, and as they all went over the top of the stockade were greeted by the jeers of the enemy. We were close enough to hear even what they said in the intervals between the firing. 

Our force was then reduced to the officers, the men of the 10th, bluejackets, and Malay scouts - the Sikhs and Penang police had retired en masse at an even earlier hour, and explained afterwards, with much force, that it was not for this kind of work that they had engaged. About 1 PM, Captain Innes gave the order to charge the stockade. That was done, but without guns to clear the way it was a hopeless task. We could not get across the ditch in the face of an unseen, protected enemy, while we were entirely at their mercy. We had to retire with the loss of Captain Innes killed, both the officers of the loth (Lieutenants Booth and Elliott) severely wounded, and other casualties. If men with weapons of precision and the knowledge to handle them had held the work, none of our party ought to have escaped. But with Malays you can take liberties; their weapons take some time to load, but they are deadly enough at a few yards distance. 

Though we had gained nothing by rushing the place, the enemy did not like that style of attack and retired, only we did not know it then. We were engaged in counting the cost, picking up the wounded and organising an orderly retreat, for it was late, we had some miles to go, and we expected the Malays would leave their shelter and come after us. We had no surgeon, no stretchers, and the return journey was one that is not pleasant to recall. We reached our boats at 3 P.M., and the Residency a quarter of an hour later. 

For some time I was very busy trying to attend to the wounded, but then my Malay friends asked me for a boat, as they said they must go and fetch Nakodah Orlong's body, and see what had become of Alang. A British soldier was also missing. I gave the boat and they started. About 8 P.M. they returned with Alang and the body of his chief; they had met the lad swimming down the river with his master's body.

When Nakodah Orlong fell, and the rest of us got away behind the great tree, this boy stayed by the dead man, and as he was right in the line of the thickest cross-fire, Alang pulled the body as close to the bank as he could, and there remained from morning till evening, making no sign, but simply declining to abandon the corpse. A man even came out from the stockade and attacked him with a kris, wounding him on the hand, but Alang beat him off. After the final charge, when our people passed close by him, it was he who saw the Malays retire, and he allowed us all to go away and leave him without giving any indication of his whereabouts. Then, the coast being clear, unable to carry the body so great a distance, he dragged it into the river and was swimming down stream with it when the boat met him.

I went down to the boat to see Nakodah Orlong; he looked just as I had seen him last, except that his hair and clothes were drenched with water and there was a great hole in the centre of his forehead, marking, no doubt, the track of an iron bullet from a swivel-gun. Of that, however, he could never have been conscious, nor yet of the devotion of the man whose life had been in extremest peril throughout a long day to guard his chiefs dead body, without thought of gain or praise, only determined that none but loving hands should be laid upon the voiceless, pulseless clay he once called master.

Given a glorious sunny day and a good cause, the idea of ending existence suddenly and painlessly in the pride of life and in face of the foe has its attractions, and robs the inevitable of its sting. But who can hope that after his death there will be one other being whose love is great enough to offer his own life a willing sacrifice to guard the thing that was to-day a friend and to-morrow will be corruption?

Extracted from the chapter "Nakhoda Orlong" in Sir Frank Swettenham's "Malay Sketches" (1895, London: John Lane). "Malay Sketches" is available for download at my Sejarah Melayu Library.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Of Malay Savages

Frank Swettenham,  the first Resident-General of the Federated Malay States, writes about when he confronted an American lady's racism

One night, in the early months of this year, I sat at dinner next to a comparatively young married woman, of the type that is superlatively blonde in colour and somewhat over-ample in figure. She was indifferently dressed, not very well informed, but apparently anxious, by dint of much questioning, to improve her knowledge where possible. She was, I believe, a journalist. 

Some one must have told her that I had been in the East, and she, like most stay-at-home people, evidently thought that those who go beyond the shores of England can only be interested in, or have an acquaintance with, the foreign country wherein they have sojourned. Therefore the lady fired at me a volley of questions, about the manners and habits of the Malay people, whom she always referred to as "savages". 

I ventured to say that she must have a mistaken, or at any rate incomplete, knowledge of the race to speak of Malays as savages, but she assured me that people who were black, and not Christians, could only be as she described them. I declined to accept that definition, and added that Malays are not black. I fancy she did not believe me; but she said it did not matter, as they were not white and wore no clothes. I am afraid I began to be almost irritated, for the long waits between the courses deprived me of all shelter from the rain of questions and inconsequent remarks. 

At last, I said, "It may surprise you to hear that these savages would think, if they saw you now, that you are very insufficiently clad;" and I added, to try and take the edge off a speech that I felt was inexcusably rude, "they consider the ordinary costume of white men so immodest as to be almost indecent." 

"Indeed," said the lady, who only seemed to hear the last statement, "I have often thought so too, but I am surprised that savages, for I must call them savages, should mind about such things." It was hopeless, and I asked how soon the great American people might be expected to send a force to occupy London. 

I have just been reminded of this conversation. A few days ago, I wrote to a friend of mine, a Malay Sultan, whom I have not seen for some months, a letter inquiring how he was, and saying I hoped soon to be able to visit him. Now comes his answer; and you, who are in sympathy with the East, will be able to appreciate the missive of this truculent savage. 

In the cover there were three enclosures: a formal letter of extreme politeness, written by a scribe, the Arabic characters formed as precisely and clearly as though they had been printed. Secondly, a letter written in my friend's own hand, also in the Arabic character, but the handwriting is very difficult to decipher. And thirdly there is another paper, headed "Hidden Secrets" written also in the Sultan's own hand. 

The following is a translation of the beginning of the second letter. At the top of the first page is written, "Our friendship is sealed in the inmost recesses of my heart." Then this: " I send this letter to my honoured and renowned friend" (here follow my name, designation, and some conventional compliments). The letter then continues: "You, my dear friend, are never out of my thoughts, and they are always wishing you well. I hear that you are coming to see me, and for that reason my heart is exceedingly glad, as though the moon had fallen into my lap, or I had been given a cluster of flowers grown in the garden called Benjerdna Sri, wide-opening under the influence of the sun's warm rays."

"May God the Most Mighty hasten our meeting, so that I may assuage the thirst of longing in the happy realisation of my affectionate and changeless regard. At the moment of writing, by God's grace, and thanks to your prayers, I and my family are in good health, and this district is in the enjoyment of peace ; but the river is in flood, and has risen so high that I fear for the safety of the bridge." 

There is more, but what I have quoted is enough to show you the style. When this savage has turned from his savagery, he will no doubt write "Dear sir," and "Yours truly"; his correspondence will be type-written, in English, and the flaxen-haired lady will remark with approval that the writer is a businessman and a Christian, and hardly black at all.

Extracted from the chapter "West and East" in Sir Frank Swettenham's "Unaddressed Letters" (1898, London: John Lane). "Unaddressed Letters" is available for download at my Sejarah Melayu Library.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Malaya's first Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross  is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of the British Empire territories, taking precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals. The first Victoria Cross awarded for action in Malaya was to Captain George Nicholas Channer. Though the citation for the award states that it was "for his gallant conduct during the recent operations against the Malays in Perak", the engagement in question was actually against the Malays in the Sungai Ujong War and not the Perak War. 

When the Dato' Kelana of Sungai Ujong (the area that is today known as Seremban) accepted a British Resident and agreed to it being a protected British state, Sungai Ujong was attacked by the Yam Tuan Antah of Seri Menanti. After a series of skirmishes, the Malays occupied a fortified position on the Bukit Putus pass. It was at this battle that Channer won his VC and below is the citation describing what occurred.

From the War Office, April 12, 1876

The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention to confer the decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officer, whose claim to the same gas been submitted for Her Majesty's approval, for his gallant conduct during the recent operations against the Malays in Perak, as recorded against his name, viz.:-


Bengal Staff Corps

Rank and Name: 

Captain (now Brevet-Major) George Nicholas Channer

Act of Bravery for which recommended:

For having, with the greatest gallantry, been the first to jump into the Enemy's stockade, to which he had been dispatched with a small party of the 1st Ghoorkha Light Infantry on the afternoon of the 20th December, 1875, by the officer commanding the Malacca Column, to procure intelligence as to its strength, position, &c.

Major Channer got completely in rear of the Enemy's position, and finding himself so close that he could hear the voices of the men inside, who were cooking at the time, and keeping no lookout, he beckoned to his men and the whole party stole quietly forward to within a few paces of the stockade.

On jumping in, he shot the first man dead with his revolver, and his party then came up and entered the stockade, which was of a most formidable nature, surrounded by a bamboo palisade; about seven yards within was a log-house, loop-holed, with two narrow entrances, and trees laid latitudinally, to the thickness of two feet.

The Officer commanding reports that if Major Channer, by his foresight, coolness and intrepidity, had not taken this stockade, a great loss of life must have occurred, as from the fact of his being unable to bring guns to bear on it, from the steepness of the hill, and the density of the jungle, it must have been taken at the point of the bayonet.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Day Hang Tuah Walked Through My Door

This is a short story by Adlan  Benan Omar - a fellow lover of history and a dear friend who died on Thursday, 24 January 2008. He was only 35. Those of you who know him will remember Ben's almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Malay history

There can perhaps be no fitting tribute to this remarkable young man, and no better way to remember him, than to reproduce this short story by Ben, which not only highlights the passion that he had for Malay history, but also shows a bright, intelligent mind that was a breath of fresh air and a shining light in contemporary Malay culture.

I continue to remember Ben with great fondness

The Story of Ram Singh

The story below is an account by Hugh Clifford,  British Resident to the Sultan of Pahang, of the attack on Kuala Tembeling  during the Malay uprising led by Orang Kaya Pahlawan Dato' Bahaman of Semantan to expel the British from Pahang in 1890. While it is obviously written from the British perspective of the conflict, it does give one an idea of the nature of the conflict and, no matter where your sympathies lie, is a rather enjoyable and riveting tale of heroic derring-do!

They were a band of some fifty or sixty ruffians - rebel Malays from the Tembeling Valley of Pahang, clothed in ragged, dirty garments; long-haired, rough-looking disreputables from the wilder districts of Trengganu and Kelantan and Besut, across the mountain range; led by a dozen truculent, swaggering Pahang chiefs, rebels against the Malay Sultan and the Government, outlaws in their own land. The oldest, the most wily, was the ex-Imam Prang Indera Gajah Pahang, commonly-called To’ Gajah, a huge-boned, big-fisted, coarse-featured Malay of Sumatran extraction. To’ Gajah’s three sons were also in the party. They were Mat Kilau, Awang Nong and Teh Ibrahim: typical young Malay roisterers, truculent, swaggering, boastful, noisy and gaily-clad. The foremost fighting chief of the band was the Orang Kaya Pahlawan of Semantan. A thickset, round-faced, keen-eyed man of about fifty years of age, he was known to all the people of Pahang as a warrior of real prowess, a scout without equal in the Peninsula, and a jungle-man who ran the wild tribes of the woods close in his knowledge of forest-lore. 

To' Gajah spoke to them about an attack that was to be made just before dawn upon the small detachment of Sikhs stationed in the big stockade at Kuala Tembeling. The word was passed for absolute silence, and the dugouts with their loads of armed men were then pushed out into mid-stream. The stockade, which was to be the object of the attack, was situated upon a piece of rising ground overlooking the junction of the Tembeling and Pahang Rivers, and at its feet was stretched the broad sand bank of Pasir Tambang, which has been the scene of so many thrilling events in the history of this Malayan State of Pahang.

The men in the boats floated down the stream borne slowly along by the current, were absolutely noiseless. The nerves of one and all were strung to a pitch of intensity. Hands clutched weapons in an iron grip; breaths were held, cars strained to catch the slightest sound from the stockade which, as they drew nearer, was plainly visible on the prominent point, outlined blackly against the dark sky. The river, black also, save where here and there the dim starlight touched it with a leaden gleam, rolled along inexorably, carrying them nearer and nearer to the fight which lay ahead, bearing sudden and awful death to the dozen Sikhs in the stockade. At last, after a lapse of time that seemed an age to the raiders, the boats grounded one by one upon the sand bank of Pasir Tambang, so gently and so silently that they might have been ghostly crafts blown thither from the Land of Shadows.

The Orang Kaya Pahlawan landed with Wan Lela, Mat Kilau, Awang Nong, Teh Ibrahim, Panglima Kiri, and a score of picked men at his heels, leaving old To' Gajah and the rest of the party in the boats. Very cautiously they made their way to the foot of the eminence upon which the stockade stood, flitting across the sand in single file as noiselessly as shadows. Hiding behind some sparse bushes, they caught sight of the glint of a rifle-barrel as a lone Sikh sentry passed down his beat away from them. The raiders could hear the regular fall of the heavy ammunition boots as the sentry marched along. Then they heard him halt, pause for a moment, and presently the sound of his footfalls began to draw near to them once more. Each man among the raiders held his breath, and listened in an agony of suspense. Would he see them and give the alarm before he could be stricken dead? Suddenly a figure started up in silhouette against the skyline behind the sentry's back, moving quickly, but with such complete absence of noise that it seemed more ghost-like than human. A long black arm grasping a sword leaped up sharply against the sky; the weapon poised itself for a moment, reeled backward, and then with a thick swish and a thud descended upon the head of the Sikh. The sentry's knees quivered for a moment; his body shook like a steam-launch brought suddenly to a standstill upon a submerged rock; and then he fell over in a limp heap against the wall of the stockade, with a dull bump and a slight clash of jingling arms and accoutrements.'

In a second all the raiders were upon their feet, and, led by the Orang Kaya, waving his reeking blade above his head, they rushed into the now unguarded stockade, and then, sounding their war-cry for the first time that night, they plunged into the hut in which the Sikhs were sleeping.

There were nine men inside the hut. The jangle caused by the fall of the sentry by the gate had awakened two of them, and these threw themselves upon the rebels and, fought desperately with their clubbed rifles. They had no other weapons. Their companions came to their aid, and a good oak rifle-butt was broken into two pieces over Teh Ibrahim's head in the fight which ensued, though no injury was done to him by the blow. The rush of the Sikhs was so effectual that they all won clear of the hut, and six of their number escaped into the jungle and so saved themselves. The remaining three were killed outside the hut, and Kuala Tembeling stockade had fallen into the hands of the raiders. 

Their greatest enemy of the rebels, the loyal Imam Prang Indera Setia Raja, had his village some thirty odd miles lower down the Pahang River, at Pulau Tawar, and if this place could also be surprised, the best part of Pahang would be in the possession of the rebels, and a general rising in their favour might be confidently looked for. The Orang Kaya and his people knew this, and their hearts were uplifted with triumph, for they saw now that the Saint who had foretold victory to their arms had been no lying prophet.

Unfortunately for the rebels, however, all the Sikhs had not been within the walls of the stockade when the well-planned attack was delivered. On the morning of the attack two of the little garrison, Ram Singh and Kishen Singh, had bestirred themselves before their comrades, and were already shivering on the water's edge when the raiders arrived. It says a good deal for the admirable tactics of the Malays that it was not until the attack had been delivered that the two Sikhs became aware of the approach of their enemies. Suddenly, as the two Sikhs stood, naked save for their loin-cloths, the great stillness of the night was broken by a tempest of shrill yells. Then came half a dozen shots, ringing out crisply and fiercely and awakening a hundred clanging echoes in the forest on either bank of the river. An answering cheer was raised by the Malays in the boats, the tumult of angry sound seeming to spring from out of the darkness in front, behind, on every side of the bewildered Sikhs. The thick mist beginning to rise from the surface of the water served to plunge the sand bank upon which they stood into fathomless gloom. The ears of the two men rang again with the clamour of the fight going on in the stockade, with the shouts and yells of those who shrieked encouragement to their friends from the moored boats, with the clash of weapons, and with the sudden outbreak of the unexpected hubbub. But they could see nothing-nothing but the great inky shadows all about them into which everything seemed to be merged, and from which issued such discordant and fearful sounds.

'Where are you, Ram-siar, my brother?' cried Kishen Singh, despairingly; and a heavy silence fell around them for a moment as his voice was heard by the Malays in the boats. Then the shout of the enemies nearest to the two Sikhs broke out more loudly than before.

'It’s the voice of a kafir!' cried some-'Stab, stab!' 'Kill, and show no mercy, in the name of Allah!'-'Where, where?' -and then came the crisp pattering of many bare feet over the dry, hard sand in the direction from which the Sikh had shouted to his countryman. 

'Brother, I am here,' cried Ram Singh, more quietly, close to Kishen Singh's elbow. 'Alas, but we have no arms, and these jungle-pigs be many. We must tear the life from them with our hands. Oh, Guru Nanak, have a care for thy children in this their hour of need!'

In the dead blackness of the night both men could hear the swish of naked blades on all sides of them, for the Malays were as much baffled by the darkness as were their victims, and men struck right and left on the bare chance of smiting something. Presently the swish of a sword very near to Ram Singh ended suddenly in a sickening thud, the sound of steel telling loudly upon yielding flesh, and Kishen Singh gave a short, hard cough. The unseen owner of the weapon raised a cry of 'Basah!  Basah! I have wetted him! I have drawn blood!' and a yell of exultation went up from a score of fierce voices. Guided by the noise, Ram Singh threw himself upon the struggling mass which was Kishen Singh rolling over and over in his death-agony, with the Malays tossing and tumbling, hacking and smiting above him. Ram Singh's left hand grasped a sword-blade, and though the fingers were nearly severed he managed to wrench the weapon from the grip of a Malay. Then, with the roar of an angry forest monster, he charged the spot where the tumult was loudest.

Putting all his weight into each blow, and striking blindly and ceaselessly, he fought his way through the throng in the direction from which the sound of the river purring between its banks was borne to him. The Malays fell back before his desperate onslaught, but they closed in behind him, wounding him cruelly with their swords and daggers and wood-knives, while he in his blindness did them but little injury.  None the less, as the dawn began to break, Ram Singh, bleeding from more than a score of wounds, and with his left arm nearly severed, succeeded at last in leaping into one of the moored boats, and, cutting the rope, pushed out into mid-stream. There were three Malays on board the little dugout, but they quickly slipped over the side, and swam for the shore, deeming this blood-stained, fighting, roaring Sikh no pleasant foe with whom to do battle; and as they went, Ram Singh, utterly spent by his exertions and by loss of blood, slipped down into the bottom of the boat
in a limp heap. 

Fortunately, none gave chase and thus, as the day-light began to draw the colour out of the jungle on the river-banks, the dugout, in which the wounded Sikh lay, drifted rocking down the stream, until at last it disappeared round the bend a quarter of a mile below the rebel camp.

Ram Singh lay so very still that the raiders may perhaps have persuaded themselves that he was dead; but they should have made sure, for their next move must be down stream, and the success or failure of their attack depended almost entirely upon the next village of Pulau Tawar being surprised as Kuala Tembeling had been, for here was the stronghold of Imam Prang Setia Raja, who was loyal to the Sultan. 

Ram Singh was also aware of the enormous importance of a warning being carried to Imam Prang, and, weighed against this, the mere question of saving or losing his own life seemed to him a matter of little moment. Although he was too weak to stand or to manage the boat, he determined to remain where he was until the current bore him to Pulau Tawar, and then, and not till then, to spread the news of the fall of Kuala Tembeling. He knew enough of Malay peasants to feel sure that no man among them would dare to help him if they learned that the rebels were in the immediate vicinity, and that he had received his wounds at their hands. He knew also that he could not rely upon any Malay to pass the word of warning which alone could save Imam Prang from death, and the whole of Pahang from a devastating little war. Therefore he determined that, dying though he believed himself to be, he must take that warning word himself. He swore to himself that he would not even halt to bind his wounds, nor to seek food or drink. Nothing must delay him, and the race was to be a close one between his own failing strength and rapidly moving rebels. 

The sun rose higher and higher, each moment adding to the intensity of the heat. In the Malay Peninsula, men have frequently died a lingering death from exposure to the sun. Ram Singh bore all this, which seemed almost insignificant in comparison to the pain of the twenty-seven wounds on his body. Shortly after noon a sudden collision with some unseen object jarred the Sikh cruelly, and wrung a moan from his lips.  A brown hand seized the gunwale of the dugout, and a moment later a beardless, Malay face, seamed with many wrinkles, looked down into the boat. 'What ails thee, brother?' asked the face. 

'Help me to reach the Imam Prang at Pulau Tawar,’ said Ram Singh, lying bravely in spite of his ebbing strength. The Malay mounted the dugout and in a short while it was racing down stream with the cool rush of air fanning the fevered cheeks of the wounded man most deliciously. An hour or two later Pulau Tawar was reached, and Imam Prang, hearing that a Sikh in trouble wished to have speech with him, came down to the water's edge. 

'What thing has befallen thee, brother?' he asked, aghast at the fearful sight before him. The dugout was a veritable pool of blood, and the feverish eyes of the stricken man stared out at him from a face blanched to an ashen grey, more awful to look upon by contrast with the straggling fringe of black beard. The pale lips opened and shut, like the mouth of a newly landed fish, but no sound came from them; the great weary eyes seemed to be speaking volubly, but alas! the words could not leave his lips. Was the supreme effort which the stricken Sikh had so nobly made to be wasted? For a moment it seemed as though the irony of Fate would have it so; and Ram Singh, deep down in his heart, prayed to Guru Nanak to give him the strength he lacked, that his suffering might bear fruit. Mightily, with the last remnants of his failing forces, the Sikh fought for speech. He gasped and struggled in a manner fearful to see, till at last the words came, and who shall say at what a cost of bitter agony?

'Dato the ... rebels ....’ came the faltering whisper. 'The rebels Kuala ... Tembeling ... fallen ... taken .... many killed .... make ready ... against their coming .... and behold.. I have brought the word ... and I die I die. . . . '
His utterance was choked by a great flow of blood from his mouth, and without a struggle Ram Singh fainted away and lay as one dead.

Imam Prang was a man of action, and he had his people collected and his stockades in a thorough state of defence long before the afternoon began to wane. While Imam Prang was busily engaged in profiting by the warning thus timely brought to him, Ram Singh was tended with gentle hands and soothed with kind words of pity by the women-folk of the Chief's household. He was a kafir and infidel, it was true, but he had saved them, and all that they held dear, from death, or from the capture which is worse than death.

So the rebels were repulsed, and were chased back to the land from whence they had come, and up and down that land, and across and across it, till many had been slain and the rest made prisoners, and at last Pahang might once more sleep in peace. And Ram Singh, who had saved the situation, was sent to hospital in Singapore, where he was visited by the Governor of the colony, who came to him in his great carriage to do honour to the simple Sikh private; and when at last he was discharged from the native ward healed of his wounds, a light post in the Pahang Police Office was found for him, where he will serve until such time as death may come to him in very truth. If you chance to meet him, he will be much flattered should you allow him to lift up his tunic; and you will then see a network of scars on brown skin. He is inordinately proud of them, and rightly so, say I, for which man among us can show such undoubted proofs of courage, endurance, and self-sacrifice as this obscure hero?

From "In A Corner of Asia" by Sir Hugh Clifford, T Fisher Unwin Ltd, London, 1899