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.