Larut War was a series of four wars started in July 1861 and ended with the signing of the Pangkor Treaty (also known as the Pangkor Engagement) of 1874. The conflict was fought among local Malay chieftains and Chinese secret societies over the control of mining areas in Perak.
First war (1861-1862)
The First Larut War began in July 1861 when arguments over control of watercourse to their mines escalated and led members of the Hai SanSociety to drive the members of the Ghee Hin society out of Klian Bahru (now known as Kamunting). The Governor of Straits Settlements, Colonel Cavenagh intervened and the Mentri of Larut, Ngah Ibrahim, was made to compensate the Ghee Hin with $17,447 on behalf of the Sultan of Perak.
Second war (1865)
The Second Larut War took place in 1865 and was sparked off by a gambling quarrel in June of that year between members of the two opposing secret societies. The Hai San members took 14 Ghee Hin as prisoners, 13 of whom were killed. The 14th escaped to inform his clan and the Ghee Hin retaliated by attacking a Hai San village, razing it to the ground and killing 40 men in the process. The battle continued back and forth and spread to Province Wellesley and the island of Penang while other secret societies started to join the fray. Both sides were later exhausted and finally decided to come to terms. An official inquiry took place and both the Hai San and Ghee Hin societies were fined $5,000 each for violating the peace of Penang and their leaders, banished.
By around 1870, there were a combined total of about 40,000 Hakka and Cantonese mine workers in the Larut district and the mining areas between the two groups were near to each other. It is this proximity that might explain how the next battle began.
Third war (1871-1874)
The Third Larut War erupted in 1871 over a scandal – an extra-marital relationship involving the Ghee Hin leader and the wife of a nephew of the Hai San leader, Chung Keng Quee. Upon discovery, the adulterous couple was caught, tortured, put into a pig basket and thrown into a disused mining pond where they drowned. Avenging the death of their leader, Ghee Hin had 4,000 professional fighting men imported from mainland China via Penang attacked the Hai Sans and for the first time, the Hai Sans were driven out of Larut. About 10,000 Hai San men sought refuge in Penang. In months, Hai Sans supported by Ngah Ibrahim recovered their Matang and Larut mines. At this time, Raja Abdullah a claimant to the throne of Perak and an enemy of Ngah Ibrahim, took sides against the Hai Sans and Ngah Ibrahim and the wars between the Chinese miners transformed into civil war involving the Malay chiefs of Perak.
Final war and the Pangkor Treaty
The Fourth Larut War occurred in 1873, merely a year after the previous battle. Weeks after Hai Sans regained Larut, Ghee Hin, supported by Raja Abdullah, counter-attacked with arms and men from Singapore and China. Ngah Ibrahim’s properties in Matang were destroyed. Local Malay residents were also killed and their property, destroyed. Trouble spread to Krian, Pangkor and Dindings. The quarrelling Malay chiefs who had taken sides in the Larut Wars were now alarmed at the disorder created by the Chinese miners and secret societies. The Straits Settlement Penang Chinese seeing their investments destroyed in the Larut Wars sought intervention form British. Over 40,000 Chinese from the Go-Kuan and Si-Kuan were engaged in the fratricidal war involving the Perak royal family.
The Perak sultanate, involved in a protracted succession struggle was unable to maintain order. Things were increasingly getting out of hand and chaos was proving bad for the Malays, Chinese and British. In her book “The Golden Chersonese and The Way Thither” (Published 1892 G.P. Putnam’s Sons) Victorian traveller and adventuress Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904) describes how Raja Muda Abdullah as he then was turned to his friend in Singapore, Tan Kim Ching. Tan, together with an English merchant in Singapore drafted a letter to Governor Sir Andrew Clarke which Abdullah signed. The letter expressed Abdullah’s desire to place Perak under British protection, and “to have a man of sufficient abilities to show (him) a good system of government.” On the 26th of September, 1872 Chung Keng Quee had already presented a petition (click here for the petition), signed by himself and 44 other Chinese leaders, seeking British interference following the attack of 12,000 men of Chung Shan by 2,000 men of Sen Ning. (The Petition)
The need to restore law and order in Perak gave cause for a new British policy concerning intervention in the affairs of the Malay States which resulted in the Pangkor Treaty. In 1874, theStraits Settlements governor Sir Andrew Clarke convened a meeting on Pulau Pangkor, at which Sultan Abdullah was installed on the throne of Perak in preference to his rival, Sultan Ismail.
Documents were signed on 20 January 1874 aboard the ship The Pluto at Pangkor Island to settle the Chinese dispute, clear the Sultan succession dispute and pave the way for the acceptance of British Residency – Captain Speedy was appointed to administer Larut as assistant to the British Resident.
Chung Keng Quee and Chin Ah Yam, leaders of the Hai San and Ghee Hin, respectively, were enobled by the British with the title of Chinese Kapitan and the town of Larut was renamedTaiping (“太平” in Chinese, meaning “everlasting peace”) as a confirmation of the new state of truce. Three days later, Chung Keng Quee was appointed a member of the Pacification Commission headed by Captain S. Dunlop and Messrs. Frank Swettenham and William A. Pickering – one of the objectives of the commission was to arrange an amicable settlement of the squabbles over the tin mines at Larut.
The Commissioners decided to allocate the mines in Klian Pauh (Taiping) to the Hai Sans and the mines in Klian Bharu (Kamunting) to the Ghee Hins.