“The ‘protected’ State of Perak (pronounced Payrah) is the richest and most important of the States of the Peninsula, as well as one of the largest. Its coast-line, broken into, however, by a bit of British territory, is about one hundred and twenty-five miles in length. Its sole southern boundary is the State of Selangor. On the north it has the British colony of Province Wellesley, and the native States of Kedah and Patani, tributary to Siam. Its eastern boundary is only an approximate one, Kelantan joining it in the midst of a vast tract of unexplored country inhabited solely by the Sakei and Semang aborigines.
“The State is about eighty miles wide at its widest part, and thirty at its narrowest, and is estimated to contain between four and five thousand square miles. The great artery of the country is the Perak river, a most serpentine stream. Ships drawing thirteen feet of water can ascend it as far as Durian Sabatang, fifty miles from its mouth, and boats can navigate it for one hundred and thirty miles farther.
“This river, even one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth at Kwala Kangsa, is two hundred yards wide, and might easily be ascended by ‘stern-wheel’ boats drawing a foot of water, such as those which ply on the upper Mississippi. Next in size to the Perak is the Kinta, which falls into the Perak, besides which there are the Bernam and Batang Padang rivers, both navigable for vessels of light draught. Along the shores of these streams most of the Malay kampongs are built.
“The interior of Perak is almost altogether covered with magnificent forests, out of which rise isolated limestone hills, and mountain ranges from five thousand to eight thousand feet in height. The scenery is beautiful. The neighborhood of the mangrove swamps of the coast is low and swampy, but as the ground rises, the earth which has been washed down from the hills becomes fertile, and farther inland the plains are so broken up by natural sand ridges which lighten the soil, that it is very suitable for rice culture.”
‘A Chapter on Perak’ from Isabella Bird’s The Golden Chersonese and the way Thither is available to read here.
Source: The University of Adelaide E-Books Collection [EBooks@Adelaide]
Footnote: Isabella Lucy Bird (October 15, 1831 – October 7, 1904) was a nineteenth-century English traveller, writer, and a natural historian. She had travelled the world rather extensively and had written a number of books. The Golden Chersonese and the way Thither was written by Bird in 1883 which describes her travels along the Malay peninsula and includes her personal views of what Perak was like in the late 1870s after the exile of Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II to the Seychelles by the British. Interestingly, Bird included descriptions (albeit rather unflattering) of the young Raja Ngah Mansur and Raja Chulan (then studying in Malacca High School, although they were not specifically named by Bird in the book) who travelled with her on a steam launch called The Kinta from Province Wellesley (now Seberang Perai) to Larut. This chapter can be read here. Isabella Bird died in Edinburgh a few months after returning from her travels in 1904.