Birch Incident – Newspaper Article from Illustrated London News 26 February 1876

[As published in roll-of-honour.com]

The recent combined military and naval expedition against the hostile Malay chiefs of the Perak river,in the Malay Peninsular forms the subjects of three of our illustrations. Passir Salak, the station when. Mr Birch, the British Resident, was murdered on November 2 was captured within a fortnight of that crime, and the Maharajah Lela, its most guilty author was driven up the river. An expedition started in pursuit of him on Dec. 8. It consisted of 200 infantry of the 10th and 80th Regiments, 40 artillerymen with two steel guns and a rocket tube, and a naval brigade consisting of 40 officers and men of H.M. ships Modeste and Ringdove, with two steel guns on the boat slides, and three rocket tubes. The whole force was under the command of Major-General the Hon. F. Colborne, C.B., and Captain Buller, R.N. Civil commissioners accompanied the expedition. Fifty friendly Malays had preceded the force up the river as scouts.

One of the sketches we have engraved is taken just above Passir Telor. It shows the flotilla of forty-live boats, conveying the force on their way up the river. The large square boats are those conveying the guns, provisions, and coals for a small light-draught steam-launch, which proved of great service. Our correspondent thus relates the operations that ensued.

Blanja, on the left bank of the Perak river, a village belonging to ex-Sultan Ismail, was reached on the morning of the 13th, when it was ascertained that Ismail had left. General Colborne determined to hollow him across country to his capital, the town of Kinta, before he could have time to strengthen himself there, should he be determined on resistance. Fifty infantry and twenty seamen were left behind in charge of the boats, and the rest of the party, as lightly accoutred as possible, set forth with only a waterproof sheet instead of their packs, and but a scanty supply of provisions carried by the boatmen who had poled up the boats. They started from Blanja at eleven o’clock on the 13th, the troops having already marched from their last night’s camping-ground, three miles below Blanja.

The road or path from the outskirts of Blanja was through the virgin forest or jungle. It is difficult to imagine, but if endless fallen trees, tree roots, elephant holes, streams, swamps, and clay ditches fifty yards long full of, all jumbled together in different combinations of disorder, could be put on paper in it sketch, it would give a feeble idea of the ‘road’ over which the guns, rockets, and forty rounds of ammunition were dragged, carried, or pushed with intense labour.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, without any warning, a fire was opened on the advanced guard by an invisible foe, and Staff-Surgeon Randall was wounded in the thigh. All that could be distinguished was that a number of trees had been felled across the road, in the hollow which the vanguard had reached, and that the enemy were posted in a half circle on the rising ground in front of us. Three shots from the guns and the same number of rockets silenced the enemy. Then advancing, we found they had fled from their position, a stockade on the hill side on our right, and slightly on the flank. At three o’clock we had the same thing over again, only this time without loss to us; the rocket tube being close up, one rocket, followed by a loud cheer from our men, inspired the enemy with such dread that they abandoned their next  and strongest position without firing a shot. This was a small hill, on the side of which they had built a stockade, and which, had they held it, would have given us no little trouble to dislodge them from; we were now close upon them, the tracks, especially those of an elephant, being scarce half an hour old. We pushed on, but night overtook us the jungle, and we lay down just where we were, almost too tired to eat. The friendly Malays went on next day, and we joined them at Papau (Papan), fourteen miles from Blanja, on the I5th. The scouts advanced again on the 16th, and reported favourably. Our force joined them next day at noon at a place less than a mile from Kinta.

There had been several interchanges of shots between our scouts and the enemy that morning. After a few rockets and shell had been fired into Kinta and an outlying village, the force moved on and entered Kinta at five in the afternoon. Three guns were fired at us as we crossed the river to the island on which Kinta stands; but they had no effect, the shot falling into the water just short of our guns and rockets, which speedily silenced them. The troops entered Kinta without casualty and took up their quarters in the best houses, of which there were numbers, both on the island and the banks of the river.

Ismail, we hear, has fled miles up the Perak river, and contemplates continuing his journey until he has left the Perak territory behind him and reached Patani, a state bordering the eastern coast of the Peninsula, and under Siamese protection. He is accompanied by the Maharajah Lela and others, who have been most active in their opposition to the British Government.

The Residency, only a temporary hut which Mr Birch had put up, is situated on a small island in the Perak river, about sixty miles from its mouth and nine miles from Durien Sabatang (Teluk Intan), the highest point to which gun-boats can ascend. This small island is connected with the main by a bridge, across which is the way to the barracks, stores, and offices of the Residency.The Residency, only a temporary hut which Mr Birch had put up, is situated on a small island in the Perak river, about sixty miles from its mouth and nine miles from Durien Sabatang (Teluk Intan), the highest point to which gun-boats can ascend. This small island is connected with the main by a bridge, across which is the way to the barracks, stores, and offices of the Residency.he Residency, only a temporary hut which Mr Birch had put up, is situated on a small island in the Perak river, about sixty miles from its mouth and nine miles from Durien Sabatang (Teluk Intan), the highest point to which gun-boats can ascend. This small island is connected with the main by a bridge, across which is the way to the barracks, stores, and offices of the Residency.

There have been some conflicts of later date with the Malays lower down the river Perak, at a place called Kota lama, below the Residency which is at Bandar Bahru. (Note: Kota Lama is in fact a good 100 miles upstream from Bandar Bahru) The force commanded by Brigadier General Ross on the 4th ult., attacked the village of Kota Lama, but met with unexpected and fiercely-determined resistance. Major Hawkins was killed, with one sailor and one sepoy; four or five were wounded, one being Mr Townsend, the surgeon.  The village was destroyed. In the neighbourhood of Tirachi and Sri Menanti, a hundred miles south of Perak, other Malay tribes have given trouble, and a force under Colonel Hill has been employed to chastise them.


One thought on “Birch Incident – Newspaper Article from Illustrated London News 26 February 1876

  1. Pingback: 28th Sultan of Perak: Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah ibni Almarhum Raja Bendahara Alang Iskandar (1887-1916) « SembangKuala BLOG

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