“The premier chief of Perak was the Raja Bendahara (Yang Teramat Mulia Tuanku Raja Bendahara Wakilus-Sultan Wasirul Kabir). He was the titular Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief. He derived his revenues mainly from a toll-station (Batang Kuala Kinta) that levied duties on all produce entering or leaving the Kinta River. It is not known what gross annual revenue from this station amounted to. The Bendahara was also entitled once a year to send the royal musicians (orang kalur) round the villages to bear his sword of office (baur) and to collect a capitation tax of 50 cents from every household. This revenue is known as beman kalur.
“The wife of the bendahara when she was of royal birth was styled Raja Perempuan Kechil. If she was a commoner she was to be styled as Bendahara Empuan or popularly as Che’ Puan Bendahara.
“The title of Bendahara up to the days of Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain (about 1780) was vested in the family of Megat Terawis. Sultan Iskandar suddenly bethought himself- so the story goes – that it was a great pity that Perak should only have a commoner as its prime Minister when there were so many promising young princes for whom no employment could be found. He therefore directed his Bendahara Megat Pendia, to build him a palace at Pulau Indar Sakti, and so worried that minister with contradictory instructions and undeserved censure that the unfortunate man tendered his resignation in order to prove that no other Bendahara could do the work better. The Sultan also promptly appointed his brother (or cousin), Raja Alaidin to be Bendahara and expressed himself perfectly with the house Raja Alaidin built. After that time the high office of Bendahara came to be looked upon as an apanage of royalty. About the year 1851, however the holder of this position dies at a very incovenient time, there being no prince of the Royal house who was acceptable to the Chiefs. The old theory as to the non-royal status of the bendahara was there upon revived and the office was conferred upon Raja Ismail, whose father was a foreigner though his mother was a Perak princess. The theory was that he should be regarded as a Prime Minister or Premier Chief and not as prince of the blood and ultimate heir to the throne. At the deaths of Sultan Shahabuddin, Sultan Abdullah II, and Sultan Jaafar, the Bendahara accepted this view and put forward no claim to the position of Raja Muda. Doubtless, he would have done the same at Sultan Ali’s death in 1871 had not the timidity of Raja Abdullah created an intolerable situation. The Chiefs then revived the more modern Perak practice and treated the Bendahara as an heir to the Sultanate. Raja Ismail was a very old man and his installation as Sultan promised to be a temporary makeshift for tiding over a serious crisis.”
This is an excerpt taken from RJ Wilkinson’s ‘Papers on Malay Subjects’ (In History: Chiefs of Perak. p 77). As pointed out by a kind reader, the excerpt does contain a factual error regarding the last Bendahara, which is detailed in the comments section below.