‘The English conquest in the Malayan Archipelago’: an article in the Brisbane Courier, 1879

Sir Peter Benson Maxwell, Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements (1867-1871). (Source: Google Images)

“Sir Peter Benson Maxwell[1], late Chief Justice, writing to the Daily News with reference to the Perak War, says: – The true history of our Malay conquests has no ‘hand fighting’ or ‘dangerous outbreaks’ in it; and it is a pity that the nation is not better acquainted with the method by which its Empire was extended in that part of the world.

“When Sir Andrew Clarke went to Singapore as Governor in 1874, he began to plant Residents in the little Malay States that were simple enough to receive them.  Lord Stanley of Alderley[2], at once raised the cry, in the House of Lords, that this meant annexation; but Lord Carnavon, then Colonial Minister, no doubt in the best faith in the world, repelled the assertion with some warmth, as an impeachment of the conduct of a distinguished officer. Nevertheless, Lord Stanley was right. In the following year, when one of the British Residents, Mr Birch in carrying out the annexation policy, lost his life in Perak in an affray, and people at home began to ask by what right colonial officers and Ministers annexed new territories, and extended our responsibilities, and multiplied our burdens without the sanction of the Parliament.  Lord Carnavon sent out immediate instructions that he would allow no annexations, or other large political aims, or suffer the Residents to be anything more  than simply ‘advisers’.  But what was he told in reply ! Bluntly, that he did not seem to be aware (though it was no secret to anybody else), that annexation had long been to all intents and purpose a fait accompli; for whatever Sir A. Clarke’s Residents had been admitted, they had at once taken the administration out of the hands of the native rulers int their own. There could be no doubt about it.

“The Colonial Office had ample proof of it in its pigeon holes.  By this Resident device we made ourselves  masters by dethroning an unoffending  ruler to make way for a creature who was willing to pay for his place by accepting a Resident.  In Sungei Ujong, we gained a footing by espousing the cause of a native chief[3] against his rivals and enemies, and then setting a Resident over him.  In Salangore we imposed a native ‘Viceroy'[4] on the sovereign, and then a British Resident on the Viceroy.  In all three countries, the Resident was introduced and represented as an adviser; in all he threw off his modest garb at once, and seized all the powers of government.  Lord Carnavon took a long time to discover this very plain fact; but he found at last that his local officer had been too strong for him, and then he confessed his impotence in one of the strangest despatches ever penned; in which, under the appearance of giving instructions, he capitulated, acquiescing in all that he had repudiated, forbidden and denounced.

“There was nothing very glorious in this career of conquest; but our early rule over the Malays was marked by something even worse that the ‘Resident’ method of acquisition.  A number of Malay chiefs were accused of having conspired to bring about the death of Mr. Birch.  Depositions were collected behind their backs, and with Lord Carnavon’s sanction they were tried behind their backs on those depositions, without being allowed to say a word in their defence or to show up the worthlessness of their accusers; and they were condemned on the most absurd and worthless evidence of an offence of which they were manifestly guiltless.  This mockery of judicial proceedings, this miserable outrage on justice and disgrace to our name, is a page in our Malay history which must not be forgotten; for the men are at present time undergoing their sentence of deportation.”

This article was published in The Brisbane Courier, Monday, 3 June 1879. The PDF version of this newspaper article is available here.

[1] Sir Peter Benson Maxwell was the Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements from 1867 to 1871. His book, Our Malay Conquests, published in 1878 is said to contain details which may shed considerable light on the Pangkor Treaty, especially the Malay version of it. In a 1996 NST interview, Allahyarham YM Raja Azam Raja Kamaralzaman explained that Maxwell described in his book how the British had made proclamations pre-written in Singapore which were not part of the Malay version treaty signed by the respective parties in 1874.
[2] Henry Edward John Stanley, 3rd Baron Stanley of Alderley and 2nd Baron Eddisbury was a historian. He reverted to Islam in 1862 (Lord Stanley’s Muslim name was Abdul Rahman) and was the first Muslim member of the House of Lords. Allahyarham’s obituary can be read here.
[3] Dato’ Klana Putra of Sungei Ujong.
[4] Tengku Kudin was a Kedah prince, and son-in-law to Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor. Tengku Kudin was an arbitrator during the Klang War.

3 thoughts on “‘The English conquest in the Malayan Archipelago’: an article in the Brisbane Courier, 1879

  1. Dear editor(s),

    I feel indebted to you for sharing this valuable piece of information. Thank you ever so much!

    The brave Sir Peter Benson Maxwell has my great respect. Reading this gives me comfort, in particular about my great grandfather, Almarhum Sultan Abdullah, and his chiefs. A vindication of sorts.

  2. Pingback: The Pangkor Treaty 1874: setting the record straight? « SembangKuala BLOG

  3. Pingback: Sultan Abdullah’s return from the Seychelles, 1894 « SembangKuala BLOG

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