The Pangkor Treaty 1874: setting the record straight?

Raja Dato Seri Azam Raja Kamaralzaman. (Personal collection of Raja Muzaffar Kamaralzaman)

In 1996, Allahyarham YM Raja Dato Seri Azam Raja Kamaralzaman was interviewed by the New Straits Times for an article published in their Life & Times supplement, entitled ‘New light on the Pangkor Treaty’. The NST article highlighted the difference between the Malay and English versions of the Pangkor Treaty signed on 20 January 1874, namely that of Item/Fasal 6 of the treaty which touched on the role of the British Resident in the administration of the state of Perak.

As seen in the previous Sembangkuala post on the treaty, item 6 was translated into current Bahasa Malaysia (as transcribed by the Institut Terjemahan Negara) as follows:

6. Keenam – Bahawa Sultan menerima dan menyediakan sebuah kediaman yang sesuai untuk seorang Pegawai British yang dinamakan Residen, yang akan ditauliahkan ke istana Baginda, dan nasihatnya mestilah diminta dan diambil tindakan atas semua persoalan selain yang menyentuh agama Islam dan adat istiadat orang Melayu.

The actual jawi transcription by Munsyi Ibrahim of item 6 reads as follows:

6. Fasal yang ke-enam – Arakian maka ada-lah Yang DiPertuan Perak itu mau terima dan perbuat sa-buah rumah yang layak bagi tempat dudok suatu tuan yang dibawah perintah British Gobermen[sic] gelarannya Tuan Residen Perak menjadi orang keperchayaan Gobermen[sic]. Akan Yang DiPertuan itu mau-lah muafakat dengan-nya dahulu daripada fasal sakalian perkara dan pekerjaan negeri Perak itu melainkan tiada boleh masok daripada fasal ugama Islam dan adat Melayu itu ada-nya.

British Officers in Perak during Sir William Jervois' visit in 1875. Amongst the officers in the photo are J.W.W Birch (fourth from right) and Frank Swettenham (standing rightmost). (Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Interestingly, as described in Alina Ranee’s interview with Raja Dato Seri Azam, item 6 in the English version of the treaty was interpreted more in favour to the British. This is item 6 as interpreted by Sir Frank Swettenham, who at that time was a member of the Commission for the Pacification of Larut:

“VI. Sixth. – That the Sultan receive and provide a suitable residence for a British Officer to be called Resident, who shall be accredited to his Court, and whose advice must be asked and acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay Religion and Custom.”

In the NST interview, Allahyarham Raja Dato Seri Azam felt that it beggars belief that the term used in the Malay version which was muafakat (consult – which gives the impression of a bilateral discussion of matters) was interpreted by Swettenham as “whose advice must be asked and acted upon“. Allahyarham added that the original English version of the treaty was destroyed by British Government Statute. In his opinion, this was done so that the British government would not be required to explain the badly written interpretation of the treaty as well as making it possible to claim that the Malay version of the treaty was incorrect. His view on this matter had taken into context his readings of Sir Peter Benson Maxwell‘s Our Malay Conquests and a Masters degree thesis written by M.A. Mallal at the University of Singapore (now NUS) entitled J.W.W. Birch: Causes of his assassination.

Allahyarham also added, from his readings of the aforementioned works by Maxwell and Mallal, that many proclamations issued by the British that were not contained in the Pangkor Treaty were written later in Singapore.

Allahyarham Raja Dato Seri Azam was the great-grandson of Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II.


1. Ranee A. New light on the Pangkor Treaty. New Straits Times. 1996 March 26.
2. Straits Times Overland Journal, 12 February 1874, page 6. [National Library Singapore

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