Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah was born Raja Abdullah on 21 September 1842 and was the eldest son of Sultan Jaafar Safiuddin Muazzam Shah. Raja Abdullah was made Raja Muda in 1865 upon the death of his father, when Sultan Ali Al-Mukammal Inayat Shah was appointed the 24th Sultan of Perak.
When Raja Bendahara Ismail was proclaimed Sultan in 1871 after the demise of Almarhum Sultan Ali, Raja Muda Abdullah wrote to Sir Harry Ord, the Governor of the Straits Settlements, proclaiming that he was really the rightful heir to the throne and the Sultan Ismail’s succession was not legal and not in accordance with the adat of the State. Sir Andrew Clarke later took over as the new Governor of the Straits Settlements, and came to Pulau Pangkor on 15 January 1874 and conferring with Raja Muda Abdullah and some of the Malay chiefs. This meeting in Pulau Pangkor was not attended by either Sultan Ismail or Raja Yusuf. The result of the meeting was the Treaty of Pangkor which was signed on 20 January 1874. Amongst the terms of the Pangkor Treaty were:
1. Raja Muda Abdullah to be made the Sultan of Perak in place of Sultan Ismail
2. The deposed Sultan Ismail is to be given the title Sultan Muda
3. The Sultan must provide the British Resident with a place of residence
4. The Resident’s advice must be asked for and acted upon all matters of Government other than touching Islam and the Malay custom (also known as the contentious fasal enam of the Treaty)
J.W.W. Birch was appointed by the British as the first Resident of Perak. It was from the later meetings of Birch and Frank Swettenham with Raja Yusuf at Senggang and Sultan Muda Ismail (as they were not present at the signing of the treaty) that both Raja Yusuf and Sultan Muda Ismail disagreed with the terms signed in the treaty made by Sultan Abdullah with the British. Not surprisingly, trouble broke out between Sultan Abdullah and his chiefs with Birch. Consequently, Birch was assassinated at Pasir Salak on 2 November 18751.
Britsh troops were sent to Perak, one contingent going upstream attacking Dato’ Maharaja Lela’s stronghold at Pasir Salak, while another contingent landed at Matang and marched on to Kuala Kangsar. Thus began the Perak War.
Meanwhile, Sultan Muda Ismail joined forces with Dato’ Maharaja Lela at Belanja. Taking with them the articles of the State Regalia, they first retreated to Kinta and then to Upper Perak with the British soldiers hot in pursuit. Finally, Sultan Muda Ismail surrendered to Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin of Kedah, who in turn handed over the surrendering forces to Major-General Anson, the Lieutenant-Governor of Penang. Sultan Muda Ismail was exiled to Skudai and the state Regalia were taken by British Government for safe keeping in England.
Following the arrest of Dato’ Maharaja Lela and his conspirators, Sultan Abdullah, together with members of his family, was sent into exile by the British to the Seychelles on 30 March 1877, together with the Orang Kaya Kaya Menteri Larut Ngah Ibrahim Long Jaafar, Orang Kaya Kaya Laksamana Mohd Amin Alang Duakap and Orang Kaya Kaya Shahbandar Uda Maamor. Two sons of Sultan Abdullah, Raja Mansur and Raja Chulan, were spared and remained to continue their early education at Raffles Institution in Singapore and later at Malacca High School.
Dato’ Maharaja Lela and Dato’ Sagor were tried in Matang (the judge of which appointed by the British being Raja Idris) and sentenced to death by hanging. They were duly hung in Taiping.
On arrival at the Seychelles2, Sultan Abdullah was provided a government-owned residence initially at Union Vale in Victoria, Mahé. Tuanku and the other exiled chiefs were also given allowances “suitable to their rank and station“. A strict watch was kept over them in Victoria and then they were shortly relocated to Félicité, where they remained for five years.
When the turmoil in Perak had dwindled down, Sultan Abdullah was allowed to return to Victoria, Mahé in 1882. It was during this time, Tuanku was able to lead a quiet yet better lifestyle, being able to mix with people of high society in the island, and having access to Government House. Tuanku’s children (some of whom were born in the Seychelles) attended the local schools – the boys to the Government school, and later to England, whilst the girls attended St. Paul’s Mission School for Girls. It was during Tuanku’s years in Victoria, that he had support from many of the colonial merchants and persons of well-repute in the appeal for his return to the Federated Malay States. One such petition dated 16 May 1889 to Major-General Hawley, the Officer Commisioning the Government of Mauritius and its Dependencies, described “… Sultan Abdullah has won the respect and esteem of the inhabitants of Seychelles in general and the undersigned would be very happy indeed to learn that on this fitting occasion, Her Majesty (Queen Victoria) has been graciously pleased to deliver him from his captivity“. The petition’s many signatories included barristers-at-law, commissioners, merchants and planters.
Sultan Abdullah was allowed to travel to England3 (it is believed from archive records that he went to England in the winter of 1890) and shortly on his return to the Seychelles, Tuanku was permitted to return to the Federated Malay States, for which he finally left for in 1894. It was reported that by this time Tuanku had some affectionate attachment with the colony in Seychelles – “… and, on his departure, expressed in a speech the regret which he felt on leaving a colony where he had passed so many happy years“. Tuanku had then lived in the Seychelles for 17 years.
Sultan Abdullah lived for a time in Singapore and then in Penang. In 1922, he was allowed to return to Kuala Kangsar where he died soon after on 22 December 1922. He was interred at Bukit Chandan and was conferred the posthumous title of Marhum Habibullah.
Editor’s notes: SembangKuala has posted several Sultan Abdullah related entries and would like to inform readers that you may read them by clicking on ‘abdullah’, ‘pangkor treaty’ or ‘jww birch’ in the tag cloud located in the middle column of the webpage. We are also planning to publish a few more Sultan Abdullah-related posts in the near future.
1. Bradley’s History of the Seychelles Vol II. p301-2. [Retrieved from YM Raja Kamariah Raja Kamaralzaman’s personal archival collection obtained from the National Archives at Mahé, Seychelles]
2. Laman Rasmi Pejabat DYMM Sultan Perak
3. YM Raja Kamariah Raja Kamaralzaman’s personal archival collection
4. The National Archives. [Visiting Card: Sultan Abdullah of Perak. Bradlaugh/1708(4). 15/12/1890]
- A detailed appraisal of the events surrounding the assassination of JWW Birch has been posted on Sembangkuala (in Bahasa Malaysia) here.↩
- Mahé and Félicité are islands of the Seychelles, which has in total a number of 42 islands.↩
- The Ex-Sultan of Perak. Straits Times Weekly Issue. 30 August 1889. p2. This short article described a visit by John Henniker-Heaton, a British MP, to Sultan Abdullah, following which he wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies urging that Tuanku was allowed to visit England.↩