The charges against Sultan Abdullah following JWW Birch’s assassination

An artist's impression of Birch issuing threats to Sultan Abdullah and his chiefs. Birch's methods were not liked by the Perak Malays and this led to his assassination at Pasir Salak in November 1875. (Source: Sunday Mail, 1992 March 22)

A letter of demand was sent by John Douglas, the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements in Singapore, to Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II on 16 September 1876, demanding an explanation of his denial in the conspiracy of the assassination of J.W.W. Birch. The letter reads as follows:

Colonial Secretary’s Office, Singapore.

16 September, 1876


I am directed by his excellency the Governor to inform you that the evidence taken before the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the circumstances connected with the murder of Mr. Birch, late Her Britannic Majesty’s Resident, Perak, shows that for some time before the deed was committed you were conspiring with certain chiefs of Perak and other persons to effect that murder, and to drive Mr. Birch’s staff out of Perak, and that the murder of the British resident, and other outrageous therewith connected, were actually committed under your authority and with your assistance; further, that after the said murder was committed, you assisted and protected some of the perpetrators thereof.

The following are some of the covert acts alleged against you viz: –

  1. That on or about the 22nd day of July 1875, you were present at Durian Sabatang, at a meeting of various chiefs of Perak convened by you, when it was resolved to murder Mr. Birch; and you approved of the resolution, and discussed at the said meeting different suggestions for carrying it out, and at the same meeting you delivered papers to several of the chiefs, authorising them to murder Mr. Birch.
  2. That shortly after the meeting mentioned in the preceding paragraph you sent one Nakodah Kekak to Penang, to purchase ten cases of muskets, and 20 piculs of gunpowder were purchased, and, by your directions distributed among certain chiefs of Perak, for the purpose of carrying out the resolution before mentioned, and for the further purpose of driving the staff of the British Resident out of Perak.
  3. That some time in the month of August 1875, you held meetings of Perak Chiefs and others, on three consecutive nights, in your house at Bata Rabbit[1], when ‘main-berhantu‘ was performed, and you and the said chiefs and others then discussed various plans for effecting the murder of the said Mr. Birch.
  4. That on or about the 5th day of October 1875, you were present at Pasir Panjang, you delivered to the Maharajah Lela a written paper under your Chop, authorising him to kill the said Mr. Birch.
  5. That on or about the 27th day of October 1875, you were present at Durian Sabatang at a meeting of the Chiefs and other people of Perak convened by you, at which meeting it was resolved that the said Mr. Birch should be killed at Pasir Salak, and at the same meeting you supplied arms and provisions to the Maharaja Lela, Datu Sagor, and Dyang Murrawah, for the purpose of enabling them to kill Mr. Birch.
  6. That the said Mr Birch was murdered at Pasir Salak on the 2nd day of November 1875, and that this was done with your knowledge and under your authority.
  7. That, after the murder of the said Mr. Birch, you were in friendly comunication with the Maharaja Lela, one of the murderers, and, on or about the 5th day of November 1875, sent Along Nor and Nan Hussain to inform him that, though you could not then assist him openly, you would do so with money and provisions.
  8. That on or about the 6th of November 1875, you sent, for the use of the Maharajah Lela, three boats containing 500 gantangs of rice, knowing at the same time that he had just previously taken an active part in the murder of Mr. Birch, and was then preparing to attack the Residency at Bandar Bahru.
  9. That on or about the 10th day of November 1875, you took from Batak Rabbit to Durian Sabatang a large number of arms and ammunitions, for the purpose of assisting the Maharajah Lela in resisting the British officers and in attacking the British Residency at Bandar Bahru.
  10. That, after the murder of the said Mr. Birch, you received and protected Datu Sagor, and on or about the 10th March 1876, advised him to hide himself in the jungle, well knowing that he had taken an active part in the murder of the said Mr. Birch.

The foregoing acts have been set out for the purpose of giving you an opportunity of denying and explaining them, and of explaining your conection with the various perons who perpetrated the murder of Mr. Birch and the outrages therewith connected.

I am directed to inform you that His Excellency the Governor expects you to furnish me with a full answer, an explanation in writing, before the 7th day of October next.

I have, &c

(signed) John Douglas

His Highness Sultan Abdullah Mahomed Shah
Sultan of Perak

For the translation of these charges against Sultan Abdullah in Bahasa Melayu, the .pdf files can be read here:
Page 1
Page 2

[1]Batak Rabit was the residence of Sultan Abdullah, near Teluk Intan. Batak Rabit was named after Batak mercenaries that comes from the Batak District in Sumatra that was brought by Raja Laut during the Selangor civil war, who had their ears and noses grossly bangled which hung out (hence, rabit or ghabet in the Perak dialect).


Source:  Arkib Negara Malaysia

5 thoughts on “The charges against Sultan Abdullah following JWW Birch’s assassination

  1. Interesting, very detail show cause letter…! The letter show that British knew a lot what was happening before the killing of Birch..! Hmm….!

    Some input on the names appeared above;

    1. Dyang Murrawah = Daeng Murewah / Merewah?. Not much information on him as we only knew and told that only Dato Maharaja Lela and Dato Sagor willing to kill Birch but Daeng was also given the provisions.
    2. Along Nor = Alang Nor (??)
    3. Nan Hussain = Wan Hussain(Temenggung’s right man)

    Mr Editors, do you have the reply letter from Sultan Abdullah to Mr Douglas? I wonder why British did not proceed to charge Sultan Abdullah instead they tricked him and the parties to attend a dinner on a ship then sailed to Singapore then to Seycelles.

  2. Salams dear editor(s),

    Thank you for this very informative post. Would you have the records of His Highness’ reply to these charges and what ensued afterwards? I am especially interested to know this after reading the Suffolk’s MP claim (British Parliament hansard published elsewhere here)of the dubious nature of the evidence against the Sultan which had led to his sentencing.

    And I’m also interested to know how the Sultan was tried. What sort of court was assembled for the purpose, I wonder. Open court? Special Court? Who held the roles of Prosecutor, Defence, Judges? How long did it last? Where was it held? Prior to this, no Ruler was known to have had to undergo such, er,’circumstance’.


    Raja Mariam bt Tengku Khillah bt Raja Khairul Kamariah bt Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad II

  3. Pingback: Sultan Abdullah’s reply to the charges by the Colonial Office in Singapore, 1876 « SembangKuala BLOG

  4. Who is Mr Seputom? Some addressed him Sipitom and Si Puntong and a lot more…so how at last? I heard he fled away till no end. What is about Slavery? Not clear enough….sorry I may not come across all pages. Perhaps You can send me…I wish and thanks a lot for the good work!

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