Tuan Eckhardt: an Englishman in a Perak Sultan’s court

Who would have thought that the first Comptroller of the Perak Royal Household was a Muslim Englishman, hence being the first non-Malay to be interred at the Al-Ghufran Royal Mausoleum at Bukit Chandan. Raja Mariam Raja Mohamed Iskandar writes about the man known to many of the early 20th century populace of Kuala as Tuan Eckhardt.

I first stumbled upon the name ‘Tuan Eckhardt’ when it was casually mentioned by my sister, Raja Azmatul Azfa, that “… dia (Eckhardt) tu oghang puteh. Jadi bila dia meningge, Bah[1] bawak jenazah ke rumah dia (Eckhardt was a Englishman. So, when he died, Bah made sure the preparation of the body for his funeral was done at her home)”, in an interview about Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Kelsom. Intrigued, especially after knowing that the Raja Perempuan had a hand in introducing Islam to Tuan Eckhardt, and had insisted on giving him a proper ‘send off’ upon his death in the 50’s, I probed further. Unfortunately, my sister could not offer much more except that he passed away a Muslim, unmarried, and was the Comptroller of the Royal Household of Perak during the reign of Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

The portrait of Tuan Aris Eckhardt Abdullah that now hangs at The Idris Club in Kuala Kangsar. (Photo courtesy of The Idris Club)

I sought my mother’s[2] help and she too had very little memory of Tuan Eckhardt. Interestingly, she remembers him as ‘Schumacher’, and that he walked with a cane and was a very good cook. Apparently, he had this peculiar habit of cooking in solitude and would not allow anyone anywhere near the kitchen while he was at work. My mother too had believed he had no family to call his own. Recently, I stumbled upon his name again, and this time, it was on his tombstone. Excitingly, I had discovered his burial site and it was none other than at the Al-Ghufran Royal Mausoleum in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar. A handsome tomb of white marble, but rather obscured by what looked like overgrown jasmines. Still, very little is known of what now seems an enigma of a person. Sadly, many who might have known him some 50 years ago have also passed on or whose memories are now failing.

Tuan Eckhardt was born H.C. Eckhardt on 27 
April 1877, an Englishman of German descent whose forefathers were from Frankfurt. There were two letters written to the New Straits Times by his son, Ahmad Aris Eckhardt, which described that he was a brilliant mathematician although he had majored in literature from the University of Cambridge. Eckhardt had quite a long and illustrious career in Malaya, beginning in 1899 at Kajang as an Assistant District Officer and second class magistrate. From 1911 until 1928, he held the post of British Advisor in the states of Perlis, Kelantan and Kedah. In 1924, he wrote a book entitled Land Administration and Land Laws in Kedah. In the same year, he took a Kelantanese wife by the name of Che Wan Fatimah and was known as Aris bin Abdullah on reversion to Islam.

Prior to his appointment as the Comptroller of the Royal Household of Almarhum Sultan Iskandar in 1932, Tuan Eckhardt was the Commissioner for Trade and Customs and Chairman of the Retrenchment Commission for the Federated Malay States. The Comptroller of the Royal Household of Perak was a newly created post which he would hold till his death following his retirement from the Malayan Civil Service, having served three Sultans namely Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, Almarhum Sultan Abdul Aziz and Almarhum Sultan Yusuf Izzudin. It was his duty as Comptroller to ensure that the management and affairs of the Royal Household were orderly and efficient. The matter of education and the welfare of the Royal children and the Royal family were close to his heart and he would ensure these were taken good care of during his tenure. Tuan Eckhardt further served Almarhum Sultan Iskandar after his death in his capacity as the Official Administrator of the Almarhum Sultan Iskandar’s estate.

Hale and hearty, Tuan Eckhardt would never miss his afternoon walk in Kuala Kangsar during his years as Comptroller. This fact my mother had affirmed as well. Tuan Eckhardt’s son, Ahmad, had this to say about his father’s habit, “Brandishing his tongkat and clad in white Manila shirt and trousers, with a solar toupee perched on his crew-cut head, he was a familiar figure in the streets or in the town padang where he watched a soccer match or at the Malay College ground to watch a cricket or rugby match.” Described as having an affable and friendly disposition, Tuan Eckhardt was also an enthusiast of Malay culture and heritage, very much like Allahyarham Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard.

As for what Tuan Eckhardt looked like, I turned to Raja Datuk Seri Mansur Raja Razman, previously a Comptroller of the Perak Royal Household as well, who enlightened me that the only known picture of Tuan Eckhardt could be found at the Idris Club. Tuan Eckhardt was probably instrumental in turning the original resthouse of Kuala Kangsar into the Club, renowned during its heyday. For 22 years, from 1932 until 1954, just a year prior to his demise, Tuan Eckhardt was the honorary secretary of the Club, a popular haunt among the British officers and the blue blood. It was reported that he served the Club with dedication and commitment.

The inscription on Allahyarham Tuan Eckhardt's grave at the Al-Ghufran Royal Mausoleum, Bukit Chandan. (Photo: Raja Mariam Raja Mohamed Iskandar)

As for Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Kelsom, this would be her legacy: to offer her home to provide the final rites to her departed relatives and those dear to her. And one such person was Tuan Eckhardt. And I would like to think that for all he had been to the Royal household, Almarhumah had a hand in ensuring that Tuan Eckhardt was given a befitting burial place, hence becoming the first non-Malay to be interred at the Al-Ghufran Royal Mausoleum.

Allahyarham Tuan Aris Eckhardt passed away on 7 January 1955. He was 78.

May Allah bless the soul of Allahyarham Tuan Eckhardt, as well as that of Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Kelsom. Al-Fatihah.

Raja Mariam Raja Mohamed lives in Rapat Setia, Ipoh.

Footnote:
[1]Raja Perempuan Kelsom is the author’s paternal grandmother, hence the term of endearment Bah.
[2]The author’s mother is Tengku Khillah binti Tengku Yahya, one of the grand-daughters of Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II.

_________________________________________

Reference:

1. YM Raja Datuk Seri Mansur Raja Razman
2. YM Raja Azmatul Azfa Raja Mohamed Iskandar
3. YM Tengku Khillah Tengku Yahya
4. YM Raja Yusuf Izzudin Raja Lope / Arkib Negara Malaysia
5. Ahmad Aris Eckhardt. First non-Malay to be buried in royal cemetery. New Straits Times. 1992 May 6.
6. Ahmad Aris Eckhardt. The man fondly known as Tuan Eckhardt. New Straits Times. 1994 December 15.
7. Sultans’ secretaries. The Straits Times. 1932 December 17. p16.
8. FMS Appointments. The Straits Times. 1932 December 20. p12.

6 thoughts on “Tuan Eckhardt: an Englishman in a Perak Sultan’s court

  1. Salams all,

    Raja Mahariz Raja Muzaffar, many thanks for your research and sharing of the two said letters by Ahmad Aris Eckhardt. Valuable information was obtained from these letters, thus lending this essay its credibiity.

  2. Salam.
    I am trying to search for Mohd Amin’s lineage.
    Can you confirm where was Mohd Amin captured by the British?

    Thank you.

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