Sultan Abdullah’s reply to the charges by the Colonial Office in Singapore, 1876

In response to the letter of demand sent by John Douglas, the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements in Singapore, Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II provided a number of rebuttals to the accusation made by the British Government regarding the assassination of JWW Birch. At this time, Sultan Abdullah had already been brought to Singapore[1].

This is a photograph taken c.1875 at Bandar Bahru of Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II (centre, seated) and his people, including his chiefs which include Dato' Sagor (circled, standing behind Sultan Abdullah). JWW Birch is seen seated on Sultan Abdullah's left, with a young Raja Chulan on his lap. (Source: Google Images)

Sultan Abdullah’s letter dated 6 October 1876 reads as follows:

Singapore, 6 October 1876

Sir,

We forward, for the information of His Excellency, the following answers to the charges preferred against us (in connection with the murder of Mr. Birch) in your letter of the 16th September 1876.

  1. In the month of July 1875, we were residing at Quallah Kintah; on or about the 18th July we left Quallah Kinta for Kotah-Stea in order to meet Mr. Birch and Captain Kim Chung[sic] to make arrangements for the collection of the revenue, and to settle the annual sums to be paid to the different chiefs. On our way to Kotah-Stea it was necessary for us to pass Durian Sebatang; we anchored at that place outside in the anchorage for one or two hours; as the tide was running strongly up the river, we did not land there; we attended no meeting of chiefs there, nor did we receive any chiefs on board our boat.  Mr. Birch’s boat, the Quedah, on which we went to Kotah-Stea, was anchored there at the same time.  We weighed anchor about an hour before sunset, and Mr Birch’s steamer followed and passed us. We arrived at Kotah-Stea on or about the 20th July, and remained there four or five days, from Kotah-Stea we went to Batta Rabbit, where neigher at Durian Sabatang or elsewhere delivered any papers to any chiefs, our authorising them to murder Mr. Birch; nor did we ever hold or attend any meeting at which his murder was discussed or resolved upon.
  2. Since the date of the Treaty of Pancore we have never sent Nacodah Kekah (Ketek) or any one else to Penang to purchase muskets and ammunition, nor since that date have such been purchased with our knowledge or by our authority.
  3. We never held at Batta Rabbit or elsewhere any meeting of Perak chiefs and others during the month of August 1875, to discuss plans for the murder of Mr. Birch.  We had been informed during that month, o shortly before, that His Excellency the Governor intended visiting our country, and we consulted and prepared measures for his reception with our principal officers, the Datu Laksamana, the Datu Shahbandar, and the Raja Makotah. In the month of June 1875, one of our children was sick at Batta Rabbit, and on that occasion, according to our custom, Mein Berhantu took place.
  4. We never at any time delivered to Maharajah Lela a written paper under our Chop authorising him to murder Mr. Birch, nor have we ever written to him any paper respecting Mr. Birch.  Some papers with forged Chops of ours, have, as we believe His Excellency is aware, been found in Perak, three of which we delivered to Mr. Davidson; it came to our knowledge at some considerable time ago, one of our subjects, Hajee Mohammad Syed, procured a new chop to be made in Singapore, still in the possession of Hajee Mohammed Syed, for whose arrest a warrant was issued by Mr. Davidson; he, however, has managed to escape into the jungle.
  5. We never, in the month of October 1875, or at any other time, convened a meeting of the chiefs and other people at Durian Sabatang, or at any other place at which it was resolved to murder Mr. Birch.  Nor did we ever at any time supply arms and provisions to the Maharajah Lela, Datu Sagor, or Dyang Murraweh for the purpose of enabling them to kill Mr. Birch.
  6. Mr. Birch was murdered without our knowledge and without our authorisation.
  7. Shortly after Mr. Birch became our Resident at Perak, he had reason to be much annoyed with the Maharajah Lela.  And from that time we ceased to have any friendly communication with the Maharajah Lela; and we deny that we at any time sent Along-Nor, or Wan Hussain, to inform him that though we could not assist him openly, we would assist him with arms and provisions.
  8. We never sent any rice to Maharajah Lela, nor did we know that the Maharajah was preparing to attack the Residency.
  9. We never removed a large number or any number of arms or ammunition from Batta Rabbit to Durian Sabatang for the purpose of assisting the Maharajah Lela in resisting the British officers and in attacking the British Residency. We received at Batta Rabbit the news of Mr. Birch’s murder on the night of that day it occured, from Captain Welner at Bandar Bahru. Next day, about 3 p.m., we left Batta Rabbit with about 30 followers; we stayed that night at Durian Sabatang, where we left our family; we arrived at Bandar Bahru the following night, and after staying there about a day returned to Durian Sabatang; some days after that we sent to Batta Rabbit for five muskets belonging to us, given to us by Mr. Birch, which we made use of to arm our watchmen.
  10. On or about the month of March 1876, we were residing at Pulo Dya, we received information that the Datu Sagor was hiding in the neighbourhood, and we at once ordered the Shahbandar to take steps for his arrest; he was apprehended and detained by us on board the Shahbandar’s boat, and in his custody. On the following day we sent him up to Bandar Bahru in charge of the Shahbandar. We deny that we ever advised the Datu Sagor to hide in the jungle, or received and protected him.
  11. His Excellency will, we doubt not, fully the recognise the difficulty we have in doing little more than giving in the answers. We submit to him our emphatic denial of the truth of the charges preferred against us, inasmuch as His Excellency not having furnished us with the evidence taken before the Commission of Enquiry in Perak, we are in entire ignorance was well of the names of our accusers as of the evidence on which the charges against us are founded. We would further remark, that the whole of our conduct and acts since the Treaty of Pancore, and since the appointment of Mr. Birch as Resident, with our full concurrence and indeed at our request, is most conclusive proof against our having been in any way concerned in the murder of Mr. Birch, an event which, taken in consideration of the concurrences in Perak in 1874 and 1875, it would have been the height of folly, we may say of madness on our part, to endeavour to bring about.

(signed) Sultan Abdullah of Perak

J. Douglas. C.M.G.
Colonial Secretary,
Straits Settlements

For the translation of Sultan Abdullah’s reply in Bahasa Melayu, the .pdf files can be read here:
Page 1
Page 2

Glossary:
Quallah Kintah – Kuala Kinta
Kotah-Stea – Kota Setia, near Teluk Intan
Captain Kim Chung – Kapitan China Chung Keng Quee
Quedah – Kedah
Batta Rabbit – Batak Rabit
Treaty of Pancore – Treaty of Pangkor

Footnote:
[1]Following the death of JWW Birch, Sultan Abdullah was brought to Singapore by the British on 4 September 1876.

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Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia

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

Sir,

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

Footnote:
[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).

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Source:  Arkib Negara Malaysia

27th Sultan of Perak: Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Muzaffar Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah I (1886-1887)

Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Muzaffar Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah I (1886 - 1887). Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia

Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Muzaffar Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah I (1886 - 1887). Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia

According to Frank Swettenham, Sultan Yusuf was not the kind of man who makes friends and influences people but he had great gifts – intelligence, ability and he was a strong man with a will. He also added that Sultan Yusuf was a ruler who intended to rule. That was why it took him a while to reach the throne. Sultan Yusuf had been born to high office, being the eldest son of Sultan Abdullah Muhammad 1 (1851-1857).

In those days at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Perak was beginning to break up. During that time, it was no longer possible to keep the State really united under the control of a single authority. It became necessary to share the office of Sultan between the branches of the royal house. At any time, the Sultan was drawn from one branch of the dynasty, the Raja Muda from another and the Raja Bendahara from the third.

Thus, when a Sultan mangkat, the Raja Muda would become the next Sultan, the Raja Bendahara would be promoted to Raja Muda and the Sultan’s son would become Raja Bendahara. Everyone had a fair share and the Sultan’s son would become Sultan eventually if he lived long enough.

Nevertheless, the election of royal princes to these offices rested with the great chiefs of Perak, who understandably preferred to elect a Sultan (and the heir presumptive) that would serve their benefits and interest. It was not surprising that they did not like strong men like Raja Yusuf. As a result, Raja Yusuf was denied to the throne three times – during the reign of Sultan Jaafar (1857- 1865), Sultan Ali (1865-1871) and Sultan Ismail (1871-1874).

In the 1850s, the chiefs were divided themselves. The Upper Perak chiefs around the region Kuala Kangsar were at loggerheads with the Lower Perak group around Durian Sebatang (near Teluk Intan). It was during this time that a civil war existed between Sultan Abdullah Muhammad I with Raja Muda Ngah Jaafar and most of the chiefs of Perak, especially those from Lower Perak. Later, Sultan Abdullah I had to flee his palace in Durian Sebatang and sought refuge in exile at the residence of Datuk Laksamana Tok Janggut. Mat Amin (later Dato’ Laksmana) made his reputation in this war and was later chief of Durian Sebatang and became the real power in Lower Perak.

Raja Yusuf took this opportunity to enter boldly into the fighting. He did not win battles but he made a name for himself as a formidable warrior and a strong character.  However, the war dragged on inconclusively until the death of his father.

According to custom, Raja Yusuf should then have been elected Raja Bendahara, as the son of the deceased Sultan. However, the chiefs would not elect their arch-enemy of the civil war to lord it over them. They felt that he would be a tyrannical Sultan in due course, and they appointed an outsider, Raja Ismail of Siak, to be Raja Bendahara in order to keep Raja Yusuf out of the succession to the throne. Raja Yusuf was repeatedly passed over in 1865 and again in 1871, when the subsequents Sultans mangkat and new appointments had to be made.

Raja Yusuf then lived in his village at Senggang, opposite to Kuala Kangsar by the Perak river, brooding in bitter disappointment. He had no friends and power to claim what he considered his due.

Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin (seated centre) seen here with Raja Muda Idris (seated left) and Sir Hugh Low, the British Resident of Perak. (Source: M.A. Fawzi, Cempaka Sari: Sejarah Kesultanan Negeri Perak)

Then in 1872, his fortunes began to mend. There was now a near civil war between two rival contestants for the throne of Perak, Raja Muda Abdullah and Raja Bendahara Ismail, after the demise of Almarhum Sultan Ali. Raja Abdullah, being in need of good fighting men, invited Raja Yusuf to join him. The price for Raja Yusuf’s support was that Raja Abdullah would make him Raja Muda. Although the Sultan alone would not able to make such appointment, nonetheless, Raja Yusuf clung to the title, as to him it was a step forward in his long-thwarted dues.

The year 1874 saw Perak came under British protection and 1875 was the year of Malay reaction to it. There was much coming and going along the Perak river in 1875. Now, Raja Yusuf was the only chief of consequence left in Perak. Following the exile of Sultan Muda Ismail to Johor and Sultan Abdullah Muhammad Shah II to the Seychelles as a result of the assasination of JWW Birch, as Raja Muda he was made Regent in the Sultan’s absence, with the title of Wakil Sultan. Together with the Sir Hugh Low, the second British Resident for Perak, Raja Muda Yusuf was instrumental in developing Perak into a successful and peaceful state.

At first, the British were not very confident about bringing forward Raja Yusuf in this way. However, the British later thought that it was necessary for Perak to have a head of state of royal stature, and to ascertain whether he was fit to be entrusted with the governing of the state. According to the British, Raja Yusuf was a clear-thinking leader and had enough skills to grasp the realities of the situation. It was in 1886 when the British decided that Raja Yusuf was to finally become the Sultan after he had successfully completed his period of probation and Sultan Abdullah was evidently not coming back from exile in the Seychelles. Raja Yusuf was then made Sultan of Perak, styled as Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin Muzaffar Shah, and made his residence in Sayong.

Makam Sultan Yusuf

The makam of Almarhum Sultan Yusuf (Marhum Gharirullah). (Source: Laman Rasmi Pejabat SultanPerak)

Unfortunately, Sultan Yusuf did not live long enough especially after much disappointment he had faced. Tuanku was still an active man despite his years. It was described that Sultan Yusuf began to be troubled with pains in his head, which was the onset of a brain tumour. Being the strong-willed man that he was, Tuanku was able to ignore his symptoms from this terminal disease for some time. Tuanku mangkat on 26 July 1887, a year after he became the 27th Sultan of Perak.

A photo of YAM Raja Haji Johor ibni Almarhum Sultan Yusuf Sharifuddin, who was Raja Kecil Tengah. (Photo courtesy of YM Raja Muhaiyuddin Raja Alias)

Sultan Yusuf was known to be physically stout, a tall man with grey hair and a white moustache, a powerful figure with a bull neck. In his face, there was a look of exceeding haughtiness. He walked with feet turned out at “ten-to-two” (ngempor in Perak Malay) in blue canvas shoes with something of waddle. He carried a stave of spear in his hand. However, the fact that he could not read and write restricted his activity.

Sultan Yusuf had four sons and a daughter – Raja Mansur, Raja Muhammad Azzam, Raja Pendawa, Raja Johor (later Raja Kechil Tengah) and Raja Perempuan Nuteh Aishah.

For the family tree of Sultan Yusuf, click HERE*.

Almarhum was interred in Sayong and was conferred the posthumous title Marhum Gharirullah.

Footnote:
[*] The attached family tree is not exhaustive. SembangKuala would be grateful if any of family members or readers could provide any additional information.

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Reference:
1. Warrior Sultan was disliked by subjects. The Straits Times. 1956 June 23.
2. Laman Rasmi Pejabat DYMM Sultan Perak
3. M.A. Fawzi Basri. Cempaka Sari: Sejarah Kesultanan Negeri Perak. Yayasan Perak; 1986.
4. The Straits Times. 20 November 1875 November 20.