The Golden Chersonese and the way thither, by Isabella L. Bird

A Chapter on Selangor*

Selangor — Capabilities of Selangor — Natural Capabilities — Lawlessness in Selangor — British Interference in Selangor — A Hopeful Outlook

Selangor is a small State lying between 2 degrees 34’, and 3 degrees 42’ N. Its coast-line is about one hundred and twenty miles in length. Perak is its northern boundary, Sungei Ujong its southern, and some of the small States of the Negri Sembilan and unexplored jungle and mountains separate it from Pahang on the east. It is watered by the Selangor, Klang and Langat rivers, which rise in the hills of its eastern frontier. Its population is not accurately known, but the result of an attempt to estimate it, made by the Resident in 1876, is fifteen thousand Chinese and from two thousand to three thousand Malays. Mr. Douglas, the late Resident, puts the Malay population at a higher figure, and estimates the aboriginal population at one thousand, but this is probably largely in excess of their actual numbers.

[*In offering this very slight sketch of Selangor to my readers as prefatory to the letters which follow, I desire to express my acknowledgments specially to a valuable paper on “Surveys and Explorations of the Native States of the Malay Peninsula,” by Mr. Daly, Superintendent of Public Works and Surveys, Selangor, read before the Royal Geographical Society on May 8, 1882. I have also made use of a brief account of the Native Malay States by Mr. Swettenham, Assistant Colonial Secretary to the Straits Settlements Government, published in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, and of “Our Malay Conquests” by Sir P. Benson Maxwell, late Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements.]

The wealth of Selangor lies in its apparently inexhaustible tin mines. The range of hills which forms the backbone of the Malay Peninsula rises in places to a height of seven thousand feet, and it is from this range that the alluvial detritus is washed down, beneath which is deposited the layer of ore or wash, which varies from four inches to ten feet in thickness. The supply of this ore is apparently inexhaustible, but no veins have as yet been found. The mine of Ampagnan only, near Kwala Lumpor, the capital, gives employment to over one thousand Chinamen, and each can extract in a year one thousand pounds weight of white smelted tin valued at 35 pounds sterling. This mineral wealth is the magnet which, according as the price of tin is higher or lower, attracts into Selangor more or fewer Chinamen. The chief source of the revenue of the State has been the export duty on tin.

The low lands on the coast are fringed with mangroves, which thrive in blue mud and heavy clays, and these lands, when drained, are well adapted for sugar. Wet rice grows well in the swampy valleys which separate the minor ranges, and dry rice on the rises; while tapioca, tobacco, pepper and gambier thrive on the medium heights. The sago palm flourishes on wet lands. The high hills are covered with primeval forests, and the Malays have neither settlements nor plantations upon them. It is believed that these hills, at a height of from two thousand five hundred to three thousand five hundred feet, are admirably adapted for the growth of Arabian coffee, cinchona and tea; and some Ceylon coffee planters are expecting an era of success in Selangor. At present, however, the necessary labor is not available. The soil in the interior on the mountain slopes consists of a light red and yellow clay, the product of a comparatively recent rock decomposition, covered with vegetable mould from eight to twelve inches thick. There are no droughts, and the rainfall, distributed pretty fairly over the year, averages about one hundred and thirty inches annually. The climate is remarkably healthy, and diseases of locality are unknown. Land can be purchased for eight shillings per acre on terms of deferred payments.

One curious feature of Selangor, as of Perak, is the occurrence of isolated hills of limestone varying from eighty to one thousand feet in height. At Batu there are magnificent limestone caves, richly adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. The dome of one cavern is three hundred and fifty-five feet from floor to roof. An important fact connected with these caverns is that they contain thousands of tons of bats’ manure, which may be as valuable as guano to future planters. Between the heavy clays and blue mud of the mangrove swamps and the granite and sandstone of the mountain ranges, the undulating rises are mainly composed of red clay, sandstones, shales, and granitic and feldspathic rocks, with extensive deposits of laterite in red clays on the surface. In the valleys along the rivers the soil consists of rich alluvial deposits.

Undoubtedly Selangor has great capabilities, and if the difficulties of the labor question can be satisfactorily disposed of, it is likely that the new offer of leases for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, subject to improvement clauses, will attract a number of planters to its fertile soil and wholesome climate. Selangor includes three large districts, each on a considerable river of its own — Selangor, Klang, and Langat.

The Sultan was actually, as he is now nominally, supreme, but the story of disturbances under this government is a very old one, internal strife having been the normal condition of the State ever since Europeans have been acquainted with it. It seems to have been an undoubted fact that its rivers and island channels were the resort of pirates, and that its Rajahs devoted themselves with much success to harrying small vessels trading in the Straits of Malacca.

The name of this State is not found in the earlier Malayan records. Negri Calang, or the land of tin, was the designation of this part of the peninsula, and this depopulated region was formerly a flourishing dependency under the Malay sovereigns of Malacca. The population, such as it is, is chiefly composed of the descendants of a colony of Bugis from Goa in the Celebes, who settled in Selangor at the beginning of the eighteenth century under a Goa chief, who was succeeded by Sultan Ibrahim, an intense hater and sturdy opponent of the Dutch. He attacked Malacca, looted and burned its suburbs, and would have captured it but for the opportune arrival of a Dutch fleet. He surprised the Dutch garrison of Selangor by night, routed it, and captured all its heavy artillery and ammunition, but was afterward compelled to restore his plunder, and acknowledge himself a vassal of the Dutch East India Company. After this he attacked the Siamese, and was mainly instrumental in driving them out of Perak.

He was succeeded in 1826 by an ignoble prince, and under his weak and oppressive rule, and under the extortions and cruelties of his illegitimate brothers, the State lapsed into decay. Mr. Newbold, who had charge of a military post on the Selangor frontier in 1833, witnessed many of the atrocities perpetrated by these Bugis princes, who committed piracies, robbed, plundered, and levied contributions on the wretched Malays, without hindrance. In Mr. Newbold’s day the whole population of Kwala Linggi, where he was stationed, fled by night into the Malacca territory, where they afterward settled to escape from the merciless exactions to which they were subjected. Slavery and debt slavery added to the miseries of the country, and it is believed that by emigration and other causes the Malay population was reduced to between two thousand and three thousand souls.

Only one event in the recent history of Selangor deserves notice. This miserable ruler, Sultan Mohammed, had no legitimate offspring, but it was likely that at his death his near relation, Tuanku Bongsu, a Rajah universally liked and respected by his countrymen, would have been elected to succeed him. Unfortunately for the good of the State this Rajah took upon himself the direction of the tin mines at Lukut, formerly worked by about four hundred Chinese miners on their own account, paying a tenth of their produce to the Sultan. One dark, rainy night in September, 1834, these miners rose upon their employers, burned their houses, and massacred them indiscriminately, including this enlightened Rajah; and his wife and children, in attempting to escape, were thrown into the flames of their house. The plunder obtained by the Chinese, exclusive of the jewels and gold ornaments of the women, was estimated at 3,500 pounds. This very atrocious business was believed to have been aided and abetted, if not absolutely concocted, by Chinese merchants living under the shelter of the British flag at Malacca. With the death of Tuanku Bongsu all hope of prosperity for Selangor under native rule was extinguished.

Matters became very bad in the years between 1867 and 1873, the fighting among the rival factions leading to a more complete depopulation of the country, not only by the loss in party fights, but by the exodus of peaceable cultivators. Lawlessness increased to such an extent that murders and robberies were of continual occurrence. Mr. Swettenham, the Assistant Colonial Secretary, affirms that it is hardly an exaggeration to say that every man above twenty years old had killed at least one man, and that even the women were not unaccustomed to use deadly weapons against each other.

The history of the way in which we gained a footing in Selangor is a tangled one, as the story is told quite differently by men holding high positions in the Colonial Government, who unquestionably are “all honorable men.” Our first appearance on the scene was in 1871, when the Rinaldo destroyed Selangor, for reasons which will be found in the succeeding letter. In November, 1873, an act of piracy was committed on the Jugra river near the Sultan’s residence. On this Sir A. Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements, with a portion of H.B.M.‘s China fleet, went to Langat and induced the Sultan to appoint a court to try the pirates, three of the ships and two Government Commissioners remaining to watch the trial. The prisoners were executed, the war-ships patroled the coast for a time, and everything became quiet.

In 1874, however, there were new disturbances and alleged piracies, and Tunku Dia Udin, the Sultan’s son-in-law and viceroy, overmatched by powerful Rajahs, gladly welcomed an official, who was sent by Sir A. Clarke, “to remain with the Sultan should he desire it, and, by his presence and advice give him confidence, and assistance to carry out the promises which he had made,” which were, in brief, to suppress piracy and keep good order in his dominions; not a difficult task, it might be supposed, for it is estimated that he had only about two thousand Malay subjects left, and the Chinese miners were under the efficient rule of their “Capitan,” Ah Loi.

In January, 1875, at Tunku Dia Udin’s request, a British Resident was sent to Selangor. Some time afterward the viceroy retired to Kedah, and the Sultan has been “advised” into a sort of pensioned retirement, the Resident levying, collecting, and expending the taxes. Sir Andrew Clarke was very fortunate in his selection of the Sultan’s first adviser, for Mr. Davidson, according to all accounts, had an intimate knowledge of the Malays, as well as a wise consideration for them; he had a calm temper and much good sense, and is held in honorable remembrance, not only for official efficiency but for having gained the sincere regard of the people of Selangor. His legal training and high reputation in the colonial courts were of great value in the settlement of the many difficult questions which arose during his brief administration. He was succeeded in 1876 by Mr. Bloomfield Douglas, who has held the office of Resident for six years.

The revenue of Selangor amounted in 1881 to 47,045 pounds, derived mainly from the export duty on tin, the import duty on opium, and the letting of opium and other licenses and farms. The expenditure was 46,876 pounds, the heaviest items being for “establishments,” “pensions,” and “works and buildings.” The outlook for Selangor appears to be a peaceful one, and it is to be hoped that, under the energetic administration of Sir F. A. Weld, its capabilities will be developed and its anomalies of law and taxation reformed, and that both Malays and foreigners may experience those advantages of good order and security which result from a just rule.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31