In The Footsteps of Isabella Bird

The lost documentary

Part Seven: Captain Murray the self exiled man



A "Gharry" arriving at Dato Klana's house in Seremban

Finally they arrived at Nyatoh where these days, with a bit of luck, you can find the road leading to a run down health resort. It is probably closed now due to the Covid-19 restrictions. It was here though, that Captain Murray, the British Resident, finally met them. He had a couple of antiquated buggies that took them to a Chinese village where he managed to organise some coconut milk for them to drink.

Commander Patrick Murray, R.N.R, the British Resident of Sungei Ujong, was said, in his official obituary, to have "
energy of character coupled with tact and discrimination." Isabella was less impressed: “Captain Murray was thoroughly a gentleman, but the last person to be in such a position requiring tact and finesse.”

He was only thirty-eight but his conversation was disconnected and he said he was never happy. That is about as candid as a Victorian could ever get on mental health issues. He forewent the pleasure of showing Isabella about Seremban, and left that to Captain Hayward

Captain Haywood took her to a Chinese temple where she complained that nobody was wearing the beautiful gowns she had seen worn in China. The local Chinese looked skinny, wore loose blue or brown cotton trousers, and were ravaged by opium addiction. She tells us that,
“Every coolie smokes his three whiffs of opium every night.”

A Chinese coolie and his opium as drawn by Isabella Bird

In 1828 there had been a thousand Chinese tin miners in Sungei Ujong, but the Malays massacred them. In 1879, despite British ambivalence in their attitudes towards the Chinese, there were ten thousand under British protection. Many a British official had spent time with Raja Brookes, the white raja of Sarawak, who had to face down an attempted coup by the Chinese. Brookes said of them that they were their own worse enemies. He barely escaped having his head stuck on a pole by the rebellious Chinese miners, and his nephew, who had spent his childhood among the Iban and Dyak, rallied the tribes, suspended the ban on their head hunting, and sent them up the river to Kuching to seize the place back. Despite Brookes' methods being seen as dubious among many in Singapore and Westminster, the experiences of his interns filtered into the mind set of those on the ground administering the peninsula.

In the meantime, Mr Hayward took Isabella to a gambling hall twice. For educational purposes, no doubt!

“Captain Hayward has a reserve of quiet strength which I should like to see fully drawn upon. He has the scar of a spear wound on his brow, which Captain Murray says was received in holding sixty armed men at bay, while he secured the retreat of some helpless persons.”

She also dropped in on Dato Bandar, Dato Klana's second in command, but also hated rival. The full title is Data Shahbandar, who had the rights to collect taxes along the Linggi River, a right that Dato Klana somewhat resented.

Dato Bandar had collaborated with the anti-British forces that had caused Captain Murray’s moustache to twitch. He was thus in habitual opposition to any reform or construction project that Captain Murray attempted. How Dato Bandar managed to escape being hung in the rather chaotic and bloody chaos that had recently raged in the region, is a story we will get to.

When Isabella met Dato Bandar, he was in a check shirt and a sarong, and tending to his orchard, which somehow rubbed Isabella up the wrong way. She considered the check shirt somewhat vulgar. The Dato Bandar was however very polite and after getting suitably dressed, he offered her champagne, because that was how you got on the good side of Englishmen, especially if they were English Ladies. And doubly especially while you were supporting various armed groups going off to fight them. Isabella for once declined the champagne, which, I am sure will have been somewhat warm and flat, and settled for local coffee.

Nothing shows more the honesty,” she said, “and excellence of Captain Murray's purposes than that he should be as much respected and loved as he is in spite of a manner utterly opposed to all Oriental notions of dignity whether Malay or Chinese. I have mentioned his abruptness, as his sailor like heartiness, but they never came into such strong relief as at the Dato Bandar's.”

Dato Klana and Dato Bandar were violently opposed to one another and yet they lived pretty much as neighbours under the pax Britannica. This did not necessarily stop Dato Bandar’s political activities and with Dato Klana out of the way, one suspects that poor old Captain Murray was placed under a lot of stress.

One does have a sense that Captain Murray was suffering from PTSD! If one goes to the place where Captain Murray had his residency, one finds that it is now called Channer Road. The history of Captain Murray’s state of mind is buried in these street names. Channer Road is named after a British Officer who won the first VC in Malaya fighting on Bukit Putus. The Malay commander that he was fighting was Raja Siamang Gagap, the very name of the road that leads into Channer Road.

The next Blog will deal with the battle of Bukit Putus.


You can find these books either here:

or here:

All the quotations from Isabella’s book are by permission of the publisher.

If you are interested in finding out more for yourself, a great resource for researching these histories can be found at
and the
Singapore National Archives.

So, do not forget to SUBSCRIBE to the YouTube Channel where I shall announce each blog as it is posted. Also check out our other documentaries on The Hidden History of Johor Bahru and The Hidden History of Johor Lama. Those are documentaries that we actually finished!

And please come back here to continue reading the accounts of the various histories that we would have been covering in our documentary.

What I have done is that I have taken the script and turned it into various short blogs with various old photographs and illustrations.

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