In The Footsteps of Isabella Bird

The lost documentary

Part Nine: A Right Klanger


BLOG 9 – A Right Klanger

The Sultan’s yacht in Klang.

“Klang is a most misthriven, decayed, dejected, miserable looking place,” announced Isabella.

What we see today is a far cry from what she was confronted with. Now Klang is all part of the urban sprawl of Kuala Lumpur. It is an area with a high Indian population, the product of later migrations to work the various plantations, rubber especially. But in 1879 Klang was a small Chinese village.

“We anchored in front of the village of Klang,” she wrote, “where a large fort on an eminence, with grass embankments in which guns are mounted, is the first prominent object. Above this is a large wooden bungalow with an attap roof, which is the British Residency. There was no air, and the British ensign in front of the house hung limp on the flag staff.”

Bloomfield Douglas

The British Resident was a Mr Bloomfield Douglas. He was given to parading about in grandiose uniforms and shouting at people. Isabella grumbled that his British Residency had the look of an armed camp amidst a hostile population, and rather decried Bloomfield’s more autocratic and untrusting handling of the natives. She said, “I see nothing of the friendly easy going to and fro of Chinese and Malays which was the pleasant feature of the Residency in Sungei Ujong.” Which is a bit rich, considering she also questioned the wisdom of allowing the tactless and damaged Captain Murray little support as he nervously managed his relationships with factions that had been trying to stick his head on a pole.

How Bloomfield Douglas got the job as Resident of Selangor is a bit of a mystery. He had gained his spurs with Raja Brooks of Sarawak, fighting pirates. Then decamped to Australia where he became an official in Darwin issuing mining certificates. It seems that he issued them to relatives, in particular his son-in-law, Dominic Daniel Daly, the very same Daly who turned up on Bukit Putus surveying the land for Henry Velge. Consequently they all got caught with their fingers in the till and Bloomfield was thus sacked and forced to repay all the missing money. He then went bankrupt and naturally got a job as a magistrate in Singapore where one suspects they were relieved to pack him off to Selangor to be the British Resident, or that is, as Sultan Abdul Samad once told Frank Swettenham, future Governor of The Straits Settlements, “be bait on the hook.” And of course nobody cares what happens to the bait.

“The history of the way in which we gained a footing in Selangor,” said Isabella, “is a tangled one, as the story is told quite different by men holding high positions in the Colonial Government, who unquestionably are "all honourable men”.”

Isabella rather pointedly implies that the Official Version of the British intervention was economical with the truth. So, let's try unravel the story.

Selangor was settled by Minangabau and Mandaling from Sumatra and by Bugis from Celebes. And they did not mix. Even in 1879 they looked upon each other as the ugly cousins, and as for the Mandaling…

First let’s go back twelve years. In 1867 the Sultan died and Abdul Samad, a Bugis, pushed aside the Sultan’s son and muscled his way into power.

Sultan Abdul Samad

Abdul Samad then had the chief of Klang, Raja Mahdi, replaced by his own man, a Bugis from Lukut. Lukut at that time was something of a success story. It was a well-run modern town with a booming tin mining industry. The British were very impressed and that, as Abu Bakar in Johor had shown, was a good way of keeping the British from interfering.

Unfortunately, Raja Mahdi was the grandson of the previous Sultan and felt somewhat entitled and somewhat attached to more traditional ways. So Abdul Samad offered Raja Mahdi marriage to his daughter, Princess Arfah, as compensation.

You would have imagined that getting hitched to the Sultan’s daughter was a reasonable loss leader and a quickly produced son would soon see financial returns. However, there was something unattractive about Arfah and Mahdi decided she was no compensation for a loss of a good money-earning piece of river. Raja Mahdi thus rallied the Sumatran forces, the Mandaling and the Minangabau, and took over Klang by force.


Frank Swettenham and Tenku Kudin 1874

Abdul Samad countered by offering his daughter to Tengku Kudin, a powerful prince of Kedah in exchange for his muscle.

In theory this was a shrewd political move. Kudin was friendly with the British, with a similar vision of how a modern 19
th Century state should be run. Consequently, when in British company, he smoked, drank, and on occasions wore a tie! Kudin could smell the money that was to be made by joining forces with the forward thinking Abdul Samad. And Princess Arfah, obviously just needed a firm hand.

Princess Arfah though, was not appreciative of this and complained that Kudin's teeth were too white, "like a dogs" and not filed down and blackened in good old Malay style. The honeymoon was thus not a success and she avoided him afterwards, setting up a very un-majestic and dilapidated household with her father at the palace in Langat.

Emily Innes, the wife of the local British tax officer, described the palace as a scruffy wooden shed. She said it was surrounded by rubbish, stray dogs, cats, chickens and an entourage of betel nut chewing women stunted in growth through bad nutrition and early childbirth. Further, it was guarded by idle bare chested men in sarongs packed with all-too-ready-to-use kerises
. It was here that Princess Arfah spent her time beating her slaves occasionally to death, which perhaps indicates why Mahdi did not want her near his household.


The Sultan’s entourage distrusted Kudin with his westernised way, but the Sultan and his sons needed him to get rid of Mahdi. Kudin consequently ingratiated himself by bringing five hundred men from Kedah to oust Mahdi from Klang. The decisive blow against Mahdi came from Kudin's European military aid, Captain De Fontaine, Canadian, ex-French Navy, with some 18 pound carronades mounted on sampans. You will remember De Fontaine as the man leading those Arab's on a burn and pillage rampage in Sungai Ujong? In his experience, if you didn't destroy your enemy, it would end with your head on a spike as we shall see.

Raja Mahdi now fled to Sumatra, leaving Kudin to set up base in Kuala Selangor.

The next Blog will take us to Kuala Selangor.


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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