In The Footsteps of Isabella Bird

The lost documentary

Part Eight: The Battle of Bukit Putus



The Battle of Bukit Putus

The little war of Sungei Ujong started on Bukit Putus, when Captain Murray was escorting a group of Mr Velge's mining surveyors. They stumbled upon four thousand Malays marching on Seremban determined to "cut off the heads of those who bring white men into the country!" Captain Murray lost thirty men and ran and barricaded himself into the Residency.

Incidentally one of the mining surveyors was the son of the Governor of Adelaide, a certain Dominic Daniel Daly who was also the son in law of the man who became the resident of Selangor, about whom we will talk about later.

Dominick Daly

In the meantime though, Captain Murray was barricaded in the residency and lost a further thirty-seven men trying to dislodge the Yam Tuan’s forces from the town.


The Yam Tuan’s son and retinue in 1897. Note the date. The court was wealthier than it had been in 1879, when they would have looked a more bedraggled group. But don't think those krises were mere toys. These guys knew how to use them.

Finally relief came from Melaka in the form of Captain Hayward leading Colonel Clay and his force of five hundred men to Seremban. And it was in the final battle on Bukit Putus, that Captain Channer with his twenty-five Gurkas went into action against an armed stockade. Noting the Malays were cooking up their lunch – Malays are notoriously proud of their food - Channer and two other men leapt into the stockade, shot three Malays, and sent the rest running in panic. Then he opened the gates for the rest of his men and from this stockade they poured fire into two other stockades sending the rest of the Malay force running.

Channer got a VC for this. The Singapore Straits Times rather sniffily said that a VC was a rather grandiose award for doing no more than charge a cooking pot.

Whatever the circumstances their action ended up with the British forces chasing the Malays all the way to the capital of Negeri Sembilan, Sri Menanti where the Yam Tuan fled to Johor. There Temenggong Abu Bakar, soon to be recognised by the British as Sultan of Johor, brokered a peace treaty with the British Colonial Office.

The British considered Abu Bakar to be a modern man. He had been brought up in Singapore and mixed with none other than Queen Victoria! So he had serious connections back in London, and knew how much the British Colonial Office disapproved of the military incursion. And so he persuaded them to reinstall the Yam Tuan, with a nice fat pension and a grant to develop the country!

The Colonial Office considered the actions of the local British administration to have contravened the British policy of non-intervention in the Native States. So although the Yam Tuan had to accede to British interests in Sungei Ujong, he continued as ruler of Negeri Sembilan and spent his money on acquiring slave girls. He died eleven years later, a happy man. Whereas Captain Murray was left with a sour taste in his mouth and surrounded by hostile forces with nothing but his rather twitchy stiff upper lip to defend him.

On the evening of Isabella’s farewell dinner with Captain Murray, he cried as they sang Auld Lang Syne. And she could not help but think of the ease with which the Resident could be overpowered and murdered by anyone who might have a grudge against him.

On the jetty getting into the boat back to Melaka, they said their final farewells:
“our most worthy host, with tears in his kind eyes, immediately turned up the river to dwell alone in his bungalow with his bulldog, his revolver, and his rifle, a self-exiled man.”


Why she considered him self-exiled, she does not say. Perhaps she had asked him why he did not simply resign and take his pension, and he had muttered something about England expecting every man to do his duty or something. Captain Murray died a year later at the age of thirty-nine, ostensibly of heat stroke.

Isabella now set sail for Selangor and also had to say her fond farewell to kind eyed, sharp shooting, crocodile killing, Captain Hayward. Too hot and bothered to be below decks, she slept on the deck contemplating the romance of sailing tropical oceans.

"When the moon set, the sky was wonderful with its tropic purple and its pavement and dust of stars. I have become quite fond of the Southern Cross and don't wonder that the early navigators prostrated themselves on the deck when they first saw it.”

One cannot help but feel she was perhaps dreaming of prostrating herself before Captain Hayward

Reality returned in the shape of Klang, the administrative centre of Selangor!

And we shall explore that in the next Blog.


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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