In The Footsteps of Isabella Bird

The lost documentary

Part Eleven: Murder Mayhem Madness




Now that Raja Mahdi was in control of Kuala Selangor again, and seemingly allied with Raja Musa and Sultan Abdul Samad, Raja Mahdi was on a role! Everyone wanted him as their buddy, especially Dato Bandar in Sungei Ujong, the man with a stock of champagne to entertain westerners. Well, Mahdi gathered his forces at Bandar's place, ready to march on the infidels of Kuala Lumpur to restore traditional values.

Kudin's men who had only just retaken Kuala Lumpur, consisted of two European officers, van Hagen and Cavalieri, and more than eighty sepoys. Fearing that they would share the same fate as their comrades in Kuala Selangor, they tried to escape but ran straight into Mahdi's force whereupon Cavalieri was killed along with twenty sepoys.

fortThe Mahdi Fort

What’s left of the fort today

Then Hagen and forty others surrendered and were lodged at what is today known as The Mahdi Fort, which is a largely forgotten remnant of the fortress in Klang. Then Raja Mahdi had all the mercenaries trussed up and publicly slaughtered by cutting their throats and leaving them to bleed to death. Then the heads of Hagen and Cavalieri were paraded about the town and stuck on the gates of the fort; an event that their pal Captain De Fontaine, he of the Sungei Ujong slash and burn campaign, probably did not forget.

Then just to show who's boss, the Chinese town of Kuala Lumpur was burned down and Yap Ah Loi, the Kapitan China, who despite having been paying off everyone and anyone who demanded his loyalty, including Raja Mahdi, escaped in nothing but his underpants.


Yap Ah Loy, seated, with his followers, the Hei San.

Raja Mahdi's victory was absolute. However, burning down a Chinese town, slaughtering a few coolies, cutting the throats of a few Hindus and sticking the heads of a few Europeans on a gate post was something of a PR disaster. From now on, nobody was ever going to learn to live with him or have much sympathy for whatever fate befell his traditionalist supporters. For Kudin and the energetic Yap Ah Loy, their motto became: no compromise and no surrender!

Yap Ah Loy, having replaced his underpants, met up with Kudin in Singapore and the two of them had words with J.G. Davidson, whose company was a major investor in Yap Ah Loy's mines. Davidson and his investors were really not happy that all their money had been lost!


Mr J. G. Davidson

“Mr Davidson” said Isabella Bird, “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 honourable remembrance.”

He also knew that he was up shit creek if he didn't do anything
. And so, in 1873, Davidson and his company bankrolled the Sultan of Pahang's forces, who happened to be very seasoned soldiers. Consequently, Five hundred Pahang men arrived by sea at Kuala Selangor ready to attack Raja Musa, the Sultan's son! Kudin, sportingly, informed his father-in-law, the Sultan, that his son had better disappear and rethink his allegiances.


The Pahang forces 1874

Kuala Selangor was now once again in Kudin's hands and the Pahang forces were coming from all angles, by land, by sea, by river, chasing all of Raja Mahdi's supporters out of Selangor and completely ravaging the areas where the Mandailing lived. They had been thorns in Abdul Samad’s side for a long time but not anymore!

The crisis was over. Kudin was victorious. Abdul Samad had survived. And triumphantly, J.G. Davidson wrote to the Secretary of State saying he wanted to float a company on the London Stock Exchange and be allowed to keep an armed force. Considering he already had one, permission was more a formality. However, Lord Kimberly of the Colonial Office was outraged at what he considered to be treachery. This chaotic mess interfered with British European relationships and demonstrated the government’s complete lack of control of their own people in the region. In 1874 the Straits Colonies Governor, Harry St George Ord, coincidentally, no doubt, went into an early retirement, and was replaced by Andrew Clarke.


Governor Andrew Clarke

This new broom was under orders to resolve the issue and bring about some semblance of governance. His instructions from London were: “Her Majesty’s Government have, it need hardly be said, no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of the Malay States. But looking to the long and intimate connexion between them and the British Government, and to the well being of the British Settlements themselves, Her Majesty’s Government find it incumbent upon them to employ such influence as they possess with the active Princes to rescue, if possible, those fertile and production countries from the ruin which must befall them if the present disorders continue unchecked.

I have to request that you will carefully ascertain, as far as you are able, the actual condition of affairs in each State, and that you will report to me whether there are in your opinion, any steps which can properly be taken by the Colonial Government to promote the restoration of peace and order to secure protection to trade and commerce with the native territories. I should wish you especially to consider whether it would be advisable to appoint a British Officer to reside in any of the States. Such an appointment could, of course, only be made with the full consent of the Native Government and the expenses connected with it would have to be defrayed by the Government of the Straits Settlements.”

Well, that’s all settled then… Or maybe not, as you will see 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.

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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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