Day 19 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 19 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020




Today we visit Teluk Intan, which was the capital of Perak from 1528 until the British took over, shipped the Sultan off to the Seychelles, and appointed their Sultan and installed him in Kuala Kangsar in 1877, which I have to say is a much prettier place.

Teluk Intan did not really exist until the British created it in 1882. Prior to that, the area was a number of small settlements along the Perak river where the Sultan had his main palace.

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The landmark leaning tower was built in 1885 as a water tower for the town. It began to lean four years later and somehow managed to escape being demolished and has become something of an attraction. One would have thought that the Japanese, just for sport, would have blown it up, but it seems that even they were amused by it.

The name Teluk Intan has a rather odd origin, but one suspects that the political desire for the Malaysification of what was known as Teluk Anson produced the myth, rather than the myth producing the name!

Anson was the name of General Archibald Anson who moved the British administration there when Birch took over. Birch, incidentally, is buried in one of the Palm Oil plantations around the town. Hugh Low, when he was British Resident, named the town after Anson.

The Malay name, Intan, was the name of a widow from Mandahiling, Sumatra, who's family settled there in the early 19th Century. For some reason naming places after a "widow" seems to be a thing in Malaysia. From then on people from Java, Rawa, Mingangkabau, Kampar and even Bombay came to the town. The Indians essentially were brought in by the British to build the infrastructure of Perak.

I am repeatedly told that the Chinese were brought in by the British only to discover that actually they have been around since the founding of the state, and often invited in by the Sultans way before the British had any say in the matter. But the Indian population were definitely brought in by the British, despite the fact that the original settlers in the region were most likely of Indian origin and many of the Sultans seem to have had Indian mothers. Malays are like the English, in being a bit of this, that and the other beginning with ancient hunter gatherers and then intermingling with waves of immigrants from elsewhere. The English are even more so nowadays if I go by the example of my family.


The area was originally populated by refugees from the Malacca Sultanate. In 1511 the Portuguese, invited in by Chinese traders, ousted the Sultan from Malacca and began the Colonial era. The area along the Perak river contained a number of small settlements run by various headmen who were persuaded by one of the local headmen, Tun Saban, to invite the eldest son of Mahmud Shah to be their Sultan. Tun Saban was a trader from Siak in Sumatra and probably knew Muzaffar Shah when he was living in Siak after his father's many attempts to regain Malacca had failed.

The story of why the elder son was invited into Perak is somewhat mysterious. A local widow who originated from Lingga in the Riau islands, had called upon the ancestors of Sang Nila Utama, legendary founder of Singapore and Malacca, to take her lands and prevent the royal lineage from disappearing from the Malay peninsula. And it just so happened that the regalia of the Malacca Sultanate had The Sword of Sang Nila Utama, thus proving their true lineage.

The Sultanate then struggled to survive. The Portuguese and the Siamese were always trouble but mostly the biggest trouble came from the Acehnese. They considered themselves the true successors to the power of Malacca.

The boycott of Malacca by muslim traders had turned Aceh, now their preferred market place, into something of a powerhouse. And in 1577 the Sultan of Perak just disappeared! The Acehnese were thought to be behind it. They then grabbed all of his family. However, the twist is that the eldest son was married off to an Acehnese princess and became the Sultan of Aceh! He then more or less gave up on Perak, leaving the place without a ruler. Eventually, after a bit of persuasion, he let his younger brother become Sultan of Perak.

Cholera then managed to kill off most of the royal family and the Perak chieftains brought in another appointee from Aceh. By the mid 17th century the Dutch had come. They were very interested in the tin trade and created a monopoly, or at least an agreement with Aceh, that only they could trade in tin. The locals in Perak however spent a lot of time burning down Dutch forts and warehouses which probably indicates that Aceh had lost its grip on the place. And by 1776, the Perak Sultan got his deal with the Dutch and started bringing lots of Chinese workers to mine the tin.

When Siam finally beat off a Burmese invasion, it turned its attention to expanding its power over the peninsular, making Kedah, Terengannu, Patani, and even Pahang tributaries. But by 1818 Perak felt sufficiently powerful to refuse to pay tribute to Siam. In 1821 Siam tried to take Perak. but Perak fended them off with the aid of the Bugis and Selangor.

Perak and Selangor also agree to block the Dutch tin monopoly. All of which helped the British to oust the Dutch from the region with the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty. The British however had allied with Siam against Burma in the first Anglo Burmese War and in return had renounce its support of Perak. But in 1826 the Siam tributary state of Ligor attempted to take over Perak and the British did a flip flop and sent in a British force to stop them. This return to their old policy produced a new treaty, The Burney Treaty. Where the British agreed not to intercede in the affairs of Kedah if Siam keeps out of Perak and Selangor.

In 1841 the Larut Wars started, as described in the previous blog and Perak becomes increasingly unruly as more Chinese are brought in and every petty chieftain rules his patch their own way. By 1873 the dispute between the would be Sultan Abdullah and Sultan Ismail begins plunging the whole state into a civil war that ends in 1874 with the treaty of Pangkor and then Birch's assassination sets off a war with the British.

With the assassins executed and Sultan Abdullah exiled to the Seychelles, Hugh Low takes over as resident and keeps everyone happy. However, he does this by maintaining the status quo and doing little for the infrastructure of the place. All that changes in 1882 when Frank Swettenham takes over and builds the rail and road infrastructure bringing in lots of labourers from India and essentially creating British Malaya.

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