The Pangkor Engagement of 1874 was a significant, if not watershed event that had far reaching consequences/ramifications for the governance of the Malay states, as well as the nature of British intervention in the peninsular in the late 19th century. The treaty led to the establishment of the ‘Resident system’ in Perak and acted as a precedent for further British intervention in other Malay States.
The treaty came as a response to the Larut wars in Perak, a series of conflicts between rival Chinese secret societies allied to local rulers vying for control over tin mines and the throne of Perak, complicated by the increasing threat of piracy along the coast of Perak, which threatened the commercial as well as physical security of the Straits Settlements of Singapore and Penang respectively. The Larut wars were highly disruptive to tin-mining operations in Perak. Constant attacks by rival secret societies rendered most of the mines inoperable as miners fled the violence, shaking investor confidence in London and Singapore.
The instability and violence stemming from the conflicts were increasingly unacceptable to the British government, which was keen to prevent rival Western powers from staking a claim in the region, as well as ensure the continued commercial success of the Straits Settlements. This led to active British military and political intervention, combining recognizing the claims of Sultan Abdullah as the lawful ruler of Perak with imposing the ‘Resident system’ whereby a British Resident was attached to the Sultan’s court. It was understood the Sultan would consult this Resident, and accept his advice, on all matters except those concerning Malay religion and customs. This system was adapted from a model already in use in British India, and was eventually imposed on the rest of the Malay States.
The treaty also highlighted the importance of the Chinese community in the economic as well as political life of 19th century Malaya. Especially telling was the role of the Straits Chinese community in lobbying for British intervention, to protect their investments in the tin mines. For example, Tan Kim Cheng, a successful Straits Chinese merchant, was one of the key personalities pushing for the successful conclusion of the treaty, after one of the claimants of the Perak throne, Sultan Abdullah, appealed to Tan to seek assistance from the British to restore him to his throne, as well as ensure security for the smooth operations of the tin mines. This local convergence of interest provided an active and important pull to entice more systematic British intervention, constituting yet another example of how interactive the wider process of imperialism was in 19th century Asia.
An immediate effect of this treaty was that the British were able to exert effective political control upon Perak, by suppressing the violence and piracy that plagued the state and hobbled its governance, while resolving the thorny issue of succession. However what is more important is that the treaty served as a model for future political intervention in the Malay states in the long 19th century, culminating in British ascendancy throughout the peninsular.
Pangkor Treaty — January 20, 1874
Whereas, a state of anarchy exists in the Kingdom of Perak owing to the want of settled government in the Country, and no efficient power exists for the protection of the people and for securing to them the fruits of their industry, and,
Whereas, large numbers of Chinese are employed and large sums of money invested in Tin mining in Perak by British subjects and others residing in Her Majesty's Possessions, and the said mines and property are not adequately protected, and piracy, murder and arson are rife in the said country, whereby British trade and interests greatly suffer, and the peace and good order of the neighbouring British Settlements are sometimes menaced, and,
Whereas, certain Chiefs for the time being of the said Kingdom of Perak have stated their inability to cope with the present difficulties, and together with those interested in the industry of the country have requested assistance, and,
Whereas, Her Majesty's Government is bound by Treaty Stipulations to protect the said Kingdom and to assist its rulers, now,
His Excellency Sir Andrew Clarke, K.C.M.G., C.B., Governor of the Colony of the Straits Settlements, in compliance with the said request, and with a view of assisting the said rulers and of effecting a permanent settlement of affairs in Perak, has proposed the following Articles of arrangements as mutually beneficial to the Independent Rulers of Perak, their subjects, the subjects of Her Majesty, and others residing in or trading with Perak, that is to say:-
I. First – That the Rajah Muda Abdullah be recognised as the Sultan of Perak.
II. Second – That the Rajah Bandahara Ismail, now Acting Sultan, be allowed to retain the title of Sultan Muda with a pension and a certain small Territory assigned to him.
III. Third – That all the other nominations of great Officers made at the time the Rajah Bandahara Ismail received the regalia be confirmed.
IV. Fourth – That the power given to the Orang Kayah Mantri over Larut by the late Sultan be confirmed.
V. Fifth – That all Revenues be collected and all appointments made in the name of the Sultan.
VI. Sixth – That the Sultan receive and provide a suitable residence for a British Officer to be called Resident, who shall be accredited to his Court, and whose advice must be asked and acted upon on all questions other than those touching Malay Religion and Custom.
VII. Seventh – That the Governor of Larut shall have attached to him as Assistant Resident, a British Officer acting uner the Resident of Perak, with similar power and subordinate only to the said Resident.
VIII. Eight – That the cost of these Residents with their Establishments be determined by the Government of the Straits Settlements and be a first charge on the Revenues of Perak.
IX. Ninth – That a Civil List regulating the income to be received by the Sultan, by the Bandahara, by the Mantri, and by the other Officers be the next charge on the said Revenue.
X. Tenth – That the collection and control of all Revenues and the general administration of the country be regulated under the advice of these Residents.
XI. Eleventh – That the Treaty under which the Pulo Dinding and the islands of Pangkor were ceded to Great Britain having been misunderstood and it being desirable to readjust the same, so as to carry into effect the intention of the Framers thereof, it is hereby declared that the Boundaries of the said Territory so ceded shall be rectified as follows, that is to say:-
From Bukit Sigari, as laid down in the Chart Sheet No. 1 Straits of Malacca, a tracing of which is annexed1, marked A, in a straight line to the sea, thence along the sea coast to the South, to Pulo Katta on the West, and from Pulo Katta a line running North East about five miles, and thence North to Bukit Sigari.
XII. Twelfth – That the Southern watershed of the Krean River, that is to say, the portion of land draining into that River from the South be declared British Territory, as a rectification of the Southern Boundary of Province Wellesley. Such Boundary to be marked out by Commissioners; one named by the Government of the Straits Settlements, and the other by the Sultan of Perak.
XIII. Thirteenth – That on the cessation of the present disturbances in Perak and the re-establishment of peace and amity among the contending factions in that Country, immediate measures under the control and supervision of one or more British Officers shall be taken for restoring as far as practicable the occupation of the Mines, and the possession of Machinery, &c., as held previous to the commencement of these disturbances, and for the payment of compensation for damages, the decision of such officers shall be final in such case.
XIV. Fourteenth – The Mantri of Larut engages to acknowledge as a debt due by him to the Government of the Straits Settlements, the charges and expenses incurred by this investigation, as well as charges and expenses to which the Colony of the Straits Settlements and Great Britain have been put or may be put by their efforts to secure the tranquility of Perak and the safety of trade.
The above Articles having been severally read and explained to the undersigned who having understood the same, have severally agreed to and accepted them as binding on them and their Heirs and Successors.
This done and concluded at Pulo Pangkor in the British Possessions, this Twentieth day of January, in the year of the Christian Era, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four.
Executed before me,
Governor, Commander-in-Chief, and
Vice-Admiral of the Straits Settlements.
Chop of the Sultan of Perak.
“ “ Bandahara of Perak.
“ “ Tumongong of Perak.
“ “ Mantri of Perak.
“ “ Shahbander of Perak.
“ “ Rajah Mahkota of Perak.
“ “ Laxamana of Perak.
“ “ Datoh Sa'gor.
1See Clarke to Kimberley, 26 Jan. 1874, enclosure 9, P.P., C.1111.
Allen, J. De V., A. J. Stockwell, and L. R. Wright. A Collection of Treaties and Other Documents Affecting the States of Malaysia, 1761-1963. No ed. Vol. I. London: Oceana Publications, 1981. 390-392.
Annotated by Aloysius Ng