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1784-1963 - The British

Events on the other side of the world changed the English and Dutch relationship in Southeast Asia; in the fourth Anglo-Dutch War, a commercial battle stimulated by the American Revolutionary War, Dutch shipping power was nearly destroyed. The peace treaty gave Great Britain the right to trade in Southeast Asia. Although the British victory in 1784 marked the end of the long Anglo-Dutch struggle for supremacy on the seas, the British finally succeeded the Dutch at Malacca only after another half century of negotiation and intrigue. British interest in the area centered around naval strategy in the Indian Ocean and the trade with China. British ships had for some time carried on a limited trade with ports in Kedah and Perak, but the decision of the British East India Company to seek a permanent base in northern Malaya was occasioned by the naval war between Great Britain and France.

Francis Light, an English captain who had first negotiated with the Sultan of Kedah in 1771, drafted a treaty in 1785 by which the Sultan was to cede the island of Penang in return for protection against the Bugis and the increasingly threatening Thai. Although the British assumed their right under this agreement and occupied Penang, they signed no treaty. At about the same time the Bugis drove the Dutch from Selangor and Johore, and in 1790 they allied with Kedah, Trengganu, Johore and several Sumatran Kingdoms in a grand scheme to attack the Dutch north of Malacca and to aid Kedah against the British in Penang. Sufficient strength to achieve either goal was lacking, and the attack on Penang was easily repulsed. The subsequent treaty in 1891 recognized the cession of Penang in return for a stipend, but still included no promise of assistance to the Sultan of Kedah.

Although the British had by this act gained their first foothold in Malaya, it was of dubious value to them. The population increased, and the port, renamed Georgetown, became fairly important, but Penang was too far north to dominate the Strait. Since there was no timber for shipbuilding or repairing, Penang was almost useless as a naval base, and the debate over whether to keep this profitless colony continued for some years.

Malaya's future was again decided by events in Europe. When Holland was occupied by French troops in 1795, its ruler ordered the Dutch overseas colonies to accept British occupation as a defense measure against the French. The British occupied Malacca. The Anglo-Dutch convention of 1814 returned the Dutch colonies, and in 1818 the Dutch reoccupied Malacca.

With the Dutch thus reestablished in Malaya, the British needed a base to counter the revival of Dutch power in the area. In 1818, Stamford Raffles, then lieutenant governor of Bencoolen, gained permission to investigate possible locations and chose the sparsely settled island of Singapore. He found as the local ruler a former temenggong of Johore, who was loyal to an exiled heir to the Johore Sultanate, Tungku Hussein, and hoped to see his prince return to power in return for the cession of Singapore.

The Temenggong's actual overlords, however, the de facto Sultan of Riau-Johore, Abdul Rahman, and the Bugi undertaking, were under Dutch influence and would not consent to what they felt was British intrusion; Raffles therefore installed Hussein as Sultan of Johore and from him accepted permission to develop the port of Singapore. Henceforth, the Riau-Johore Sultanate was divided, one sultan ruling Riau under Dutch protection, another ruling in Johore under the British. The Bugis' opportunity to unite the Peninsula was also permanently destroyed, for the underkings at Riau and Lingga were now separated from their relatives in Selangor. Although some Malay rulers in Pahang and Trengganu continued to recognize the Riau suUan, the geographical separation made a close relationship impossible.

The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 made these arrangements permanent. The Dutch, having been unable to prevent British acquisition ef Singapore, recognized British interest in Malaya, and the British recognized the Dutch sphere of influence south of Singapore, including the Riau and Lingga Archipelagoes. The British gave up only the white elephant port at Bencoolen in exchange for Malacca.

By 1824 the basic political divisions of Malaya were fairly well established. The British held Penang, Malacca and Singapore, the areas which came to be known at the Straits Settlements. In central and southern Malaya, Selangor was the stronghold of the Bugis, who fought alternately with Kedah and with the Menangkabau of Negri Sembilan. Pahang was ruled by a bendahara whose nominal allegiance was to the Sultan of Riau, and Johore was under the rule of a temenggong, though nominally under the sultan installed by Raffles. In northern Malaya the Thai had gained a hegemony which was maintained until 1909.

Kelantan, formerly a number of petty states, had been united in 1730 and in 1800 declared a sultanate, nominally vassal to Siam. Trengganu was nominally vassal to both Siam and the Sultanate of Riau. Kedah, under close Thai control, in 1818 was forced by the Thai to conquer Perak, which for a short time sent tribute to Siam. Intrigue between Kedah and Burma led to a major Thai expedition in 1821; the Kedah Sultan went into exile at Penang and did not regain his kingdom for 20 years. Perak, though threatened by both Siam and Selangor, was independent under its own sultan, the last direct descendant of the royal line of Malacca.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2012 18:35:51 ZULU