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The Attack Oh Tringanu

Volume 172: debated on Friday 10 July 1863

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Papers Moved For

rose to call the attention of the House to an attack on Tringanu on the 12th November last, and to move for papers. The question had been asked where Tringanu was, and some explanation was necessary for those who were not acquainted with the Eastern seas. Tringanu was the capital of Johore, the southern province of the Kingdom of Siam; it was situated on a river of the same name, and contained a population of about 30,000 persons. The town had been under the government of Siam ever since the Treaty of 1784, and there was a large amount of English capital embarked in the tin mines there. In 1860 the exports of the place amounted to £85,680, whilst in 1862 they had increased to £102,814. In 1810 the Emperor of Johore died, and the Dutch supported the claims of his younger son; but some years afterwards the English took up the cause of the eldest son and seated him upon the throne. The Dutch then made the younger son Sultan of a small island called Linga; but his lineal descendant, having been expelled in 1857, took refuge at Singapore. He was, however, in no sense a British subject. In 1862 he went in a steamer sent by the King of Siam to visit his relative, the Governor of Tringanu, and was therefore travelling under the safe-conduct of the King of Siam. The adjoining province was in a disturbed state, and umbrage was taken at the residence of the ex-Sultan of Linga at Tringanu; and therefore Colonel Durand the Secretary of the Government of India wrote to Colonel Cavenagh authorizing him to use force, if necessary, to remove the ex-Sultan from Tringanu. Colonel Cavenagh first wrote to Sir Robert Schomburgk, our Consul at Bangkok, requesting him to endeavour to persuade the Siamese Court to give up the ex-Sultan, and this request was favourably considered by the Siamese Government. Before an answer had been received, however, he despatched the Scout and another vessel of war, under the command of Captain Corbett, who was accompanied by Major Macpherson, an Indian political officer—the course usually adopted in the East when a wrong was to be done—to Tringanu, to demand, and if necessary compel, the surrender of the ex-Sultan. On their arrival Major Macpherson visited the Rajah, by whom he was hospitably received, and demanded the person of the ex-Sultan. The Rajah said, that if the ex-Sultan was willing to accompany the British officer, he would offer no objection. The ex-Sultan of Linga, however, refused to go, and called upon the Rajah to protect him. The Rajah thereupon declined to give him up, but undertook to guarantee that he should not embroil himself with the civil war which was raging in the neighbourhood. Major Macpherson thereupon returned on board the Scout and called upon Captain Corbett to use force. Captain Corbett was obliged to obey orders, but, not liking to fire on an unarmed town, he sent a boat on shore giving them twelve hours to consider whether they would comply or not. At the expiration of that time he commenced to bombard the town from a distance of 4,000 yards with Armstrong shells. Captain Corbett did his best to fire only upon the palace and the fort, but, owing to the rolling of the ship, some of the shells fell into this populous town and set it on fire. The bombardment continued during the night, and next morning, when a boat was sent on shore, it was found that the ex-Sultan had wisely left the town and retreated into the forest. The squadron returned to Singapore, where they found that a letter had during their absence been received from the Siamese Court, stating that as soon as possible a steamer should be sent to Tringanu to remove the ex-Sultan and take him to Bangkok. Thus, if they had waited, they would have gained their object, whereas by this outrage we were disgraced in the Indian seas, and the end for which this violence was committed was not attained. He hoped the noble Lord would consent to lay the whole of the Correspondence on the table; but the only letter with which he need trouble the House was that of the second King of Siam to Earl Russell, calling upon the noble Earl to do justice. It was as follows:—

The Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Right Honourable the Earl Russell, K.G., Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, &c. &c. &c.
Dated Bangkok, 27 November 1862.
My Lord,
"I have the honour to inform your Lordship, that when the Siamese Ambassadors visited England on a friendly mission to the British Court, they requested that in any matters of difficulty or doubt they might be permitted to advise with the British Government in London. They were informed, that in any such matters the Siamese were to write through the British Consul at Bangkok, who would forward their Despatches, and an explanation would be sent out to them through the same channel.
"In the present instance, Sultan Mahomet, ex-Sultan of Lingah, whom the Dutch deposed some time ago, went to Tringanu, and from thence took a passage in one of the Singora cruising vessels to Bangkok, in July 1861, and at an audience of his Majesty, the first King of Siam, informed his Majesty that he and his ancestors had been sultans of Lingah; but the Dutch being displeased with him, sent him out of his country. He then took up his abode at Rhio, and afterwards at Singapore and Pahang: in the latter place he lived three years. From Pahang he went to Tringanu, and as the rajah of that place is his maternal uncle, he came to Siam to pay his respects to his Majesty. His Majesty, from courtesy, ordered a suitable place of residence, and provided for him in accordance with his position, as a Malayan rajah, on a visit to Bangkok.
"He remained in Bangkok 11 months; and in June last took his departure to return to his mother at Tringanu. As a Siamese steamer was then about to start on a cruise to Ligore and Singora, a passage was given to him in her as far as Tringanu.
"In August last Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at Bangkok sent me copy of a letter from the Governor of Singapore, stating that the ex-Sultan of Lingah, in going to Tringanu, had instigated Wan Ahmet to fresh disturbances in Pahang, and requested the Siamese Government to use measures to quell those disturbances.
"The Siamese Government sent instructions to the Rajah of Tringanu, and replies to Sir Robert Schomburgk, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul, on four different occasions, the nature of which will be seen by referring to the correspondence, copies of which Sir Robert Schomburgk informs me will be sent by this opportunity to your Lordship,
"On the 6th instant, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul wrote me, handing copies of letters from the Governor of Singapore, and stating that the Siamese must send a vessel to bring back the ex-Sultan of Lingah without fail.
"The Siamese Government submit, that as the ex-Sultan of Lingah is a Dutch subject, the demand that the Siamese should Bend a steamer to bring him here, and take charge of him, because of the unsettled condition of the small State of Pahang, which is not a British territory, is, to say the least, most unjust. But the Siamese Government, not wishing in any manner that there should be the slightest misunderstanding, requested me to write in reply, that the steamer "Alligator" would be despatched for the ex-Sultan of Linga, but that vessel not being in readiness to start at once, it would require some days to put her in a state to proceed. All this was fully explained in that letter.
"On the 17th instant the steamer "Alligator" left this for Tringanu; and on the 24th instant Her Britannic Majesty's Consul wrote me, handing copies of documents from the Governor of Singapore, in which the Siamese Government are informed that the Governor of Singapore had in the mean time sent vessels of war to Tringanu for the ex-Sultan of Lingah; and on not securing his person, had bombarded the town on the 11th instant, before the letter of Her Britannic Majesty's Consul, with the reply of the Siamese Government, could reach Singapore.
"The recent assault upon Tringanu has been entirely occasioned through the disturbances in Pa-hang, which have been going on for, more or less, some two years, caused by Inchi Wan Ahmet and his brother, the Bandahara of Pahang, fighting for the possession of that territory.
"The statements of the Bandahara, that the inhabitants of Pahang suspect the ex-Sultan of Lingah as instigating Inchi Wan Ahmet, and that the Rajah of Tringanu is favourable to the cause of Inchi Wan Ahmet, have been made solely on the part of the Bandahara of Pahang, and his relative the Tumongong of Johore, through his agents, Messrs. Paterson, Simons & Company, of Singapore; but on the parts of the Sultan Mahomet and the Rajah of Tringanu, their statements have not been heard, so the above assertions are not reliable.
"The bombardment of Tringanu, by authority of his Highness the Governor of Singapore, has been the cause of much alarm to the Siamese Government, as they were of opinion, that having concluded a treaty with a powerful nation like Great Britain, who had appointed a Consul at Bangkok, they could in any difficulties advise freely and confidentially with him, and thereby avoid any misunderstanding; and consequently have always felt grateful to the British Government, who they are aware entertain friendly sentiments towards Siam; they therefore were under the impression that they were beyond such calamities as the recent one. I trust your Lordship will give this matter due investigation, as the Siamese Government look up to the British for assistance and advice in matters of a like nature, brought about by other powers."
CHOW PHYA PHRAKLANG,(L.S.) Minister for Foreign Affairs. The defence of the Governor of Singapore that he did not know that Tringanu belonged to Siam was a pure piece of ignorance; for, by the 12th article of Captain Burner's treaty, it was provided that—
"Siam shall not go and obstruct or interrupt commerce in the States of Tringanu and Calantate. English merchants and subjects shall have trade and intercourse in future with the same facility and freedom as they have hitherto had, and the English shall not go and molest, attack, or disturb those States upon any pretence whatever."
He held in his hand the letter of Captain Corbett, but would not trouble the House by reading it, but perhaps he might be permitted to read the Petition of a British merchant, who set forth his injuries in the following manner:—
"Unto the Hon. Colonel Orfeur Cavenagh, Governor of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore and Malacca.
"The Petition of Neo Swee Kam, of Singapore, trader.
"Humbly Showeth,—That your Petitioner is a British subject, carrying on business as a general trader in the town of Singapore; that in the course of his said business he trades extensively in piece goods, hides, and other merchandise with the native towns on the eastern coast of the Malayan Peninsula, and more particularly with the town and port of Tringanu.
"That your Petitioner heretofore had entered into large contracts with various traders at the port of Tringanu, for the purpose of importing buffalo hides and other native produce from Tringanu to Singapore, and also for exporting from Singapore to Tringanu various European and other productions; and in the month of November last your Petitioner was possessed of property at the said town and port of Tringanu to the extent of upwards of nine thousand Spanish dollars (9,000 dollars), which said property consisted of goods and merchandise, and of debts owing from various traders in Tringanu to your Petitioner, for merchandise exported by your Petitioner from the port of Singapore to the said port of Tringanu.
"That, on or about the 11th day of the said month of November, the said town and fort of Tringanu were attacked and bombarded for two consecutive days by Her Majesty's war-steamers the Scout and Coquette, and your Petitioner is informed and believes that the said town and port were very much damaged and destroyed, and many of the inhabitants killed and wounded in the said attack and bombardment.
"That your Petitioner, on or before the said attack, did not know of any cause of war between Her Majesty's Government and the Government or people of Tringanu, nor had he any notice or knowledge of any intended attack upon the Said town and port of Tringanu, nor any means of obtaining such knowledge; and he had no means or opportunity of removing his goods and merchandise, or of collecting and receiving the monies due to him at the said town and port before the aforesaid attack and bombardment.
"That your Petitioner has been informed that his goods and merchandise at Tringanu have all been destroyed or lost to him in consequence of the said attack, and your Petitioner has also been informed by one Lim Keng Jin, who has come to Singapore from Tringanu since its bombardment, that all your Petitioner's debtors and correspondents have been killed or left the said port of Tringanu in consequence of the said bombardment; and that all their property and trade have been utterly ruined by the said bombardment, whereby they will be unable to pay the debts which they owe to your Petitioner, or to carry out the contracts which they had made with your Petitioner prior to the said attack and bombardment.
"That your Petitioner has sustained very great loss and damage in consequence of the said attack and bombardment.
"And your Petitioner therefore humbly pray that your Honour will be pleased to cause an investigation to be made as to the amount of loss and damage sustained by your Petitioner in consequence of the said attack and bombardment, and to order the same, when ascertained, to be paid over to your Petitioner; or that your Honour will be pleased to give to your Petitioner such further or other compensation and relief as to your Honour may seem meet.
"And your Petitioner will ever pray, &c. (Signed) "NEO SWEE KAM.
"Singapore, Dec. 1862.
"(A true copy. W. H. Read, J.P.)"
The reply of the Governor of Singapore was that it was out of his power to grant any compensation for losses alleged to have been suffered at Tringanu. The occurrence was disgraceful to England, and it had been characterized by Sir James Brooke as the most cruel and illegal act that had ever taken place in the Eastern seas. Instead of causing the Malays to be submissive to British rule, it would have the contrary effect, and very probably induce them to have recourse to retaliatory measures. He trusted that the whole of the papers would be laid on the table, so that the House might be able to judge who was to blame for this most disgraceful outrage.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of any Papers relating to the attack on Tringanu on the 12th day of November 1862,"—(Sir John Hay,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

said, that while he could not complain that the Motion had been brought forward, he was not in a position to state at what decision the Government had arrived with respect to the transaction to which it related, inasmuch as they had not yet received the official Report from the Government of India. No one was more anxious than himself to prevent transactions of this questionable character—for that he admitted it to be—but it was only fair to the officers concerned, and who were intrusted with great responsibility, that the Government should not form any decided opinion on their conduct until they had been made acquainted with the whole facts. He must, however, say, that upon a perusal of the papers he had on the subject, he thought the course taken was at least precipitate. The ex-Sultan of Linga had been expelled by the Dutch because he had been remarkably troublesome, and he then took refuge in Siam; but the origin of our interference was that the Rajah of the district called Pahang was exceedingly friendly to the English Government, trade to a considerable extent being carried on with that district. The ex-Sultan of Linga, having arrived at Tringanu, carried on hostilities against the Rajah of Pahang, the consequence being that the territory of the Rajah of Tringanu was made the basis of operations by which our trade was greatly interrupted. The Sultan of Tringanu, having been appealed to, refused to send away the ex-Sultan, and the town was bombarded by Captain Corbett, a most excellent officer, acting under the instructions of the Political Agent. He could not make out from the accounts which had reached this country whether anybody had been killed during the bombardment, but the operation was, so far as he could see, conducted with great discretion and humanity. He was perfectly willing, he might add, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would give him a list of the papers which he required, to produce them; and, under those circumstances, he would not, in all probability, deem it necessary to press his Motion that evening.

wished to direct attention to the fact that nine months had elapsed since this very doubtful transaction took place—the bombarding of the town of a friendly power by an English ship—and he thought the House of Commons had a right to complain that the Indian Government should have allowed so long a period to elapse without sending some information on the subject to the Home Government. That was one objection he had to urge upon this case; but there was another still stronger. This was part of an Oriental policy which he asked that House to watch most carefully, and he be-sought the House to put a stop to it as soon as possible. These transactions in the East were of the greatest importance to the honour and dignity of England. Here they were bombarding the town of a friendly Power without the slightest apparent reason, they had bombarded Ning-po without any ground of legality, and for aught they knew they might be bombarding Jeddo at this time. Such a policy as this it was time for the House of Commons to put an end to; and he hoped international lawyers would raise their voices against it. The course which had been followed in this case was not one which a civilized country was justified in pursuing, and as long as he bad a seat in that House he would not cease to protest against a policy which resorted to the indiscriminate use of brute force against the weak nations of the East. Such a policy involved injustice, inhumanity, and every principle opposed to the ordinances of Christianity.

said, it was very extraordinary that such an occurrence should have taken place as long ago as nine months, and that no official information should have been received. [Sir CHARLES WOOD said, that information had been received, but not in detail.] It was quite clear that the Governor of Singapore had taken upon himself to bombard a friendly town, and had not thought proper to send home to the Government an explanation of the reasons which induced him to take so serious a step. It only showed the reckless manner in which our officials in those seas were in the habit of proceeding, and he thought the time was come when the Government ought to issue distinct instructions not only to the Governors of minor settlements, but to the naval commanders, that they were not to fire a shot without the express orders of the Admiralty, except in self-defence. Our naval officers would then be able to reply to any requisition, that if a British settlement was not assailed, they had no power to interfere, and this country might be saved from a serious and expensive war. Our merchants went to these distant places to trade upon their own responsibility; and if there were political disturbances interfering with their operations, they must not expect us to mix ourselves up in miserable dynastic quarrels. It was clear to him that in this case our officials had been carrying on an unauthorized war, and in his opinion that was one of the most serious crimes which a man could commit. He was sorry to say this was not the first time such an occurrence had taken place, and he sincerely hoped the Government would assure them that steps would be taken to put a stop to such things for the future. He should like to know whether any answer had been given to the statement of the Emperor of Siam, and what was to be done respecting the refugee Sultan, whom we had driven with our shells out of Tringanu.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.