HL Deb 27 May 1879 vol 246 cc1341-50

rose to call the attention of the House to the action of the Administrator of the Straits Settlements with respect to Muar, and to ask Her Majesty's Government not to uphold this action; and to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether the Maharaja of Johor continues to make his accustomed payment to the heir of Sultan Aly, late Sultan of Johor? and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: Although this case is one of the blackest of those which have occurred in the Malay Peninsula, I shall not detain your Lordships long, because I have nothing to complain of in the conduct either of the late or of the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, and because all the details of this affair are stated in a pamphlet published at Singapore, under the title of Punic Faith, which requires an answer from the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State much more than my speech. Muar is a small State which belongs to the Sultan of Johor. The Sultans of Johor had become indolent and had allowed their power to fall into the hands of their Ministers, and the late Sultan, Sultan Aly, had, besides, fallen into pecuniary difficulties, and in 1855 he made a Treaty with his Minister, the Tumonggong, by which he made over to him the Rulership of Johor for a sum of $5,000 and a monthly payment for ever of $500, reserving only for himself the Sovereignty of Muar. This Treaty was negotiated, arranged, and drawn up by British Government officials, and it was attested by the Governor. Sultan Aly was also in the receipt of a small pension from the British Government. In June, 1S77, he died, and his son, Tunku Alum, announced his death to the Administrator of the Straits Government and expected to succeed his father. A younger brother of his, however, put in a claim to succeed, on the plea of having been designated by his father as successor, as was asserted by this young man's mother. It is not clear that the Straits Government had any right to meddle between these claimants, whose claims were right- fully to be settled by the inhabitants of Muar; but the Straits Government suggested to the Maharaja of Johor, who is the son of the Tumonggong with whom the late Sultan AI37 made his arrangement in 1855, that he should assume the guardianship of the Muar State, although it was known that he was claiming to become its Ruler in spite of the Treaty of 1855, which our authorities were pledged to uphold from the active part which they had taken in its negotiation. The Maharaja, thus encouraged by the Straits Government Administrator, proceeded to insure his election by kidnapping several of the Muar headmen and detaining them in Johor; other headmen were canvassed, and pressure put upon them by the Straits officials, both at Malacca and Singapore. I abstain from troubling your Lordships with many details which aggravate this case, because they are stated in the pamphlet Punic Faith, and because the case is sufficiently stated and set forth in the despatches of the late Secretary of State for the Colonies. The late Secretary of State wrote on the 3rd of September, 1877, to the officer administering the Government as follows:— I do not object to the course which I understand you have taken in requesting the Maharaja of Johor, as a temporary measure and pending the settlement of the succession, to undertake the guardianship of this small State, as I gather that some such control is necessary; but the nature of the arrangement should he distinctly understood by all parties, and, above all, there should be no ground for misapprehension on the part of the Chiefs and Native population. The good services of the Maharaja of Johor have been frequently experienced and recognized by Her Majesty's Government; hut I am not prepared, with the information I at present possess, to express any opinion respecting this disputed succession; but in making choice of one of the claimants, duo attention should be paid to the custom of the country and the wishes of the people, as it would manifestly he impossible, in order to reward political services, however meritorious they may have been, to impose any Ruler upon the inhabitants of this territory against their wishes. When the choice has been ultimately made and agreed to, the new Sultan should be informed that the recognition he will receive from Her Majesty's Government will depend upon his personal merits and the character of his administration, and that as long as he governs his people properly that recognition will be maintained. I would observe that this last paragraph goes beyond the powers belonging to the British Government. In another despatch, the late Secretary of State wrote— (4.) If these letters express their real wishes, the fact is important. But I observe that they were summoned to Government House at Singapore, and it must, therefore, he borne in mind that it would he in accordance with Malay character, in their circumstances, if they merely put their signatures to a document which at the moment would be agreeable to, and in accordance with, the wishes of the Colonial Government, by whom they had been summoned to discuss the question. (5.) It is stated in a Colonial newspaper that the Tumonggong had been forcibly arrested and taken to Johor. I presume, however, that this is not true.… (8.) These are the points that, as far as I understand this case, seem to call for the most serious consideration, and I trust that they will not have escaped your attention; but the whole question is one in which care and watchfulness are necessary, and where any ill-advised step on the part of the Colonial Government might easily lead to grave difficulties. (9.) I am fully alive to the fact that a good settled Government in Muar is greatly to be desired, and I presume that, for administrative and general ability, no Native Ruler can compare with the Maharaja of Johor; but these advantages must not be purchased at the expense of Betting aside whosoever may be the rightful heir and the Ruler acceptable to the people. Reference is here made to the political services of the Maharaja of Johor, and it would not weaken the arguments of the noble Earl nor my own case, if these had been of the most honourable character. But, as a matter of fact, they consisted in treacherously entrapping Maharaja Lela, and handing him over to execution by the Straits Government, in violation of his word and of the duties of hospitality. They were services that would have been more fitly recompensed by giving him 30 pieces of silver out of the Treasury. It may be said, in excuse for the Maharaja of Johor, that he did not anticipate his handing over Maharaja Lela to the Straits Government would lead to his death, although the temper of the Colonists at that time was so bloodthirsty that they were clamouring for the execution of Sultan Ismail, the de jure Ruler of Perak; and Sultan Ismail might have perished had not the noble Earl interposed by recommending more just and moderate counsels to Sir William Jervois. It is only doing justice to the noble Earl to say that the country is under great obligation to him for saving it from what would have been a great blot and a crime if Sultan Ismail had been put to death. I cannot give your Lordships the reference to the Blue Book; but my noble Friend will no doubt recollect writing these words to Sir William Jervois— Forbear, dear friend, we will not shed more blood, Enough, more than enough, of woe is wrought; And sad the harvest which our hands must reap. I have already said that I am entirely satisfied with the view of this case taken by my noble Friend the late Secretary of State; but, as on two occasions my noble Friend has informed the House that I have taken exception to everything he has done, I feel that I should be disappointing him if I did not now take some exception to the letter whilst approving the spirit of these despatches; and I must regret that they are not worded in more precise and decided language. The amiable unwillingness of my noble Friend to risk hurting the feelings of Colonial officials leads him to give them hints which they do not follow, instead of reprimanding them when necessary to prevent them from entering crooked paths, such as they have now followed; and though the present Secretary of State (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) has expressed himself more strongly than my noble Friend, yet he also failed to convey his meaning and his sense of right to the Colonial officials. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach wrote to the Governor of the Straits on April 20, 1878— After reading your despatch, I cannot but observe that the candidature of the Maharajah of Johor had the appearance of being favoured from the commencement by the Straits Government, while under the acting administration of the Lieutenant Governor; and I am disposed to think that it would have been better not to have invited the Chiefs to Government House at Singapore to discuss the subject, as I should have preferred the observance of complete neutrality in the smallest detail; and for the same reason, if practicable, it would have been better if the regency of the little State had been placed, pending the election, in other hands than those of the powerful candidate for the right of succession. Further on, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach says— He has no option 'but to acquiesce in what I trust is the true choice of the people of Muar.' Thus showing that he doubted where he ought to have been certain. This doubt, however, must have been dispelled by the recent arrival at Singapore of crowds of Muar men to do homage to Sultan Alum as their rightful Lord, and by the Muar men obeying the notice of Sultan Alum not to pay the tithes levied upon them by the Maharaja of Johor. It is difficult to catch that fleeting and evanescent moment at which representations may be made to Government; when they are not said to be premature, or when they are not treated as too late, as the affair has become a matter of history. Last year, I might have been told that the election was the true expression of the wishes of the people of Muar; but, quite lately, this has been shown not to be the fact. It is only in February of this year that the Straits Government has published in its Gazette a proclamation by the Minister of the Maharaja of Johor, stating that he has been elected Ruler of Muar, and that the election has been acquiesced in and recognized by the Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India; so that the Colonial authorities have implicated England in this affair and in its consequences, should troubles and bloodshed result from it. Looking, therefore, at the circumstances that the people of Muar did not acquiesce in the rule of the Maharaja of Johor, and to the hesitating and unconvinced language of the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach); and considering that two Members of the Legislative Council of Singapore moved a Vote of Censure against the Straits Government, which was only evaded by the Governor stating that the matter was in the hands of the Secretary of State; considering that all the local Straits Press has blamed the action of the Straits Government, and that the same line has been taken by The London and China Telegraph, the London organ of the merchants in China and the Straits—there is not time now to read to your Lordships what it says, but it urges that the British Empire is powerful enough to acknowledge a mistake—I ask the Government not to uphold and confirm the action of the Straits Government in this matter. In other cases where injustice has been done, there were motives of interest, commercial or others, to explain them. Here there is no such case; the giving Muar to Johor would not benefit English trade in any way. I now have to ask the Question of which I have given Notice, and to ask, Whether, in addition to what may be called the public wrong clone by the Maharaja of Johor and the Straits Government to the people of Muar and to their rightful Sovereign, a private wrong has been done by the Maharaja of Johor ceasing to make his monthly payment of $500, under the Treaty of 1855, to Tunku Alum, the heir and successor of Sultan Aly? Because the pamphlet which I have before referred to contains hints that the Maharaja of Johor contemplated escaping from this obligation on the plea that he had become the heir and successor of the late Sultan Aly. Such a scheme on the part of the Maharaja is too iniquitous to be thought possible, nor should I think it necessary to ask a Question about it were it not for the Maharaja of Johor's own words in a letter to the Administrator of the Straits Government. I conclude by moving for the Treaty of 1855 and the Correspondence respecting the Muar State since the death of Sultan Aly.

Moved, "That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of the Treaty of 1855 between the Sultan of Johor and his Tumonggong, and for the correspondence respecting Muar since the death of the late Sultan of Johor."—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


said, he would answer the remarks of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley of Alderley) from the official information at his disposal. It was quite true, as the noble Lord had stated, that Colonel Anson suggested that the Maharaja of Johor should become temporary Governor of Muar on the death of the late Sultan of Johor. The late Sultan died without having nominated a successor in the customary manner. The Throne was left by will to the son of his favourite wife—a boy 11 years old. The will, however, appeared to be invalid, as the boy had not been properly adopted before the Chiefs, and that circumstance appeared to have added to the elements of dissension and general dissatisfaction that existed in the little State. Upon this, Colonel Anson felt it his duty, in order to preserve peace, to institute the Maharaja of Johor as temporary Governor until the succession should be arranged. The Leaders of the State, it was true, were then invited to Singapore, not with any view to intimidation, but in order that proceedings should be taken for the election of the Sovereign. These Leaders were told that the election should be made in accordance with the custom of the country, and that no pressure was to be put upon them in their selection of a candidate. The result of the election was that the Maharaja of Johor was unanimously chosen. The noble Lord had asked that that action should not be upheld; but he (Earl Cadogan) would point out to the noble Lord that, the election having taken place, and having been made under conditions of perfect freedom, and without the exertion of any undue pressure, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to say that it should be upset, and that some other person should be elected. The Government had no wish to interfere further than was absolutely necessary in the internal affairs of this small State. All they wished to do was to see that peace was preserved; and as they had selected their Sovereign, who, so far as it was known, was a very good and intelligent man, the Government had no intention to take any steps to alter the election. It was quite true that, under the Treaty of 1855, the Maharaja of Johor, in consideration of the government which was vested in him, was to pay down $5,000and $500 a-month afterwards, and, at the suggestion of Sir William Robinson, who went out in 1877, and felt that the family of the late Sultan might consider themselves ill-used by the turn affairs had taken, the Maharaja of Johor decided upon a second monthly payment of $725; but the family of the late Sultan declined to receive this, and the money was, therefore, paid into the Treasury at Singapore, where it would remain until the family should come to a more sensible determination. There was not the least objection to the production of the Papers for which the noble Lord asked.


said, that he did not see how, under the circumstances, it was possible to recall the recognition that had been given by the Colonial Office to the election of the present Maharaja of Johor. He, therefore, fully approved of what had been said by his noble Friend (Earl Cadogan). By the will left by Sultan Aly, the son of his favourite wife was designated as his heir. That, however, was an invalid proceeding, as the Sultan should have called together a Council of the Chiefs and declared his pleasure with regard to his successor before them. As the Sultan did not take that course, his youthful son, by Malay custom, possessed no rightful claim to the Throne. Hearing that matters were in a very precarious, if not a dangerous state at Muar, the Administrator of the Straits Settlement (Colonel Anson) thought it his duty to apply to the Maharaja of Johor to take temporary charge of that little Province. That determination was reported home, and after some considerable consideration agreed to by himself (the Earl of Carnarvon), who at that time directed the Colonial affairs of the country. He agreed to that course mainly for two reasons—first, because he thought it would be dangerous to reverse the decision of Colonel Anson; and secondly, because he felt that the great danger which he had to guard against at that time was any intervention which would result in the annexation of the Province in question. Many of their Lordships were aware how very hard a fight was waged at that time in order to prevent the annexation of a very large part of the Peninsula itself. The local feeling was very strong, and the Governor had unfortunately committed' himself to a policy of annexation. It was for these reasons that he had sanctioned the arrangement of Colonel Anson. But anyone who would refer to his (the Earl of Carnarvon's) despatches of that time would see that he agreed to it only as a temporary and provisional measure, which was to have no effect until the feeling of the country had been ascertained. The despatch containing these views was written in September, 1877, and in 1878 he resigned the Seals of Office. Two or three months then elapsed in which no action was taken by the present Colonial Secretary, and in this interval an election was made which, he apprehended, was a proper and regular one. The Chiefs were summoned and unanimously agreed that the Maharaja of Johor should be confirmed in the Sovereignty of the Province. The whole question turned upon the spontaneity of this expression of opinion by the Chiefs, and, as far as he could understand, there could be no doubt whatever that the Chiefs who voted were those who ought to have been consulted, and that they came to the decision which he had mentioned with perfect unanimity. The election was held after the most distinct orders had been issued by him that there should not be any interference whatever with the free opinion of the Chiefs and people. Assurances were also given subsequently by the Administrator that no sort of tampering had taken place. Under all those circumstances, although Sir Michael Hicks-Beach seemed for some time to be doubtful on the subject, he had now recognized the Maharaja of Johor. There was, therefore, no reason why the Papers should not be given. He desired to add that the Maharaja had great claims on the British Government, for he was one of those rare and remarkable examples which were sometimes found in Oriental life of a Native Prince, accepting Western civilization and throwing himself actively into the work of civilizing his country. His administrative ability was very great; he possessed the means and the will of developing the resources of the country, and had justified his position by a remarkable degree of success. Beyond that, the Chiefs had plainly signified their approval of his retention of his present position. The noble Lord who brought forward the subject (Lord Stanley of Alderley) asked the Government to do what appeared to be simply impossible—namely, that they should recall their recognition of the Maharaja in favour of a man avowedly and confessedly his inferior in administrative ability who would certainly govern the country after the fashion of the thousand and one Native Princes who had misruled in its past history, and to recall it on a mere doubt, because the evidence was, in his opinion, strongly in favour of the Prince who had been elected. He did not think it possible to recall that recognition, and by refusing to do so they would be doing substantial justice, and that which was most for the interest of the little country in question.


, in reply, said, he thanked the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State (Earl Cadogan) for the Papers, and for his reply as to the payments of the Maharaja, which was more favourable than he had expected. He must be allowed to contradict what had been said by the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) of the inferior birth of Tunku Alum; there was a confusion in the noble Earl's mind on that subject with regard to another son. There was no such thing as inferior birth; but, if so, the Maharaja was not of Royal blood at all. The noble Earl, by what he had just said of his struggle with Sir William Jervois against annexation, confirmed the complaint which was generally made against him by the country, that he argued with his Colonial Governors instead of giving them instructions; and he would describe the consequences of such hesitation in the noble Earl's own words— So spake he with a wavering mind, But when he once had bowed to fate, Came o'er his soul like change of wind, A spirit base and insensate.

Motion agreed to.