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  • Introduction of the Residential System
  • Problems faced by the Residents
  • Perak : A Case Study
  • Birch's Murder
  • James Birch vs Hugh Low
  • Effects of Residential System on Perak
  • Achievements of Hugh Low
  • Introduction of the Residential System?

  • The Pangkor Treaty introduced the Residential System to Malaya
  • Arose out of the new Policy of British intervention
  • A system of indirect British rule in the Malay States that had accepted British protection
  • 4 states only : Perak, Selangor Pahang and Negri Sembilan
  • The Residential System

  • A British Resident was appointed in each state
  • To advise Sultan on all matters of administration and government except those concerning Malay religion and custom
  • The Sultan remained as Head of State
  • The Resident was there to advise and not to rule
  • The Sultan was obliged to act on the Resident’s advice
  • The Resident’s Duties

    1. Peace and Order

  • Restore and maintain peace
  • establish law and order

    2. Economic Development

  • Develop tin mines and other resources of the state
    3. Revenue Collection
  • Set up an efficient system of controlling and collect revenue
  • Used to develop the state

    The Resident’s Difficulties

    1. Little help from Britain

  • had to achieve aims of the system with little help from their government

    2. Limited power

  • No police or army to support them

    3. No specific guidelines

  • Residents received no specific guidelines from the British govt

    4. Sultans and followers resistant to changes

  • Difficult to change and learn a new system of govt after centuries of traditional rule

    Success or failure of the Residential System depended on one very important factor - The Resident’s working relationship with the Sultans and his Malay chiefs

    British Government

    The system had certain advantages for the British government :

    1. Limited Expenditure

  • Only one man was sent
  • Salary paid by Sultan
  • Accommodation provided by Sultan

    2. No Government Responsibility

  • Resident held full responsibility for anything that went wrong
  • British Government is thus not put in any difficult situation

    What happened?

  • Each Resident worked his own way
  • Different methods, different results
  • Some successful, some not
  • First attempt almost ended in disaster for the Residential System when JWW Birch, the first Resident of Perak, was murdered
  • Later efficient administrators like Hugh Low made the system workable
  • Implemented in 3 other states

    PERAK : A Case Study

  • The Residential System was first introduced in Perak
  • The first Resident, JWW Birch did miserably; in fact, he “died” miserably when he was murdered by angry Malay chiefs in 1874
  • Who in the world was Birch?

    James W W Birch

  • First Resident of Perak
  • Appointed by Sir Andrew Clarke on 4 Nov 1874, 10 months after the signing of the Pangkor Engagement
  • Civil servant for almost 30 years, mainly in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
  • He was Colonial Secretary to the Straits Settlements before becoming Resident
  • Thus an experienced administrator
  • Did not speak Malay, thus an obstacle to building up relations with the Sultan and the Malay chiefs
  • Had a poor opinion of Malays and Malay customs
  • Reported to Clarke that
    “it concerns us little what were the old customs of the country…….I consider that they are not worthy of any consideration”

    BIRCH'S FIRST ACTION : Collection of State Revenue

  • Re-organized Perak’s revenue system to come under his direct control
  • Birch felt that revenue collection was the Resident’s responsibility, not the Sultan and the chiefs
  • Discontinued Sultan Abdullah’s leasing of “revenue farm”
  • Also stopped collection of revenue by chiefs of Upper and Lower Perak
  • This antagonized the Sultan and his chiefs
  • no respect for Malay traditions and customs
  • Put an end to their main source of wealth; provoked anger of the Malay chiefs

    BIRCH'S SECOND ACTION : Administrative Reform

  • Code of Civil and Criminal Law
  • Enforced by a government police force
  • Penghulus now responsible to Resident, not local chief
  • British-appointed judge replace Sultan as Chief Justice
  • Vague compensation

    BIRCH'S THIRD ACTION : Social Reforms

  • Debt-Slavery
  • Birch wanted to end debt-slavery
  • Openly defied custom by helping slaves escape and sheltering them
  • Did not even offer to compensate the Sultan ands chiefs for the abolition of this long established practice
  • His action seen as a direct challenge to traditional customs
  • Also reprimanded the Sultan when he demanded the return of his runaway slaves

    Consequences of Birch’s Actions

  • Open challenge to Malay tradition and custom
  • Direct violation of the terms of the Pangkor Treaty
  • By July 1875, Sultan and his chiefs had rejected both Birch and the Residential System

    Sir William Jervois

  • Birch as “Queen’s Commissioner”
  • Sir William Jervois succeeded Sir Andrew Clarke as Governor of the SS in May 1875
  • Agreed with Birch that Abdullah should be firmly dealt with
  • Proposed that Residents be made “Queen’s Commissioners” and rule the states directly on behalf of the Sultan
  • Threatened to depose Abdullah if he didn’t agree


  • Abdullah’s complaint to Clarke went unheeded
  • Birch insisted that Abdullah sign a proclamation to give him the right to collect revenue
  • Threatened to replace him if he didn’t agree
  • Meeting among Sultan and Malay chiefs (except Raja Yusof - remember him?)


  • Decision : KILL BIRCH & drive the British out of Malaya
  • Maharaja Lela, chief of Pasir Salak, volunteered for the assignment
  • Raja Ismail (remember him???) agreed to support Lela
  • 1 NOV 1875
  • Birch was at Pasir Salak after distributing the proclamations (remember the proclamation that he forced Abdullah to sign?) in Lower Perak
  • He was murdered at the bath house (what a way to die - while bathing!)
  • Stabbed through the attap walls of the bath house
  • His body was thrown into the river


  • Jervois launched a series of attacks with forces from Penang and Singapore, and later India and Hong Kong
  • By July 1876, all accomplices to the murder were captured
  • Punishment was severe


  • Abdullah deposed and sent into exile with Ismail and others involved
  • Maharaja Lela and accomplices were hanged


  • Raja Yusof was appointed Regent and in 1886 Sultan of Perak
  • Sir Jervois was reprimanded for attempting to replace the Residential System with direct rule
  • Colonial Office was very angry with him and held him responsible for the revolt
  • Jervois was removed from his post
  • Perak was placed under a state of military control after Birch’s murder and the revolt
  • Mar 1876 - J G Davidson was appointed 2nd Resident of Perak
  • Resigned in Feb 1877 because of difficulties and problems he faced
  • The man to save Perak and lay the foundations of her prosperity was Hugh Low
  • He saved the Residential System in Perak


    1. Wrong Choice of Resident
    2. Conflict between Birch and Malay chiefs
    3. Abdullah not suitable as Sultan
    4. Misunderstanding about Treaty
    5. Unsympathetic Attitude of the British Government


    1. Wrong Choice of Resident

  • Did not speak Malay; relied on interpreter
  • Knew little about Malay tradition and customs and didn’t care to understand them
  • Despised the Malays
  • Arrogant and impatient man
  • unable to win support of Sultan and the Malay chiefs

    2. Conflict between Birch and Malay chiefs

  • Reforms went against tradition and custom; antagonized Malays
  • Reforms such as new revenue collection system and abolition of debt-slavery
  • No consideration, no consultation and little or no compensation

    3. Abdullah not suitable as Sultan

  • Blindly entered into Pangkor Treaty
  • Not clear about actual implications of the terms
  • Weak ruler who wasted a lot of money
  • Selected by British only because he was willing to accept British protection
  • A poor choice indeed by Clarke
  • Had ten months to consolidate his rule before Birch arrived

    4. Misunderstanding about Treaty

  • misunderstanding over the terms
  • Abdullah and his chiefs thought the Resident merely assisted and advised the Sultan
  • Not prepared for the changes that were forced on them

    5. Unsympathetic Attitude of the British Government

  • Andrew Clarke to share the blame
  • Delay of 10 months
  • Did not respond to Abdullah’s complaints about Birch
  • Led to Sultan and his chiefs taking matters into their own hands
  • Jervois was unsympathetic and aggravated the situation by forcing the Sultan to accept direct rule by British

    SIR HUGH LOW IN PERAK 1877-1889

  • Sir Hugh Low was most suitable for the post of Resident

    1. Experience

  • many years of experience as an administrator and diplomat in SEA
  • Experienced the Residential System in Sarawak

    2. Familiar with Malay customs and traditions

  • also familiar with the practice of debt slavery

    3. Speak Malay

  • Hugh could speak Malay
  • easier to establish a rapport with Malay chiefs

    4. Understanding, patient & tolerant

  • strategy to understand before being understood
  • Hugh believed in winning their friendship through tact and patience
  • 50 years old when he was made Resident of Perak
  • J G Davidson had given up the post of Resident after 9 months

    SIR HUGH LOW IN PERAK 1877-1889

  • Perak was in great disorder
  • Heavy debt
  • No proper government
  • No control over Malay chiefs in collecting revenue
  • No money in State Treasury
  • Locals suspicious of British
  • Sultan Yusof unpopular
  • A discouraging situation for Low right at the very start

  • Hugh Low turned in an impressive performance
  • Within weeks of his arrival, Low managed to get the co-operation of the important Malay chiefs
  • By his third month, he had drawn up a rough guideline for an efficient system of administration


    1. The Perak State Council
    2. Collection of Revenue
    3. Law & Order
    4. Debt Slavery
    5. Development of Perak

    1. The Perak State Council

  • To encourage the chiefs to take more interest in state government
  • State revenue & expenses
  • Appointments & salaries of officials
  • Pensions of Malay chiefs
  • Eventually became the State Government as it took on the role of passing laws

    2. Collection of Revenue

  • Abolished privilege of Sultan and his chiefs to collect revenue
  • No objection because firstly, they trusted Low & were thus willing to cooperate, and secondly, they were well-compensated for their loss
  • Control & collection of revenue was thus regulated

    3. Law and Order

  • Courts of Justice
  • Presided by European magistrates & assisted by Malay magistrates
  • Perak divided into districts
  • Further subdivided into villages with headman
  • The Headman acted as police, kept the peace, settled minor disputes, helped to collect revenue

    4. End of Debt Slavery

  • Low felt that this was a cruel practice
  • Indicated his views tactfully
  • Over time, introduced law s that slowly controlled and checked debt slavery
  • Eventually debt slavery was abolished in Jan 1884
  • Sultan and Malay chiefs given compensation for the loss of slaves who were set free

    5. Development of Perak
    1. State Treasury
    2. Communications
    3. Agriculture

    1. State Treasury

  • proper collection of revenue
  • prevented overspending
  • encouraged investment in Perak
  • Accumulated revenue to pay off debts of $800,000 (1877)
  • Low helped Perak accumulate a surplus revenue of $1.5 million by the time he retired in 1889

    2. Communication

  • State revenue used to improve communications to develop tin-mining industry
  • Roads, railways built
  • Public health care, drainage, water supply and street lighting

    3. Agriculture

  • Development of agriculture
  • Experimented with tea, coffee and cinchona (quinine)
  • Responsible for introducing rubber into Malaya


  • Greatest achievement was the establishment of law and order
  • with this, he developed Perak into Malaya’s richest state
  • Residential System under Low was a huge success
  • copied by Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang
  • Low retired in 1889 after 12 years in Perak


  • Residential System was successful because the Residents made it work

    1. More effective government

  • Perak State Council led to the reform of the legal system

    2. Peace and security led to political stability

    3. Law and Order led to economic development and consequently higher standards of living

  • Rapid increase in population
  • immigrants attracted to Perak
  • made Perak more multi-cultural

    4. Improvement in communications

  • roads and railways built

    5. New cash crops introduced

  • Rubber, pepper, sugar cane, gambier and tobacco

    6. Economic development brought social benefits

  • health facilities
  • social amenities
  • water supply
  • electricity
  • street lighting
  • Perak citizens enjoyed a higher standard of living compared to unprotected Malay states which remained backward


    1. No uniformity of Government between the four states

  • although answerable to the Governor in S’pore, the respective Residents had very little contact with him

    2. Residents became more powerful at the expense of local chiefs

  • Because of his dominant nature, Perak was actually ruled by him
  • Sultan and the State Council had only limited influence

    3. Different rates of economic growth

  • Development depended on the capabilities of the Residents
  • Perak and Selangor developed rapidly
  • Pahang and Negri Sembilan remained relatively poor and backward
  • It was these limitations that lead to the decision to set up what was known as the FEDERATED MALAY STATES in 1896

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    H E L L O , time to W A K E up!!!!