1811 - Lord Minto
Arrival at Malacca
At Malacca we found all the Bengal troops arrived … the troops form two camps, in dry, healthy situations, on the sea-shore, close to the water. One is at two miles, the other and most considerable at six, from the town, which helps to defend them against the incursions of barrack-fever und dysentery. The camps very much adorn and enliven the scenery of this pretty bay. Malacca stands on the banks of a small stream, about the breadth of the Rule at Spittal, but resembling it in no other respect. The town is built along the right bank of the river, one side of the houses projecting a few feet over the stream, supported on piles, which elevate them seven or eight feet above the surface of the water. This gives the place in that quarter rather an amphibious appearance. The town runs down to the edge of the sea, and runs back in the direction of the beach, sometimes advancing into the tide upon piles, sometimes leaving a handsome terrace between the houses and the water.
On the opposite bank of the river, close also to the sea, the Portuguese built a small fort, on their acquisition of the place in the sixteenth century. The Dutch dispossessed them in the following century, and maintained everything as it was. We came next, about sixteen years ago, and by orders from home have pulled down the fort. This work of destruction has been very recently accomplished, at considerable expense - a most useless piece of gratuitous mischief, as far as I can understand the subject. The ruins of the walls remain, and will long transmit a memorial of the narrow, and what is felt by the people here to be the malevolent, policy displayed by Engfand to this new portion of her dominions. The Government House, however, built by the Portuguese, and a church erected by the Dutch within the limits of the fort, are still on foot, together with a few other buildings, public and private. I inhabit the Government House, which is not magnificent, but answers my purposes perfectly in most respects. But it stands at the foot of a steep hill, which covers the whole tenement from the sea. Now as the sea-breeze is in these climates the true vital air, and as delicious as the gas of Paradise, suffocated is our portion at the Government House. As I see you
gasping at this account, and opening all the windows in spite of Elliot of Wells, it will give your ladyship great satisfaction to find that the hill makes amends for the harm it does below, by supporting up in the air very near the top a small bungalow, composed of one room and an open verandah, fronting the sea. George is the real owner; but the dutiful boy permits me to sit in the verandah from breakfast to dinner, and has thereby, beyond a doubt, prolonged my life almost, a fortnight already. It is in this verandah that he and I are at present, writing love-letters to our absent wives. We swallow the breeze fresh from the sea, and the climate is entirely disarmed. The prospect, too, is a refreshing one to the eye, and possesses beauty on shore and on sea. We have the roads with all the shipping and a string of small islands in front; to the right we have, a bird's-eye view of the little river and town beyond; the coast, wooded down to the water, runs curving and waving, and throwing out pretty projecting points, made interesting by the camps at different distances; the whole backed inward from the sea by an uneven plain, springing first into elevations, then hills, and at length high mountains in the distance; all clothed near the eye with the richest vegetation and verdure, and, far as well as near, with one universal wood. Of the distant mountains the most important is Mount Ophir, which has pretensions, of which I will not pretend to judge, to be the true Mount Ophir. Certain it is that gold is collected there at this day.
Even close to Malacca the country seems a forest of lofty timber. But the timber has been long since removed, and all that are now seen are fruit-trees, some of which are rather of the forest than of garden dimensions, and under their close, thick shade the Malay and Chinese peasants cultivate their grounds with industry and not without skill. There are many green drives from three to five and six miles round in these woods, and they pass through a great deal of beautiful forest scenery. The conveyance here, as at Penang, is in low buggies and phaetons drawn by Acheen ponies, which bustle on with great activity and at a good rate.
Mr. George has made a number of sketches which will help to fill up my blanks.
There are about 15,000 souls in the town and adjoining district. About two-thirds of these are Malays - that is to say, natives; the remainder are principally Chinese who have been long settled, and have colonised here contrary to their usual custom, which is to return to China when they have made a little independence to live on at home. The Chinese emigrants never bring women with them, but foregather with Malay females - mostly slaves - and leave them behind when they go home. At Malacca they have married the daughters of these Malay mothers, and these, inter-marrying, have in a number of generations converted the Malay coarse clay into fine China; so that the colony is now whole blood on both sides of the house, and may be accounted curious in that respect as well as in that of the men not being emigrants from China, but descended from emigrant ancestors and born for several generations
at Malacca. There are also some remains of the old Portuguese stock. These are very degenerate, and little trace of European origin is left, except their professing the Catholic religion. There are people, both Mussulman and Hindoo, from different parts of India; but the most thriving class, though not the most numerous, is Dutch, pure, and mixed with Malay blood. The better kind of Dutch are the only substantial part of the community. They continue, under our Government, to fill the principal offices, particularly the judicial, Dutch law being established by the capitulation. Some are merchants, several of them are well-informed, respectable people, and one or two are polite, accomplished men. Of the ladies, the elder matrons preserve a smack of the primitive Dutch colonial fashion in dress and manners. The daughters dress, dance, find flirt very much as well-educated young women do in Europe, with the advantage of being intensely and beautifully brown. You are lily-fair compared with the fairest of the Batavo-Malaya. fair sex. My fidelity, you see, is put to the test. Of English there is but a commandant with one or two officers and medical men attached to the small garrison, which consists of two companies of Sepoys from Bengal. Malacca is a dependency of the Penang Government.
This account of Malacca is for ordinary times. At present we have a great fleet and army officered by English gentlemen; we have also my establishment, including Mr. Raffles, who has a pretty numerous family. Mrs. Raffles is the great lady, with dark eyes, lively
manner, accomplished and clever. She had a former husband in India, and I have heard, but am not sure of the fact, that she was one of the beauties to whom Anacreontic Moore addressed many of his amatory elegies …
I have mustered the whole female community of Malacca at a ball, for I am now writing on June 7. I celebrated the King's birthday by a levée in the forenoon, a great dinner to all mankind, and a ball in the evening to all womankind. I escaped during the first dance, having had enough of the day by the earlier festivities; and I slept that night up in George's bungalow to be out of earshot of the fiddlers. One of the pleasantest parts of the celebration took place privately after the levée. I released all the Government slaves at Malacca, presenting to each with my own hand a certificate of their freedom, and four dollars to provide for their immediate subsistence till they can get into some way of life. They have also the option of resuming their former state if they find a difficulty in maintaining themselves. They are only nineteen in number, male and female, of all ages, from infants in arms to old, helpless people. Most of them were born slaves to the Dutch Company, some to the English, and all tlieir children would have continued slaves. Slavery is established in all these countries to a shocking extent. An insolvent debtor, however small his debt, is condemned to be the slave of the creditor. Some have been slaves for life for 100 or 200 dollars, and if the sun is considerable the whole family shares the same fate. Men may gamble their children, their wives, and lastly themselves into slavery, in satisfaction of bets upon fighting cocks, or any other gambling debt; and nothing is more common. If a criminal is condemned to slavery, his whole family goes with him; or, if he is put to death, the wife and children, young and old, after witnessing the execution, are sold into slavery - the mother to one master, the children to others. I speak now not of Malacca, but of other Malay countriea, including Java. I hope something may be done - partly by authority, partly by influence - to mitigate these horrors; in the meanwhile the people of Malacca have been told and have seen that the English think no man should be deprived of his liberty except criminals, Another proof has been given to them that we dislike cruelty. Finding some instruments of torture still preserved, although they have been long disused, I had the cross upon which criminals were broken, and another wooden instrument that had served as a sort of rack, burnt under the windows of a room from which executions are seen by the magistrates, where I and the magistrates were assembled for the purpose; and at the same time various iron articles for screwing thumbs, wrists, and ainkles, and other contrivances of that diabolical sort, were carried out in a boat by the executioner into the roads, and sunk in deep water, never to rise or screw poor people's bones and joints again.
Talking of slaves, I must tell you that I am myself the master of several. A Rajah of Balli [Bali], an island adjoining the east end of Java, has sent me, amongst
other presents, five boys and two girls, all slaves, at my service. They have been some time kept at Mr. Raffles's house, who has agreed to take one or two. They are all emancipated, of course, but remain an orphan charge upon ns. The boys are from about eight to thirteen years old, and are all fine, spunky-looking boys. The girls are four or five years old. Now to give you a notion of the manners and scenes they are accustomed to: they were all dressed in their bettermost upon the occasion of their being first shown to me. They perceived that there was a sort of solemnity, which seemed to give them some uneasiness. While they were paraded in this manner, and they were all gazing round them, two Malay spears unfortunately caught Taylor's eye, in the corner of the room, and of necessity he began tossing and brandishing them about, and at length the scabbards were pulled off the bright blades at the ends of the weapons. The moment this happened the poor boys all huddled together, and the youngest left the rest and came with his little hands joined together, in the most supplicating manner, and with the most imploring face, walking from one of us to the other, and evidently begging for his life, though he did not utter a word, nor even cried; but he appeared terrified. It was like one who had little hope of obtaining his request, and who had been accustomed to consider the thing he feared as a sort of natural doom that was to be expected. It was with some difficulty, even after the spears were removed, that the children were reassured. They certainly thought that they had
been dressed out to be sacrificed or put to death for some cause or other, and when they saw the naked points of the spears they thought their time was come. This is the less surprising, as there is every reason to believe that each of them had seen his father put to death by a number of spears, which is a common mode of execution. Next day they were all very merry and happy. George has taken one of the boys to serve him on board of ship, and that boy has fallen on his legs. Mr. Raffles will take care of one or two, and the rest have fallen to my lot. They will probably grow into very good servants. The girls will puzzle me most. I have some thought of baking them in a pie against the Queen's birthday, unless I should strike out some other idea in the meanwhile. Upon the whole, this present from the Rjah of Balli is providential for the poor children. The Rajah has sent two Vakeels, or Ambassadors, to meet me here, and I gave their Excellencies audience on June 4. They are young, well-looking men. I do not remember having seen the same costume at St. James'. They were naked down to the middle; but the garments, when they once began, were rich enough.
Lord Minto in India: Life and Letters of Gilbert Elliot
Published by the Countess of Minto