From H.B.M.'s Resident, Perak, to Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements Residency, Kwala Kansa, December 14, 1878.
Sir - In reference to your letter of the 28th June last, directing, by command of His Excellency the Governor, my particular attention to the plan adopted in Selangor for the extinction of the claims against slave-debtors, by a valuation of their services to their creditors according to a fixed scale, and directing me to consider to His Excellency with a view to its being afterward submitted for the consideration of the Council of State:
1. I have the honor to state in reply that a copy of that letter and its inclosure was supplied to the Assistant Resident of Perak, and its contents communicated to the other magistrates, with instructions on all occasions in which such cases should be brought before them, to endeavor, with the consent of the creditors, to come to a settlement on such a basis.
2. The Toh Puan Halimah, daughter of the exiled Laxamana of Perak, and chief wife of the banished Mentri of the State, had invested most of her private money in advances of this description, which, up to the time of British interference, was the favorite form of security, and she is now the largest claimant in the country for the repayment of her money. Another, Wan Teh Sapiah, has also claims of a like nature on several families, and both these ladies willingly undertook to accept of liquidation by such an arrangement.
3. In the former case it has, I am sorry to say, fallen through, from the impossibility of inducing the debtors to work regularly, and from very many of them, who are living in entire freedom in different parts of the country, declining to come into the arrangement, though acknowledging their debts.
4. In many other cases the creditors from the first put forward the certainty of the failure of such a system from the above-mentioned cause; others have objected that they had no regular employment in which to place their debtors; others, that they are utterly ruined by the events of recent years, and that they would accede to the proposal if fairly carried out on the other part, provided the Government would advance money as the native Rajahs did to enable them to open mines or gardens in which they could employ their debtors; nearly all have declared themselves willing, and even anxious, to accept a just amount in payment of their debts, several suggesting that the State might conveniently undertake to do this, employing the labor in public works until the debtor should be free.
5. I cannot undertake to say what may have been the practice in former times, as to the treatment, in Perak, of this class of persons; but no case of cruelty or any great hardship has been brought to my notice since I came into the country. By far the larger number of the slave-debtors live with their families apart and often at great distances from their masters, enjoying all the fruits of their labor, rendering occasional assistance to them when called upon to do so, which, in the majority of cases, is of rare occurrence.
6. The circumstances of Perak would probably be found to differ from those of Selangor, which I understand has a much smaller population; was governed by an enlightened ruler under the advice of British Residents, who succeeded in introducing the present regulation immediately after the conquest of the district.
7. To introduce such a measure into Perak at the present time would, in my opinion, have a very disturbing effect, and although I do not think that it would lead to any extensive or organized armed resistance, I am sure that it would so shake the confidence which has arisen between the European officers and principal people that years would be required to restore it.
8. I confess that I am not able to devote all my sympathy to the weaker class in this question. I concur with the principal natives that the introduction of a measure which formed no part of the original contract would practically amount to a confiscation of their property, the value of the labor of this class of persons being scarcely more than nominal; and I adhere to the opinion that the just and politic course is, as has been done, to prohibit any extension or renewal of the practice either of slave indebtedness or slavery; to secure good treatment for the servile classes under penalty of enforced manumission; to reduce claims when they come before the magistrates to the minimum which justice to the creditor will permit; to await the increased means of freeing themselves which must develop for the poorer classes upon the extensive introduction of European capital into agricultural industries; and, finally, to purchase at a rate which, in consequence of the notorious discouragement with which every case is treated by the European officers and the courts, and the pressure of other influences, will, in time, be much diminished from what would probably be considered a fair equivalent. I have, etc.,
(Signed) Hugh Low, Resident.
The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements, Singapore.
From H.B.M.'s Resident, Perak, to the Honorable the Colonial Secretary
Teluk Anson, April 26, 1882.
Sir - I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th instant, calling upon me for information as to the progress made toward the extinction of debt slavery in this State since 1879, for transmission to Her Majesty's Secretary of State.