A Yachting Voyage - The Destruction of Selangor - Varieties of Slime - Swamp Fever - An Unprosperous Region - A "Deadly-Lively" Morning - A Waif and Stray - The Superintendent of Police
STEAM-LAUNCH "ABDULSAMAT" February 7.
You will certainly think, from the dates of my letters, that I am usually at sea. The Resident, his daughter, Mrs. Daly, Mr. Hawley, a revenue officer, and I, left Klang this morning at eight for a two days' voyage in this bit of a thing. Blessed be "the belt of calms!" There was the usual pomp of a body-guard, some of whom are in attendance, and a military display on the pier, well drilled, and well officered in quiet, capable, admirable, unobtrusive Mr. Syers; but gentle Mrs. Douglas, devoted to her helpless daughter, standing above the jetty, a lone woman in forlorn, decayed Klang, haunts me as a vision of sadness, as I think of her sorrow and her dignified hospitality in the midst of it.
Now, at half-past eleven, we are aground with an ebb-tide on the bar of the Selangor river; so I may write a little, though I should like to be asleep.
Bernam River, Selangor, February 8th. - "Chi-laka!" (worthless good-for-nothing wretch), "Bodo!" (fool). I hear these words repeated incessantly in tones of thunder and fury, with accompaniments which need not be dwelt upon. The Malays are a revengeful people. If any official in British service were to knock them about and insult them, one can only say what has been said to me since I came to the native States: "Well, some day - all I can say is, God help him!" But then if an official were to be krissed, no matter how deservedly in Malay estimation, a gunboat would be sent up the river to "punish," and would kill, burn, and destroy; there would be a "little war," and a heavy war indemnity, and the true bearings of the case would be lost forever.
Yesterday, after a detention on the bar, we steamed up the broad, muddy Selangor river, margined by bubbling slime, on which alligators were basking in the torrid sun, to Selangor. Here the Dutch had a fort on the top of the hill. We destroyed it in August, 1871. Some Chinese whose connection with Selangor is not traceable, after murdering nearly everybody on board a Pinang-owned junk, took the vessel to Selangor. We demanded that the native chiefs should give up the pirates, and they gave up nine readily, but refused the tenth, against whom "it does not appear that there was any proof," and drew their krises on our police when they tried to arrest the man in defiance of them. The (acting) Governor of the Straits Settlements, instead of representing to the Sultan the misconduct, actual or supposed, of his officers, sent a war-ship to seize and punish them. This attempt was resented by the Selangor chiefs, and they fired on those who made it. The Rinaldo destroyed the town in consequence, and killed many of its inhabitants.
When the Viceroy, a brother of the Sultan of Kedah, retook Selangor two years afterward, he found that what had been a populous and thriving place was almost deserted, the few hovels which remained were in ruins, the plantations were overgrown with rank jungle growths, and their owners had fled; the mines in the interior were deserted, and the roads and jungle paths were infested by bands of half-starved robbers.*
[*This account of Selangor does not rest on local hearsay, but on the authority of two of the leading officials of the Colonial Government.]
Selangor is a most wretched place - worse than Klang. On one side of the river there is a fishing village of mat and attap hovels on stilts raised a few feet above the slime of a mangrove swamp; and on the other an expanse of slime, with larger houses on stilts, and an attempt at a street of Chinese shops, and a gambling-den, which I entered, and found full of gamblers at noonday. The same place serves for a spirit and champagne shop. Slime was everywhere oozing, bubbling, smelling putrid in the sun, all glimmering, shining, and iridescent, breeding fever and horrible life; while land-crabs boring holes, crabs of a brilliant turquoise-blue color, which fades at death, and reptiles like fish, with great bags below their mouths, and innumerable armor-plated insects, were rioting in it under the broiling sun.
We landed by a steep ladder upon a jetty with a gridiron top, only safe for shoeless feet, and Mr. Hawley and I went up to the fort by steps cut in the earth. There are fine mango-trees on the slopes, said to have been planted by the Dutch two centuries ago. The fort is nearly oblong, and has a wall of stones and earth round it, in which, near the entrance, some of the Dutch brickwork is still visible. The trees round it are much tattered and torn by English shell. In front of the entrance there is a large flat stone on a rude support. On this a young girl was sacrificed some years ago, and the Malay guns were smeared with her blood, in the idea that it would make them successful. I was told this story, but have no means of testing its accuracy.
Within the fort the collector and magistrate - a very inert-looking Dutch half-caste - has a wretched habitation, mostly made of attap. We sat there for some time. It looked most miserable, the few things about being empty bottles and meat-tins. A man would need many resources, great energy, and an earnest desire to do his duty, in order to save him from complete degeneracy. He has no better prospect from his elevation, than a nearly level plateau of mangrove swamps and jungle, with low hills in the distance, in which the rivers rise. It was hot - rather.