Forged between the British and the local Malay chiefs of Perak, the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 (also known as the “Pangkor Engagement”) resolved the Perak succession dispute in favour of Raja Abdullah and ended the clashes between Chinese groups for control of the Larut tin mines.
Rapid growth of the tin trade in the 19th century brought an influx of Chinese labour to the tin-producing west coast Malay States of Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. Intense rivalry among Chinese secret societies intersected with the political strife between local Malay rulers.  Trade was disrupted as tensions escalated into widespread unrest in the decade leading up to the signing of the Pangkor Treaty. Distressed by the deteriorating situation, the trading community in the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and Penang) appealed to the British colonial government for intervention to safeguard their commercial interests. However, such efforts met with little result until the appointment of Andrew Clarke as Governor of the Straits Settlements in 1873.
Clarke was tasked to investigate the state of affairs and make recommendations on how the colonial government could “promote the restoration of peace and order, and to secure protection to trade and commerce with the native territories”. Abdullah’s plea for British assistance thus came at an opportune time. With the help of influential Singapore merchants, Tan Kim Cheng and William H. Read, Abdullah sought recognition as the rightful ruler of Perak and expressed his wish for British tutelage. His letter to Clarke became the “key to the door” that led to the Pangkor Treaty and British domination over the Malay States.
Signed on 20 January 1874, the Pangkor Treaty provided for the appointment of a British resident to advise the Sultan of Perak on all matters except Malay religion and customs as well as to oversee the collection of revenue and general administration. The treaty also marked the introduction of the residential system and signaled a formal departure from the official policy of non-intervention by the British. James W. Birch was appointed the first resident of Perak. Clarke subsequently negotiated similar arrangements in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.
The Straits Settlements – in particular Singapore, the centre for commodity export – benefitted from the intensified development of the Malay States under British protection.
1. Swettenham, F. A. (1975). British Malaya: An account of the origin and progress of British influence in Malaya (pp. 176–177). New York: AMS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5 SWE.
2. Sadka, E. (1968). The protected Malay states, 1874–1895 (pp. 18–23). Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press. Call no.: RSING 959.51034 SAD.
3. Khoo, K. K. (1972). The western Malay states, 1850–1873: The effects of commercial development on Malay politics. (p. 110). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5103 KHO.
4. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (p. 98). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR; Khoo, 1972, pp. 111–159.
5. Sadka, 1968, pp. 41, 45.
6. Turnbull, 2009, p. 99.
7. Swettenham, 1975, p. 175.
8. Swettenham, 1975, p. 175; Khoo, 1972, pp. 216–217.
9. Read, W. H. (1901). Play and politics, recollections of Malaya by an old resident [Online book] (p. 25). London: W. Gardner, Darton. Retrieved from BookSG.
10. Swettenham, 1975, p. 177.
11. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (p. 104). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS].
12. Makepeace et. al, 1991, p. 98.
13. Turnbull, 2009, p. 99.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.