Dato’ Maharajalela Pandak Lam

A descendant of Daeng Salili, Pandak Lam was the son of a Bugis King from Luwuk District, Sulawesi. During the reign of Sultan Muzaffar Shah III, Daeng Salili came to Perak and was appointed Mufti and was awarded the title ‘Dato ‘Maharajalela Tan Lela’, granting him the authority to punish by decapitation without question. Like Daeng Salili, Pandak Lam was also made Dato’ Maharajalela and had a pivotal role in the fight against British rule in Perak.

In 1861, a fight broke out between the miners in Perak over the control of a water-courses & mining areas. The rivalry between the tin miners of Klian Pauh and Klian Baru degenerate into open warfare between the secret societies of Hai San, who are Hakkas, and Ghee Hin, who are Cantonese. While it is true that the Chinese communities were at war within themselves, the Malay society has also split into two camps following a power struggle for the throne of Perak between Raja Abdullah and Sultan Ismail with strong support from Ngah Ibrahim of Larut . These protracted feuding, called Larut Wars, took place in 1861, 1865, 1872 and then last one in 1873.  The Perak sultanate, involved in a protracted succession struggle was unable to restore unsettled conditions in Perak . Things were increasingly getting out of hand and chaos was proving bad for the Malays, Chinese and British.

A Chinese businessman residing in Singapore by name of Kim Cheng had persuaded Raja Abdullah, to approach the British with a proposition that he had desire to place Perak under British protection, and ‘to have a man of sufficient abilities to show him a good system of government’ , in which he would make good his desires if he were officially appointed Sultan.

In 1874, the Straits Settlements governor Sir Andrew Clarke convened a meeting on Pulau Pangkor, at which Sultan Abdullah was installed on the throne of Perak in preference to his rival, Sultan Ismail. The historic Pangkor Treaty obliged the appointed Sultan to accept the ‘advice’ of a colonial officer, and became the starting point of British intervention into the Malay States. JWW Birch was appointed as Resident to the Perak Sultan following the signing of the Pangkor Treaty on 20th January 1874, which established a British protectorate over the state. The Resident was officially just an adviser to the Sultan, but the arrangement actually meant that the Resident had the last word in all matters other than religion.

The presence of Birch began to raise feelings of dissatisfaction and instantly unpopular among the Malays as he treated them badly and had no regard for their culture or traditions and was always conflicting with the ideas and opinions of the local chiefs. For example he immediately implemented aggressive measures like the taking over of the collection of state taxes and revenues by government officers, a role traditionally undertaken by the Malay Chiefs.

Dissatisfied with forceful intervention by the British and the ill-mannered Birch, Dato’ Maharajalela Pandak Lam planned the assassination of J.W.W Birch in collaboration with the Orang Kaya-kaya Seri Agar Diraja Dato’ Sagor and Ngah Kandin. The decision for the resistance against British rule was made at a meeting chaired by Sultan Abdullah at Durian Sebatang on May 21 1875, which was also attended by other Perak chiefs, ultimately culminating in the meeting at Belanja on October 1 1875, which consented the Dato’ Maharajalela to proceed with the assassination .

On 1st November 1875, Birch and his encounterage was attacked by the Malays at the river mouth near Birch’s boat. Birch narrowly missed death by jumping into the river and escaping downriver during the confusion. However, Birch was killed on 2 November 1875 by Dato Maharajalela and his assistant Sepuntum, who speared him to death while he was taking his bath, nearby a river, in Pasir Salak.

After the murder of Birch, Datuk Maharaja Lela and Datuk Sagor strengthened their fort at Pasir Salak and Kampung Gajah. The British with a reinforced soldiers retaliated by attacking Pasir Salak and Kampung Gajah on 15th November 1875. Dato Sagor and Maharaja Lela’s houses and all the Malays’ houses in Pasir Salak and Kampung Gajah were destroyed and burned to the ground by the British. In the aftermath of the event, Sultan Abdullah was deposed and sent to exile in Seychelles. Dato Maharajalela and others involved in the incident were hanged.


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