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Gabriel Ahlfort assists the sultan

On one of his travels to Batavia (present-day Jakarta), Gabriel Ahlfort was ordered to partake in an operation to help the sultan of Palembang suppress a riot on the island of Bangka. He probably looked forward to some action, given that he would later deplore the fact that he had never been involved in a naval battle.

Indonesia at that time comprised a range of lesser kingdoms controlled by the Dutch, and by assisting certain kings the Dutch consolidated their own power and rights in the area. In this instance, the secretary at Batavia Fort had received a letter on the 26th of January 1731 from sultan Mahmud Badaruddin I of Palembang who needed assistance to withstand a Bugis revolt in favour of prince Dipati Anum (who may have been his son, but this is unclear), in the tin-producing island of Bangka.

The Buginese were a people from southwestern Sulawesi who had settled in Bangka and southern Malaysia, where they had become very powerful. They had helped the Malaysian Johors defeat the old Jambi sultanate in the 17th century and were now closely allied with the Johor sultan.

As tin from the twin islands of Bangka and Belitung had been gradually replacing pepper as the Palembang sultanate’s most lucrative trade item during the reign of its current sultan, retaining control over these islands was crucial. The tin miners in Bangka were mainly Buginese, so their powerful compatriots naturally wanted their share in the profits.

We know that the Dutch expedition to Bangka was successful, and that the sultan continued reigning until 1754, but Gabriel tells us nothing of the actual events. Luckily, the Palembang and Dutch governments communicated by letter, and the fort secretary in Batavia not only kept a journal of what letters he received, but also copied many of them in translation from Malay.

The Palembang sultan Mahmud Badaruddin I requests Dutch assistance against his foe, 26/1 1731. Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

The Palembang sultan Mahmud Badaruddin I requests Dutch assistance against his foe, 26/1 1731. Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

In his first letter, the sultan had reported that his foe had been joined by the rogue Arong Mapala and his troops who had gone to Bangka and were now busying themselves with harrassing the locals.

Wijders maakt Padoeka Ziri Sulthaan Ratoe bij deesen alle zijn broederlijke vreend den Gouverneur Generaal ende raden van India bekend dat pa[n]gerang Dipati Anom ge-enjungeerd met Arong Mapala ende zijne troupen haar thands op het eijland Bangka bevinden en beesig zijn die eijlanders te benaauwen ente verdrukken (…)

Furthermore Paduka Seri Sultan Ratu [i.e. Mahmud Badaruddin] makes known to this his brotherly friend the Governor General and Councillor of India that prince Dipati Anom has joined with Arong Mapala and his troops which now find themselves in the island of Bangka and are busy oppressing and harrassing the islanders.

He added that, as he had no one else to ask for help, he was hoping that the Dutch would assist him in his hour of trouble.

On the 1st of February, an emissary was sent back to the Palembang sultan with the reply that assistance would indeed be given. Accordingly, a Dutch expedition was ordered to leave for Bangka, and Gabriel was told to participate in this quest, according to his diary.

4 mars blev jag kommenderad på amiralsskeppet Hasburg, vilket kommenderades av kapten Martin Martål, vilket skepp jämte trenne andra skepp blev kommenderat att göra den där boende hedniska konungen assistense, emedan dess undersåtare hade i sinnet att mörda honom och taga i stället dess son till konung.

4th of March [1731] I was ordered onto the admiral’s ship Hesburg [Heesburg], which was commanded by Captain Martin Martål [Minut?], which along with three other ships was ordered to assist the local heathen king, as his subjects had in mind to murder him and take his son as their king instead.

Note: According to Dutch sources the ship Heesburg was under the command of skipper Jan de Marre at this time, but in one of the letters from the sultan a captain by the name of Jan Minut is mentioned, and he may possibly be the same person. Perhaps he is also the one whose name has been misread as Martin Martål (a very strange name) by the publisher of the diary. As regards the surname, this is highly feasible, but the first name is a little more surprising, unless we are dealing with two relatives.

On the 26th of March a letter arrived from Palembang informing the Dutch that the Buginese rogue had been surrounded in Bangka, but had been rescued by his ally, the usurper Sultan Dipati Anum. Possibly this happened in the town of Koba, where the large abandoned tin mines scar the landscape to this day.

(…) tijding dat den bouginesen rover Arom – Mapala met zijn adherenten door de palembangers te water omringelt dog onderstand geboden wierden door den usurpaten Sulthan Anom die zig ophield op Banca Cobo(?) (…)

(…) news that the Buginese robber Arom – Mapala with his adherents had been surrounded by the Palembang people at the waterside(?), but had been rescued by the usurper Sultan Anum who was staying on Bangka Koba(?) (…)

Another possibility is that it took place at Bangkakota on the other side of the island, a locality likewise associated with tin mining along the coast.

A letter arrives from the sultan of Palembang. Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

A letter arrives from the sultan of Palembang (26/3 1731). Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

The rebelling sultan had left Linggi south of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and had established himself on Bangka ”with his entire train of wives and children” (met zijn gantsehen Sleep van wijven en kinderen). Linggi was the seat of power in the Johor empire, so presumably he had been talking things over with his allies.

The usurper Sultan Anom moves to Bangka with his family. Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

The usurper Sultan Anum moves to Bangka with his family (28/3 1731). Source: Sejarah Nusantara.

The next letter did not arrive until October, indicating that the Palembang sultan had been busy consolidating his power. This he did very successfully, and he is generally considered a wise and considerate ruler. After the rebellion had been quenched, Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin invited thousands of Chinese miners to Bangka so the Buginese would never be able to take control on their own again. He had married a Chinese woman himself, and a total of around 25,000-30,000 Chinese came to the area during his reign.

The sultan was very happy with the help he had received, and he told the Dutch so in his jubilant letter of thanks. He explained how things had developed.

Hebbende gemelde Heer Oostwald voorts naar verloop van eenige dagen omme te voldoen aan de goede intentie van de Padoeka Sirij Zulthan Ratoe werkstellig gemaakt alle ’t geene streek ende was tot heijl en wel wesen van den Padoeka Sirij Zulthan Ratoe en tot ruine van de genen die hebben derven onderstaan ’t coningrijk Palembang en de dies resorten te ontrusten ende in leijelijkheeden(?) toetebrengen en ter den eijnde sig perzonelijk begeven na’t eijland Bangka met de capitain Jan Minut en ’s EComp:t magt gevolgt van alle de Pangerangs en verdere onderdanen den Padoeka Sirij Zulthan Ratoe met hunne toegeruste vaartuijgen aan dat eijland gekomen sijnde van sijn Edele deroete na Banka Kota van vaar ten eersten den pangerang Dipattij Anom te kobak ging attaqaeren en op de vlugt slaan sonder dat men tot nog toe heeft konnen te weten komen vervaard hij met de sijne geretireerd is ende den capitain Jan Minut die met zijn gevolg na de vijandelijke pagger te Pangka was gedetocheert heeft aldaar de pagger ledig en sonder menschen gevonden alsoo al het volk neets voor zijne aancomste gevlugt waren.

De oorsaak nu waarom men genoemen pangerang Dipattij Anom niet heeft konnen in handen krijgen is om dat de Palembangers die uijtgezonden waren om alle de havens en rivieren te bek:t ten door tegenwind en swaarweer sijn belet geworden tijdig de plaatsen daarse post maester vatten met hunne vaartuijgen te bezeijlen zij hebben vervolgens alle de havens en rivieren onderzogt dog geen vaartuijgen ergens ontwaart waar mede hij met sijnen aanhang van Bangka souwde konnen vlugten met(?) malt dier halven voor seekerstellen dat hij naderhand van die geene die in zee swerven van het eijland is afgehald en weg gevoert soo dat het ontsnappen van genoemde pangerang Dipatti Anom eijgentlijk gecouteert is door de negligentie van de palembangers maar geensints door die van de heer Oostwalt voornoemt en volg: de berigten van de gevangenen die gekregen sijn soude pangerang Dipattij Anom en sijnen aanhang met vier Bangkase vaartuijgen gevlugt wesen na Blitong of te na Lampong sonder dat men voor als nog met waarheijt seggen kan waar hij sig onthoudt sullen de dier halven den padoeka Sirij Zulthan Ratoe met marqueren daar na te laten vernemen ende ten spoedigsten uw Hoog Edelhedens mede deelen.

Ook werd den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende raden van India bij desen mag ter kennisse gebragt dat met de Eenste aancomst alhier van den heer Oostwalt men gooedgevanden heeft den capitain Roos met nog eenige Palembangs groeten te detacheeren na Tandjong Oelar en Blito die met zijne aankomst op Tandjong Oelar aanstonds die plaats geattaquiert en overnommen heeft dog Arom Mapala heefd sig met de vlugt geeschapeert en is niet agterhaalt geworden de huijsen aldaar afgebrand zijnde hebben de onse haar verders begeven na Blito welker volkenen geen vijandelijkheden hebben betoont maar aanstends haar overgegeven in handen van capitain Roos voornoemt.

Wijders wat aanbelangt uw Hoog Edelh:s vriendelijken onderwijsingen en vermaningen sneels(?) bij de hoog geagte brief aan den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende de raden van India daar op betuijgt den padoeka Sirij Zulthan Ratoe niet te sollen manqueeren na smagen(?) te bevlijtigen ende sorge te dragen an die in allen deelen op te volgen ende naar te komen ende dus volkomen voldoeninge te geven aan de vermedelijke vermaningen en onderwijsingen van den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende raden van India sullende den padoeka Sirij Zulthan mooist uijt zijne geheugen laten gaan den vrundelijken bijstand en bescherminge van desselfs ware wunden en getrouwe bondgenoot den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende de raden van India maar steeds daar op sijne hoop en vertrouwen stellen betuijgende midellerwijle daar voor sijne veelvoudige dankbaarheijt bij desen omtrent desselfs waren runden(?) den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende raden van India.

Eijndelijk wer uw Hoog Edelh:s nog ter kennisse gebraagt dat ’t eijland Bangka thaus door de goetheijt en veel vermogende hulpe van den Heer Gouverneur Generaal ende raden van India gesuijvert is van al ’t geene eenig an heijl zoude konnen veroorsaken want alle de volkeren hebben haar weder aan der padoeka Sirij Zulthan Kamer onderwepen in dier volgen als van ouds gewert is.

Ges:z in de stad Palembang op het gesegenste landschap van ’t eijland groot groot andaloes int haar na de vlugt des propheets 1444 op donderdag den 10 van de maand rabint awal int jaar Ba.

Briefly, the Dutch captain Jan Minut and his men had rushed to the island with the royal Palembang entourage and their vessels equipped for war. They met the opponent on the road to Bangkakota whence he had fled to an unknown place. Captain Jan Minut thought he might have fled to the fort at Pangka [Pangkal?] and took his men there, but found the nest empty. They could not search the harbours and rivers properly before it was too late, because strong contrary winds and bad weather kept them from setting out to sea. The miscreant’s escape was fully due to the negligence of the Palembangers and in no way to the actions of the Dutch. According to some prisoners who had been caught, Dipatti Anom had fled to the neighbouring island of Belitung or Lampung in southernmost Sumatra, with four local vessels. No exact destination could be ascertained, however.

A company of Palembangers then left for Tanjung Ular with captain Roos, where they found the rogue Arong Mapala. They immediately attacked the place and conquered it, but he burnt down the houses and succeeded in escaping and disappearing completely. They then continued to the island of Belitung, where the locals made no attempt at protecting the rebel but handed him over to captain Roos directly.

icon-check  09-12-2015

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