Raffles arrived in Bencoolen on 19 March, 1818. Despite the prestige connected with the title, Bencoolen was a colonial backwater whose only real export was pepper and only the murder of a previous Resident, Thomas Parr, gained it any attention back home in Britain. Raffles found the place wretched, and set about for reforms immediately, mostly similar to what he had done in Java - abolishing slavery and limiting cockfighting and such games. To replace the slaves, he used a contingent of convicts, already sent to him from India. It is at this point when he realized the importance of a British presence that both challenged the Dutch hegemony in the area and could remain consistently profitable, unlike Bencoolen or Batavia. However, the strategic importance of poorly-maintained but well-positioned British possessions such as Penang or Bencoolen made it impossible for the British to abandon such unprofitable colonies in such close proximity to the Dutch in Java. The competition in the area, between Raffles and the aggressive Dutch de jure Governor, Elout, certainly led at least in part to the later Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Raffles looked into alternatives in the area - namely Bangka, which had been ceded to the Dutch after its conquest by the British during its occupation of Java.

Bintan was also under consideration. Despite the fact that Warren Hastings overlooked the island before settling upon Penang in 1786, the Riau Archipelago was an attractive choice just to the south of the Malay Peninsula, for its proximity to Malacca. In his correspondences with Calcutta, Raffles also emphasized the need to establish a certain amount of influence with the native chiefs, which had greatly waned since the return of the Dutch. Raffles sent Thomas Travers as an ambassador to the Dutch, to possibly negotiate an expansion of British economic interests. When this failed, and when Raffles' own expeditions into his new dominion found only treacherous terrain and few exportable goods, his desire to establish a better British presence was cemented.

However, the Anglo-Dutch Convention of 1814 was not completely clear, especially on the issue of certain possessions such as Padang. The Convention of 1814 only returned Dutch territory that was held before 1803, amongst which Padang was not one of them. Raffles asserted the British claim personally, leading a small expedition to the Sultanate of Minangkabau. Yet, as Raffles confirmed with the sultan regarding the absolute British influence of the area, he realized that the local rulers had only limited power over the well-cultivated and civilized country, and the treaty was largely symbolic and had little actual force.



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