Pahang civil war breaks out



When Singapore was part of the Straits Settlements under the direct control of the governor-general of India, British officials in Singapore were governed by Bengal's policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Malay states. When Singapore commercial interests expanded in the Malayan peninsula, it was difficult for Singapore governors to keep their distance as the prosperity of Singapore investments depended on the stability of these states.[1] During the Pahang  civil war  (1857–1863), the  British  were pressured to  intervene to  protect  British  businesses in  Pahang. Both Chinese and European merchants from Singapore had invested capital to operate the tin mines in the interior of Pahang.[2] These investments were threatened when two Pahang princes, Mutahir and his younger brother Ahmad, fought a succession battle for the throne upon the death of their father, Bendahara Ali, in 1857.[3]

The Pahang succession feud fed into the royal rivalry between Sultan Ali and Temenggong Ibrahim in Singapore. Each took sides in the Pahang dispute, with the sultan aligning with Ahmad while the temenggong favoured Mutahir. A majority of Singapore's merchants, who had built close ties with the temenggong, also backed him in his support for Mutahir.[4] Singapore became a staging base for Ahmad’s war preparations. In 1857, right after his father’s funeral, Ahmad went to Pulau Tekong to recruit men and amass weapons. Temenggong Ibrahim protested to then Governor Edmund  A. Blundell and sought his help to stop Ahmad, but the temenggong’s  protests fell on deaf ears.[5] From Singapore, Ahmad proceeded to Terengganu to continue with his preparations for battle against his brother. Ahmad was also able to count on Sultan Omar of Terengganu as his sponsor in the succession feud.[6]  

Ahmad launched his attack on Mutahir in November 1857.[7] To counter the attacks, Temenggong Ibrahim wanted to send reinforcements to his ally Mutahir but was prevented from doing so by Governor Blundell.[8] Blundell tried to block the open intervention by the external sponsors of each rival prince through diplomacy but failed.[9] The civil war in Pahang continued until 1863, forcing the Kuantan mines to close. The disruption in tin mining dealt a severe blow to Singapore merchants.[10] In the next decade, the urgent need to provide security for British commercial interests in the Malayan peninsula persuaded the British to abandon its non-intervention stance towards the Malay states.[11]


1. Chandler, D. P., & Steinberg, D. J. (Eds.). (1987). In search of Southeast Asia: A modern history (pp. 144–145). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Call no.: RCLOS 959 IN.
2. Pahang war of inheritance upset colony tin trade. (1958, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Linehan, W. (1936, May). A history of Pahang. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 14, 2 (125), 65–66. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from JSTOR.
4. Baker, J. (2008). Crossroads: A popular history of Malaysia and Singapore (pp. 119–120). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International (Asia). Call no.: RSING 959.5 BAK.
5. Suzana Othman. (2007). Perang Bendahara Pahang 1857–63: Pensejarahan semula menelusi peranan British (pp. 100, 115–116). Shah Alam: Karisma Publications. Call no.: R959.504 SUZ.
6. Linehan, May 1936, pp. 67–68, 71.
7. Linehan, May 1936, pp. 67–68, 71.
8. The editor’s room. Pahang and Triganu. (1858, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Linehan, May 1936, pp. 71–72.
10. Gambe, A. (1996, November). Overseas Entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia (p. 67). Retrieved April 8, 2014, from Thammasat University website:
11. Baker, 2008, pp. 119–120; Webster, A. (1998). Gentlemen capitalists:  British imperialism in South East Asia 1770–1890.  London: Tauris Academic Studies. Call no. RSING 959 WEB.

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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.