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Heritage Sikhs Making Their History In Malaysia

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
By Gurcharan Singh, Kuala Lumpur-London

It is often said Malaya was the "first foreign country the Sikhs went to from Punjab". This is, oh so very wrong!

The very first foreign country the Sikhs went to was Afghanistan.But, in addition to the later migrants, there were already Sikh communities in Afghanistan from the times of Guru Nanak ji.

The next country Sikhs went to was China, where Sikhs soldiers were used to fight in the last phase of the Opium wars in 1851 circa.There on, they remained there, playing major roles as police and security in Shanghai etc until 1945.

Burma was the third country Sikhs were taken to consolidate the British rule in 1852, according to official records.The Burma Sikh Military Police was very effective & famous for keeping law & order in Burma.It was the roots of Sikh settlements in Burma.

Malaya was the 4th country Sikhs came abroad too.

Records of travel from Australia show Sikhs had passed Malaya as early as 1837 between India and Australia.The recruitment of Sikh mercenary soldiers from the Straits settlements by Tengku Kudin, Viceroy of Selangor, in 1871 indicates Sikhs were already present in Malaya in some numbers well before 1871.Many of these Sikhs may have been travelling between China, India and Australia.

According to Ranjit Singh Malhi "..based on existing documentary evidence, the first Sikhs who came to Malaya were Nihal Singh (popularly known as Bhai Maharaj Singh) and his attendant, Kharak Singh.

Both of them were political prisoners who were sentenced to exile for life due to their involvement in the anti-British movement in Punjab, India.

Both of them landed in Singapore on June 14, 1850. Bhai Maharaj Singh died in solitary confinement in Singapore on July 5, 1856. Kharak Singh was transferred from Singapore to Penang in 1857 because the British authorities feared that he might cause trouble with fellow prisoners.

Subsequently, hundreds of Sikh convicts were also sent to the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and Penang) until 1860.

A little known fact is that Tengku Kudin, the Viceroy of Selangor who was involved in the Selangor Civil War against Raja Mahdi, had a garrison of 100 Sikh mercenary soldiers recruited from the Straits Settlements stationed at Kuala Selangor in 1871 under the command of Pennefather, a professional soldier of fortune (former British army sergeant). Many of the Sikhs were killed in this civil war which ended in 1873.

On July 27, 1873, Capt Tristram Speedy (a former Superintendent of Police in Penang) left for India and managed to recruit 110 discharged sepoys (mostly Sikhs and Pathans and Punjabi Muslims) to help Ngah Ibrahim restore law and order in Larut, Perak.


This small Force was stationed in Taiping, served as Military Police.It was styled as the Perak Armed Police.

The Sikhs started migrating to China, Burma and Malaya in considerable numbers since the middle of the nineteenth century, as the British recruited them into the police forces locally.

Most of the Sikhs that went to China, Burma and Malaya in that period came from the British Cis -Satluj territories and the Sikh Royal States, which were never part of the Sikh Kingdom of Maharajah Ranjit Singh.

On 2nd of November 1875, Mr J.W.W. Birch, the first British Resident of Perak, and his orderly Sepoy Ishar Singh were murdered in Pasir Salak. Sr Ishar Singh ji was probably the first Sikh to die on duty in Malaya.

In 1879, Lieutenant Walker joined the Perak Armed Police as acting Commissioner and wanted to engage another 250 Sepoys. In 1883, he went to the Punjab to interview and recruit the men from the well known Sikh regiments, like the 14th Sikhs, 15th Sikhs and the 45th Sikhs. Many of those selected had seen active service on the North West Frontier of India.

Thus by 1884, there were about 700 Sikhs in the Perak Police.About 100 were stationed in Taiping and the rest distributed in the various police stations from Parit Buntar in the north to Telok in the south.

In 1888, it became 1st Perak Sikhs, under Capt.Walker. The Pahang rebellion took place in the years 1892-1894. Capt Walker was in charge of the operations against the rebels, and sought Sikh Police from every state and Singapore to quell the rebellion.

On June, 28th the chief stronghold of the rebels at Kuala Tembiling was stormed. Capt Walker led the attack on the stockade with his Sikhs.In Malaya, this was the first battle in which the Sikhs earned name, reputation and fame.

The Sikh police was to grow from a strength of about 100 strong in 1873, to a force of 900 by 1896.With the Federation of the Malay states formed in 1896, the police force of Perak had to give up it's own name and become a contingent of the Federated Malay States Police Force.


In 19th and 20th century Selangor was one of the world's major producers in tin.A War was raging between a Raja Mahdi and Zia U din, the son in law of Tengku Kudin, ruler of Selangor.The Chinese secret societies, Ghee Hin joined Raja Mahdi, and the Hai San joined Zia ud din in a civil war in Selangor.The British trying to get a foothold in Selangor supported Tengku Kudin.

A British war ship shelled Raja Mahdi's strong hold at Kuala Selangor.On the advise of the British, Tengku Kudin recruited 100 Sikhs locally and garrisoned the Fort at Kuala Selangor, along with 30 -40 Malays from Kedah.The officer of the Sikhs was a Pennefather.These Sikhs were involved in further battles with Raja Mahdi's followers until 1874, many died fighting.The fighting ended in 1984, after Tengku Kudin won, with Raja Ismail won.The Sultan Tengku expressed concerns about Selangors' security as pirates contiuned to attack ships along it's coast, from Sir Andrew Clkarke, leading to the appointment of a British Resident General in Selangor.

Sir Andrew Clarke encouraged recruitement of Sikhs, and by 1880s Captain H.C Syers had assembled a force of about 530 Military Police, known as the Selangor Sikhs.

The new Governor General Of Straits Settlements, Sir Andrew Clarke arrived in 1873, and within a year took all the states of Negri Sembilan under the British protection.

Sungai Ujong was the first to come under British protection.As other states came to be included in NS British protection, the British started to recruit Sikhs in 1874.Captain P. J. Murray took the Sikh Police Officers from the Straits Settlements to Negri Sembilan.

One Sikh contigent of 120 Sikhs served Sungai Ujong and Jelebu districts, the other contigent of 100 Sikhs served the other districts.

SpADMIN JI PLS re arrange the photos.... TY You are welcome/Done jio


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