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History, The Imposition of British Rule

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, English East India Company, Indian labor, French power, plantation system

The British became active in the area in the 18th century, partly because they sought trade, but also to check French power in the Indian Ocean. The sultan of Kedah, looking for help against the Siamese, leased the island of Pinang to the English East India Company in 1786, and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a company administrator, founded Singapore in 1819. Under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, Britain secured Malacca from the Dutch and in return relinquished its claims to Sumatra and nearby smaller islands. Singapore, Pinang, and Malacca (which collectively became the Straits Settlements in 1826) were then administered by Britain.

In the mid-19th century tin-mining activity greatly expanded in the Malay Peninsula, and Malay rulers and the immigrant Chinese they employed became involved in territorial disputes. Fearful that these disputes might disrupt trade, the British took control of the peninsular states, working indirectly through the Malay rulers. Using diplomacy and taking advantage of dynastic quarrels, the British persuaded the rulers to accept British “residents” or “advisers,” who dictated policy. Before World War II (1939-1945) the native states were classified as either federated or unfederated, with British control somewhat looser in the unfederated states. The federated states were Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, and Pahang. The unfederated states were Johor and the four northern states, which were acquired from Thailand in 1909. At the top of the British system of rule was a high commissioner, who was also governor of the Straits Settlements.

The present Malaysian territories in Borneo were largely under the domination of the powerful Muslim state of Brunei until the 19th century. Before then, Europeans traded on the island but made no permanent settlements. In 1841, however, the sultan of Brunei rewarded Sir James Brooke, an English adventurer who helped to suppress rebels, with a gift of land and the title raja of Sarawak. Brooke and his successors expanded the territory. To the east, the sultans of Brunei and Sulu also granted land to Europeans. In 1882 the British North Borneo (Chartered) Company purchased the European-held territory. British North Borneo and Sarawak became British protectorates in 1888.

British colonial impacts on Malaysia, especially West Malaysia, while not always positive, were profound. For example, Britain was directly or indirectly responsible for the establishment of the plantation system and the commercialization of agriculture; the framework for the present-day transportation system; multiracialism (through the importation of Chinese and Indian labor); the introduction of English and an educational system; and modern political institutions.

Article key phrases:

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, English East India Company, Indian labor, French power, plantation system, Straits Settlements, territorial disputes, Malay Peninsula, permanent settlements, Sulu, West Malaysia, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Siamese, Sumatra, Pahang, northern states, smaller islands, high commissioner, rebels, Malacca, Europeans, Selangor, Indian Ocean, World War, Johor, diplomacy, successors, governor, advisers, educational system, framework, Britain, domination, establishment, territory, Thailand, island, claims, century, British, Singapore, trade, east, residents, example, area, Company, return, policy


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