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Murder Most Foul

A Panorama of Social Life in Melaka from the 1780s to the 1820s

Radin Fernando

Publication Year: 2006

This book presents a tapestry of social history of Melaka rich in details as never before, using the court records from the 1780s through to the 1820s serendipitously preserved. Through the eyes of Dutch judges who carefully recorded crimes committed in the town, Radin Fernando weaves a fascinating narrative of social history of ordinary people caught in the most serious of all crimes, murder, as both perpetrators and victims. They speak for themselves, revealing their anxiety, anguish, humour and mischief, feelings common in human life but rarely encountered in history books, projecting a lively picture of the life of ordinary people in Melaka.

Published by: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society


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Title page

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Copyright page

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pp. iii

List of Illustrations

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pp. iv


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-x

This study in social history of Melaka is a pleasant diversion from my regular research work on the world of commerce in the Malay Archipelago in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, an exercise in clinometric history to a large extent, which has proved laborious. While...

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pp. xi-xxix

The social history of Melaka in the olden days has a strong fascination for historians as well as for readers who delight in learning about the past glories of a famous city with character to captivate people’s imagination, even long after it is consigned...

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Chapter 1: Murder Most Foul

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pp. 1-24

In the early morning of 19 June 1780, Abdul Rahman went to see his old friend, who lived near the end of the town perimeter where the jungle merged with the city border. The Malays did not like to live in small houses on both sides of the narrow streets in...

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Chapter 2: A Misadventure

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pp. 25-34

Melaka had always been a city full of slaves who served in the retinue of noblemen as well as labourers and domestic servants. Therefore it is not surprising to find slaves being brought before the court on various charges, including murder, for slavery...

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Chapter 3: Allure of Silver

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pp. 35-47

The peace and order that descended on the Straits of Melaka after it came under Dutch control stimulated the local Malay traders to promote trading across the archipelago. They flocked to major local markets in large numbers: Malay traders occupied nearly...

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Chapter 4: Angry Young Slave

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pp. 48-54

Lay Hien, a young man in his mid-twenties, was unhappy because of his plight as a slave. He contemplated his hard life as a domestic slave in the bustling town of Melaka where he was likely to spend the rest of his life in slavery. Lay Hien often reflected on his happy childhood in the rustic Asahan area in Sumatra and cursed his...

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Chapter 5: Deranged Slave

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pp. 55-62

In the early morning of 18 March 1803, Chin Chai woke up feeling tired and frightened. He usually did not sleep well. What slave could sleep well after a long day of hard work and with a half-full stomach and an aching heart over his or her misery of being in slavery? The day was just beginning. There was just a little light as the sun was...

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Chapter 6: Mistaken Identity

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pp. 63-68

The outskirts of Melaka along the winding river was a popular residential quarter for the Malays and Chinese, who disliked the hustle-bustle of the town which had become thickly populated in the late eighteenth century. The old residential quarter of the city, which consisted of narrow houses running along the equally narrow streets, was...

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Chapter 7: Price of a Meal

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pp. 69-74

On 6th April 1804, Hussein Sayed came home later than usual. He lived in a small wooden house in the maze of humble dwellings, which had grown, as the number of poor people from all ethnic backgrounds flocked to the Trankerah area in the northern part of Melaka. In the course of the eighteenth cen-tury, people – mostly...

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Chapter 8: The Irregular Detectives of Sungai Baru

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pp. 75-87

On 4 December 1806, Saman, a Malay man, came to see the prosecutor on behalf of the Penghulu of Sungai Baru, a coastal village several miles to the west of Melaka, with a story of piracy and murder. In late November, the news of a local boat with eight people who went to Linggi to buy firearms being murdered by a group of...

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Chapter 9: A Witness for the Defence

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pp. 88-120

Anyone charged with murder seldom escaped the death penalty under the Dutch administration of Melaka. It did not hesitate to impose harsh penalties on those charged with murder, regardless of mitigating circumstances that might have forced the culprits...

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Chapter 10: A Fatal Love Affair

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pp. 121-126

Melaka’s position as a port of call for the China-bound ships passing through the Straits made it a city sought after by a great flux of local people seeking means of livelihood in occupations associated with commerce. People from other parts of the Malay Peninsula as well as from the adjacent islands came to Melaka seeking fortune...


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pp. 127-132

E-ISBN-13: 9789679948547
Print-ISBN-13: 9789679948356

Page Count: 162
Illustrations: 8 images
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: New