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  • Documents from Malaysian History
  • Paul Kratoska

Two Articles by J. E. Tenison-Woods

In 1874 the state of Perak signed an agreement accepting a British advisor to the Sultan, to be called a British Resident. The arrangement got off to a difficult start but in 1877, after a period of armed conflict, Hugh Low became the resident and began creating the institutions underlying a British colonial administration and looking for ways to strengthen the local economy. In 1880 Sir Frederick Weld, a colonial official from Australia, became Governor of the Straits Settlements and pursued a similar agenda. The British Colonial Office expected territories under its control to be self-sustaining, and for a dependency without an established tax base or other sources of revenue, and finances posed a serious challenge for a dependency without an established tax base or other sources of revenue, as they would for the next quarter of a century. Perak's tin deposits offered a possible source of funds, but tin mining was largely in the hands of Chinese entrepreneurs and prospects for taxation were limited. While the administration encouraged investment by European interests and offered mining concessions, much of the state had not been mapped and large areas had never been examined as possible mining sites.

Those attracted to the opportunities presented by the new British administration included three Frenchmen, whose trips were supported by the French government. John Errington de la Croix (1848-1905), a mining engineer, and Xavier Brau de Saint Pol Lias (1848-1914), a geographer and diplomat, made an exploratory trip to Southeast Asia in January 1880. They went first to Aceh but were unable to travel freely in Sumatra and crossed the Straits of Melaka to explore the situation in Perak, which they reached in August 1880. Both men wrote extensively about their journeys. In 1881 de la Croix published an article in an early issue of the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society1, and an English translation of an 1885 article by de la Croix entitled 'Sept Mois au Pays de l'Étain. Perak (Presqu'ile de Malacca) appears in this issue of JMBRAS.

Another French mining engineer named Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924) visited Perak in 1884 and travelled through the interior looking for potential mining sites. At the request of the British administration, he also conducted surveys and prepared a map of the interior of the state. The area he visited was largely unknown to the outside world, and he took detailed notes about flora and fauna, geological formations, and the orang asli populations that he encountered. His journal and scholarly articles he wrote after returning to France provide a unique glimpse [End Page 133] of life in the Malay Peninsula prior to the establishment of colonial control. This material was compiled in a book published in France in 2003, and the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society published an English translation in 2020.2

Around the same time, Frederick Weld invited Julian (J. E.) Tenison-Woods (1832–1889) to conduct a geological survey of Perak. A naturalist with a strong interest in geology, Tenison-Woods was a Catholic priest whom Weld, a staunch Catholic, knew from Australia. In 1884 the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society published two articles based on his research.3 He also published two articles about the physical geography of the Malay Peninsula in the journal Nature, and these articles are reprinted here. [End Page 134]

Paul Kratoska
Hon. Editor, JMBRAS


1. 'Some account of the mining districts of lower Perak', JSBRAS 7 (June 1881): 1–10.

2. Explorations dans la presque'îles malaise par Jacques de Morgan 1884 (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2003) and Jacques de Morgan's Explorations in the Malay Peninsula, 1884 (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2020).

3. 'On the stream tin deposits of Perak', JSBRAS 13 (June 1884): 221–40; 'Journey to the summit of Gunong Bubu', JSBRAS 14 (Dec. 1884): 275–85.



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