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The Land of Silver

An 1836 geopolitical report filed by Scottish diplomatic agent John Anderson (1795-1845), on the sultanate of Perak, Malaya, in the Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register:

In the report, Anderson provided important information about the geography of the region, its villages and populations, and its sovereign the Sultan of Perak, but all for an ulterior motive of course.

The hilly, jungle-filled lands were sparsely populated by peoples “much less civilised than the (Kedah) people”, but Perak was part of “Tin Country”, which meant it was potentially of value to the British Empire. After all, “Perak is the Land of of (sic) Silver”, the “Silver” here being tin, is it not?

As a child, I read extensively about European explorations of foreign, “exotic” (in European eyes) lands. At the time, these stories captivated me. It was only much later that I learned about the nuances of such narratives in the broader context of colonial exploitation and subjugation, but the romance of fearless ventures into the unknown stayed with me. Many a daydream was about me voyaging to distant lands a la Gulliver’s Travels.

That is why even today, reports such as Anderson’s still grab my attention - and fire my imagination. If I had been a European working in Southeast Asia in colonial times, I would have loved to work on compiling reports such as his.

Travel writer Isabella Bird, and two natives, riding an elephant in Perak, Malaya, in 1883.


One piece of trivia related to modern Singapore: The last place name in the article is “Burnam” - a reference to Perak’s River Bernam; it gave its name to Tanjong Pagar’s Bernam Street, just one of many Malayan place names in the city-state.

Bernam Street, Singapore. Credit: Google Maps.


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