Bengkulu History

Bengkulu - British (1685 - 1825)

The connections that intertwine between people of Bengkulu Province with British have intertwined for a long time, which is since the 17th century. In the year 1682 Dutch's company (VOC) could surpass the Honourable East Indian Company (EIC), especially after reached agreement between VOC with Banten Kingdom hits spices trade monopoly. This matter forced EIC out of Java and must look for a new basis that politically and militarily could give profit to them in spices trade.

Initially they were wishful to establish a factory trade at Ache, but this willing was averse by Sultana Zaqiyat-ud-udin Inayat Shah, the Queen of Ache Sultanate. This denial made EIC turns away to another areas that possibly ready to accept them, which were Pariaman and Barus in West Sumatra. These areas accepted EIC because of the doubtfulness toward Dutch strength which was very aggressive. But in the end EIC chosen Bengkulu, there were two history notes’ versions that caused the happening of these choices’ changes, that being:

1. Based on the book "Bencoolen: A History of the Honourable East Indians Company's Garrison on the West Coast of Sumatra (1685 – 1825)," written by Alan Harfield (1995), this change was caused by a request mail from Bengkulu Leaders whom they had accepted two days approach EIC's messengers (Ords and Cawley) departure from Madras to Pariaman.

2. Based on the book "Bengkulu in History," written by Firdaus Burhan (1988), this change was caused by navigation error in the voyage from Madras to Pariaman and a request from Bengkulu Leaders after EIC's messengers land at Bengkulu.

Quit of difference existence above, History notes that British (EIC) in the end settle at Bengkulu and the people of Bengkulu got their presence. At arrival in the year 1685, British was greeted by leaders of Bengkulu during the period that were Orang Kaya Lela and Patih Setia Raja Muda. In a few dialogues furthermore, British got permission to establish a factory at Bengkulu and make commercial relations with Bengkulu Administrators. First base that founded by British at Bengkulu was Fort York. After that, British called their factory trade at Bengkulu as the Honourable East Indian Company's Garrison on the West Coast of Sumatra.

British' presence at Bengkulu goes on during 140 years that is from year 1685 up to March 1825. The end of British' presence at Bengkulu was caused by the agreement existence between British and Dutch, signed on 17 marches 1824. This agreement in British' side is called The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, while in Dutch’s side called it as Traktat London. This agreement regulated British power at Bengkulu transferred with Dutch power at Malacca and Singapore which during the period was part of Malacca’s Kingdom.


In the year 1714 Forts York' conditions were critical. Fortress building and Barracks’s more brittler and rainwater continuously wet residence rooms. Besides, food stuff condition consuming by British army was very bad, so that the discipline of soldiers and Fortress officials were going down. Assorted disease, usually dysentery and malaria, caused many soldiers could not do their task. Joseph Collet that was Garrison Bengkulu Leader in the year 1712 concluded that Fort York wanted big repairs and the fortress location was actually imprecise. On that account on the 27th of February 1712 Collets wrote mail to the AACS management council that proposed to build a new fortress in place called "Carrang." Carrang's location that proposed by Collet located more less two miles from Forts York. Collet's suggestion to build a new fortress was approved by EIC's board of directors and a new fortress development was begun in the year 1714.

The new fortress that was built at Carrang was named as Fort Marlborough. This name was chosen by Joseph Collet in honour of John Churchill, a famous British commandant ever beats battle at Blenheim (1704), Rammilies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709). Because of his loyal service, John Churchill then was given degree "Duke of Marlborough." The Fort Marlborough's development was fully completed in the year 1741.


During 140 years reside in Bengkulu, a lot of British passed away. The British death majority caused by disease attack --- usually malaria and dysentery --- and killed in conflicts with Bengkulu people. The British that died at Bengkulu during the period recorded as much as 709 people. On average, five British died every year during 140 years. Some of British were buried at British Cemetery at Jitra, Bengkulu.

In 1808, the British built a monument or cenotaph named Thomas Parr, the resident of British in Bengkulu. This monument is called by Bengkulu people with terms Kuburan Bulek (the rounded cemetery). This monument was made by British in memory of British bitter experience because on the ground buried Thomas Parr, together with an assistant, killed in one incident with Bengkulu people in evening date 27 December 1807.

This murder of Thomas Parr was caused by accumulation dissatisfy Bengkulu people toward policy that applied by British's power. The Parr's policies that evoke the anger among local people, among others application plants force coffee and big modification in local people judicature without sanctioning and asking advice from Bengkulu people customs heads.


Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed to be the Governor of Bengkulu in 1818. He arrived in Bengkulu in March 1818 accompanied by his wife, Lady Sophia Raffles, and a Head of the Traditional Javanese Raden Rana Dipura. In the trip from Inggeris to Bengkulu, Lady Sophia Raffles gave birth to a daughter who was given by the name of Charlotte Sophia Tanjung Segara Raffles. When he arrived in Bengkulu, he found a destroyed city because of earthquake. Because of that, he named the city as the Dead Land. However after that, Raffles together with the Bengkulu people built and generated again the city.

Governor Raffles was assigned in Bengkulu for six years that is from 1818 to 1824. While being assigned in Bengkulu, Raffles often carried out the trip to the hinterlands. In one of his trips, Raffles accompanied by his wife and Dr. Joseph Arnold (the expert in Botany), stopped over in Pulau Lebar Village, Lubuk Tapi (South Bengkulu). In this village Raffles found a very big and beautiful flower. The local inhabitants named this flower Petimun Sikinlili or Sirih Hantu. This flower was afterwards given a new name, Rafflesia Arnoldy, that was taken from the Raffles and Dr. Arnold names.

Now, the Rafflesia Flower has been the symbol of the Bengkulu Province and the province is called as Bumi Rafflesia. The Rafflesia flower now still often was found in the conservation forest in the district of Rejang Lebong and in Talang Tais Village in the Kaur district.

By:  Musiardanis.

Bibliography :

1.Bencoolen: A History of the Honourable East India Company’s Garrison on the West Coast of Sumatra (1685 - 1825), by Alan Harfield (1995).

2. Bengkulu Dalam Sejarah, by Firdaus Burhan (1988).

3. Ensiklopedi Indonesia Book 6 (1983).