Description of A Famosa and Its Demolition

Hikayat Abdullah


Now at this time, I had no other employment than that of constantly reading manuscripts or writing, this only; when shortly there came a rumour to Malacca that the English intended to destroy the fort, but none of the races of people inhabiting the town would believe that such could be done so easily, saying one to another, that the life of the Governor would not be long enough to finish such an undertaking. This was, in their opinion, owing to the strength, workmanship, and hardness of the stones, and its extraordinary position. And on account of these circumstances, such an event could not come home to their understandings, nor that the fort could be quickly knocked down. So many people went about saying, Now is the time coming for poor people to get rich in earning wages at the fort demolition. Another one would suggest that if they meddled with it many would die, for how many of the devil’s imps were inside of it! Again, half the people cried that it comes off the knowings of the English, this destroying the fort; for should it happen to fall into the hands of another power, it would be a long war to get it back owing to its great strength and the skill with it had been constructed.

To proceed. The nature of the Fort of Malacca, as I observed it by walking along its ramparts and proceeding down to its foundations, was of stones called outerite, red coloured, of a half fathom to a fathom in length. These stones had been originally very smooth and straight as if they had been chiselled. Further, the face of the walls inclined a little backwards, with round moulding. The fort had four sides, and there were eight bastions, and the breadth of the ramparts of the bastions was from ten to thirteen fathoms, and it was here where the cannons were ranged around; and the thickness of the curtain was two and a half fathoms, while at each bastion there were underground ce11s, with folds, wells, and stables, and within the rampart walls of the fort, there was a path, by which people could proceed round to the bastions, whence there were sally-ports. Again, the height of the fort was about ten fathoms, as seen from above, and it is reported that the foundations were as much below the surface, for when they were about to demolish it, they went down seven or eight fathoms and had not yet reached the lowest course. Also, the fort had four gates, and the largest gate had attached to it the great bridge. The large gate had also a small one, by which people went out and in after eight o’clock in the evening. This was eight or ten fathoms distant on the right wing. There was also another gate, for taking out and in merchandise, as also carriages, all these went by this way. At these two gates, Sepoys stood sentry by turns. Again, on the side of the Chinese Hill, there was one small gate, and on the side, towards Banda Illiar there was another of the same description as the great gate. And its bridges were three in number: one great one, viz., towards the town of Malacca; the second, called the little gate, towards the Chinese Hill and the third towards Banda Illiar. All these were made so as to be drawn up, which they did at night-time; but if there was any disturbance, or war, or such like, they kept them up. When large vessels were entering the river they had to pay dues, as well as when going out.

Moreover, around the fort, there was a breastwork of earth, whose thickness was two fathoms, and at the foot of it they planted sharp iron spikes, and at the side of the spikes, there was a ditch, whose breadth was about fathoms, with about the same depth, from whence water could be let in or out. The sluice for inlet was near the small bridge but that for the outlet was seaward, near the landward bridge. There were also banks around the moat planted with trees. And in the moat, there were numbers of alligators and siakap fish, with mullets and prawns. Again, on the top of the fort at about every two fathoms, they placed a cannon, also what was called a monkey-house–a place for the sepoys to watch; thus it was all around the fort. Then after six in the evening, they would allow no one to enter–but only to walk outside, and when it was eight, they fired a gun and 1ifted the drawbridges, after which, if we did not carry lights we were taken hold of, and if we did not answer to the call we were fired at from above. There was also a road round the fort of ten or twelve fathoms in width, from the banks of the most, all kept beaten down and planted with senna trees at seven-fathom distances. Thus it was as far as the small bridge.

To proceed. Now there was a hill in the interior of the Malacca fort–just in the centre–of moderate elevation, on whose top stood a Dutch church, but which originally belonged to the Portuguese (Nazarenes). So when the Dutch had taken possession they converted it to their own purposes. It is now used as a burial place by the latter. The fort, however, was built by the Portuguese, and the way I know this is by the evidence of certain figures, over one of the gates, which were contemporary with its construction, and whose appearance is that of that nation. These figures are made of stucco, standing erect, and of the size of children. They are to be seen at this day on the gate towards Banda Illiar: but the gate on the Malacca side was broken down by Colonel Farquhar. Near the church, there is a garden belonging to the East India Company, in which is a great variety of plants, consisting of fruit trees, flowers, and all kinds of vegetables. There was also a well of many hundred fathoms depth, indeed of unknown depth, for if we threw a stone into it, it was a space before we heard the sound of it. Outside of the garden, there was also another well of the same description. At the foot of the hill was situated the Governor’s house, of elaborate construction, whence there led a covered passage into the hill leading to a water gate.

Then behind the garden of the East India Company is the place of burial of Rajah Hajee, a Malay man of might, but of Bugis descent. It was he who made war on Malacca when the Dutch held it–which happened about fifty years ago, i.e., about A.D. 1790, at which time he nearly took it, for he had gained all the suburbs and surrounding villages, merely leaving the circuit of the town itself untaken. At that time all the different peoples of Malacca bore arms, including Malays, Klings, Chinese, and Portuguese, each under their respective captains and leaders. And after some years of warfare, Rajah Hajee was struck by a ball at a place called Tanjong Pallas, when the Dutch, obtaining his corpse, carried it to Malacca and buried it there; this, as I have had related to me, was in a pig-sty. Twenty or thirty years after this came his son from Linga and Rhio to Malacca, asking of the English Governor that he might carry the remains away for burial to Rhio, for which he obtained consent. Now the history of the war of Raja Hajee is a very long one, and to go on with it would protract the work in hand, so I must set it aside.

Furthermore, there is on that side of the hill a prison, named by the Malacca people miskurdia is in the Portuguese language or tronko; and in that place, there is a room called tronko glap (dark dungeon), for the keeping of the greatest criminals. Here night and day are equally the same. And at the side of this are the instruments for putting people to death, or for other punishments; the name of the place being “trato,” that is, where people were racked on wood when their joints were all separated and broken before being hung or gibbeted at Pulo Java (to which place the body was removed). Again, here were branding irons, used on criminals, whose print was about the size of a dollar. The branding was done before persons were put in chains, either to be strangled or to be rolled in a barrel full of spike nails, with the points inwards. Now the criminals were put into the barrel and rolled around the town till their bodies were pure pulp. I have not, however, seen this of myself, but have been told it by old people. Still, there were the instruments in existence, and the barrel stuck full of nails, besides all the other materials of the Dutch for punishing and correcting the people. All these things, with their dungeons and customs thereof, have now been done away with and burnt. The dark cell was demolished at the time of the war of Batavia, i.e., the taking of Java by the English. while Lord Minto was in Malacca he put an end to these practices, the instruments of torture being either burnt or thrown into the sea.

Now I return to the subject of Colonel Farquhar’s undertaking to demolish the fort. He first called all the workmen (coolies) of various nations to commence landward, near the Chinese Hill, and he set on several hundreds of them; but they could not break a single stone in several days, for they were in such a fright, they being surely persuaded that there were evil spirits in the fort.

This idea was caused by many people having dreamed different manner of things, amongst which were of some having been slapped in the face by Satan himself, calling for their death’s blood, or bringing on them numerous kinds of diseases. Thus the panic among the workmen increased more and more. These no doubt were absurdities arising out of a strong prepossession and more timidity, which made the fear of danger a reality to them: just as lime sticking to a stone is taken for the stone itself, and the smell of it as if it had just been put on. When it was found so difficult to break up the masonry, then they were set to undermine the foundations; but the further down they went, there were fewer hopes of reaching them in this manner; they failed in this also. They measured the upper part, and found they had gone down the same distance below; so they stopped the work of digging down to the foundation, but they were ordered to commence demolishing on the seaward side–using hoes, rakes, pickaxes, and the like tools, but this proved but sore trouble, so that many left off from fear, many men have died or fallen sick. The wages now rose to half a dollar per diem, but this eve was not a sufficient inducement. Thus the demolishing of the fort became more and more difficult, and the people of Malacca began to think, at this period, that it would not be the English who could do it, by reason of its strength and the multitude of evil spirits opposing them.

Thus it went on for three months, in sicknesses, and other disagreeables, as well as in the men dying or breaking their legs and arms. While such were the circumstances, it was bruited abroad that the Governor had ordered a mine to be carried under the sea bastion, where he intended to deposit powder boxes, with the view of blowing it up. When this was known, people cried out, What kind of an affair is this? Hundreds went to see it, myself amongst the number; and true enough, they had dug holes about a one-fathom square, of great depth to their desire. Then they dug the earth at the side of these wells, at about a fathom distance, in which they put the powder chests, to which they applied a fuse below the ground,–whose length was about ten fathoms,–made with cloth. The grains of the powder were rough and as big as one’s great toes. They then ordered these holes to be closed, which they plugged hard with stones and earth. They worked at these for five or six days, with ten or twenty men; after which they sent round the gong to make people aware that on the morrow, at eight o’clock in the morning, no persons were to come to the fort side of the river, or into the houses near, but to go to houses at a distance.

Then, on the morrow, came Colonel Farquhar on horseback, holding a staff in his hand. He ordered his men to mount the fort and drive all people across the river, which they did pell-mell. Immediately after this, he lighted the fuse. This being done he spurred his horse; and in about four or five minutes the mine was fired with a noise like thunder, and out flew stones as big as houses and elephants, right out to the sea. There were also stones that were carried across the river to the tops of the houses. The people, when they heard the sound, got into a high state of alarm and consternation, for they never had heard such a noise before. The mighty power of gunpowder blowing up into the air as it did stones as big as houses, filled them with astonishment.

Now only did people begin to believe that the English could demolish the fort. They now sagely wagged their heads, saying that great were the ingenuities and contrivances of the white people, but what a pity that such a beautiful fort should be destroyed as it were in a moment; for if it had to be erected again, how many years would this not take! For the glory of Malacca was its fort, and having destroyed this the glory had gone out of it; like the corpse of a woman, the husband no longer glories in her face. But this is the dispensation of the Almighty, the world is not everlasting: what is He maketh to be not, and what is not he maketh to arise.

Now the stones of the fort were removed by people in various directions–some made houses of them, and some even carried them off to Batavia during the Dutch tenure (i.e., in 1818 to 1825), and lately also to Rhio, the English taking them onboard ships to make the harbour of Bara. There are also some sunk in the river: others remain in heaps like hills to this time, for people to take as they like.

Some days after this they essayed to blow up the bastion towards the Kling quarter when they gave notice by gong for the people to remove. Now, there was on the other side of the river the house of one Hatib Musi, whose distance was near about twenty fathoms. So all the people removed themselves, except a friend of the above Musi, called Basir Membarak, with a child called Abraham. These hid themselves at the back of the house, in order to see the sport. So betimes the fuse was lighted and the men had run for it; the powder had fired and blow up with a great noise, then came down stones as big as elephants, right on the top of the house, and broke it down, crushing the hiders and covering them with rubbish. Upon this, an alarm was given that five or six men had been killed. So all ran to the place–myself amongst the rest–to see the accident, for at that time I was ordered by my mother to keep at least a mile away. So when I got there, I learned that in the centre of the house a Pulieut man, called Abdastar, was at meals when a fragment of rock struck his forehead, cutting the same. I then went inside, and coming to the boy Basir, I could see his legs only, and over his body were stones in heaps, of all sizes, from a quarter to one fathom. Nine or ten of these had crushed him; they uncovered him to see it life remained. And over the boy Abrahim three stones had fallen, of a fathom in length, covered with earth. Thereupon they dug him out, and finding one of his legs broken in three places, they carried him off to the Pali quarter. And as to the one named Basir Membarak, he also was covered with earth and stones, and when he got out his bones were crushed; so he was carried off to the English doctor. Basir, however, died, whilst Abdastar and Abrahim were brought around by medicine, so God has given them life even to this day, but they are both lame. Now what else could be done? for it was their own fault that they went into mischief so that people lay the fault on them. And when the people of Malacca saw all these things, they became alarmed, and afterwords at each blast they cut and run as far as they could, deserting their homes and chasing off the children.

Thus it came about that Colonel Farquhar made an easy job of demolishing the fort — and all those who did not believe in the possibility now shut their mouths, not saying another word. And all the evil spirits that were in the brains of people went back to their originators, being afraid of the smoke of gunpowder, and the affair now stood thus, that the beautiful fort of Malacca was destroyed, blown to the winds by powder; but if they had tried it stone by stone, it would have been standing yet.

Cite this article as: "Description of A Famosa and Its Demolition," in Other Side Of Me, December 22, 2019,

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