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THE PORTUGUESE CONQUEST OF MALACCA

 

The first attack

Ruy D'Araujo had informed d'Albuquerque that "the occupation of the bridge" might decide victory or at least deal a heavy blow at the enemy . The bridge was obviously the key to the situation, for its capture would cut the Sultan's army in two, and so make its final defeat easier. D'Albuquerque decided, therefore, to capture it by a pincer movement, and divided his meagre forces into halves. The first, led by him-self, was to make a landing in Upeh and capture the northern end of the bridge; the second was to land near the royal palace and the mosque, and capture its southern end. He chose 25 July for the attack as that was the feast of St. James, to whom he had a special devotion.

Accordingly, two hours before dawn on that day, captains and men assembled on board the large and roomy flagship, Flor de la Mar, and as dawn was breaking, their little boats full of troops crept towards the beaches. Their approach was soon observed, and a furious artillery fire greeted them. When this was finished the boats drew nearer inshore, made a landing, and soon engaged in a fierce battle with the defenders. The Malays put up a brave resistance, but after some hours of continuous fighting the Portuguese succeeding in capturing both ends of the bridge. As the wind freshened from the sea, they set fire to houses on both banks of the river, so that in a short while a great part of the city itself was in flames and the royal palace and many of the royal houses had been gutted. During the fire a chariot lined with silk and inlaid with gold, on thirty wheels each as high as a room, was burnt. It had been intended for the wedding of Sultan Mahmud's daughter with the Sultan of Pahang.

It was now 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The Portuguese had been fighting continuously since dawn. They had no food, and no men could be spared to go back to the ships to bring supplies. It was agonising to hold the bridge in the burning heat of the day, under continuous fire from the enemy, with seventy men wounded, some by poisoned arrows (from which all save one died). Towards nightfall, finding it impossible to complete the stockade on the bridge, d'Albuquerque gave the order to withdraw. As the troops returned in relays to the ships they were subjected to a harassing fire of bullets and poisoned darts and arrows by the defenders; but they nevertheless took with them a great deal of captured material, including fifty bombards from the bridge.

A breathing space

This first attack had only a limited success for the Portuguese, since although they had captured the bridge they had not been strong enough to hold it. It was, however, a victory, and d'Albuquerque believed that the city, having suffered heavy losses in troops and by fire, would hasten to surrender. The Sultan, however, showed an unexpected obstinacy and whilst continuing to make vague promises of friendship utterly refused to become a vassal of the King of Portugal. Many of the merchants, however, who cared more for their goods than for Malacca, now began to press for peace with the Portuguese. They were afraid the Portuguese would win and would sack the city. Utimutiraja, for instance, sent a present of sandalwood to d'Albuquerque, though, at the same time, he sent his people to help the defenders to build new palisades and barricades. It was considered a wise precaution to keep friendly with both sides.

The Malays, therefore, continued to push on with the fortifications in expectation of a new attack. At least one hundred bombards were now mounted on the bridge, which was now even more heavily defended by palisades. On the north and south sides of the bridge guns were once more mounted to command the approaches from Upeh and the mosque respectively. D'Albuquerque therefore realised that nothing less than an overwhelming victory would give him the control of the city. He decided therefore on an all-out attack: but here he had to face a new difficulty. His captains, tired of the endless delays, began to advocate a return to India. They had lost much of their enthusiasm for the final attack, because d'Albuquerque insisted that they would have to build a fort when the town was captured, and the prospect did not appeal to them. D'Albuquerque, however, called them all to a council on his flagship. He showed them that the conquest of Malacca was absolutely necessary, since this alone would give them a complete monopoly of the pepper trade. As things were, Arab traders were able to take vast quantities of pepper and spices to Cairo, Alexandria and Venice, from Malacca via Bab-el-Mandeb, dodging the Portuguese Indian fleet on the way. He pointed out that the capture of Malacca would be a great blow to their enemies the Moors, and that it was a prize of great worth. As a result-" Cairo and Mecca would be entirely ruined and to Venice no spiceries will be conveyed except that which her merchants go and buy in Portugal." "I am certain", he added, "when they begin to like our justice and straight dealing, all merchants will go and reside there and make walls of gold." These arguments finally decided the captains to make a second and much more formidable attack. This time they were determined to achieve success.

The second attack, 10 August 1511

As in the first attack, the main object of the Portuguese was to capture the bridge; but this time d'Albuquerque meant to hold it. Some days before his conference with the officers he had thought out a new idea. This was to use an exceptionally tall junk as a kind of fortified siege ladder, which could be floated towards the bridge, and grappled to it. It would over-tower the bridge, and from its commanding position the attackers could rake the bridge from end to end with their gunfire and stones, and make it completely untenable. Unfortunately at first for his plan, the junk was found to have too great a draught for the shallow waters of the river. The attack had to be postponed until the spring tide, which would refloat the junk and carry it down towards the bridge. Meanwhile the Malays, guessing his intention, did their best to set fire to the craft by sending towards it on the falling tide blazing boats and barges: but all their efforts were foiled by the Portuguese.

Sultan Ahmad defending Malacca from the Portuguese on his elephant

At last the junk was refloated. The Portuguese bombarded the city during the night of 9 August, and on the next day the attack began. D'Albuquerque, having posted gun-boats on either flank of the attacking boats, made his way to the north part of the city where, after a brief but fierce struggle he succeeded in effecting a landing. Meanwhile Antonio d'Abreu, in face of furious fire from the bridge, which he relentlessly returned, had succeeded in grappling the junk to the bridge, and by a heavy fire, swept the defrnders from it. These took up a position behind palisades lying between the bridge and the mosque; but fire from the gunboats in the harbour compelled them to retire to the mosque. D'Albuquerque now gave orders for the mosque to be captured. The Malays thereupon evacuated it, and were followed in swift pursuit by a detachment under de Lima. Suddenly the latter's troops found themselves face to face with fresh reinforcements under the command of the Sultan and his son Ahmad. In the band were twenty fighting elephants which now charged the Portuguese. Undismayed de Lima pierced the leading elephant in the eye with his spear and the maddened brute turned in the narrow road and fled, scattering the Malays, and infecting the other animals with its rage and terror.

When darkness fell, the Portuguese took up their position on the bridge, which they now heavily defended with strong barricades at both ends, built up with barrels of sand and wood from two of their ships which they had broken up for this purpose. Above their heads they placed a grcat sail, firmly tied down at each end to ward off the heat of the sun during the day. All night long their guns bombarded the city, keeping the roads clear from concentrations of enemy troops. D'Albuquerque spent the night visiting and encouraging the wounded, of whom there were many. During the battle twenty-eight of his men had been killed.

For some days d'Albuquerque waited before giving orders for the final attack. He was concerned about the wounded, but was also ready even at this stage to negotiate with Mahmud. He simply asked that permission should be given for the building of a fortress and that his men should receive reasonable booty for their victory. The Malay war party however was in no mood to negotiate; though many of the traders among them Ninachatu was among these and was given flags to put outside his house to help Portuguese soldiers to identify it,asked for protection during the sack of the city which all expected hourly.

The capture of the city, 24 August 1511

The final attack, however, did not take place until some days later. Then on 24 August d'Albuquerque's troops, marching six abreast through the streets, swept aside all resistance, slaying all who tried to oppose them. The governor then gave orders for the city to be sacked: but the operation was carried out with amazing regularity. There was no wild snatching for booty. First the sailors, whose job was so vital, were allowed to get their share; then other troops went in succession, each bringing his booty back to the beach near the spot where the Commander stood. The whole operation took one day. Amazing treasures were accumulated, including "bars of gold, jars of gold dust, jewels, priceless silks, rare perfumes and scented woods "-but it was estimated that two-thirds of the great city's wealth still remained. Some of the officers were in favour of despoiling the city completely and returning to India; but this was no part of d'Albuquerque's plan. He was anxious for his troops to reap a fair reward for their valour; but at the same time he saw the vital importance of Malacca to Portugal's Empire. He did not wish it to be ruined; but instead was most anxious to re-establish its trade as soon as possible. As for himself, the only things he acquired from the Malacca expedition were Noadabegea's bracelet and six large bronze lions for his own tomb.

No further resistance took place in the city. The Peguans were the first to ask for-and receive-pardon. They were soon followed by the Javanese and Hindus. As for the Sultan, he and his son 'Ala'u'd-din who had taken a notable part in the defence, fled inland. 'Ala'u'd- din tried to make a stand at Pagoh; but was driven out by the brothers Andrade and some Javanese, and fled with his father to Pahang, whither the Sultan of Pahang had long since preceded them. Only a few Malays under the redoubtable Laksamana, Hang Tuah, kept up a series of harassing attacks on the hated enemy. After a time, Mahmud and his son, gathering confifdence, moved from Pahang, first to a settlement far up the Johore river, and then to the Island of Bintang, the Sultan at Tebing Tinggi and the Prince at Batu Pelabohan.

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