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This story was extracted from the book "The Hikayat Abdullah" translated in English by A.H. Hill. It describes the appearance and the destruction of the fort "A Famosa" based on the narration of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir also known as Munshi Abdullah who was born in Malacca in 1797 a legendary Malay writer in the 19th century and who once work as Sir Stamford Raffles assistant and translator in Singapore and Malacca.

The Malacca Fort

A Famosa

There came a time when I had nothing else to do except read and write. All of a sudden there arose a rumour in Malacca that the English intended to destroy the Fort. Nobody believed that the Fort could be easily destroyed. One said "The work will not be finished during the Resident's lifetime." Thus everyone thought, for the Fort was strongly built with breastworks and hard stone and covered no small area. Therefore it did not occur to anyone that the Fort could be quickly broken up. Many were the thoughts that passed through people's minds. Some said, "At last all the poor people of Malacca can become rich for the money they earn demolishing the Fort." One man said "If they so much as touch the Fort many men will die; for there are many jinns and devils in it." But a few said "These English are very cunning and that is why they are going to destroy the Fort. Supposing it were to fall into the hands of another power it would never be recaptured in war, for it is strong and well-built."

The appearance of the Fort as I had noted it during my walks and inside the place was as follows. There were big blocks of granite, dark brown in colour, some six feet and others about three feet long. The stonework was smooth and flat as if it had been planed. I have heard that the stones were fashioned by Chinese masons from Batu Pahat under the orders of the Portuguese and for that reason the place is called "Chiselled Stone" to this day.

The bulwarks of the Fort sloped slightly inwards, with an ornamental stone projection running round its four sides. There were eight bastions varying in width from sixty to eighty feet, which served as emplacements for artillery. The walls all round were about fifteen feet thick. Below each bastion there were underground living quarters fully provisioned, with wells and stables for horses. There was a pathway running round inside the walls, by which people could move from bastion to bastion where there were exit doors. The height to the top of the Fort was about sixty feet, and it was rumoured that the foundations were the same in depth. At the time when they were preparing to destroy it I noticed that they had dug down some forty-five feet without reaching the foundations.

The Fort had four gates, one a big one in line with the large bridge and having in it a small door through which people went in and out after eight o'clock at night. Some twenty or thirty yards to the right there was another gate for taking goods in and out of the Fort, and all the horse-carts used to leave from here. These two gates were guarded by sepoy sentries in rotation. There was a small gate on the Bukit China side and on the Bandar Hilir side another gate looking more or less like the large one.

There were three bridges; first, a large one on the town-side; second, a small one leading to Bukit China; and third, one to Bandar Hilir. The bridges were constructed so that they could be pulled up and down, and they used to be raised at night-time and during periods of riots or hostilities. Large vessels wishing to enter or leave the river used to pay a toll.

Round the Fort they built an earth breastwork twelve feet thick and at its feet they placed projecting stakes with sharp iron points. Skirting it there was a moat about thirty feet wide and as deep. The water could be let in and out by a sluice at the bridge on the Bukit China side, and ran out into the sea by the bridge on the Bandar Hilir side. The banks of the moat were planted all round with angsena trees and in the water were found crocodiles, perch, grey rnullet and lobsters.

At intervals of twelve feet all round the fort they placed guns and sentry-boxes known as "monkey-houses" where the Sepoy stood on guard. After six o'clock in the evening they allowed no one inside the Fort, and one could only walk round the outside. At eight o'clock they fired a gun and the draw-bridges were raised. Then anyone walking about without carrying a light was arrested, and anyone not answering a challenge was fired on from the Fort above. Round the Fort there was a carriage-way some sixty feet wide leading to the riverís edge. Fronting the river they had had constructed an artificial embankment and planted it with angsena trees at intervals of forty feet extending as far as the small bridge.

A Famosa

Inside the Malacca Fort there was a rise of moderate elevation, at the summit of which was the Dutch church. Originally it had been a Portuguese church and had been taken over by the Dutch as their own church. Below it was the Dutch cemetery. The original Fort was the work of the Portuguese. I discovered this from a picture of its builders on the front of the main gate. I noticed that the people in the picture had European features. It was a bas relief in plaster, standing about as high as a child. The picture I have mentioned exists to this day on the Bandar Hilir gate, the one on the town side having been destroyed by Mr. Farquhar. The church at the top of the hill was called San Paulo in Portuguese.

By the side of the church there is a garden belonging to the East India Company. In it there used to be some very fine fruit-trees, flowers and all kinds of vegetables. In the garden there was a well, its depth I know not how many hundreds of feet, for it was so deep that one could not see the water in it. If one threw a stone down there was a few seconds pause before one heard the splash. Another well, equally deep, lay outside the garden. In line with the hill stood the residence of the Governor, a building of elaborate design. To reach it one could walk through a tunnel built into the hill. There was also a door giving direct access to the river.

At the back of the Company's garden lay the grave of Raja Haji, a powerful Malay raja of Bugis descent whose wife was named Ratu Mas. He it was who came and made war on Malacca during the time of the Dutch. That was slightly over sixty years ago. He almost captured Malacca, having occupied all the surrounding suburbs and villages. Only the centre of Malacca itself remained unsubdued. Then all races in Malacca took to arms to help the Dutch; the Malays, Indians, Chinese, and Eurasians, each race under its Kapitan and its leaders. After many years fighting Raja Haji was killed by a shot at Tanjong Palas. The Dutch took his body and buried it at the back of the garden. I have heard a story that the place was a pig-sty. Twenty or thirty years later the descendants of Raja Haji came from Lingga and Riau to Malacca asking permission of the English Resident to transfer the grave to Riau. This permission was given and the grave was taken away. The story of Raja Haji's fighting is a very long one, too long for me to tell here. It will have to wait.

On one side of the hill was a prison which the Malacca folk called mishurdi, or in the Portuguese language "Misericordia", meaning a place of penitence. There was also the terongko, or place of chains, and inside it there was a special chamber called terongko gelap (The Dark Dungeon) where men who had committed very serious offences were put, and where no daylight could penetrate. Adjoining it was a room where they kept instruments for killing and torturing men. It was called teratu. Here men used to be placed on a raised slab and their joints struck with hard blows until they were broken, after which they were hanged at Pulau Java. There were branding instruments as well. A piece of iron rather larger in size than a silver dollar was heated red-hot and applied to a man's back between the shoulder-blades. A thick yellow smoke rose, and there was a smell of burning flesh, after which the man would be chained up. There was also a place where men were strangled; and a barrel in which people were rolled. The barrel had nails driven into it so that their points projected inwards. Those who had committed unnatural offences were rolled about inside it until their bodies were torn to shreds. I myself have never seen such tortures being inflicted, having heard of them only from very old men. But the instruments were certainly there, and the barrel I saw all studded with nails. All sorts of instruments were kept there, used by the Dutch to torture and punish people. All the apparatus, the torture chambers and the like were thrown away and burnt, and the Dark Dungeon itself was destroyed, at the time when Lord Minto came to Malacca for the war in Batavia. These wicked and frightful things he ordered to be cast into the sea.

Now I must return to my story about how Mr. Farquhar set about demolishing the Malacca Fort. He called coolies of all races together and bid them smash the Fort first from the Bukit China side. Hundreds of coolies tried to break the stone, but after two or three days they were unable to do so. For they were afraid because they fully believed that there were ghosts and devils in the Fort. Because of their belief many had all sorts of nightmares, and there were rumours of men slapped by devils, vomiting blood, suffering sudden death or various kinds of illness. And as their terror grew, so the price paid for their labour increased, but obviously their fears were groundless the very strength of their beliefs and superstitions being responsible for their injuries. Now the mortar which was sticking to the stone looked and smelt as if it were newly put on. When Mr. Farquhar saw how difficult it was to smash the stone he gave instructions to dig down to the foundations of the Fort. But however deep they dug still the foundations were not reached, even after they had gone down to a depth equal to the height of the Fort. So they stopped trying to work down to the foundations. Then Mr. Farquhar ordered them to start demolition from the seaward side. Many were the spades, picks, crowbars and other instruments broken in the attempt. The work caused sickness and there were many who were afraid to go on because of the deaths and injuries. Their pay rose from half a rupee to a whole rupee a day but they would not take it. The task of destroying the Fort was a most difficult one, and many thought that it would never be demolished by the English, because it was so strong and because so many ghosts inhabited it.

After about three months of illness and trouble, with many men dying or breaking their arms and legs, news was suddenly heard that the Resident was ordering a hole to be dug under the bastion on the seaward side, in which boxes of gunpowder were to be placed for firing. Everyone was astonished saying "What manner of thing is this?" Hundreds of people went to see it, and I myself went out of my way to do so. I saw that they had in fact dug a very deep hole, about six feet square. They measured off a distance of about six feet to one side at the bottom and dug out a shallow niche. Then they filled it with gunpowder and placed in contact with it below the ground a fuse more than sixty feet long made of cloth impregnated with gunpowder. The wick was as thick as a man's big toe. Then orders were given to close the hole, and stones and earth were rammed down tight inside. It had taken a score of workmen five or six days to dig one hole. Then a gong was sounded and it was announced that the next morning at eight o'clock no one was to cross the river, and tbose living in houses close by were told to move to others far away. The next morning Mr. Farquhar appeared on horseback holding a slowmatch in his hand. He sent men to clear out everyone on the Fort side and they ran away in all directions. Then he touched off the fuse and at once spurred his horse away. After about ten minutes the gunpowder exploded with a noise like thunder, and pieces of the Fort as large as elephants, and even some as large as houses, were blown into the air and cascaded into the sea. Some went right over the river and struck the houses on the other side. Everyone was startled when they heard the noise, their surprise all the greater because never in their lives had they heard such a sound or seen how the power of gunpowder can lift bits of rock as big as houses. At last they realised that the Fort could be destroyed by the English, and they shook their heads saying "Great indeed is the skill and ingenuity of these white men. But what a pity that a building as fine as this should be brought low in an instant of time. For if they wished to repair it there is no knowing how many years it would take before it was finished." For the Fort was the pride of Malacca and after its destruction the place lost its glory, like a woman bereaved of her husband, the lustre gone from her face. But now by the will of Allah it was no more, showing how ephemeral are the things of this world. The old order is destroyed, a new world is created and all around us is change. The stonework of the destroyed Fort was carried away by people to all parts; some to build houses in Malacca, some to Batavia when the Dutch reoccupied Malaeca recently, and some to Riau. The English too loaded pieces into ships to make warning buoys. Some pieces sank in the river and others lie about up to the present time in large mounds from which every day people help themselves.

William Farquar blowing up the fort

Six or seven days later they decided to blow up the bastion on the side of Kampong Kling, and they sounded a gong, warning people to move well away from their houses. On that side of the river was Khatib Musa's house, about forty yards away or more. So they all moved away from the place except his slave, a man named Basir, another man called Mebarak and his child Ibrahim. These three all hid under a scaffolding so that they could see the performance. A match was applied to the fuse and the men moved off quickly. After a few moments the gunpowder blew up with a loud bang and boulders as big as elephants came flying through the air and crashed onto the scaffolding, collapsing it. Those hiding under it were covered in stones and smothered by sand. There was confused shouting and people cried "Four or five men have been killed struck by bits of rock." Then everyone ran forward together, and I too went to see what had happened, for I had been warned by my mother to go at least half a mile away. When I reached the house I found that a Pulikat Indian named Abdul Satar had been having a meal when he was struck and wounded on the temple by a fragment of rock. When I went inside I found Basir. I could see only his legs. His body was weighted down, I saw, by bits of rock, some six feet others four feet across. Eight or nine bits lay on top of him. He was extricated with the help of many hands, but there was little life left in him. Ibrahim's legs were found to be pinned by three pieces of rock each about six feet across, and he was buried in rubble. When the stones and earth had been lifted they found that one of his legs had been broken in three places. He was lifted up and carried away to Kampong Pali. As for his companion Mebarak, he was completely buried in earth and stones. He was extricated, but the bones of his leg were crushed and hung limp. He was taken to the house of an English doctor. Basir soon died. Ibrahim and Mebarak were given treatment and by the grace of Allah are alive up to the present, although both are lame. But what could be done? For by their own carelessness they had courted danger, and everyone knew that they had only themselves to blame. When the people of Malacca saw what had happened they were all very frightened. Whenever parts of the Fort were to be blown up they left their houses and ran in all directions, and all the children were driven a long way off.

Thus it was that Mr. Farquhar destroyed the Fort with ease. All those who did not believe that it could be destroyed were dumbfounded and held their peace. All the ghosts and devils who featured in the minds of the people took flight and vanished, terrified by the smoke of the gunpowder. Thus was the beautiful Fort of Malacca utterly annihilated, blasted to pieces by gunpowder. If they had broken it up stone by stone they would not have finished even by now.


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