In April 1915 an old man with a beard went to pay his land tax. Tired of waiting he went home and urged the peasants who looked up to him and admired him by following suit and doing the same. The event started a rebellion.
The place was Kelantan in Malaya. A new tax had been introduced in the Unfederated Malay States by the British. It was a “Land” Tax Land ownership would now be taxed. The tax was to replace the tax on produce. What the land produced and the quantity now no longer mattered. The new tax was not explained it was just imposed. On page 27 0f (7) Kheng, Cheah Boon points out that John Maxwell the acting Colonial Secretary blamed the Kelantan Government for not pointing out the differences and the benefits of Land registration. The Malay peasants around Pasir Puteh seemed to think it was an addition, not a replacement. Like people everywhere they were probably not happy about taxation but paid anyway. When a local worthy said basically, I’ve had enough, not waiting any longer to pay tax. I’m going home. People followed. On the 29th of April.(1) A police serjeant Che Wan, was dispatched to arrest To’Janggut-the man with the beard and investigate reports of a planned attack on government buildings in Pasir Puteh. To’Janggut then allegedly killed the police serjeant by stabbing him in the neck with his dagger.(2) The attack on Pasir Puteh led by To’Janggut and Ungku Besar, a local feudal lord went ahead the next day.(3) The police station was raided and prisoners released. Some of the prisoners joined the rebels. Perhaps they were forced. Others just went home. Other government buildings were touched. someone then requested help from Singapore. the “Who” is not clear. So far we have looked at a brief overview of the initial events. Cheah Boon Kheng’s book, To’Janggut: Legends, Histories,and Perceptions of the 1915 Rebellion in Kelantan. does exactly what it says on the tin. We are left to make up our own minds. To’Janggut was a Muslim who had been to Mecca. Going to Mecca is one of the obligations of a Muslim. so the first question that arises is,”Was he radicalised?” Doubtful there seems to be no record of him being anything. he was wealthy. We know that because he went to Mecca. There were no cheap flights or boats back then. He was though a landowner. For the first time, he now had to pay tax. Killing or at least being involved in the killing of the police serjeant would have put him on the wrong side of the law. Almost certainly he would have been hanged for this. The next question that arises is, “Why did he kill the police serjeant?” The answer is who knows? Kheng’s book indicates it may have been for revenge. To’Jangget’s father had apparently run off with one of the Sultan’s concubines and, the Sultan had him killed. In all probability, To’Janggert had wanted to pay the land tax. It seems strange to have gone with the intention of not paying, and the police serjeant was killed during the arrest attempt. So the next question is was this a riot or a rebellion? the involvement of Ungku Besar who was a feudal lord suggests it was a rebellion.
So why then? The attack was a few months after the Singapore mutiny which was quelled with the help of non-empire troops. Ungku Besar may have thought there were not enough British Troops in Singapore to spare and the 29th April was an opportune moment.
Who asked for help and why. The simple answer is only the Sultan could have asked for help. He could ask because the District Officer asked. The British Adviser “Asked” that would be tantamount to an order. Or the Sultan asked off his own bat. The next question is why? The Sultan would have had enough levies under his command to deal with a riot or minor rebellion. Perhaps the answer is the Sultan was hedging his bets. With the new land Tax the Sultan for the first time had to pay tax too. If there was the slightest chance of the rebellion succeeding he had more than anyone something to gain. With this in mind, he would have been quite happy for the Malays to think he had to ask for help. Farrer the political Office doest think the Sultan was implicated. ( Page 27 of (7) )
The British Response.
Ten planters (4) Messrs Templer, McPherson, Haughton, Stephens, Green, Belton, Gardner, Bone, Osbourne, and Dobson, joined together. along with the labourers from the Taku estate marched to hunt down some of the rebels. The group were armed with 4 guns, rifles, revolvers and parangs (a machete-like, long knife) That night they marched fifty miles over one night and three mornings to intercept rebels they thought were heading to Kamuning. Returning disappointed that no one had had the chance to use their parangs.(4)Meanwhile, the wifes of the British officers were evacuated to Siam. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 29th May 1915 printed an article probably written by the Acting Colonial Secretary for the Straits Settlements John Maxwell on the 29th May 1915. 22 Malays and Sikhs had taken the earth road to Gunong from Kota Bahru to intercept rebels heading to Pasir Puteh but were recalled shortly after their arrival.This must have happened on or about the 30th April. The same article mentions the Tinggi estate bungalow owned by a Mr Marks had been looted. the only recorded wounding of a European was when a certain Mr Morrison stumbled on a beach and shot himself. This is also mentioned in the article.
The SS Calypso arrived with 250 Malay States Guides at Kota Bahru on the 5th May. The same day HMS Cadmas arrived off the coast and nearly 239 Officers and men from the RGA, RE and the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) (6) plus 20 Malay policemen landed from her(5) and occupied Pasir Puteh. The KSLI waited at Pasir Puteh for nearly two weeks before returning to Singapore, waiting for the rebels to attack. It was an attack that never came. Page 71 of To’Janggut: Legends, Histories, and Perceptions (1) mentions a Royal Navy Warship fired 4-inch shells over Pasir Puteh, circa after anchoring off the coast near the mouth of the Semerak River. It is not known if this was HMS Cadman or exactly what date, or why, this incident occurred.The rebels fought a series of Hit and Run engagements mostly with the Malay States Guides but no large-scale actions. On the 27th May, the Malay States Guides attacked about 50 rebels and killed them all, including To’Janggut included. To’Janggut’s body was hauled to the banks of the Kelantan River and strung up by the ankles for the local people to see.(5) This battle is described in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (6) as occurring on the 24th. Major Borton and a force of 60 Sikhs and 7 Europeans pursued 50-60 men to a village about 4 miles from Pasir Puteh. The men were able to take cover behind trees and fences. Major Borton’s force fought in the open from the padi-fields. The Major’s forced charged the Malays fled. Three bodies were picked up plus one wounded Malay. To’Janggut’s body was later buried just across the river from the site of where it was hung. Photographs still exist of the hanging and are easily found on the web. The Campaign in Kelantan was over.
The Campaign was an Imperial sideshow. Largely ignored in the narratives of the Great War. Its significance is it was a successful counter-insurgency campaign in the jungles of South East Asia. The British Army was to spend over a third of the next hundred years fighting other counter-insurgency campaigns and wars in other parts of those jungles. 1928 Terengganu, 1942-45 WW2, 45-46 Vietnam, 45-46 Indonesia, 47-49 Sarawak, and 48-77 Malaya, to name a few.
More details of the politics of the rebellion can be found in. (7)
Notes, Sources, References.
(1) To’Janggut: Legends, Histories, and Perceptions of the 1915 Rebellion in Kelantan. from page 110, By Cheah Boon Kheng (Web, https://books.google.com.my/books?id=2n6LhfSDVnwC&pg=PA114&lpg=PA114&dq=tok+janggut+The+attack+on+Pasir+Puteh+police+station+(1915)&source=bl&ots=F5FfIR2qYk&sig=wtyn9tpqa_FfRxNHkJ7N1X4GQ88&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bdljUo_xOYWJrQeXuYGwCg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=tok%20janggut%20The%20attack%20on%20Pasir%20Puteh%20police%20station%20(1915)&f=false.)
(2) other accounts claim the fatal wound was caused by a spear. The dagger would have been a keris.This weapon is more likely as it was a weapon normally carried.
(3)page 110 To’Jangget : Legends…
(4) CM Hawksley PhD Thesis, Administrative Colonialism Chapter 6. University of Wollongong 2001.
(6) The Kelantan Outbreak The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 29th May 1915, page 10
(7) Kheng, Cheah Boon. “Hunting Down the Rebels in Kelantan, 1915: The Sultan’s ‘Double Game'” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 68, no. 2 (269) (1995): 9-32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41493643.