In The Footsteps of Isabella Bird

The lost documentary

Part Fourteen: Delving into the Dindings


BLOG 14 - Delving into the Din Dings

Isabella witnessed Bloomfield Douglas presiding over a court case concerning the murder of Superintendent Lloyd on Pangkor Island by a Chinese gang.


Superintendent Lloyd meets an unfortunate fate.

Emily Innes was visiting Mr Lloyd at the time. She went to get away from Douglas who had kicked her and her husband out of their bungalow and given it to Mr Daly and Douglas’s daughter. Which was bad enough in itself, but now Mrs Innes managed to get hit in the head with an axe and left for dead. She had her revenge on Douglas later on by writing an account of his misdemeanours in her book, "The Chersonese with the Gilding Off." But at this time, her suffering was only deepening and instead of sympathy for her traumatic escape she and her husband were packed off to an even more dismal and dangerous assignment in Perak. Douglas framed it as a “promotion” but she took it as banishment.

In the meantime The Straits Times pronounced that, “
It is high time to show the Chinese that we can punish with merciless and relentless severity as well as protect. It is no time for legal formalities. We say that these men who did this deed must be caught and executed and we look to the Government not to be slow about it.”

Bloomfield Douglas was all too willing to go along with The Straits Time's recommendations. And when they found someone who might have been one of the assailants, Isabella was there to witness the court proceedings. She found them horrific as Douglas strutted about the court ignoring procedure yelling "
Chilaka" meaning worthless wretch, and "Bodo" meaning fool, at everyone!

“I think that Mr Douglas is the most fiendish human being that I have ever seen,” she wrote, “After close study I failed to find a redeeming point in his character. The misgovernment of the state was a gross and brutal... It was a rule of fraud, hypocrisy and violence!”

Even so
, on contemplating the Chinese prisoner, she said, "I wonder how many of the feelings which we call human exist in the lowest order of Orientals?”

With all these conflicting attitudes swirling around, it was hardly surprising that, as she put it, a queerly muddled system of law prevailed under the British flag.


Mrs Innes thought the Residents were too much a law unto themselves and that the Native States would be better off annexed so that the influx of Europeans, exercising their free speech, and civilised conventions, would control these men. She considered the natives, it seems, a bad influence. All they did was grovel to power and plot murder, which only encouraged Englishmen to do likewise!


When Isabella left Klang she waved goodbye to Mrs Bloomfield Douglas, who she thought more highly of than her husband.

Gentle Mrs Douglas,” she wrote, “standing above the jetty, a lone woman in forlorn, decayed Klang, haunts me as a vision of sadness, as I think of her sorrow and her dignified hospitality in the midst of it.”

Mrs Douglas it seems was another damaged individual trapped in the mosquito infested steamy swamps sacrificed upon the altar of British Interests, interests that Isabella seems to have thought minimal.

A little after Isabella's book was published, the threat of an official inquiry into Douglas's financial accounts prompted his early retirement, without the customary Knighthood for such services. His son-in-law, Mr Daly, went off to Sabah, where he succumbed to a mosquito with his name on it. Douglas’s mentally handicap daughter dies. Then his wife dies. Then he marries again. Knocks ten years off his age and restarts in Canada. Where his second wife dies and he remarries, finally dying at 81, still employed as a harbour master.

He was not exactly a man for all seasons, but he was perhaps given less credit than was his due as he worked under conditions most men would feel intimidated by. If only he had hunted crocodile and not snipe! Then perhaps Isabella would have had a better opinion of him.


The Dindings

The final chapter in Mr Lloyds story now unfolded in the Dindings, the next place on Isabella’s itinerary. This is probably one of the most obscure British Colonies in the region. Few people nowadays can even remember that the British once ruled this little stretch of land on the Malay Peninsula’s west coast. It consisted mostly of the islands at the mouth of a river that were deemed useful as a naval base for protecting the straits. Though even that plan was barely put into action, just like a lot of British intentions for the region. She was there while one of the murderers of Captain Lloyd was to be hanged. She doubted the man was guilty.

“It is believed,” she wrote, “that he was doomed to sacrifice himself by one of these Chinese societies in order to screen the real murderers.

The whole incident had been the result of a labour dispute on one of the plantations in the region. Such disputes were not uncommon, and though rarely so fatal, they were often heated and we find such incidents taking place right up till the British left in the middle of the twentieth century. British planters always carried a gun just in case. They also tended to drink heavily. Malaya, right up to the bitter end of The Malay Emergency, was no tropical idyll. It was not until 1989 when a peace treaty was signed with the Chinese Communist Party, consisting of a few families now living just across the border in a village in Thailand. Malaysia’s politics has been relatively quiet since then, and so have the tigers, though the mosquitoes are still buzzing around.


In the next Blog we come across one of Malaysia’s most important historical turning points.


You can find these books either here:

or here:

All the quotations from Isabella’s book are by permission of the publisher.

If you are interested in finding out more for yourself, a great resource for researching these histories can be found at
and the
Singapore National Archives.

So, do not forget to SUBSCRIBE to the YouTube Channel where I shall announce each blog as it is posted. Also check out our other documentaries on The Hidden History of Johor Bahru and The Hidden History of Johor Lama. Those are documentaries that we actually finished!

And please come back here to continue reading the accounts of the various histories that we would have been covering in our documentary.

What I have done is that I have taken the script and turned it into various short blogs with various old photographs and illustrations.

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