The Battle of Rawang

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The Second Attempt to capture Kuala Lumpur (May-June 1871): 
The Battle of Rawang

After being defeated in the battle at Ampang, Syed Mashhor took refuge in Ulu Selangor and began at once to devise a new plan to take revenge. Within a short period of time he succeeded in gathering a new force of about 1,000 armed men. Many of the latter troops came from Langat, but at Mashhors’s suggestion the forces were assembled in Ulu Selangor. At the same time, Yap Ah Loy had instituted additional protective measures more thorough than those in operation in September of the previous year. The different approaches to Kuala Lumpur were guarded, and advance positions were maintained some distance from the town.

Kapitan Yap’s troops were reorganized into five companies, each with a headman or captain, and all under the direct command of Chung Piang. As we have seen, Capitan Yap fought the Battle of Ampang from Kuala Lumpur. It was established that although he continued to direct the general strategy, Chung Piang was in charge of the troops in the field and was responsible for any immediate measures needed to be taken.

The northern gateway to Kuala Lumpur was defended by a camp of about 500 men under Yap Voon Lung and the camp was situated near Rawang. Mashhor and Chong Chong advanced towards Kuala Lumpur independently. When Mashhor was within a mile from the Rawang camp, he established contact with a small unit of Yap Voon Lung’s men, and thereupon halted for the night. On learning that an army much larger than his own was marching towards him, Yap Voon Lung immediately sent word to Kuala Lumpur asking for reinforcements. The next day Mashhor launched a fierce attack against his position. Yap Voon Lung managed to hold on to his position for some time. In the midst of fighting, Chong Chong’s forces appeared on the battleground. With the additional numbers against him, Yap Voon Lung was forced to retreat to a second position further to his rear. In this second stockade, he was able to hold off the enemy until nightfall. By this time, he had lost over 40 men with another 40 seriously wounded.

Immediately after Yap Voon Lung’s message was received in Kuala Lumpur, arrangements were made to go to his aid. Hiu Fatt set out for Rawang with 500 men at dawn, but due to the bad road conditions, he only managed to reached Rawang at about 7 p.m. (even though the distance was only 20 miles from Kuala Lumpur). Without delay, the leaders held a council of war, and agreed on the following plan of action:

  • Yap Voon Lung was to draw the enemy out by a ruse and lead them towards Hiu Fatt's camp.
  • Chong Fung with 200 men was to ambush about half way between the two camps.
  • Hiu Fatt and Tung Khoon were to tackle Chong Chong.

The plan of action was put into operation the following morning. Yap Voon Lung advanced to attack Mashhor’s forces, and after a short struggle, he feigned defeat and retreated rapidly. The Malays thought Yap Voon Lung’s army was in trouble and gave chase. Suddenly Chong Fung’s men emerged from their hiding place and caught them in the rear. At the same time Yap Voon Lung’s force turned back and began to attack, thus trapping Mashhor’s men between two fires. In the meantime, Hiu Fatt and Tung Khoon were keeping Chong Chong pinned down in his camp. Mashhor managed to reach his base safely, but he had suffered severe losses.

Mashhor was so depressed at his second defeat at the hands of the Chinese that he tried to commit suicide. But Chong Chong prevented him from doing so. After a short while he recovered and went to Ulu Selangor to obtain further help from his brother Che Dollah. Chong Chong was charged with the command of the remaining forces in Rawang “with instructions on no account to court engagement with the enemy until his return.” In spite of numerous attempts by Yap Voon Lung to lure Chong Chong out for a fight, Chong Chong refused to be drawn out.

News of the victory was sent to Kuala Lumpur. Kapitan Yap replied with presents of food and drink for his troops. He also sent Chung Piang with reinforcements, with the intention of destroying Chong Chong’s army before Mashhor could gain any ground and come back to help. As soon as Chung Piang had taken over command of the troops at Rawang, he issued the following orders,

  • Yap Voon Lung with 200 men and sufficient provisions will proceed to Serendah in order to cut off the retreat of Chong Chong
  • Tung Khoon and Chong Fung with 200 men will attack on the right flank.
  • Hiu Fatt and Yong Kui with 200 men will attack on the left.
  • While Chung Piang himself with the remaining troops (about 300 men) will do a frontal assault.

When Chong Chong learnt of their intention to take his camp by direct assault, he redoubled efforts to strengthen his defenses, in the hopes of holding out until Mashhor's return. Chung Piang launched his attack as soon as his arrangements were completed.

“After many days of fighting, no impression, however, was made on the defense. Meanwhile, through a scout, Chung Piang learned that the enemy’s weakest point was his left wing, which was feebly defended by raw Malay recruits. He therefore modified his plan of attack and one day (after) fighting had continued till 10 o’clock in the morning, he suddenly concentrated his thrust in that quarter with an additional 200 gunmen. After a short contest it gave way and, within a short time, the whole of Chong Chong’s camp was over-run by Chung Piang’s braves with frightful loss to the enemy. The casualties on Chung Piang’s side were mustered at 70 killed and over 100 wounded.”

In the chaos, Chong Chong and about 90 of his men managed to escape to Serendah. There his party was intercepted by Yap Voon Lung’s men and in a short period of time his troops were completely routed. However, Yap Voon Lung failed to capture Chong Chong. Some of Chong Chong’s men reached Ulu Selangor and reported the disaster to Mashhor. From this point onwards, Chong Chong disappeared without any trace. It is thought that he was killed in Serendah but Yap Voon Lung’s men did not manage to identify his body.

Syed Mashhor was said to have returned to Ulu Selangor to raise his third army. He certainly came back and began another, and this time ultimately successful, attack on Kuala Lumpur.

Tengku Kudin

In August 1871, the Viceroy of Selangor Tunku Kudin had stationed two officers, Van Hagen (a Dutchman) and Cavalieri (an Italian) with 80 sepoys and some non-commissioned officers, at Kuala Lumpur. As he could not get much support from the local Malays, mercenaries instead were recruited. His intention was to strengthen his position in the field but it displeased Kapitan Yap. Kapitan Yap did not like the idea of his men put under the command of Van Hagen but he could not afford to disagree with the Viceroy at this time, knowing that he still needed the Viceroy's support.

At the same time, the Viceroy and Kapitan Yap decided to destroy Mashhor before his forces could be rebuilt. Their intention was good but it was executed badly. Thus far, one of the reasons for Kapitan Yap’s success against his foe had been that he was on the defensive and his enemies were encamped in temporary stockades. In this expedition, Kapitan Yap and the Viceroy sent troops well into Ulu Selangor, a stronghold of Syed Mashhor. In addition they did not send enough men and supplies. Hence, their first attempt to eradicate Mashhor from his base at Kuala Kubu in Ulu Selangor failed and as a result they were unable to deploy a rapid counter-attack in overwhelming strength after their victory at Rawang. This mistake was possibly due to Tunku Kudin changing his mind in midstream. He seemed to have been prone to sudden changes of military plans. For example, at the siege of Klang he had attacked precipitately on the day after his arrival from Kedah. Then after some time of fighting, he abandoned the idea of an assault and sat down to starve Mahdi’s garrison into surrendering.


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This page was last modified on September 12, 2000