The Fall of Kuala Lumpur

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The Betrayal of Raja Asal and the Fall of Kuala Lumpur (April –August 1872)

The failure to capture Kuala Kubu in August 1871 had weakened Kapitan Yap’s forces under Chung Piang's command considerably. By the beginning of May, Chung Piang was in retreat, meanwhile Mashhor and his allies had surrounded Kuala Lumpur. When Chung Piang was badly in need of supplies such as rice, ammunition, liquor and other foodstuff; attempts were made to get provisions from Kuala Lumpur and Klang. The Viceroy attempted to send materials up to him. He had sent Raja Asal and Sutan Puasa together with the provisions to Chung Piang in the Ulu Yam camp. However, Syed Mashhor came to know about the plan and thus proceeded to intercept them and to try to win them over. Syed Mashhor succeeded in persuading Raja Asal to join him by promising liberal rewards. As soon as the deal was done, Raja Asal diverted the supplies to Klang where he was joined by Raja Laut, an ally of Syed Mashhor. Meanwhile, Sutan Puasa who was transporting the supplies overland, was also intercepted and agreed to join forces with Syed Mashhor, he was to join him in the subsequent attack on Kuala Lumpur.

When Raja Asal reached Klang, they immediately marched to Petaling Batu (about 3 miles from Kuala Lumpur on the Sungai Besi Road) and encamped there. Only when Raja Asal appeared at Petaling Batu was his treachery revealed to Kapitan Yap and his allies. Raja Asal and his allies had more than 2,000 troops while Kapitan Yap had only about 200 men (inclusive of 80 sepoys and 15-20 European and Eurasian non-commissioned officers) in Kuala Lumpur. All of Kapitan Yap’s troops in Kuala Lumpur were under the command of Van Hagen. Van Hagen was over-confident and quickly advanced to Petaling Batu with the object of defeating the enemy forces. The next morning, Van Hagen started to attack Raja Asal’s position and the fighting lasted for three days. (The battle was fought just beyond the Chinese cemetery about a mile south of Pudu). Van Hagen failed to dislodge the enemy from their base and suffered heavy casualties. Under this circumstance, he was compelled to retreat to Kuala Lumpur.

The situation was now critical. Kapitan Yap had no choice but to ask Chung Piang and Mat Akil (Viceroy’s man) to withdraw from Ulu Yam and return to Kuala Lumpur to defend it. Throughout the retreat, Chung Piang's forces were constantly harassed by Mashhor’s men. Soon, Mashhor arrived near Kuala Lumpur and joined Raja Asal. At this point Sutan Puasa went over to Mashhor’s side. There could have been several reasons why Sutan Puasa should have done so, for exmaple like Kapitan Yap, he was a mine-owner and trader, and there must inevitably have been a clash of commercial interests between them. Besides that, a distorted account of the Viceroy being held captive by the British government in Singapore also convinced him to joined Mashhor’s forces.

As soon as Sutan Puasa joined him, Mashhor lead the combined forces to attack Kapitan Yap’s positions. Kapitan Yap now had taken the field in person. He had arranged his men in a crescent formation with one wing directly under his command and the other under Van Hagen. Mashhor attacked fiercely from 10 o’clock in the morning till about 3 in the afternoon, but the defenders managed to hold their ground. The next day Mashhor threw all his men against Van Hagen’s contingent, but again failed to make any headway. After this, the fighting gradually settled into a deadlock which lasted for more than two months. Throughout this period Kapitan Yap remained in contact with Klang, presumably by the hill path of Bukit Arang and Penchala to Damansara, thus supplies reached him regularly. Sensing the great danger they were in, Kapitan Yap started evacuating his family and other children and women down to Klang escorted by Yap Voon Lung and Tung Khoon. As soon as the children and women were safe in Klang, the two panglimas returned to Kuala Lumpur to help Yap Ah Loy defend the town.

By the beginning of July 1872, Raja Asal and Mashhor had devised a plan to end it all. They suggested that Mashhor kept the defenders busy while Raja Asal crossed the Klang river to Seputeh to cut Kapitan Yap’s lifeline. The plan was approved and was carried out successfully. At this juncture, Raja Mahdi, Raja Mahmud and several other Selangor chiefs (who had gone on hiding) appeared and joined the besieging army.

By August 1872, Kapitan Yap and Van Hagen were seriously short of supplies. Nothing was reaching them from Klang and they had only a handful of troops to hold Kuala Lumpur from the much larger forces of Mashhor. Van Hagen decided that they should abandon the town and try to cut their way through to the coast. In retrospect, had they held on for another week or two, they would have been safe when reinforcements arrived. In December 1871, the Viceroy had gotten a favour from the Sultan of Pahang in which the Sultan will provide troops to assist the Viceroy in quelling the rebels. By July, an army of 1,000 men from Pahang was mobilizing in Bentong. And in early August 1872, the Pahang troops under Raja Rasu and the Orang Kaya of Chenor had started attacking Raja Asal’s forts in Ulu Klang. Raja Rasu’s forces were stopped by Raja Asal’s men but the chief of Chenor made it to Kepong. An attempt was made to establish contact with the forces besieged in Kuala Lumpur urging them to retreat to Kepong if they could not hold the town. Unfortunately, Van Hagen never received the message from the Pahang men at Kepong or he may have mistrusted it.

Instead of trying to withdraw in that direction he attempted to cut through to the coast by way of Petaling and Damansara. He started his plan at night with only his party of sepoys and the non-commissioned officers, leaving Kapitan Yap and his men to defend Kuala Lumpur. Probably due to ignorance, Van Hagen and his troops marched to the valley of Sungei Kuyoh (to the west of the present village of Sungei Besi). The enemy’s men from Petaling had moved down the river earlier and were waiting for him in front while others were in hot pursuit. Finding himself trapped, Van Hagen tried to fight his way through to the main river. In the sharp engagement many of his troops were kill. About 40 men managed to escape through the jungle and made their way to Klang in small groups. Van Hagen, Cavalieri and the remainder surrendered and the following day were taken back to Kuala Lumpur where they were executed. Swettenham related how in digging foundation trenches many year later, a number of skeletons were found of those who had died in the fighting:

“Two skeletons were thus discovered. The bones were larger, the figures taller than those usually met with. They were the skeletons of two men face to face and locked in each other’s arms

Meanwhile, when Kapitan Yap saw that the majority of Mashhor’s men had gone in pursuit of Van Hagen and the sepoys, he told his own troops to prepare to evacuate at nightfall. As soon as darkness set in, they took to the jungle in the hope of reaching Damansara and thence going down the river by boat to Klang. When Mashhor and Raja Laut returned from the chase, they found the Kuala Lumpur undefended. They immediately chased after Kapitan Yap and his troops. Kapitan Yap’s retreating troops suffered heavy casualties and by the time they emerged near Damansara, more than 1,700 of them were killed. Tung Khoon and Teng Sam were among the victims. 

“On looking into this tragic event, the Capitan looked to Heaven and sighed. He had never before suffered so severe a reverse. Moreover many of his close associates were either killed or wounded. His followers had to exhort him to keep calm. Later he left by sampan with his men for Klang where he rested. The Viceroy Tumku Kudin was much distressed at the disaster, and when he saw the Capitan wearing only a piece of underwear of Siamese make, he tried to calm him, and said he would send him to Kedah with a headman’s position if he thought no more of taking revenge on the enemy in Kuala Lumpur.” (A Short History of Yap Ah Loy – as told by Hiu Fatt).

True to his nature of being a resolute and contentious man, he thanked the Viceroy and said that he will take back Kuala Lumpur in due time. He rested for about a month in Klang and at the same time, made preparations for another attack on Mashhor.


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The History of Yap Ah Loy
This page was last modified on September 12, 2000