The Recapture of Kuala Lumpur

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The Recapture of Kuala Lumpur and the End of the Selangor Civil War (1873).

Kuala Lumpur fell towards the end of August 1872 and shortly after that, Syed Mashhor took the fort at Kuala Selangor by treachery. The sergeant in charged together with 52 sepoys were slaughtered. By now, the Viceroy had lost every major post except Kuala Klang and the fort at Klang itself. Mashhor and his allies had controlled most part of the interior of Selangor. The Pahang forces in Kepong had retreated to Bentong when they encountered difficulties in getting supplies. Communication with the Pahang forces in Bentong was extremely difficult if not impossible.

By the end of October 1872, Kapitan Yap had managed to assemble about 1,000 troops ready to move back into the interior. Out of these men, about 700 men were made up of those saved from his last defeat and the remaining were new recruits newly arrived from China. Among these newly arrived were more than 200 men who were expert in launching bamboo rockets. Kapitan Yap's adviser, Voon Siew had another innovation; in order to boost the morale of the men, he introduced very handsome rewards for the soldiers. The rewards were as follows:

  • The reward for cutting down the head of an enemy leader was $100.
  • The reward for cutting down the head of an ordinary enemy soldier was $10.
  • The compensation allowance to the family for being killed in battle was $300.

When these rules were laid down his soldiers became very courageous. It was said that each day they went to the battlefield and fought without caring for themselves. The Viceroy also had about the same number of Malays fighters under Mat Akil, Haji Husain and To’ Lonkang. This expedition to recapture Kuala Lumpur was headed by Kapitan Yap himself.

By November 1872, Kapitan Yap’s forces had advanced to Petaling near Kuala Lumpur and he had tried to established contact with the Pahang soldiers in Kepong. Soon he was informed that the Raja Rasu and the Orang Kaya of Chenor had already withdrawn to Bentong. After he got this information, he gave orders to advance towards Kuala Lumpur. On arrival, he found that the place flooded due to incessant heavy downpour. Kapitan Yap ordered his men to camp on selected high plain. There, he divided his men into eight battle groups, each under the command of a headman, namely:

  • Hiu Fatt and Chung Piang
  • Yap Kwee
  • Yap Yeng Onn
  • Yap Fa Tho
  • Ng Ki
  • Yap Tong Li
  • Loh Ah Seng
  • Hiu Lok

The men under Mat Akil were split into three bodies and those under To’ Lonkang and Haji Husain into 8 smaller groups. They were all assigned to defend their own positions. Kapitan Yap waited patiently for the rainy season to pass, and the battle did not start until February 1873. Throughout this time, regular supplies were reaching him from Klang. It was surprising to note that Mashhor made no attempt to disperse Kapitan Yap’s forces, or to cut them off from Klang. One of the possible reasons was that Pahang troops came over the passes from Bentong and Raub very soon after they had taken up positions in Kuala Lumpur. The Pahang soldiers under Raja Rasu attacked Raja Asal’s fort in Ulu Klang and Ulu Selangor. By March that year, Raja Rasu and the Orang Kaya of Chenor had reached the neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur and had established contact with Kapitan Yap. A conference was held between the Kapitan and his allies after which they decided that the Pahang troops were to defend the line between the first mile on the Ampang Road and Gombak Hill. The Kapitan’s men would moved forward and camped along an arc, about a mile from the center of the town, stretching from the west bank of Klang River south of Kuala Lumpur to the Gombak River to the north. Kuala Lumpur was thus completely encircled except the south-east, the direction of Pudu.

Seeing that his forces were encircled, Mashhor did not wait for the enemy to attack and took the initiative. At that time, he had about 2,000 soldiers under his command. The Kapitan’s troops formed a circle and started firing their canons and guns at Mashhor’s men. A desperate and fierce battle ensued which lasted for two days and two nights. Mashhor’s men were continuously defeated and a great number were killed. Kapitan Yap’s “bamboo rockets” also destroyed Mashor’s camp. Mashhor had tried to retreat through the north but found that the Pahang troops were on guard. By the middle of the third night, Mashhor was unable to resist the attacks anymore when he discovered that his large force had dwindled down to only about 700 men. In the same night, he and his men managed to slip away by the Pudu Pass. Kapitan Yap soon discovered that the enemy had abandoned Kuala Lumpur. Thus, Kuala Lumpur was liberated. He gave chase the next morning all the way to Tanjong Malim by way of Pudu, Kanching, Rawang and Kuala Kubu. On the way many of Mashhor’s men were killed. Somehow, Mashhor and the treacherous Raja Asal managed to escape through the thick jungle. Thus, the Kapitan returned to Kuala Lumpur and when approaching the town, many inhabitants came out to greet and congratulate him on his success.

The civil war continued for another six months. The introduction of the bamboo rockets had sped up the liberation of Kuala Lumpur and hastened the end of the war. The greater part of the work in the final stages of the Selangor war was done by the Pahang troops. Stiff fighting occurred in Kanching, Ulu Yam and Kubu Masjid. In Kanching alone, more than 300 of the enemy troops were killed. The Kapitan’s “bamboo rocketeers” had accompanied the Pahang troops on the assault on Mashhor’s positions in the north. The civil war finally came to an end on the 8th of November 1873 with the fall of Kuala Selangor. Unfortunately, Syed Mashhor had fled to the court of Raja Muda Abdulllah of the Perak state. He could never pose any more threats to Kuala Lumpur. From then onwards, the people lived in peace and the miners in the tin fields resumed their work. Kapitan Yap also resumed his work as the administrator of Kuala Lumpur till his death on the 15th of April 1885.


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This page was last modified on September 12, 2000