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Dutch East Indies

In the Hands of the Malays
Extracts from the book by G. A, Henty 'In the Hands of the Malays'
First published in 1905, 'In the Hands of the Malays' is set in the Malay archipelago during the Dutch period and vividly describes the scourge of Malay piracy that preyed upon shipping in the Straits. The book's hero, a young Dutch lieutenant by the name of van Houten, leads a squadron of ships to hunt down the dreaded Malay pirate leader, the Sea Tiger. However, his ships are overrun by the Malays and he himself is held captive by the noble savage. Van Houten, however, makes a daring escape, just in time to help save Batavia from an attack by the pirates and put an end to the Sea Tiger's reign of terror.

Henty was a prolific writer of adventure stories for boys in Victorian England and it is estimated that more than 25 million copies of his 177 books had been sold by 1914. His novels usually featured a young hero involved with an actual heroic leader in genuine historical events and were well-known for their accuracy to historical detail - no doubt a skill gained as a war correspondent during the Crimean War. Set in exotic locations and heady times - be it Clives's India or Kitchener's Sudan - it was through Henty's distinctive historical novels that whole generations of English boys learnt British military history and took inspiration in the legacy of their far-flung Empire.

(Attack on the Dutch squadron)

It was known that the pirate's rendezvous was on the east coast of Sumatra, where he had made an alliance with a tribe at war with its neighbours, and had aided in conquering the latter; and it was in that direction that the three ships steered their course, hoping to encounter the pirates as they came down the Straits of Malacca on one of their expeditions. They cruised backwards and forwards for a week without seeing a sail, save a few native boats creeping along close to the shore. One morning, however, the look-out at the mast-head saw a number of sail in the distance. Among them were two vessels much larger than the others. These were doubtless the Dutch ships that had been captured; the others were native craft, most of them rowing, as could be seen as the sun flashed on their oars. Preparations were at once made for battle, for there was no change in the direction of the pirate flotilla after it was certain that they must have seen the Dutch fleet.

"It almost looks", Van Houten said to Erasmus, his young subaltern, who was again with him, " as if they had received information as to our starting in pursuit of them, otherwise there would surely have been some hesitation when they first saw us, some consultation whether they should attack us or not. Unless I am greatly mistaken one of the ships is the Dordrecht She was only three weeks at Batavia. The fellow must have lost no time in getting allies among the Dative princes in order to waylay her when she came out again. She would be the first object of his vengeance."

" She certainly looks like her," the other agreed. "Well, if so, there is one more debt to be paid off. The captain was a good old fellow, and I liked the second mate very much. I hope both of them fell before the vessel was seized, for we may be sure that they would not have had an easy death if they were captured. It will be a tough fight, for I have no doubt that the boats are crammed with men. There is one thing which I do not expect they have many guns, except in the two ships; but counting only fifty men a boat and no doubt many of them carry a hundred-we shall be tremendously outnumbered if they get alongside."

" Yes. It is a little unfortunate that there is not more wind; then we might keep away from their boats, and pepper them hotly. As it is, they can move three feet to our one."

As soon as the pirates were within range, the three Dutch vessels opened fire. They were unanswered for a short time, for the two pirate ships had been outstripped by the prahus. But several of the latter now took them in tow, and presently they began to return the fire with their bow-guns. Although several of the prahus were sunk, and some so badly damaged that they had to drop behind, the others pressed on.

At a signal from the commander of the ship of war his consorts now brought their heads round so that they lay nearly in a line, with their broadsides to the pirates.

With loud shouts, beating of drums, and the blowing of horns, the prahus came along at racing speed. Instead of using round-shot, the guns were now crammed to the muzzle with bags of bullets, and these did terrible execution. But the Malays did not relax their efforts, and presently dashed alongside of the Dutch ships. Soon a desperate fight took place. The soldiers kept up an incessant musketry-fire as fast as they could load; the sailors cut down those who attempted to board; and the Malays threw showers of spears, stinkpots, and missiles of all kinds.

For half an hour the fight continued, and the result was still in doubt, when there was a crash, and the decks were swept by a storm of bullets.

Scarce noticed while the struggle was going on, the two pirate ships had come up, passed ahead of the Dutch vessels, and had sailed close up on the opposite side to that on which the fight with the prahus was taking place. The pirates had shifted all their guns so as to bear on the Dutch vessels. Each mounted sixteen cannon, and these poured in their contents simultaneously. The effect was terrible! More than half the defenders were swept away, and a minute later the pirate ships were alongside; and as the Dutch turned to repel the storm of figures leaping on to their decks, the men in the canoes crowded up on the other side. The Dutch soldiers and sailors fought with desperation. They knew there was no quarter, and held out to the last. But in five minutes the ship of war and the one next to her had been captured, and the last of the defenders slain.

The ship that carried Van Houten was at the end of the line, and had up to now been only attacked by the natives. A few of the sailors were withdrawn from their work of the defence of the bulwarks, and were ordered to haul on the sheets so that the sails might catch what wind there was. If she could escape from the attack of the two ships, she might yet beat off the natives. But it was too late; the pirates threw off the grapnels that attached them to the ships they had captured, and again some of the canoes took them in tow. Several of these were sunk, but the way given was sufficient, and the leading vessel ranged alongside the merchantman.

The exultant shouts of the Malays rose high in the air as the men from the pirate ship and prahus swarmed on deck. The Dutch soldiers held together and fought steadily, but their numbers lessened fast as the spears of the Malays flew among them. Few of them had time to reload their muskets and fire a second shot. Erasmus fell by Van Houten's side when the latter had but a dozen men left around him. The leader of the pirates, whom he now recognized, shouted: " Do not touch that white officer! Make him prisoner! I want him!"

A moment later there was a general rush of the Malays. Three of them sprang upon Van Houten and dragged him to tile ground, and soon a yell of triumph told that the last of the defenders had fallen.


(Attack on Batavia)

A quarter of an hour passed, and then they heard five loud splashes and a confused noise, and knew that the pirate's ships had anchored. Then came a creaking of pulleys and grating sounds, and they knew that the boats had been lowered. The lights in the house had all been extinguished, and perfect silence reigned. Presently there was a sound of many oars and the beat of paddles, and five minutes later ten large boats crowded with inen appeared, making for the shore, and in a few minutes the grating of the keels was heard on the sand, and dark figures could be seen making their way up the beach.

" There must be three hundred of them at least," Van Houten said to the man who was standing next to him, "and I fancy that about the same number remain on board. As far as I can make out, there are only one or two men left on guard at each boat. We will creep up as quietly as we can, directly the firing breaks out; each of you will pick off his man-the noise will not be noticed in the row that will be going on up above. Then let two go to each boat and stave in a couple of planks, and then go along and do the same with the others, but see that it is done thoroughly. Directly all the boats are damaged hurry back here and open fire upon the pirates as they return. Traces have been fastened to the guns, and the artillerymen will run them down towards the water's edge, and the soldiers will advance and surround the scoundrels as they strive to push the boats off; not one of them should be able to regain their ships."

The pirates were led by a man whose white dress showed up clearly in the darkness, and who Van Houten was sure was the "Sea Tiger" himself. They advanced towards the house in an irregular line, the two flanks rather in advance. No sound was heard among them. It was evident that they had been ordered to preserve silence until the house was surrounded. They went on and on until they could be no longer seen by the watchers. Suddenly a voice shouted " Fire!"

Six guns loaded to the muzzle with bullets spoke out, and the musketry, in a semicircle, flashhed from the shrubbery. " Now is our time!" Van Houten cried. The ten men went forward at a run. Within twenty yards of the nearest boat they halted and poured in their fire, and more than half the men standing together on the beach fell. Then they dashed forward. Two minutes sufficed to do the work, and they ran back to the bush from which they started. The din above was terrible. The Malays, for a moment staggered by the terrible and unexpected fire, had run back a few paces; but the voice of their leader encouraged them, and with loud yells they again rushed forward.

The cannon were silent, for loading was a long operation in those days; but by the colonel's orders only half the soldiers had taken part in the first volley, and the others now poured in their fire.

The Malays pushed on recklessly, and were within twenty yards of the house when they paused, as two broadsides were fired in quick succession out at sea. The Dutch vessels had passed behind the pirates, and, having delivered their first broadside, had tacked and laid themselves alongside the ship of war, pouring in their other broadside as they did so. At the same moment a musketry fire opened from the whole of the pirate ships, answered more loudly from the boats, for comparatively few of the Malays carried firearms.

This unexpected attack did what the fear of death could not effect. With a yell of alarm and rage they turned and ran down towards their boats. Then the soldiers poured out from, their concealment. Those by the guns seized the traces and ran them down to a distance of fifty yards from the shore, and poured their contents into the crowded mass. The Malays leapt into their boats and pushed them off, but before they were fairly afloat they were full of water to the gunwale. Most of them jumped over and started to swim towards the ships; others leapt ashore, and, drawing their krises, rushed at the troops and fell there, fighting fiercely to the end. Then the guns were run down to the shore and poured showers of grape among the swimmers. In the meantime firing had ceased on board the ship of war and two of the pirates, and the cheers of their captors rose loudly. On the others fighting was still going on, and the yells of the Malays and the cheers of the Dutch could be plainly heard.

In one the fighting presently ceased, but in the other the Malays were apparently successful. The sounds grew fainter, and the direction showed that the Malays had beaten off their opponents, cut their cable, and were under sail. Three minutes later there was a flash of guns, and their light showed the warship also under sail, evidently in pursuit. Answering guns came back, and these grew farther away. Of the Malays who had landed, some twenty unwounded had alone been taken prisoners. These were placed under a strong guard. The colonel hailed the ships to send a boat ashore. It presently arrived, and they heard, as they supposed, that four of the ships had been recaptured and that the Leyden was in pursuit of the other.

They also heard that only some twenty of the men of the naval expedition had been killed, for so completely were the Malays taken by surprise that their assailants had gained a footing on their decks comparatively without opposition. Sails had been at once hoisted when the boat had rowed ashore, and the vessels made for Batavia, where, at noon next, day, the Leyden arrived with her prize. Not a man had fallen of the Dutch force on shore, though a few had been wounded by the Malays, who, finding their retreat cut off, had rushed at them.

Directly the fight was over, Philip drove over in the trap that had been kept waiting on the other side of the house, and told Elise and the Rogens that all was over, that the former's father and he were both unhurt, and that the dreaded pirate had fallen, shot through the head, within twenty yards of the house. ...

Batavia went wild with joy at the news of the capture of the whole of the pirate fleet, and the destruction of the "Sea Tiger" and his followers. No quarter had been given on board the vessels first captured, and thirty Malays alone survived the fight of the vessel brought in by the Leyden. All the prisoners were tried and shot three days later. Van Houten was the hero of the occasion, and received immediate promotion. All felt that, had he not warned them, the town would almost certainly have been captured and every soul in it massacred.


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