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The First Battalion Perak Sikhs

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Subject :The First Battalion Perak Sikhs
Published By : Wilson Company, Photographers, Orchard Road, Singapore 
Location : Ipoh
Estimated Year : 1890
Media Type : Postcard
Source : Ian Anderson, Ipoh / Kinta Properties Group
Remark :

This divided back card has a note on the back, but shows no sign of posting. It shows the Perak Native States Guides, a title that did not exist in the history of Perak. The photograph actually shows the 'First Battalion Perak Sikhs', the armed military arm of the Perak Police Force.

The Battalion had its roots in the ‘Perak Armed Force’ which was a mix of races (Sikhs, Punjabi, Malays and Chinese), first commanded by Captain Swinburne and from 1879 by Major R S F Walker CMG.  The 'Armed Force' was disbanded in early 1884 and ‘The First Battalion Perak Sikhs’, was established on 15 May 1884 to replace them.

The Battalion was divided into three sections - the Infantry, the Artillery and the Mounted Troop. Commanded by Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) R S F Walker they were trained in military duties as their professional role. They were supported by a Malay Branch, but as the only police force in the State they also had to carry out general policing in support of their Malays. The new force comprised 927 men. 701 were Sikhs and others were Parthans. The remainder were Malays who manned the boats and carried out general policing. According to Walker maintaining the required level of manpower in the Malay Branch was difficult. He is quoted as saying:

"The Perak Malays [lived too easily] to bind themselves to regular work and discipline."

Consequently very few local Malays could be induced to sign up as policemen although there was no shortage of volunteers as Boatmen. Consequently, Walker had to recruit from other States, including Malacca and Province Wellesley.

The Battalion had many duties, one of which was the Fire Brigade. In 1884 they provided four well-trained companies for the Fire Brigade in Taiping. In 1889 this system was extended to Teluk Anson, Gopeng and Papan, while Ipoh was included in 1890. Unfortunately, in 1892, they were unable to prevent the huge loss of buildings in the Great Fire of Ipoh. Civic duties such as these put a great strain on the Battalions resources and in 1890 their numbers were increased. 

In 1889 Walker recommended to Taiping and Ipoh that steam pumps should be supplied to back up the water mains, but no action was taken until after the Great Fire of Ipoh when the Town Council ordered a Greenwich Fire Engine from London. It arrived in 1893 and was manned by the Sikhs of the First Battalion.

The Battalion also took on (fr9m 1884) the res0ounsibilty for the Registration of Births and Deaths and the Registration of Vehicles. After an outbreak of Rabies they took on the Registration of Dogs and around the same time they conducted the first official population census. In addition to all their extraneous duties they were also required to carry out all normal police duties in what was described in the Perak Annual Report of 1884 as:

“… a scattered population living in flimsy dwellings dotted around about 6,000 square miles of country, lonely roads and jungle paths but few police stations comparatively speaking, a mining population and a coast seamed with a network of creeks difficult of approach in most states of the tide.”

Subsequently the districts of Lower Perak, Batang Padang and Kinta were opened up and to meet this new responsibility the Battalion was divided into eight companies. Four companies were established in Larut. One in Selama, one in Kuala Kanhsar, one in Kinta (Ipoh?) and one in Lower Perak and Batang Padang. His main problem after 1887 was Kinta where mines were being opened rapidly and the 110 Perak Sikhs of the Battalion were insufficient. Walker got over this problem by organising the Sikh Watchmen (Security Guards) in the mines as Auxiliary Policemen under the control and training of the Perak Sikhs.

In 1892 Walker toured Kinta and reported:

“I found the village of Ipoh had grown from a hamlet into a town of no mean proportion – 396 houses and a population of over 4,000. At the census of 1891, it was given as 3,184; both houses are popular and are increasing daily. The houses in course of construction are of a better class than any others in the State. People are flocking to it. The river was crowded with heavily laden boats and the place was full of animation. It will be and indeed now is, the most important township in the district and no doubt the State in the near future unless a railway connects with Larut."

Inevitably new police stations were opened as the populations grew and traditionally small villages like Tambun soon had their own station. Ipoh was also made the Divisional Police Headquarters with an Assistant Commissioner in charge. In parallel more Sikhs were enlisted to take on the additional suties.

In 1892 and 1884, the Perak Sikhs were augmented by enlisting men (Sikhs) from other Federated States all under the command of (now) Lieutenant Colonel Walker and during this period fought in several local wars. In view of the availability of Sikhs in the country and the success that Walker had experienced with the missed force, he recommended, in 1892:

“.. that a certain number of Sikhs in the Protected States that can muster the number, say 200, should be trained, equipped and organized on the same line. The whole should be under one Commandant, who could be the head of one of the Police Forces in the Peninsula, with one officer in each state, to command, responsible to the Resident of the various states and Commandant only. These men would do purely military duties…and would be available at a moments notice to move off to the scene of any disturbance. This system would enable the government to throw at once a force of trained Sikhs into the disturbed district, reinforcements being pushed forward if necessary, and would consist of men of the same Regiment, as it were, under their own officers: the force so collected being then an harmonious whole.”

The Battalion was disbanded in 1896 to be replaced by the 'Malay States Guides', established on 1 July 1896, the day the Federation Agreement was signed. The Guides took up their new duties formally in September of that year. The new regiment was made up entirely of Sikhs drawn from all the states of the Federation. Many of the Perak Battalion transferred to the new organisation. Lieutenant Colonel Walker was appointed the Commandant of the new force. Those of the Perak Sikhs not selected for the new Guides  formed the Sultan of Perak's bodyguards. The Malay section of the Battalion remained in the Perak Police Force.

In June 1907, the police headquarters moved to Ipoh, said to be a more central and convenient place.

To read more about The Malay States Guides, click here.

To read about Colonel R S F Walker CMG, click here.

Filename : 20070802-048