The History of Sumatra - Containing An Account Of The Government, Laws, Customs And - Manners Of The Native Inhabitants
by William Marsden
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(PLATE 16. A MALAY BOY, NATIVE OF BENCOOLEN. T. Heaphy delt. A. Cardon fecit. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.)

































































PLATE 1. THE PEPPER-PLANT, Piper nigrum. E.W. Marsden delt. Engraved by J. Swaine, Queen Street, Golden Square. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 2. THE DAMMAR, A SPECIES OF PINUS. Sinensis delt. Swaine Sc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 3. THE MANGUSTIN FRUIT, Garcinia mangostana. Engraved by J. Swaine. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 4. THE RAMBUTAN, Nephelium lappaceum. L. Wilkins delt. Engraved by J. Swaine. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 5. THE LANSEH FRUIT, Lansium domesticum. L. Wilkins delt. Hooker Sc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 6. THE RAMBEH FRUIT, A SPECIES OF LANSEH. Maria Wilkins delt. Engraved by J. Swaine. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 7. THE KAMILING OR BUAH KRAS, Juglans camirium. L. Wilkins delt. Engraved by J. Swaine. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 8. Marsdenia tinctoria, OR BROAD-LEAFED INDIGO. E.W. Marsden delt. Swaine fct. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 9. A SPECIES OF Lemur volans, SUSPENDED FROM THE RAMBEH-TREE. Sinensis delt. N. Cardon fct. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 9a. THE MUSANG, A SPECIES OF VIVERRA. W. Bell delt. A. Cardon fc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 10. THE TANGGILING OR PENG-GOLING-SISIK, A SPECIES OF MANIS. W. Bell delt. A. Cardon fct. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 11. n.1. THE ANJING-AYER, Mustela lutra. W. Bell delt. A. Cardon fc.

PLATE 11a. n.2. 1. SKULL OF THE KAMBING-UTAN. 2. SKULL OF THE KIJANG. W. Bell delt. A. Cardon sc.


PLATE 12a. n.2. THE KIJANG OR ROE, Cervus muntjak. W. Bell delt. A. Cardon sc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 13. n.1. THE LANDAK, Hystrix longicauda. Sinensis delt. A. Cardon fc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 13a. n.2. THE ANJING-AYER. Sinensis delt. A. Cardon fc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.


PLATE 14a. n.2. THE KUBIN, Draco volans. Sinensis delt. A. Cardon sc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 15. BEAKS OF THE BUCEROS OR HORN-BILL. M. de Jonville delt. Swaine sc. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 16. A MALAY BOY, NATIVE OF BENCOOLEN. T. Heaphy delt. A. Cardon fecit. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 17. SUMATRAN WEAPONS. A. A Malay Gadoobang. B. A Batta Weapon. C. A Malay Creese. One-third of the size of the Originals. W. Williams del. and sculpt. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 17a. SUMATRAN WEAPONS. D. A Malay Creese. E. An Achenese Creese. F. A Malay Sewar. One-third of the size of the Originals. W. Williams del. and sculpt.


PLATE 18A. VIEW OF PADANG HILL. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 19. A VILLAGE HOUSE IN SUMATRA. W. Bell delt. J.G. Stadler sculpt. Published by W. Marsden, 1810.

PLATE 19a. A PLANTATION HOUSE IN SUMATRA. W. Bell delt. J.G. Stadler sculpt.




The island of Sumatra, which, in point of situation and extent, holds a conspicuous rank on the terraqueous globe, and is surpassed by few in the bountiful indulgences of nature, has in all ages been unaccountably neglected by writers insomuch that it is at this day less known, as to the interior parts more especially, than the remotest island of modern discovery; although it has been constantly resorted to by Europeans for some centuries, and the English have had a regular establishment there for the last hundred years. It is true that the commercial importance of Sumatra has much declined. It is no longer the Emporium of Eastern riches whither the traders of the West resorted with their cargoes to exchange them for the precious merchandise of the Indian Archipelago: nor does it boast now the political consequence it acquired when the rapid progress of the Portuguese successes there first received a check. That enterprising people, who caused so many kingdoms to shrink from the terror of their arms, met with nothing but disgrace in their attempts against Achin, whose monarchs made them tremble in their turn. Yet still the importance of this island in the eye of the natural historian has continued undiminished, and has equally at all periods laid claim to an attention that does not appear, at any, to have been paid to it.

The Portuguese being better warriors than philosophers, and more eager to conquer nations than to explore their manners or antiquities, it is not surprising that they should have been unable to furnish the world with any particular and just description of a country which they must have regarded with an evil eye. The Dutch were the next people from whom we had a right to expect information. They had an early intercourse with the island, and have at different times formed settlements in almost every part of it; yet they are almost silent with respect to its history.* But to what cause are we to ascribe the remissness of our own countrymen, whose opportunities have been equal to those of their predecessors or contemporaries? It seems difficult to account for it; but the fact is that, excepting a short sketch of the manners prevailing in a particular district of the island, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the year 1778, not one page of information respecting the inhabitants of Sumatra has been communicated to the public by any Englishman who has resided there.

(*Footnote. At the period when this remark was written, I was not aware that an account of the Dutch settlements and commerce in Sumatra by M. Adolph Eschels-kroon had in the preceding year been published at Hamburgh, in the German language; nor had the transactions of a literary society established at Batavia, whose first volume appeared there in 1779, yet reached this country. The work, indeed, of Valentyn, containing a general history of the European possessions in the East Indies, should have exempted a nation to which oriental learning is largely indebted from what I now consider as an unmerited reflection.)

To form a general and tolerably accurate account of this country and its inhabitants is a work attended with great and peculiar difficulties. The necessary information is not to be procured from the people themselves, whose knowledge and inquiries are to the last degree confined, scarcely extending beyond the bounds of the district where they first drew breath; and but very rarely have the almost impervious woods of Sumatra been penetrated to any considerable distance from the sea coast by Europeans, whose observations have been then imperfect, trusted perhaps to memory only, or, if committed to paper, lost to the world by their deaths. Other difficulties arise from the extraordinary diversity of national distinctions, which, under a great variety of independent governments, divide this island in many directions; and yet not from their number merely, nor from the dissimilarity in their languages or manners, does the embarrassment entirely proceed: the local divisions are perplexed and uncertain; the extent of jurisdiction of the various princes is inaccurately defined; settlers from different countries and at different periods have introduced an irregular though powerful influence that supersedes in some places the authority of the established governments, and imposes a real dominion on the natives where a nominal one is not assumed. This, in a course of years, is productive of innovations that destroy the originality and genuineness of their customs and manners, obliterate ancient distinctions, and render confused the path of an investigator.

These objections, which seem to have hitherto proved unsurmountable with such as might have been inclined to attempt the history of Sumatra, would also have deterred me from an undertaking apparently so arduous, had I not reflected that those circumstances in which consisted the principal difficulty were in fact the least interesting to the public, and of the least utility in themselves. It is of but small importance to determine with precision whether a few villages on this or that particular river belong to one petty chief or to another; whether such a nation is divided into a greater or lesser number of tribes; or which of two neighbouring powers originally did homage to the other for its title. History is only to be prized as it tends to improve our knowledge of mankind, to which such investigations contribute in a very small degree. I have therefore attempted rather to give a comprehensive than a circumstantial description of the divisions of the country into its various governments; aiming at a more particular detail in what respects the customs, opinions, arts, and industry of the original inhabitants in their most genuine state. The interests of the European powers who have established themselves on the island; the history of their settlements, and of the revolutions of their commerce I have not considered as forming a part of my plan; but these subjects, as connected with the accounts of the native inhabitants and the history of their governments, are occasionally introduced.

I was principally encouraged to this undertaking by the promises of assistance I received from some ingenious and very highly esteemed friends who resided with me in Sumatra. It has also been urged to me here in England that, as the subject is altogether new, it is a duty incumbent on me to lay the information I am in possession of, however defective, before the public, who will not object to its being circumscribed whilst its authenticity remains unimpeachable. This last quality is that which I can with the most confidence take upon me to vouch for. The greatest portion of what I have described has fallen within the scope of my own immediate observation; the remainder is either matter of common notoriety to every person residing in the island, or received upon the concurring authority of gentlemen whose situation in the East India Company's service, long acquaintance with the natives, extensive knowledge of their language, ideas, and manners, and respectability of character, render them worthy of the most implicit faith that can be given to human testimony.

I have been the more scrupulously exact in this particular because my view was not, ultimately, to write an entertaining book to which the marvellous might be thought not a little to contribute, but sincerely and conscientiously to add the small portion in my power to the general knowledge of the age; to throw some glimmering light on the path of the naturalist; and more especially to furnish those philosophers whose labours have been directed to the investigation of the history of Man with facts to serve as data in their reasonings, which are too often rendered nugatory, and not seldom ridiculous, by assuming as truths the misconceptions or wilful impositions of travellers. The study of their own species is doubtless the most interesting and important that can claim the attention of mankind; and this science, like all others, it is impossible to improve by abstract speculation merely. A regular series of authenticated facts is what alone can enable us to rise towards a perfect knowledge in it. To have added one new and firm step in this arduous ascent is a merit of which I should be proud to boast.


Of this third edition it is necessary to observe that, the former two having made their appearance so early as the years 1783 and 1784, it would long since have been prepared for the public eye had not the duties of an official situation occupied for many years the whole of my attention. During that period, however, I received from my friends abroad various useful, and, to me at least, interesting communications which have enabled me to correct some inaccuracies, to supply deficiencies, and to augment the general mass of information on the subject of an island still but imperfectly explored. To incorporate these new materials requiring that many liberties should be taken with the original contexture of the work, I became the less scrupulous of making further alterations wherever I thought they could be introduced with advantage. The branch of natural history in particular I trust will be found to have received much improvement, and I feel happy to have had it in my power to illustrate several of the more interesting productions of the vegetable and animal kingdoms by engravings executed from time to time as the drawings were procured, and which are intended to accompany the volume in a separate atlas.





If antiquity holds up to us some models, in different arts and sciences, which have been found inimitable, the moderns, on the other hand, have carried their inventions and improvements, in a variety of instances, to an extent and a degree of perfection of which the former could entertain no ideas. Among those discoveries in which we have stepped so far beyond our masters there is none more striking, or more eminently useful, than the means which the ingenuity of some, and the experience of others, have taught mankind, of determining with certainty and precision the relative situation of the various countries of the earth. What was formerly the subject of mere conjecture, or at best of vague and arbitrary computation, is now the clear result of settled rule, founded upon principles demonstratively just. It only remains for the liberality of princes and states, and the persevering industry of navigators and travellers, to effect the application of these means to their proper end, by continuing to ascertain the unknown and uncertain positions of all the parts of the world, which the barriers of nature will allow the skill and industry of man to approach.


Sumatra, the subject of the present work, is an extensive island in the East Indies, the most western of those which may be termed the Malayan Archipelago, and constituting its boundary on that side.


The equator divides it obliquely, its general direction being north-west and south-east, into almost equal parts; the one extremity lying in five degrees thirty-three minutes north, and the other in five degrees fifty-six minutes south latitude. In respect to relative position its northern point stretches into the Bay of Bengal; its south-west coast is exposed to the great Indian Ocean; towards the south it is separated by the Straits of Sunda from the island of Java; on the east by the commencement of the Eastern and China Seas from Borneo and other islands; and on the north-east by the Straits of Malacca from the peninsula of Malayo, to which, according to a tradition noticed by the Portuguese historians, it is supposed to have been anciently united.


The only point of the island whose longitude has been settled by actual observation is Fort Marlborough, near Bencoolen, the principal English settlement, standing in three degrees forty-six minutes of south latitude. From eclipses of Jupiter's satellites observed in June 1769, preparatory to an observation of the transit of the planet Venus over the sun's disc, Mr. Robert Nairne calculated its longitude to be 101 degrees 42 minutes 45 seconds; which was afterwards corrected by the Astronomer Royal to 102 degrees east of Greenwich. The situation of Achin Head is pretty accurately fixed by computation at 95 degrees 34 minutes; and longitudes of places in the Straits of Sunda are well ascertained by the short runs from Batavia, which city has the advantage of an observatory.


By the general use of chronometers in latter times the means have been afforded of determining the positions of many prominent points both on the eastern and western coasts, by which the map of the island has been considerably improved: but particular surveys, such as those of the bays and islets from Batang-kapas to Padang, made with great ability by Captain (now Lieutenant-Colonel) John Macdonald; of the coast from Priaman to the islands off Achin by Captain George Robertson; and of Siak River by Mr. Francis Lynch, are much wanted; and the interior of the country is still very imperfectly known. From sketches of the routes of Mr. Charles Campbell and of Lieutenant Hastings Dare I have been enabled to delineate the principal features of the Sarampei, Sungei Tenang and Korinchi countries, inland of Ipu, Moco-moco, and Indrapura; and advantage has been taken of all other information that could be procured. For the general materials from which the map is constructed I am chiefly indebted to the kindness of my friend, the late Mr. Alexander Dalrymple, whose indefatigable labours during a long life have contributed more than those of any other person to the improvement of Indian Hydrography. It may be proper to observe that the map of Sumatra to be found in the fifth volume of Valentyn's great work is so extremely incorrect, even in regard to those parts immediately subject to the Dutch government, as to be quite useless.


Notwithstanding the obvious situation of this island in the direct track from the ports of India to the Spice Islands and to China, it seems to have been unknown to the Greek and Roman geographers, whose information or conjectures carried them no farther than Selan-dib or Ceylon, which has claims to be considered as their Taprobane; although during the middle ages that celebrated name was almost uniformly applied to Sumatra. The single circumstance indeed of the latter being intersected by the equator (as Taprobane was said to be) is sufficient to justify the doubts of those who were disinclined to apply it to the former; and whether in fact the obscure and contradictory descriptions given by Strabo, Pomponius Mela, Pliny, and Ptolemy, belonged to any actual place, however imperfectly known; or whether, observing that a number of rare and valuable commodities were brought from an island or islands in the supposed extremity of the East, they might have been led to give place in their charts to one of vast extent, which should stand as the representative of the whole, is a question not to be hastily decided.


The idea of Sumatra being the country of Ophir, whither Solomon sent his fleets for cargoes of gold and ivory, rather than to the coast of Sofala, or other part of Africa, is too vague, and the subject wrapped in a veil of too remote antiquity, to allow of satisfactory discussion; and I shall only observe that no inference can be drawn from the name of Ophir found in maps as belonging to a mountain in this island and to another in the peninsula; these having been applied to them by European navigators, and the word being unknown to the natives.

Until the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope the identity of this island as described or alluded to by writers is often equivocal, or to be inferred only from corresponding circumstances.


The first of the two Arabian travellers of the ninth century, the account of whose voyages to India and China was translated by Renaudot from a manuscript written about the year 1173, speaks of a large island called Ramni, in the track between Sarandib and Sin (or China), that from the similarity of productions has been generally supposed to mean Sumatra; and this probability is strengthened by a circumstance I believe not hitherto noticed by commentators. It is said to divide the Sea of Herkend, or Indian Ocean, from the Sea of Shelahet) Salahet in Edrisi), and Salat being the Malayan term both for a strait in general, and for the well-known passage within the island of Singapura in particular, this may be fairly presumed to refer to the Straits of Malacca.


Edrisi, improperly called the Nubian geographer, who dedicated his work to Roger, King of Sicily, in the middle of the twelfth century, describes the same island, in the first climate, by the name of Al-Rami; but the particulars so nearly correspond with those given by the Arabian traveller as to show that the one account was borrowed from the other. He very erroneously however makes the distance between Sarandib and that island to be no more than three days' sail instead of fifteen. The island of Soborma, which he places in the same climate, is evidently Borneo, and the two passages leading to it are the Straits of Malacca and of Sunda. What is mentioned of Sumandar, in the second climate, has no relation whatever to Sumatra, although from the name we are led to expect it.


Marco Polo, the celebrated Venetian traveller of the thirteenth century, is the first European who speaks of this island, but under the appellation of Java minor, which he gave to it by a sort of analogy, having forgotten, or not having learned from the natives, its appropriate name. His relation, though for a long time undervalued, and by many considered as a romantic tale, and liable as it is to the charge of errors and omissions, with some improbabilities, possesses, notwithstanding, strong internal evidence of genuineness and good faith. Containing few dates, the exact period of his visit to Sumatra cannot be ascertained, but as he returned to Venice in 1295, and possibly five years might have elapsed in his subsequent tedious voyages and journeys by Ceylon, the Karnatick, Malabar, Guzerat, Persia, the shores of the Caspian and Euxine, to Genoa (in a prison at which place he is said to have dictated his narrative), we may venture to refer it to the year 1290.

Taking his departure, with a considerable equipment, from a southern port of China, which he (or his transcriber) named Zaitum, they proceeded to Ziamba (Tsiampa or Champa, adjoining to the southern part of Cochin-China) which he had previously visited in 1280, being then in the service of the emperor Kublai Khan. From thence, he says, to the island of Java major is a course of fifteen hundred miles, but it is evident that he speaks of it only from the information of others, and not as an eyewitness; nor is it probable that the expedition should have deviated so far from its proper route. He states truly that it is a mart for spices and much frequented by traders from the southern provinces of China. He then mentions in succession the small uninhabited islands of Sondur and Condur (perhaps Pulo Condore); the province of Boeach otherwise Lochac (apparently Camboja, near to which Condore is situated); the island of Petan (either Patani or Pahang in the peninsula) the passage to which, from Boeach, is across a gulf (that of Siam); and the kingdom called Malaiur in the Italian, and Maletur in the Latin version, which we can scarcely doubt to be the Malayan kingdom of Singa-Pura, at the extremity of the peninsula, or Malacca, then beginning to flourish. It is not however asserted that he touched at all these places, nor does he seem to speak from personal knowledge until his arrival at Java minor (as he calls it) or Sumatra. This island, lying in a south-eastern direction from Petan (if he does not rather mean from Malaiur, the place last mentioned) he expressly says he visited, and describes it as being in circumference two thousand miles (not very wide of the truth in a matter so vague), extending to the southward so far as to render the Polar Star invisible, and divided into eight kingdoms, two of which he did not see, and the six others he enumerates as follows: Ferlech, which I apprehend to be Parlak, at the eastern extremity of the northern coast, where they were likely to have first made the land. Here he says the people in general were idolaters; but the Saracen merchants who frequented the place had converted to the faith of Mahomet the inhabitants of the towns, whilst those of the mountains lived like beasts, and were in the practice of eating human flesh. Basma or Basman: this nearly approaches in sound to Pasaman on the western coast, but I should be more inclined to refer it to Pase (by the Portuguese written Pacem) on the northern. The manners of the people here, as in the other kingdoms, are represented as savage; and such they might well appear to one who had long resided in China. Wild elephants are mentioned, and the rhinoceros is well described. Samara: this I suppose to be Samar-langa, likewise on the northern coast, and noted for its bay. Here, he says, the expedition, consisting of two thousand persons, was constrained to remain five months, waiting the change of the monsoon; and, being apprehensive of injury from the barbarous natives, they secured themselves, by means of a deep ditch, on the land side, with its extremities embracing the port, and strengthened by bulwarks of timber. With provisions they were supplied in abundance, particularly the finest fish. There is no wheat, and the people live on rice. They are without vines, but extract an excellent liquor from trees of the palm kind by cutting off a branch and applying to it a vessel which is filled in the course of a day and night. A description is then given of the Indian or coconut. Dragoian, a name bearing some though not much resemblance to Indragiri on the eastern coast; but I doubt his having proceeded so far to the southward as that river. The customs of the natives are painted as still more atrocious in this district. When any of them are afflicted with disorders pronounced by their magicians to be incurable their relations cause them to be suffocated, and then dress and eat their flesh; justifying the practice by this argument, that if it were suffered to corrupt and breed worms, these must presently perish, and by their deaths subject the soul of the deceased to great torments. They also kill and devour such strangers caught amongst them as cannot pay a ransom. Lambri might be presumed a corruption of Jambi, but the circumstances related do not justify the analogy. It is said to produce camphor, which is not found to the southward of the equinoctial line; and also verzino, or red-wood (though I suspect benzuin to be the word intended), together with a plant which he names birci, supposed to be the bakam of the Arabs, or sappan wood of the eastern islands, the seeds of which he carried with him to Venice. In the mountainous parts were men with tails a palm long; also the rhinoceros, and other wild animals. Lastly, Fanfur or Fansur, which corresponds better to Campar than to the island of Panchur, which some have supposed it. Here the finest camphor was produced, equal in value to its weight in gold. The inhabitants live on rice and draw liquor from certain trees in the manner before described. There are likewise trees that yield a species of meal. They are of a large size, have a thin bark, under which is a hard wood about three inches in thickness, and within this the pith, from which, by means of steeping and straining it, the meal (or sago) is procured, of which he had often eaten with satisfaction. Each of these kingdoms is said to have had its peculiar language. Departing from Lambri, and steering northward from Java minor one hundred and fifty miles, they reached a small island named Necuram or Norcueran (probably Nancowry, one of the Nicobars), and afterwards an island named Angaman (Andaman), from whence, steering to the southward of west a thousand miles, they arrived at that of Zeilan or Seilam, one of the most considerable in the world. The editions consulted are chiefly the Italian of Ramusio, 1583, Latin of Muller, 1671, and French of Bergeron, 1735, varying much from each other in the orthography of proper names.


Odoricus, a friar, who commenced his travels in 1318 and died at Padua in 1331, had visited many parts of the East. From the southern part of the coast of Coromandel he proceeded by a navigation of twenty days to a country named Lamori (perhaps a corruption of the Arabian Al-rami), to the southward of which is another kingdom named Sumoltra, and not far from thence a large island named Java. His account, which was delivered orally to the person by whom it was written down, is extremely meagre and unsatisfactory.


Mandeville, who travelled in the fourteenth century, seems to have adopted the account of Odoricus when he says, "Beside the isle of Lemery is another that is clept Sumobor; and fast beside a great isle clept Java."


Nicolo di Conti, of Venice, returned from his oriental travels in 1449 and communicated to the secretary of Pope Eugenius IV a much more consistent and satisfactory account of what he had seen than any of his predecessors. After giving a description of the cinnamon and other productions of Zeilam he says he sailed to a great island named Sumatra, called by the ancients Taprobana, where he was detained one year. His account of the pepper-plant, of the durian fruit, and of the extraordinary customs, now well ascertained, of the Batech or Batta people, prove him to have been an intelligent observer.


A small work entitled Itinerarium Portugallensium, printed at Milan in 1508, after speaking of the island of Sayla, says that to the eastward of this there is another called Samotra, which we name Taprobane, distant from the city of Calechut about three months' voyage. The information appears to have been obtained from an Indian of Cranganore, on the coast of Malabar, who visited Lisbon in 1501.


Ludovico Barthema (Vartoma) of Bologna, began his travels in 1503, and in 1505, after visiting Malacca, which he describes as being the resort of a greater quantity of shipping than any other port in the world, passed over to Pedir in Sumatra, which he concludes to be Taprobane. The productions of the island, he says, were chiefly exported to Catai or China. From Sumatra he proceeded to Banda and the Moluccas, from thence returned by Java and Malacca to the west of India, and arrived at Lisbon in 1508.


Odoardus Barbosa, of Lisbon, who concluded the journal of his voyage in 1516, speaks with much precision of Sumatra. He enumerates many places, both upon the coast and inland, by the names they now bear, among which he considers Pedir as the principal, distinguishes between the Mahometan inhabitants of the coast and the Pagans of the inland country; and mentions the extensive trade carried on by the former with Cambaia in the west of India.


In the account given by Antonio Pigafetta, the companion of Ferdinand Magellan, of the famous circumnavigatory voyage performed by the Spaniards in the years 1519 to 1522, it is stated that, from their apprehension of falling in with Portuguese ships, they pursued their westerly route from the island of Timor, by the Laut Kidol, or southern ocean, leaving on their right hand the island of Zamatra (written in another part of the journal, Somatra) or Taprobana of the ancients. Mention is also made of a native of that island being on board, who served them usefully as an interpreter in many of the places they visited; and we are here furnished with the earliest specimen of the Malayan language.


Previously however to this Spanish navigation of the Indian seas, by the way of South America, the expeditions of the Portuguese round the Cape of Good Hope had rendered the island well known, both in regard to its local circumstances and the manners of its inhabitants.


In a letter from Emanuel King of Portugal to Pope Leo the Tenth, dated in 1513, he speaks of the discovery of Zamatra by his subjects; and the writings of Juan de Barros, Castaneda, Osorius, and Maffaeus, detail the operations of Diogo Lopez de Sequeira at Pedir and Pase in 1509, and those of the great Alfonso de Alboquerque at the same places, in 1511, immediately before his attack upon Malacca. Debarros also enumerates the names of twenty of the principal places of the island with considerable precision, and observes that the peninsula or chersonesus had the epithet of aurea given to it on account of the abundance of gold carried thither from Monancabo and Barros, countries in the island of C(cedilla)amatra.

Having thus noticed what has been written by persons who actually visited this part of India at an early period, or published from their oral communication by contemporaries, it will not be thought necessary to multiply authorities by quoting the works of subsequent commentators and geographers, who must have formed their judgments from the same original materials.


With respect to the name of Sumatra, we perceive that it was unknown both to the Arabian travellers and to Marco Polo, who indeed was not likely to acquire it from the savage natives with whom he had intercourse. The appellation of Java minor which he gives to the island seems to have been quite arbitrary, and not grounded upon any authority, European or Oriental, unless we can suppose that he had determined it to be the I'azadith nesos of Ptolemy; but from the other parts of his relation it does not appear that he was acquainted with the work of that great geographer, nor could he have used it with any practical advantage. At all events it could not have led him to the distinction of a greater and a lesser Java; and we may rather conclude that, having visited (or heard of) the great island properly so called, and not being able to learn the real name of another, which from its situation and size might well be regarded as a sister island, he applied the same to both, with the relative epithets of major and minor. That Ptolemy's Jaba-dib or dio was intended, however vaguely, for the island of Java, cannot be doubted. It must have been known to the Arabian merchants, and he was indefatigable in his inquiries; but at the same time that they communicated the name they might be ill qualified to describe its geographical position.

In the rude narrative of Odoricus we perceive the first approach to the modern name in the word Sumoltra. Those who immediately followed him write it with a slight, and often inconsistent, variation in the orthography, Sumotra, Samotra, Zamatra, and Sumatra. But none of these travellers inform us from whom they learned it; whether from the natives or from persons who had been in the habits of frequenting it from the continent of India; which latter I think the more probable. Reland, an able oriental scholar, who directed his attention to the languages of the islands, says it obtains its appellation from a certain high land called Samadra, which he supposes to signify in the language of the country a large ant; but in fact there is not any spot so named; and although there is some resemblance between semut, the word for an ant, and the name in question, the etymology is quite fanciful. Others have imagined that they find an easy derivation in the word samatra, to be met with in some Spanish or Portuguese dictionaries, as signifying a sudden storm of wind and rain, and from whence our seamen may have borrowed the expression; but it is evident that the order of derivation is here reversed, and that the phrase is taken from the name of the land in the neighbourhood of which such squalls prevail. In a Persian work of the year 1611 the name of Shamatrah occurs as one of those places where the Portuguese had established themselves; and in some very modern Malayan correspondence I find the word Samantara employed (along with another more usual, which will be hereafter mentioned) to designate this island.


These, it is true, are not entirely free from the suspicion of having found their way to the Persians and Malays through the medium of European intercourse; but to a person who is conversant with the languages of the continent of India it must be obvious that the name, however written, bears a strong resemblance to words in the Sanskrit language: nor should this appear extraordinary when we consider (what is now fully admitted) that a large proportion of the Malayan is derived from that source, and that the names of many places in this and the neighbouring countries (such as Indrapura and Indragiri in Sumatra, Singapura at the extremity of the peninsula, and Sukapura and the mountain of Maha-meru in Java) are indisputably of Hindu origin. It is not my intention however to assign a precise etymology; but in order to show the general analogy to known Sanskrit terms it may be allowed to instance Samuder, the ancient name of the capital of the Carnatik, afterwards called Bider; Samudra-duta, which occurs in the Hetopadesa, as signifying the ambassador of the sea; the compound formed of su, good, and matra, measure; and more especially the word samantara, which implying a boundary, intermediate, or what lies between, might be thought to apply to the peculiar situation of an island intermediate between two oceans and two straits.


When on a former occasion it was asserted (and with too much confidence) that the name of Sumatra is unknown to the natives, who are ignorant of its being an island, and have no general name for it, the expression ought to have been confined to those natives with whom I had an opportunity of conversing, in the southern part of the west coast, where much genuineness of manners prevails, with little of the spirit of commercial enterprise or communication with other countries. But even in situations more favourable for acquiring knowledge I believe it will be found that the inhabitants of very large islands, and especially if surrounded by smaller ones, are accustomed to consider their own as terra firma, and to look to no other geographical distinction than that of the district or nation to which they belong. Accordingly we find that the more general names have commonly been given by foreigners, and, as the Arabians chose to call this island Al-rami or Lameri, so the Hindus appear to have named it Sumatra or Samantara.


Since that period however, having become much better acquainted with Malayan literature, and perused the writings of various parts of the peninsula and islands where the language is spoken and cultivated, I am enabled to say that Sumatra is well known amongst the eastern people and the better-informed of the natives themselves by the two names of Indalas and Pulo percha (or in the southern dialect Pritcho).


Of the meaning or analogies of the former, which seems to have been applied to it chiefly by the neighbouring people of Java, I have not any conjecture, and only observe its resemblance (doubtless accidental) to the Arabian denomination of Spain or Andalusia. In one passage I find the Straits of Malacca termed the sea of Indalas, over which, we are gravely told, a bridge was thrown by Alexander the Great.


The latter and more common name is from a Malayan word signifying fragments or tatters, and the application is whimsically explained by the condition of the sails of the vessel in which the island was circumnavigated for the first time; but it may with more plausibility be supposed to allude to the broken or intersected land for which the eastern coast is so remarkable. It will indeed be seen in the map that in the vicinity of what are called Rupat's Straits there is a particular place of this description named Pulo Percha, or the Broken Islands. As to the appellation of Pulo Ber-api, or Volcano Island, which has also occurred, it is too indefinite for a proper name in a region of the globe where the phenomenon is by no means rare or peculiar, and should rather be considered as a descriptive epithet.


In respect to magnitude, it ranks amongst the largest islands in the world; but its breadth throughout is determined with so little accuracy that any attempt to calculate its superficies must be liable to very considerable error. Like Great Britain it is broadest at the southern extremity, narrowing gradually to the north; and to this island it is perhaps in size more nearly allied than in shape.


A chain of mountains runs through its whole extent, the ranges being in many parts double and treble, but situated in general much nearer to the western than the opposite coast, being on the former seldom so much as twenty miles from the sea, whilst on the eastern side the extent of level country, in the broader part of the island, through which run the great rivers of Siak, Indragiri, Jambi, and Palembang, cannot be less than a hundred and fifty. The height of these mountains, though very great, is not sufficient to occasion their being covered with snow during any part of the year, as those in South America between the tropics are found to be. Mount Ophir,* or Gunong Pasaman, situated immediately under the equinoctial line, is supposed to be the highest visible from the sea, its summit being elevated thirteen thousand eight hundred and forty-two feet above that level; which is no more than two-thirds of the altitude the French astronomers have ascribed to the loftiest of the Andes, but somewhat exceeds that of the Peak of Tenerife.

(*Footnote. The following is the result of observations made by Mr. Robert Nairne of the height of Mount Ophir:

Height of the peak above the level of the sea, in feet: 13,842. English miles: 2.6216. Nautical miles: 2.26325. Inland, nearly: 26 nautical miles. Distance from Massang Point: 32 nautical miles. Distance at sea before the peak is sunk under the horizon: 125 nautical miles. Latitude of the peak: 0 degrees 6 minutes north. A volcano mountain, south of Ophir, is short of that in height by: 1377 feet. Inland, nearly 29 nautical miles. In order to form a comparison I subjoin the height, as computed by mathematicians, of other mountains in different parts of the world: Chimborazo, the highest of the Andes, 3220 toises or 20,633 English feet. Of this about 2400 feet from the summit are covered with eternal snow. Carazon, ascended by the French astronomers: 15,800 English feet. Peak of Tenerife. Feuille: 2270 toises or 13,265 feet. Mount Blanc, Savoy. Sr. G. Shuckburgh: 15,662. Mount Etna, Sr. G. Shuckburgh: 10,954.

Between these ridges of mountains are extensive plains, considerably elevated above the surface of the maritime lands, where the air is cool; and from this advantage they are esteemed the most eligible portion of the country, are consequently the best inhabited and the most cleared from woods, which elsewhere in general throughout Sumatra cover both hills and valleys with an eternal shade. Here too are found many large and beautiful lakes that extend at intervals through the heart of the country, and facilitate much the communication between the different parts, but their dimensions, situation, or direction, are very little known, though the natives make frequent mention of them in the accounts of their journeys. Those principally spoken of are: one of great extent but unascertained situation in the Batta country; one in the Korinchi country, lately visited by Mr. C. Campbel; and another in the Lampong country, extending towards Pasummah, navigated by boats of a large class with sails, and requires a day and night to effect the passage across it; which may be the case in the rainy season, as that part of the island through which the Tulang Bawang River flows is subject to extensive inundations, causing it to communicate with the river of the Palembang. In a journey made many years since by a son of the sultan of the latter place, to visit the English resident at Croee, he is said to have proceeded by the way of that lake. It is much to be regretted that the situation of so important a feature in the geography of the island should be at this day the subject of uncertain conjecture.


Waterfalls and cascades are not uncommon, as may be supposed in a country of so uneven a surface as that of the western coast. A remarkable one descends from the north side of Mount Pugong. The island of Mansalar, lying off and affording shelter to the bay of Tappanuli, presents to the view a fall of very striking appearance, the reservoir of which the natives assert (in their fondness for the marvellous) to be a huge shell of the species called kima (Chama gigas) found in great quantities in that bay, as well as at New Guinea and other parts of the east.* At the bottom of this fall ships occasionally take in their water without being under the necessity of landing their casks; but such attempts are liable to extreme hazard. A ship from England (the Elgin) attracted by the appearance from sea of a small but beautiful cascade descending perpendicularly from the steep cliff, that, like an immense rampart, lines the seashore near Manna, sent a boat in order to procure fresh water; but she was lost in the surf, and the crew drowned.

(*Footnote. The largest I have seen was brought from Tappanuli by Mr. James Moore of Arno's Vale in the north of Ireland. It is 3 feet 3 1/2 inches in its longest diameter, and 2 feet 1 1/4 inches across. One of the methods of taking them in deep water is by thrusting a long bamboo between the valves as they lie open, when, by the immediate closure which follows, they are made fast. The substance of the shell is perfectly white, several inches thick, is worked by the natives into arm-rings, and in the hands of our artists is found to take a polish equal to the finest statuary marble.)


No country in the world is better supplied with water than the western coast of the island. Springs are found wherever they are sought for, and the rivers are innumerable; but they are in general too small and rapid for the purpose of navigation. The vicinity of the mountains to that side of the island occasions this profusion of rivulets, and at the same time the imperfections that attend them, by not allowing them space to accumulate to any considerable size. On the eastern coast the distance of the range of hills not only affords a larger scope for the course of the rivers before they disembogue, presents a greater surface for the receptacle of rain and vapours, and enables them to unite a greater number of subsidiary streams, but also renders the flux more steady and uniform by the extent of level space than where the torrent rolls more immediately from the mountains. But it is not to be understood that on the western side there are no large rivers. Kataun, Indrapura, Tabuyong, and Sinkel have a claim to that title, although inferior in size to Palembang, Jambi, Indragiri, and Siak. The latter derive also a material advantage from the shelter given to them by the peninsula of Malacca, and Borneo, Banca, and the other islands of the Archipelago, which, breaking the force of the sea, prevent the surf from forming those bars that choke the entrance of the south-western rivers, and render them impracticable to boats of any considerable draught of water. These labour too under this additional inconvenience that scarcely any except the largest run out to sea in a direct course. The continual action of the surf, more powerful than the ordinary force of the stream, throws up at their mouths a bank of sand, which in many instances has the effect of diverting their course to a direction parallel with the shore, between the cliffs and the beach, until the accumulated waters at length force their way wherever there is found the weakest resistance. In the southerly monsoon, when the surfs are usually highest, and the streams, from the dryness of the weather, least rapid, this parallel course is of the greatest extent; and Moco-moco River takes a course, at times, of two or three miles in this manner, before it mixes with the sea; but as the rivers swell with the rain they gradually remove obstructions and recover their natural channel.


The heat of the air is by no means so intense as might be expected in a country occupying the middle of the torrid zone. It is more temperate than in many regions without the tropics, the thermometer, at the most sultry hour, which is about two in the afternoon, generally fluctuating between 82 and 85 degrees. I do not recollect to have ever seen it higher than 86 in the shade, at Fort Marlborough; although at Natal, in latitude 34 minutes north, it is not unfrequently at 87 and 88 degrees. At sunrise it is usually as low as 70; the sensation of cold however is much greater than this would seem to indicate, as it occasions shivering and a chattering of the teeth; doubtless from the greater relaxation of the body and openness of the pores in that climate; for the same temperature in England would be esteemed a considerable degree of warmth. These observations on the state of the air apply only to the districts near the sea-coast, where, from their comparatively low situation, and the greater compression of the atmosphere, the sun's rays operate more powerfully. Inland, as the country ascends, the degree of heat decreases rapidly, insomuch that beyond the first range of hills the inhabitants find it expedient to light fires in the morning, and continue them till the day is advanced, for the purpose of warming themselves; a practice unknown in the other parts of the island; and in the journal of Lieutenant Dare's expedition it appears that during one night's halt on the summit of a mountain, in the rainy season, he lost several of his party from the severity of the weather, whilst the thermometer was not lower than 40 degrees. To the cold also they attribute the backwardness in growth of the coconut-tree, which is sometimes twenty or thirty years in coming to perfection, and often fails to produce fruit. Situations are uniformly colder in proportion to their height above the level of the sea, unless where local circumstances, such as the neighbourhood of sandy plains, contribute to produce a contrary effect; but in Sumatra the coolness of the air is promoted by the quality of the soil, which is clayey, and the constant and strong verdure that prevails, which, by absorbing the sun's rays, prevents the effect of their reflection. The circumstance of the island being so narrow contributes also to its general temperateness, as wind directly or recently from the sea is seldom possessed of any violent degree of heat, usually acquired in passing over large tracts of land in the tropical climates. Frost, snow, and hail I believe to be unknown to the inhabitants. The hill-people in the country of Lampong speak indeed of a peculiar kind of rain that falls there, which some have supposed to be what we call sleet; but the fact is not sufficiently established. The atmosphere is in common more cloudy than in Europe, which is sensibly perceived from the infrequency of clear starlight nights. This may proceed from the greater rarefaction of the air occasioning the clouds to descend lower and become more opaque, or merely from the stronger heat exhaling from the land and sea a thicker and more plentiful vapour. The fog, called kabut by the natives, which is observed to rise every morning among the distant hills, is dense to a surprising degree; the extremities of it, even when near at hand, being perfectly defined; and it seldom is observed to disperse till about three hours after sunrise.


That extraordinary phenomenon, the waterspout, so well known to and described by navigators, frequently makes its appearance in these parts, and occasionally on shore. I had seen many at sea; but the largest and most distinct (from its proximity) that I had an opportunity of observing, presented itself to me whilst on horseback. I was so near to it that I could perceive what appeared to be an inward gyration, distinct from the volume surrounding it or body of the tube; but am aware that this might have been a deception of sight, and that it was the exterior part which actually revolved—as quiescent bodies seem to persons in quick motion, to recede in a contrary direction. Like other waterspouts it was sometimes perpendicular and sometimes curved, like the pipe of a still-head, its course tending in a direction from Bencoolen Bay across the peninsula on which the English settlement stands; but before it reached the sea on the other side it diminished by degrees, as if from want of the supplies that should be furnished by its proper element, and collected itself into the cloud from which it depended, without any consequent fall of water or destructive effect. The whole operation we may presume to be of the nature of a whirlwind, and the violent ebullition in that part of the sea to which the lower extremity of the tube points to be a corresponding effect to the agitation of the leaves or sand on shore, which in some instances are raised to a vast height; but in the formation of the waterspout the rotatory motion of the wind acts not only upon the surface of the land or sea, but also upon the overhanging cloud, and seems to draw it downwards.


Thunder and lightning are there so very frequent as scarcely to attract the attention of persons long resident in the country. During the north-west monsoon the explosions are extremely violent; the forked lightning shoots in all directions, and the whole sky seems on fire, whilst the ground is agitated in a degree little inferior to the motion of a slight earthquake. In the south-east monsoon the lightning is more constant, but the coruscations are less fierce or bright, and the thunder is scarcely audible. It would seem that the consequences of these awful meteors are not so fatal there as in Europe, few instances occurring of lives being lost or buildings destroyed by the explosions, although electrical conductors have never been employed. Perhaps the paucity of inhabitants in proportion to the extent of country and the unsubstantial materials of the houses may contribute to this observation. I have seen some trees, however, that have been shattered in Sumatra by the action of lightning.*

(*Footnote. Since the above was written accounts have been received that a magazine at Fort Marlborough, containing four hundred barrels of powder, was fired by lightning and blown up on the 18th of March 1782.)


The causes which produce a successive variety of seasons in the parts of the earth without the tropics, having no relation or respect to the region of the torrid zone, a different order takes place there, and the year is distinguished into two divisions, usually called the rainy and dry monsoons or seasons, from the weather peculiar to each. In the several parts of India these monsoons are governed by various particular laws in regard to the time of their commencement, period of duration, circumstances attending their change, and direction of the prevailing wind according to the nature and situation of the lands and coasts where their influence is felt. The farther peninsula of India, where the kingdom of Siam lies, experiences at the same time the effects of opposite seasons; the western side, in the Bay of Bengal, being exposed for half the year to continual rains, whilst on the eastern side the finest weather is enjoyed; and so on the different coasts of Indostan the monsoons exert their influence alternately; the one remaining serene and undisturbed whilst the other is agitated by storms. Along the coast of Coromandel the change, or breaking up of the monsoon as it is called, is frequently attended with the most violent gales of wind.

On the west coast of Sumatra, southward of the equinoctial, the south-east monsoon or dry season begins about May and slackens in September: the north-west monsoon begins about November, and the hard rains cease about March. The monsoons for the most part commence and leave off gradually there; the months of April and May, October and November generally affording weather and winds variable and uncertain.


The causes of these periodical winds have been investigated by several able naturalists, whose systems, however, do not entirely correspond either in the principles laid down or in their application to the effects known to be produced in different parts of the globe. I shall summarily mention what appear to be the most evident, or probable at least, among the general laws, or inferences, which have been deduced from the examination of this subject. If the sea were perfectly uninterrupted and free from the irregular influence of lands, a perpetual easterly wind would prevail in all that space comprehended between the twenty-eighth or thirteenth degrees of north and south latitude. This is primarily occasioned by the diurnal revolution of the earth upon its axis from west to east; but whether through the operation of the sun, proceeding westward, upon the atmospheric fluid, or the rapidity of revolution of the solid body, which leaves behind it that fluid with which it is surrounded, and thereby causes it virtually to recede in a contrary direction; or whether these principles cooperate, or unequally oppose each other, as has been ingeniously contended, I shall not take upon me to decide. It is sufficient to say that such an effect appears to be the first general law of the tropical winds. Whatever may be the degree of the sun's influence upon the atmosphere in his transient diurnal course, it cannot be doubted but that, in regard to his station in the path of the ecliptic, his power is considerable. Towards that region of the air which is rarefied by the more immediate presence of the heat, the colder and denser parts will naturally flow. Consequently from about, and a few degrees beyond, the tropics, on either side, the air tends towards the equator; and, combining with the general eastern current before mentioned, produces (or would, if the surface were uniform) a north-east wind in the northern division, and a south-east in the southern; varying in the extent of its course as the sun happens to be more or less remote at the time. These are denominated the trade-winds, and are the subject of the second general observation. It is evident that, with respect to the middle space between the tropics, those parts which at one season of the year lie to the northward of the sun, are, during another, to the southward of him; and of course that an alteration of the effects last described must take place, according to the relative situation of the luminary; or in other words, that the principle which causes at one time a north-east wind to prevail at any particular spot in those latitudes must, when the circumstances are changed, occasion a south-east wind. Such may be esteemed the outline of the periodical winds, which undoubtedly depend upon the alternate course of the sun northwards and southwards; and this I state as the third general law. But although this may be conformable with experience in extensive oceans, yet, in the vicinity of continents and great islands, deviations are remarked that almost seem to overturn the principle. Along the western coast of Africa and in some parts of the Indian seas, the periodical winds, or monsoons as they are termed in the latter, blow from the west-north-west and south-west, according to the situation, extent, and nature of the nearest lands; the effect of which upon the incumbent atmosphere, when heated by the sun at those seasons in which he is vertical, is prodigious, and possibly superior to that of any other cause which contributes to the production or direction of wind. To trace the operation of this irregular principle through the several winds prevalent in India, and their periodical failures and changes, would prove an intricate but, I conceive, by no means an impossible task.* It is foreign however to my present purpose, and I shall only observe that the north-east monsoon is changed, on the western coast of Sumatra, to north-west or west-north-west by the influence of the land. During the south-east monsoon the wind is found to blow there, between that point and south. Whilst the sun continues near the equator the winds are variable, nor is their direction fixed till he has advanced several degrees towards the tropic: and this is the cause of the monsoons usually setting in, as I have observed, about May and November, instead of the equinoctial months.

(*Footnote. It has been attempted, and with much ingenious reasoning, by Mr. Semeyns in the third volume of the Haerlem Transactions which have but lately fallen into my hands.)


Thus much is sufficient with regard to the periodical winds. I shall proceed to give an account of those distinguished by the appellation of land and sea breezes, which require from me a minuter investigation, both because, as being more local, they more especially belong to my subject, and that their nature has hitherto been less particularly treated of by naturalists.

In this island, as well as all other countries between the tropics of any considerable extent, the wind uniformly blows from the sea to the land for a certain number of hours in the four and twenty, and then changes and blows for about as many from the land to the sea; excepting only when the monsoon rages with remarkable violence, and even at such time the wind rarely fails to incline a few points, in compliance with the efforts of the subordinate clause, which has not power, under these circumstances, to produce an entire change. On the west coast of Sumatra the sea-breeze usually sets in, after an hour or two of calm, about ten in the forenoon, and continues till near six in the evening. About seven the land-breeze comes off, and prevails through the night till towards eight in the morning, when it gradually dies away.


These depend upon the same general principle that causes and regulates all other wind. Heat acting upon air rarefies it, by which it becomes specifically lighter, and mounts upward. The denser parts of the atmosphere which surround that so rarefied, rush into the vacuity from their superior weight; endeavouring, as the laws of gravity require, to restore the equilibrium. Thus in the round buildings where the manufactory of glass is carried on, the heat of the furnace in the centre being intense, a violent current of air may be perceived to force its way in, through doors or crevices, on opposite sides of the house. As the general winds are caused by the DIRECT influence of the sun's rays upon the atmosphere, that particular deviation of the current distinguished by the name of land and sea breezes is caused by the influence of his REFLECTED rays, returned from the earth or sea on which they strike. The surface of the earth is more suddenly heated by the rays of the sun than that of the sea, from its greater density and state of rest; consequently it reflects those rays sooner and with more power: but, owing also to its density, the heat is more superficial than that imbibed by the sea, which becomes more intimately warmed by its transparency and by its motion, continually presenting a fresh surface to the sun. I shall now endeavour to apply these principles. By the time the rising sun has ascended to the height of thirty or forty degrees above the horizon the earth has acquired, and reflected on the body of air situated over it, a degree of heat sufficient to rarefy it and destroy its equilibrium; in consequence of which the body of air above the sea, not being equally, or scarcely at all, rarefied, rushes towards the land and the same causes operating so long as the sun continues above the horizon, a constant sea-breeze, or current of air from sea to land, prevails during that time. From about an hour before sunset the surface of the earth begins to lose the heat it has acquired from the more perpendicular rays. That influence of course ceases, and a calm succeeds. The warmth imparted to the sea, not so violent as that of the land but more deeply imbibed, and consequently more permanent, now acts in turn, and by the rarefaction it causes draws towards its region the land air, grown cooler, more dense, and heavier, which continues thus to flow back till the earth, by a renovation of its heat in the morning, once more obtains the ascendancy. Such is the general rule, conformable with experience, and founded, as it seems to me, in the laws of motion and the nature of things. The following observations will serve to corroborate what I have advanced, and to throw additional light on the subject for the information and guidance of any future investigator.

The periodical winds which are supposed to blow during six months from the north-west and as many from the south-east rarely observe this regularity, except in the very heart of the monsoon; inclining, almost at all times, several points to seaward, and not unfrequently blowing from the south-west or in a line perpendicular to the coast. This must be attributed to the influence of that principle which causes the land and sea winds proving on these occasions more powerful than the principle of the periodical winds; which two seem here to act at right angles with each other; and as the influence of either is prevalent the winds draw towards a course perpendicular to or parallel with the line of the coast. Excepting when a squall or other sudden alteration of weather, to which these climates are particularly liable, produces an irregularity, the tendency of the land-wind at night has almost ever a correspondence with the sea-wind of the preceding or following day; not blowing in a direction immediately opposite to it (which would be the case if the former were, as some writers have supposed, merely the effect of the accumulation and redundance of the latter, without any positive cause) but forming an equal and contiguous angle, of which the coast is the common side. Thus, if the coast be conceived to run north and south, the same influence, or combination of influences, which produces a sea-wind at north-west produces a land-wind at north-east; or adapting the case to Sumatra, which lies north-west and south-east, a sea-wind at south is preceded or followed by a land-wind at east. This remark must not be taken in too strict a sense, but only as the result of general observation. If the land-wind, in the course of the night, should draw round from east to north it would be looked upon as an infallible prognostic of a west or north-west wind the next day. On this principle it is that the natives foretell the direction of the wind by the noise of the surf at night, which if heard from the northward is esteemed the forerunner of a northerly wind, and vice versa. The quarter from which the noise is heard depends upon the course of the land-wind, which brings the sound with it, and drowns it to leeward—the land-wind has a correspondence with the next day's sea-wind—and thus the divination is accounted for.

The effect of the sea-wind is not perceived to the distance of more than three or four leagues from the shore in common, and for the most part it is fainter in proportion to the distance. When it first sets in it does not commence at the remoter extremity of its limits but very near the shore, and gradually extends itself farther to sea, as the day advances; probably taking the longer or shorter course as the day is more or less hot. I have frequently observed the sails of ships at the distance of four, six, or eight miles, quite becalmed, whilst a fresh sea-breeze was at the time blowing upon the shore. In an hour afterwards they have felt its effect.*

(*Footnote. This observation as well as many others I have made on the subject I find corroborated in the Treatise before quoted from the Haerlem Transactions which I had not seen when the present work was first published.)

Passing along the beach about six o'clock in the evening when the sea-breeze is making its final efforts, I have perceived it to blow with a considerable degree of warmth, owing to the heat the sea had by that time acquired, which would soon begin to divert the current of air towards it when it had first overcome the vis inertiae that preserves motion in a body after the impelling power has ceased to operate. I have likewise been sensible of a degree of warmth on passing, within two hours after sunset, to leeward of a lake of fresh water; which proves the assertion of water imbibing a more permanent heat than earth. In the daytime the breeze would be rendered cool in crossing the same lake.

Approaching an island situated at a distance from any other land, I was struck with the appearance of the clouds about nine in the morning which then formed a perfect circle round it, the middle being a clear azure, and resembled what the painters call a glory. This I account for from the reflected rays of the sun rarefying the atmosphere immediately over the island, and equally in all parts, which caused a conflux of the neighbouring air, and with in the circumjacent clouds. These last, tending uniformly to the centre, compressed each other at a certain distance from it, and, like the stones in an arch of masonry, prevented each other's nearer approach. That island, however, does not experience the vicissitude of land and sea breezes, being too small, and too lofty, and situated in a latitude where the trade or perpetual winds prevail in their utmost force. In sandy countries, the effect of the sun's rays penetrating deeply, a more permanent heat is produced, the consequence of which should be the longer continuance of the sea-breeze in the evening; and agreeably to this supposition I have been informed that on the coast of Coromandel it seldom dies away before ten at night. I shall only add on this subject that the land-wind on Sumatra is cold, chilly, and damp; an exposure to it is therefore dangerous to the health, and sleeping in it almost certain death.


The soil of the western side of Sumatra may be spoken of generally as a stiff, reddish clay, covered with a stratum or layer of black mould, of no considerable depth. From this there springs a strong and perpetual verdure of rank grass, brushwood, or timber-trees, according as the country has remained a longer or shorter time undisturbed by the consequences of population, which, being in most places extremely thin, it follows that a great proportion of the island, and especially to the southward, is an impervious forest.


Along the western coast of the island the low country, or space of land which extends from the seashore to the foot of the mountains, is intersected and rendered uneven to a surprising degree by swamps whose irregular and winding course may in some places be traced in a continual chain for many miles till they discharge themselves either into the sea, some neighbouring lake, or the fens that are so commonly found near the banks of the larger rivers and receive their overflowings in the rainy monsoons. The spots of land which these swamps encompass become so many islands and peninsulas, sometimes flat at top, and often mere ridges; having in some places a gentle declivity, and in others descending almost perpendicularly to the depth of a hundred feet. In few parts of the country of Bencoolen, or of the northern districts adjacent to it, could a tolerably level space of four hundred yards square be marked out. I have often, from an elevated situation, where a wider range was subjected to the eye, surveyed with admiration the uncommon face which nature assumes, and made inquiries and attended to conjectures on the causes of these inequalities. Some choose to attribute them to the successive concussions of earthquakes through a course of centuries. But they do not seem to be the effect of such a cause. There are no abrupt fissures; the hollows and swellings are for the most part smooth and regularly sloping so as to exhibit not unfrequently the appearance of an amphitheatre, and they are clothed with verdure from the summit to the edge of the swamp. From this latter circumstance it is also evident that they are not, as others suppose, occasioned by the falls of heavy rains that deluge the country for one half of the year; which is likewise to be inferred from many of them having no apparent outlet and commencing where no torrent could be conceived to operate. The most summary way of accounting for this extraordinary unevenness of surface were to conclude that, in the original construction of our globe, Sumatra was thus formed by the same hand which spread out the sandy plains of Arabia, and raised up the alps and Andes beyond the region of the clouds. But this is a mode of solution which, if generally adopted, would become an insuperable bar to all progress in natural knowledge by damping curiosity and restraining research. Nature, we know from sufficient experience, is not only turned from her original course by the industry of man, but also sometimes checks and crosses her own career. What has happened in some instances it is not unfair to suppose may happen in others; nor is it presumption to trace the intermediate causes of events which are themselves derived from one first, universal, and eternal principle.


To me it would seem that the springs of water with which these parts of the island abound in an uncommon degree operate directly, though obscurely, to the producing this irregularity of the surface of the earth. They derive their number and an extraordinary portion of activity from the loftiness of the ranges of mountains that occupy the interior country, and intercept and collect the floating vapours. Precipitated into rain at such a hight, the water acquires in its descent through the fissures or pores of these mountains a considerable force which exerts itself in every direction, lateral and perpendicular, to procure a vent. The existence of these copious springs is proved in the facility with which wells are everywhere sunk; requiring no choice of ground but as it may respect the convenience of the proprietor; all situations, whether high or low, being prodigal of this valuable element. Where the approaches of the sea have rendered the cliffs abrupt, innumerable rills, or rather a continued moisture, is seen to ooze through and trickle down the steep. Where on the contrary the sea has retired and thrown up banks of sand in its retreat I have remarked the streams of water, at a certain level and commonly between the boundaries of the tide, effecting their passage through the loose and feeble barrier opposed to them. In short, every part of the low country is pregnant with springs that labour for the birth; and these continual struggles, this violent activity of subterraneous waters, must gradually undermine the plains above. The earth is imperceptibly excavated, the surface settles in, and hence the inequalities we speak of. The operation is slow but unremitting, and, I conceive, fully capable of the effect.


The earth of Sumatra is rich in minerals and other fossil productions.


No country has been more famous in all ages for gold, and, though the sources from whence it is drawn may be supposed in some measure exhausted by the avarice and industry of ages, yet at this day the quantity procured is very considerable, and doubtless might be much increased were the simple labour of the gatherer assisted by a knowledge of the arts of mineralogy.


There are also mines of copper, iron, and tin. Sulphur is gathered in large quantities about the numerous volcanoes.


Saltpetre the natives procure by a process of their own from the earth which is found impregnated with it; chiefly in extensive caves that have been, from the beginning of time, the haunt of a certain species of birds, of whose dung the soil is formed.


Coal, mostly washed down by the floods, is collected in several parts, particularly at Kataun, Ayer-rammi, and Bencoolen. It is light and not esteemed very good; but I am informed that this is the case with all coal found near the surface of the earth, and, as the veins are observed to run in an inclined direction until the pits have some depth, the fossil must be of an indifferent quality. The little island of Pisang, near the foot of Mount Pugong, was supposed to be chiefly a bed of rock crystal, but upon examination of specimens taken from thence they proved to be calcareous spar.


Mineral and hot springs have been discovered in many districts. In taste the waters mostly resemble those of Harrowgate, being nauseous to the palate.


The oleum terrae, or earth oil, used chiefly as a preservative against the destructive ravages of the white-ants, is collected at Ipu and elsewhere.*

(*Footnote. The fountain of Naphtha or liquid balsam found at Pedir, so much celebrated by the Portuguese writers, is doubtless this oleum terrae, or meniak tanah, as it is called by the Malays.)


There is scarcely any species of hard rock to be met with in the low parts of the island near the seashore. Besides the ledges of coral, which are covered by the tide, that which generally prevails is the napal, as it is called by the inhabitants, forming the basis of the red cliffs, and not infrequently the beds of the rivers. Though this napal has the appearance of rock it possesses in fact so little solidity that it is difficult to pronounce whether it be a soft stone or only an indurated clay. The surface of it becomes smooth and glossy by a slight attrition, and to the touch resembles soap, which is its most striking characteristic; but it is not soluble in water and makes no effervescence with acids. Its colour is either grey, brown, or red, according to the nature of the earth that prevails in its composition. The red napal has by much the smallest proportion of sand, and seems to possess all the qualities of the steatite or soap-earth found in Cornwall and other countries. The specimens of stone which I brought from the hills in the neighbourhood of Bencoolen were pronounced by some mineralogists, to whom I showed them at the time, to be granite; but upon more particular examination they appear to be a species of trap, consisting principally of feldspar and hornblende, of a greyish colour and nearly similar to the mountain stone of North Wales.


Where the encroachments of the sea have undermined the land the cliffs are left abrupt and naked, in some places to a very considerable height. In these many curious fossils are discovered, such as petrified wood, and seashells of various sorts. Hypotheses on this subject have been so ably supported and so powerfully attacked that I shall not presume to intrude myself in the lists. I shall only observe that, being so near the sea, many would hesitate to allow such discoveries to be of any weight in proving a violent alteration to have taken place in the surface of the terraqueous globe; whilst, on the other hand, it is unaccountable how, in the common course of natural events, such extraneous matter should come to be lodged in strata at the height perhaps of fifty feet above the level of the water, and as many below the surface of the land.


Here are likewise found various species of earths which might be applied to valuable purposes, as painters' colours, and otherwise. The most common are the yellow and red, probably ochres, and the white, which answers the description of the milenum of the ancients.


There are a number of volcano mountains in this, as in almost all the other islands of the eastern Archipelago. They are called in the Malay language gunong-api, or more correctly, gunong ber-api. Lava has been seen to flow from a considerable one near Priamang; but I have never heard of its causing any other damage than the burning of woods. This however may be owing to the thinness of population, which does not render it necessary for the inhabitants to settle in a situation that exposes them to danger of this kind. The only volcano I had an opportunity of observing opened in the side of a mountain, about twenty miles inland of Bencoolen, one-fourth way from its top, as nearly as I can judge. It scarcely ever failed to emit smoke; but the column was only visible for two or three hours in the morning, seldom rising and preserving its form, above the upper edge of the hill, which is not of a conical shape but extending with a gradual slope.


The high trees with which the country thereabout is covered, prevent the crater from being discernible at a distance; and this proves that the spot is not considerably raised or otherwise affected by the earthquakes which are very frequently felt there. Sometimes it has emitted smoke upon these occasions, and in other instances not. Yet during a smart earthquake which happened a few years before my arrival it was remarked to send forth flame, which it is rarely known to do.* The apprehension of the European inhabitants however is rather more excited when it continues any length of time without a tendency to an eruption, as they conceive it to be the vent by which the inflammable matter escapes that would otherwise produce these commotions of the earth. Comparatively with the descriptions I have read of earthquakes in South America, Calabria, and other countries, those which happen in Sumatra are generally very slight; and the usual manner of building renders them but little formidable to the natives.

(*Footnote. Some gentlemen who deny the fact of its having at any time emitted flame, conjecture that what exhibits the appearance of smoke is more probably vapour arising from a considerable hot spring. The natives speak of it as a volcano.)


The most severe that I have known was chiefly experienced in the district of Manna in the year 1770. A village was destroyed by the houses falling down and taking fire, and several lives were lost.* The ground was in one place rent a quarter of a mile, the width of two fathoms, and depth of four or five. A bituminous matter is described to have swelled over the sides of the cavity, and the earth for a long time after the shocks was observed to contract and dilate alternately. Many parts of the hills far inland could be distinguished to have given way, and a consequence of this was that during three weeks Manna River was so much impregnated with particles of clay that the natives could not bathe in it. At this time was formed near to the mouth of Padang Guchi, a neighbouring river south of the former, a large plain, seven miles long and half a mile broad; where there had been before only a narrow beach. The quantity of earth brought down on this occasion was so considerable that the hill upon which the English resident's house stands appears, from indubitable marks, less elevated by fifteen feet than it was before the event.

(*Footnote. I am informed that in 1763 an entire village was swallowed up by an earthquake in Pulo Nias, one of the islands which lie off the western coast of Sumatra. In July or August of the same year a severe one was felt in Bengal.)

Earthquakes have been remarked by some to happen usually upon sudden changes of weather, and particularly after violent heats; but I do not vouch this upon my own experience, which has been pretty ample. They are preceded by a low rumbling noise like distant thunder. The domestic cattle and fowls are sensible of the preternatural motion, and seem much alarmed; the latter making the cry they are wont to do on the approach of birds of prey. Houses situated on a low sandy soil are least affected, and those which stand on distinct hills suffer most from the shocks because the further removed from the centre of motion the greater the agitation; and the loose contexture of the one foundation, making less resistance than the solidity of the other, subjects the building to less violence. Ships at anchor in the road, though several miles distant from the shore, are strongly sensible of the concussion.


Besides the new land formed by the convulsions above described, the sea by a gradual recess in some parts produces the same effect. Many instances of this kind, of no considerable extent however have been observed within the memory of persons now living. But it would seem to me that that large tract of land called Pulo Point, forming the bay of the name, near to Silebar, with much of the adjacent country has thus been left by the withdrawing or thrown up by the motion of the sea. Perhaps the point may have been at first an island (from whence its appellation of Pulo) and the parts more inland gradually united to it.* Various circumstances tend to corroborate such an opinion, and to evince the probability that this was not an original portion of the main but new, half-formed land. All the swamps and marshy grounds that lie within the beach, and near the extremity there are little else, are known, in consequence of repeated surveys, to be lower than the level of high-water; the bank of sand alone preventing an inundation. The country is not only quite free from hills or inequalities of any kind, but has scarcely a visible slope. Silebar River, which empties itself into Pulo Bay, is totally unlike those in other parts of the island. The motion of its stream is hardly perceptible; it is never affected by floods; its course is marked out, not by banks covered with ancient and venerable woods but by rows of mangroves and other aquatics springing from the ooze, and perfectly regular. Some miles from the mouth it opens into a beautiful and extensive lake, diversified with small islands, flat, and verdant with rushes only. The point of Pulo is covered with the arau tree (casuarina) or bastard-pine, as some have called it, which never grows but in the seasand and rises fast.

(*Footnote. Since I formed this conjecture I have been told that such a tradition of no very ancient date prevails amongst the inhabitants.)


None such are found toward Sungei-Lamo and the rest of the shore northward of Marlborough Point, where, on the contrary, you perceive the effects of continual depredations by the ocean. The old forest trees are there yearly undermined and, falling, obstruct the traveller; whilst about Pulo the arau-trees are continually springing up faster than they can be cut down or otherwise destroyed. Nature will not readily be forced from her course. The last time I visited that part there was a beautiful rising grove of these trees, establishing a possession in their proper soil. The country, as well immediately here about as to a considerable distance inland, is an entire bed of sand without any mixture of clay or mould, which I know to have been in vain sought for many miles up the neighbouring rivers. To the northward of Padang there is a plain which has evidently been, in former times, a bay. Traces of a shelving beach are there distinguishable at the distance of one hundred and fifty yards from the present boundary of the sea.

But upon what hypothesis can it be accounted for that the sea should commit depredations on the northern coast, of which there are the most evident tokens as high up at least as Ipu, and probably to Indrapura, where the shelter of the neighbouring islands may put a stop to them, and that it should restore the land to the southward in the manner I have described? I am aware that according to the general motion of the tides from east to west this coast ought to receive a continual accession proportioned to the loss which others, exposed to the direction of this motion, must and do sustain; and it is likely that it does gain upon the whole. But the nature of my work obliges me to be more attentive to effects than causes, and to record facts though they should clash with systems the most just in theory, and most respectable in point of authority.


The chain of islands which lie parallel with the west coast of Sumatra may probably have once formed a part of the main and been separated from it, either by some violent effort of nature, or the gradual attrition of the sea. I should scarcely introduce the mention of this apparently vague surmise but that a circumstance presents itself on the coast which affords some stronger colour of proof than can be usually obtained in such instances. In many places, and particularly about Pally, we observe detached pieces of land standing singly, as islands, at the distance of one or two hundred yards from the shore, which were headlands of points running out into the sea within the remembrance of the inhabitants. The tops continue covered with trees or shrubs; but the sides are bare, abrupt, and perpendicular. The progress of insulation here is obvious and incontrovertible, and why may not larger islands, at a greater distance, have been formed in the revolution of ages by the same accidents? The probability is heightened by the direction of the islands Nias, Batu, Mantawei, Pagi, Mego, etc., the similarity of the rock, soil, and productions, and the regularity of soundings between them and the main, whilst without them the depth is unfathomable.


Where the shore is flat or shelving the coast of Sumatra, as of all other tropical islands, is defended from the attacks of the sea by a reef or ledge of coral rock on which the surfs exert their violence without further effect than that of keeping its surface even, and reducing to powder those beautiful excrescences and ramifications which have been so much the object of the naturalist's curiosity, and which some ingenious men who have analysed them contend to be the work of insects. The coral powder is in particular places accumulated on the shore in great quantities, and appears, when not closely inspected, like a fine white sand.


The surf (a word not to be found, I believe, in our dictionaries) is used in India, and by navigators in general, to express a peculiar swell and breaking of the sea upon the shore; the phenomena of which not having been hitherto much adverted to by writers I shall be the more circumstantial in my description of them.

The surf forms sometimes but a single range along the shore. At other times there is a succession of two, three, four, or more, behind each other, extending perhaps half a mile out to sea. The number of ranges is generally in proportion to the height and violence of the surf.

The surf begins to assume its form at some distance from the place where it breaks, gradually accumulating as it moves forward till it gains a height, in common, of fifteen to twenty feet,* when it overhangs at top and falls like a cascade, nearly perpendicular, involving itself as it descends. The noise made by the fall is prodigious, and during the stillness of the night may be heard many miles up the country.

(*Footnote. It may be presumed that in this estimation of its height I was considerably deceived.)

Though in the rising and formation of the surf the water seems to have a quick progressive motion towards the land, yet a light body on the surface is not carried forward, but, on the contrary, if the tide is ebbing, will recede from the shore; from which it would follow that the motion is only propagated in the water, like sound in air, and not the mass of water protruded. A similar species of motion is observed on shaking at one end a long cord held moderately slack, which is expressed by the word undulation. I have sometimes remarked however that a body which sinks deep and takes hold of the water appears to move towards shore with the course of the surf, as is perceptible in a boat landing which seems to shoot swiftly forward on the top of the swell; though probably it is only after having reached the summit, and may owe its velocity to its own weight in the descent.

Countries where the surfs prevail require boats of a peculiar construction, and the art of managing them demands the experience of a man's life. All European boats are more or less unfit, and seldom fail to occasion the sacrifice of the people on board them, in the imprudent attempts that are sometimes made to land with them on the open coast. The natives of Coromandel are remarkably expert in the management of their craft; but it is to be observed that the intervals between the breaking of the surfs are usually on that coast much longer than on the coast of Sumatra.

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