The Contest for North Sumatra: Aceh, the Netherlands and Britain 1858-1898

ANTHONY REID (b. 1939) is a New Zealand-born historian of Southeast Asia. His doctoral work at Cambridge University examined the contest for power in northern Sumatra, Indonesia in the late 19th century, and he extended this study into a book The Blood of the People on the national and social revolutions in that region 1945–49.

Penerbit UM (Second Edition, 2016)
288 pages


In stock

The Contest for North Sumatra: Aceh, the Netherlands and Britain, 1858-1898 describes the painful transition of North Sumatra from a number of independent states to a part of Netherlands India (present day Indonesia). It is seen not as a simple conflict of Netherlands imperialism and Indonesian parochialism, but as a three-sided contest in which the independent commercial interest of the Straits Settlements played an integral role. Aceh and Oostkust van Sumatra were the last to resist Dutch influence because they were almost exclusively the commercial preserve of Britain. It was not until the end of the century that the Netherlands overcame this difficulty and established her claim over the whole area, giving way to the demands of British commerce in the East Coast but ignoring them in the case of Aceh.

North Sumatra was a different matter. Its people were warlike, more unified, and marked with religious zeal. Its trade at this time was almost entirely with Britain’s Penang entrepot. At the same time the Treaty of London of 1824 denied both Britain and the Netherlands political control. By 1870, however, the “unmistakable liberal trend in Dutch commercial policy after 1848” and the facts of life of the age of neo-imperialism convinced the British Foreign Office that it was better to see this region along the strategic Straits of Malacca “in Dutch hands than in those of some stronger Power”. The Sumatra Treaty of 187I—”a disservice to both British and Dutch interests” and “a much greater disservice to the Acehnese”—in effect, sealed Aceh’s fate.

The author provides a good account of the painful period which follows: the (unofficial) activities of representatives of a number of foreign powers (the United States and Italy), Acehnese diplomacy (carried out by the remarkable Abd ar-Rahman and the “Council of Eight” in Penang), the unpreparedness and vacillation of the Dutch, and the cramping influence which Straits Settlements’ protests had on Dutch policy and action. Only in the 1890’s did the Dutch overcome their anxieties of British reactions by adopting a more vigorous blockade of Aceh’s north coast and an administrative policy which fitted Aceh’s dependencies into what became the centralized structure of the Netherlands Indies. It is the author’s contention that Dutch statesmen long and unduly exaggerated “the importance of avoiding hostile reactions among the Straits merchants because it suited their traditional and economic policy of non-interference”.

List of Plates, Illustration, Maps and Tables
A Note on Spelling

The Rise of Aceh
Penang and the British
Nineteenth-century Aceh
Dutch Policy

1. The Contest for the East Coast of Sumatra 1858-1865
The Siak Treaty of 1858
The Kompeuni Moves North
British Objections
Acehnese Objections
The Dutch Expedition of 1865

2 The Sumatra Treaty of 1871
A False Start, 1863-1866
Towards a ‘Siak Convention’
Bargaining over Aceh
The ‘Link’ between Three Treaties
The British Election of 1874

3. War and Blockade 1870-1874
Pre-war Acehnese Politics
Aceh’s Foreign Relations
The development of Dutch Aceh Policy
The Casus Belli
British Policy
The First Blockade
The Second Dutch Expedition
The Restoration of Trade

4. Acehnese Diplomacy 1873
An Appeal to the Caliph
The Council of Eight
European Sympathisers
The Effect on Acehnese Opinion
Propaganda from Singapore

5. Hopes of Peace 1874-1878
General Van Swieten’s ‘Annexation’ of Aceh
Clarke’s Offer of mediation
Opinion in Holland
Opinion in Aceh
Abd. ar-Rahman’s Attempts for Peace
War in Aceh, 1875-1878

6. Civil Government 1878-1883
The War Spreads to the Dependencies
British Protests
The British Consulate in Ulèë Lheuë
Civil Government in Aceh
The First Scheepvaartregeling
The Search for a New Policy

7. The Nisero Question 1883-1885
The Breakdown of Negotiations
Maxwell’s Mission to Fee
The Crisis in Anglo-Dutch Relations
Dutch Policy
Joint Action
Sprenger van Eyk’s False Solution

8. The End of the Acehnese Nation 1885-1898
Aceh Besar, 1885-1891
The Control of Trade
The End of British Influence
The Korte Verklaring


Weight0.470 kg
Dimensions21.5 × 16 × 0.7 cm





Year Published



There are no reviews yet

Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.