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The British East India Company established a pepper-trading center and garrison at Bengkulu (Bencoolen) in 1685. In 1714 the British built Fort Marlborough in the city which still stands. The trading post was never financially profitable for the British, hampered by a location Europeans found unpleasant, and an inability to find sufficient pepper to buy.

Despite these difficulties, the British persisted, maintaining their presence for 150 years before ceding it to the Dutch as part of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 to focus attention on Malacca. Like the rest of Indonesia, Bengkulu remained a Dutch colony until after World War II.



Fort Marlborough by Joseph Stadler, 1799.

In the tower the Union Jack


Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Bencoolen (Bengkulu) on 19 March 1818. Despite the prestige connected with the title, Bencoolen was a colonial backwater whose only real export was pepper and only the murder of a previous Resident, Thomas Parr, gained it any attention back home in Britain. Raffles found the place wrecked, and set about reforms immediately, mostly similar to what he had done in Java - abolishing slavery and limiting cockfighting and such games. To replace the slaves, he used a contingent of convicts, already sent to him from India. It is at this point when he realized the importance of a British presence that both challenged the Dutch hegemony in the area and could remain consistently profitable, unlike Bencoolen or Batavia. However, the strategic importance of poorly-maintained but well-positioned British possessions such as Penang or Bencoolen made it impossible for the British to abandon such unprofitable colonies in such close proximity to the Dutch in Java. The competition in the area, between Raffles and the aggressive Dutch de jure Governor, Elout, certainly led at least in part to the later Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Raffles looked into alternatives in the area - namely Bangka, which had been ceded to the Dutch after its conquest by the British during its occupation of Java.


In the time of Dutch rule the territory was called Residentie Bengkoelen (Bengkulu Residence) and was divided into six Districts: 1. Bengkoelen; 2. Lebong; 3. Seloema; 4. Manna; 5. Kauer; 6. Kroė


Daerah Propinsi Bengkulu


Arms: Argent charged with a betel-set Or in chief, two klewangs in saltire ppr in nombril point and a Rafflesia-flower ppr in base.

Crest: a five-pointed star Or.

Garland: an ear of rice with 17 grains and a branch of pepper and in chief of the garland

Motto: on a ribbon Or BENKULU in letters Azure.

Backshield with a border Or per fess vert and wavy Azure and Argent


š See illustration in the head of this essay


The betel-set is a symbol of traditional hospitality.

Malay culture and tradition hold betel nut and leaves in high esteem. Traditionally, guests who visit a Malay house are offered a tray of betel nuts and betel leaves.  A Malay proverb about the betel nut is "bagaikan pinang dibelah dua", freely translated ‘like a betel nut divided in half’. It usually refers to newly weds, who are just like a betel nut divided in half.


The klewangs are a symbol of the power of defence of the population.



The Rafflesia flower (Rafflesia Arnoldi - Rafflesiaceae) was found in the Sumatran rain forest by a guide working for Dr. Joseph Arnold in 1818, and named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the leader of the expedition. It was discovered even earlier by Louis Deschamps in Java between 1791 and 1794, but his notes and illustrations, seized by the British in 1803, were not available to western science until 1861.

The flower was apparently chosen as a reference to Sir Stamford Raffles and not for its qualities because it is a vile smelling parasitic plant.








Today Jambi is controlled by

Kodam II/Sriwijaya.




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© Hubert de Vries 2010-11-08

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