The Russian Colonizer

The story of a man who decided to annex an island to Russia

Nobody knows Vasily Malygin. But one hundred years ago, this enterprising person decided on his own to participate in the world partition and to annex an Indonesian island to Russia. In 1895 he was a real sensation in Dutch East-India. His name is still remembered by the Bali population. 

According to Indonesian professor Sumitro, Malygin leaded an anti-Dutch revolt on the island of Lomboc, which was a Dutch colony. The name of Vasily Malygin is often mentioned in one-century-old local documents. He is called “adventurer,” “dangerous rebel,” and, of course, “spy.”
In 1891, Malygin went by a trade ship from China to Singapore, where he met British esquire Jonathan Holmes. The Briton saw a good company in him, for the Russian spoke English very well and did not stopped admiring British colonial policy. Malygin asked his British friend questions about his compatriot Sir Rafles,  who had succeeded in turning the rotten bog, which was Singapore before, into the richest colony of Great Britain. Malygin also met certain Cragly, who is mentioned in old documents as Dutch authorities’ agent. Malygin told everybody he was seeking for fortune and wanted to enter a rich oil firm. For Cragly, it was suspicious that an average Russian engineer fluently spoke English, Chinese, and Dutch. Though he talked Malygin to go to Bali and then to Lomboc, whose rajah was a good friend of Cragly. The island was said to be rich of oil.

The island was really a charming place, what Malygin noticed in his dairy. He decided to stay there. In a couple of weeks, he could easily speak in local dialect.

Russian consul to Botavia (Dutch East-India) Modest Bakunin did not reported to Russia about Malygin appearance, pretending as if he knew nothing about it.
To win prestige in the local tribe, Malygin declared he could work wonders, for example, to make water blaze. The rajah ordered to bring a vessel of water. Malygin pronounced some strange words and secretly threw a piece of natrium into water, and a flame shot out from the vessel. The rajah retinue was shocked. Malygin was appointed the rajah first adviser.

The first thing Malygin advised rajah Agun to do was to refuse reception to Dutch functionaries who came for levy. The rajah followed the Malygin advice. The Dutch did not know how to react to such behaviour. In early 1894, Bakunin reported to Russian Foreign Ministry rajah Agun had bought at a high price three old ships from Singapore and  lined up his military fleet. The rajah also negotiated with other countries. He was ready to temporarily recognize any country authority to escape from the Dutch power.
Though, Malygin’s knowledge about Singapore was not restricted with his personal impressions. He had studied in detail the experience of Sir Stamford Rafles who created a prosperous British colony of a poor fisherman’s island. Malygin probably dreamed about turning Lombok in a kind of Singapore. Of course, he many times told about his dream to the raja, and eventually he was sent to Singapore to buy guns and powder. In Singapore, his friend Holmes assisted him: he probably also believed in the Malygin dream to win the island from the Dutch. The friends bought guns and powder and started to load it on the ship The Ocean Proud. Though at night, it was attacked by Dutch soldiers. “This is Cragly’s work,” – Holmes whispered to Malygin. The main load was confiscated, only a part of guns was hidden. Malygin said to the Dutch he wanted to New Guinea for pearls, while guns were necessary against pirates. In a couple of hours they were released.

When Malygin arrived in Lomboc, the island was plundered and ruined. The Dutch had taken prisoner the rajah son, prince Made, who preferred committing suicide to captivity. Malygin gathered the tribe, and at night to August 26, 1894, his group attacked the Dutch camp. It was a real surprise for the Dutch. After that, the tribe started to build fortification, expecting their attack. A real war started on the island. The fight lasted almost two months. The Lomboc people were ready to burn their wives and children not to give them to the Dutch. Though, the Dutch won. They captured the sultan’s treasury containing 400 kg of gold and 4,200 kg of silver.

Malygin was wanted by the Dutch. A colleague of him, another rajah’s adviser, who was envious of rajah’s sympathy with the foreigner, exposed him.
January 1895, Malygin was transported to Surabaya for a trial. Though next night, Malygin escaped. A local beauty helped him to escape, but nobody could say who was this beauty. Soon, Malygin was captured again.
Russian consul Bakunin refused to meet with Malygin. Though, suddenly an order arrived from Russian Foreign Ministry’s internal department to do the best to release Malygin. No explanations were attached.

Bakunin launched negotiations with the Dutch. Malygin eluded death penalty, though he was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. However, that was not for Bakunin that  Malygin was rescued, but for Dutch lawyer van Groot, who proved Malygin could not be tried for a treason, because he was a foreigner.
After two years of imprisonment, in August, 1898 (the Dutch queen Williamina reached full age) Malygin was deported to Russia with the condition that he would leave Dutch East-India forever.

What happened later with Malygin is unknown. His name is mentioned in a 1901 report by the Russian consul to Singapore, baron Kister: Russian citizen Vasily Malygin arrived in Singapore from Odessa by a ship of the Diana company, for which he worked as ship’s cook. Later he was noticed in Singapore, living in a block of this city. January 5, 1961 the Bali newspaper Pedoman reported about the death of the 90-year-old Mrs Siti Johan Maligan, who was said to be that same beauty that once helped Vasily Malygin to escape from prison.

Yelena Chekulaeva

Translated by Vera Solovieva

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Author`s name Olga Savka