Iskandar Puteri, the early name of Johor Baru

Iskandar Puteri, the new name for Nusajaya in Iskandar Malaysia, is in fact, the old name of Johor Baru when the capital was founded by Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, the son of Temenggong Abdul Rahman, in 1855.

Traditional domain of the Temenggongs of Johor
comprised southern Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore
and some islands in the Riau Archipelago
To appreciate the origins of this name, we should look at the historical roots of Johor.  This can be traced to the old kingdom of Johor at Kota Johor Lama where the Malacca sultans moved to re-establish themselves as the paramount power in the Malay world after the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511.

The last sultan in the Malacca line died in 1699 without an heir and the throne passed to the sultans of the Bendahara line in the old kingdom of Johor.  In the 1700s the centre of power shifted to the Riau-Lingga Archipelago where the sultans continued to prevail as the empire of Johor-Pahang-Riau-Lingga, with the help of Bugis warriors.  As this empire declined by the end of the 18th century, it was unable to resist Dutch and British intrusions. 

When the Dutch occupied Riau, Temenggong Abdul Rahman moved from his island home of Bulang to Singapore.  The Temenggong’s traditional domain, at that time, was not just Bulang and other Riau islands but also Singapore and its surrounding islands and the southern part of the Malay Peninsula. 

Then Sir Stamford Raffles came to Singapore to establish a base for the East India Company on the east-west trade routes to rival the expansion of the Dutch.  The founding of Singapore inevitably led to a shift in power in the Malay world and indirectly, to the emergence of modern Johor.

Sultan Mahmud died in 1812 and the younger of his two sons, Tengku Abdul Rahman was proclaimed as sultan and this created a dispute as to who should be the rightful sultan.  To settle this succession dispute in Riau, Raffles brought Tengku Hussain, the older brother and rival claimant to the throne, to Singapore and recognised him as sultan.

Meanwhile Temenggong Abdul Rahman had settled in Telok Blangah where he established the political centre of Johor, while Sultan Hussain Mahmud Shah built a rambling palmleaf palace at Kampung Glam.

Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim
In 1819, Raffles signed a treaty with the newly declared Sultan Hussain and Temenggong Abdul Rahman for the founding of Singapore and gained a strategic position for the British with a trading post in their trade with China and South East Asia.

The British strengthened their position through another treaty signed between Sultan Hussain, Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Resident John Crawford in 1824, where Singapore was ceded to the East India Company in perpetuity in return for monetary compensation.

In just five years after the British arrived, both Sultan Hussain and Temenggong Abdul Rahman had been edged out.  The treaties they signed strengthened the British at the expense of the Temenggong and the Sultan.

At the demise of Temenggong Abdul Rahman in 1825, he was succeeded by his son, Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim.  While the Temenggong managed to rebuild their family’s fortunes by selling the resources harvested from the Johor jungles, Sultan Hussain was unable to prevent his family’s gradual decline.

Tensions inevitably arose between the two families because the same resources from Johor was also claimed by Sultan Hussain’s son, Tunku Ali.  This tension was resolved in 1855 when the British negotiated a treaty between them.

The terms of the treaty gave Tunku Ali the title of sultan and the rights to a small territory between the Muar and Kesang rivers while the sovereignty of Johor was transferred to Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim and his heirs. 

When Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim gained sovereignty over the state and territory of Johor in 1855, he founded his capital at a place known as Tanjung Puteri and named it, Iskandar Puteri.

The flagstaff on Bukit Bendera marking the spot
where Iskandar Puteri was founded, now known as
Bukit Timbalan
Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim and his officials must have sailed up and down the Johor Straits, looking for the most suitable site on the coast for the new state capital.  He chose a strategic site across the straits most convenient to Singapore, opposite the end of Bukit Timah Road.  Travellers would reach the end of Bukit Timah Road by horse-cart and cross the straits by boat to Iskandar Puteri.

Iskandar Puteri was then a small settlement with a few huts built on the water’s edge where fishermen and charcoal-makers lived.  Just imagine how the Temenggong and his group came ashore, waded through soft mud, careful to avoid the mangroves’ sharp roots, and scrambled over stones to climb up the hill for a better view.

When they reached the top, the panoramic view must have been impressive.  To mark the event, a flag was erected on that hill named, Bukit Bendera or Flagstaff Hill.  The Johor flag still flies from the same spot today on that hill now known as Bukit Timbalan.

Johor’s virgin jungles yielded a wealth of resources including gutta-percha, the only material suitable for protecting submarine cables.  Its discovery in 1840 resulted in an unexpected demand and its trade was managed mainly by Johor officers based in Telok Blangah. 

Timber was another valuable resource and in 1860, a steam sawmill was set up by Scotsman, James Meldrum, at the mouth of Sungai Segget as the first industry here.

The original structure of Johor Baru's Istana Besar,
also known as the Old Castle of Johor
Singapore was then the political centre of Johor while Iskandar Puteri was administered from Telok Blangah.

Encouraged by the Temenggong since 1844, Chinese pepper and gambier planters had been arriving from Singapore and the Riau islands to expand their activities in Johor under the kangchu land management system.  This played a vital role to boost the state’s economy and Johor became the world’s largest producer of gambier between 1830 and 1850.

It was Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim’s son, Temenggong Abu Bakar, who decided to build a grand palace and in 1864, he entrusted the task to Wong Ah Fook.  At the official opening of the Istana Besar on 1 January 1866, Iskandar Puteri was renamed Johor Baru.  The government in Telok Blangah then shifted to Johor as the state developed under Temenggong Abu Bakar who became Sultan in 1885.

A version of this was published in the August 2016 issue of The Iskandarian

Photos and information sourced from A History of Johore by R.O. Winstedt and 
Johor - Local History, Local Landscapes by P. Lim Pui Huen

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