Murder on the ss. Klang


In 1925 Captain Murdoch McDonald had been commanding vessels for the Straits Steamship company for the past 17 1/2 years. Since 1920 he had had command of the ss. Klang, a small steamer that had a weekly run from Singapore to Penang, via Port Swettenham, sailing from Singapore every Saturday afternoon and arriving back at Singapore  the following Thursday. She was engaged in what at the time was called the "pilgrim trade" and carried around 200 deck passengers as well as her saloon passengers.

Captain McDonald was now 67 years old and after some 5 decades at sea had decided the time had come to swallow the anchor. This was to be his last voyage, retirement would see him and Mrs McDonald touring Scotland, for, although this tall

ss. Klang
Captain Murdoch McDonald

Highlander had a pronounced Scots accent and the full Gaelic, he was born in New Zealand and had never seen the hills, streams and the villages his parents had loved so devotedly.

On Saturday October 31st the crew of the ss. Klang was preparing her for sea and Captain McDonald was welcoming each and every passenger as they stepped off the gangway and onto the deck, as he had done hundreds of times before. Mrs Elizabeth McDonald was saying her goodbye's to her husband as she always watched her husband's ship sail then drove around Keppel harbour to the ridge of hills to the west and stopped at The Gap, from here she could watch Klang leave the harbour and cross the island speckled sea underneath where she stood.  With Captain McDonald on the bridge, the lines were let go at 4:30 pm and Klang slowly made her way up the harbour. When the vessel was approaching Tanjong Pagar, a Malay passenger suddenly ran amok with a foot long kris, and began to stab indiscriminately left and right.  

Mr William Rae, the Chief Engineer, came up from the engine-room and happened upon  the madman, who turned and stabbed him in the left side of the chest, causing a serious injury. Despite his injuries the chief engineer made his way back down to the engine-room and took over from the  second engineer who went topside and tried to bring the madman down with a length of lead pipe but could not get near enough to him.  The Mate, Mr William Lutkin, who had been standing by forward was approached by one of the crew and was advised of the madman's rampage, he went to investigate and met the second engineer,  the madman inviting both officers to step forward and "have a go".

The mate looked around at the  scene of absolute panic, the deck passengers were rushing all over the upper deck in an attempt to escape the madman and he could see several had been injured.  Mr  Lutkin  made his way  to the bridge and

advised the Captain of the amok. Captain McDonald put the ship about, ordering that signals for immediate medical and police assistance be hoisted. The ship was brought to anchor and the Captain went down from the bridge to investigate.  As Capt McDonald made his way aft he encountered the Malay heading forward abreast of the galley.  The captain tried to reason with the man, this being impossible he "downed him" and two passengers assisted by then holding the Malay down on the deck. The struggling man broke free, the two passengers ran away and the Malay lashed out striking Capt McDonald in the abdomen, very nearly disembowelling him, he collapsed to the deck and sent for the mate.

Mr  Lutkin  found Capt McDonald in a deck chair, into which he had apparently crawled by himself, the mate loosened his clothes and gave him some brandy, however the Captain died within a few minutes.  Leaving the dead captain, Mr  Lutkin  made his way back to the bridge, weighed anchor and brought the vessel closer to the shore, anchoring in the roads. 


On shore, Inspector Bostock was informed of the occurrence at 5.30 p.m. by telephone, and he left immediately with Inspector Christie and eight constables, all were armed with rifles and bayonets. The police made their way out to the Klang and on nearing the ship saw a Malay shouting, dancing about and brandishing a large knife. The man came to the rail of the upper deck and defied the police,  sharpening the weapon on the ships rail, however the police had no difficulty in boarding the vessel.

Gaining the main deck they found it under a veritable reign of terror, there were passengers hiding in every conceivable nook and cranny  of the ship.  At first the police were unable to get to the upper deck, all the doors and hatches having been bolted by the frightened passengers. Eventually, some passengers forward unbolted a hatch and the police were able to make the upper deck and head aft where they located the Malay with his back to the second-class cabins.

Keppel Harbour Singapore

Inspector Christie was instructed to watch the boat deck, while Inspector Bostock approached the man and stood within ten paces of him with the 8 constables behind the Inspector. For about fifteen minutes Inspector Bostock tried to persuade the man to put down his weapon, all the time he was goading them and threatening to rush them. It was very clear that he would stab anyone who went near him and there were still other passengers on the same deck astern of him who he could easily attack. Inspector Bostock had little choice but to bring the man down, firing once, he hit the man in the lower leg, this unfortunately did not stop the man chanting and lashing out. The chief officer Mr. William Lutkin, had come down from the bridge and informed Inspector Christie that the captain had been killed, and ordered the man to be shot down. Inspector Christie then called from the boat deck to Inspector Bostock that the captain had been killed.
Both Inspectors now confronted the madman, it was apparent that a dangerous situation still existed and the options open to the two police officers were fairly limited.  The two Inspectors aimed and fired and the man fell. Even now, with the madman laying on the deck with 3 bullet wounds, he still attempted to stab Inspector Bostock, however the Inspector knocked the knife out of his hand.

With the madman now down the police searched the vessel, Dr MacIvor, the agent and some others who had been waiting in the launches now boarded the Klang and assisted with the search. The Passengers  were hidden under bunks and in all sorts of places on all three decks, in the engine-room and even the tunnel shaft. On the boat deck, upper deck and main deck was found the bodies of the Master, the cook and a fireman, while 10 others were seriously wounded.
Having the chief engineer wounded, the second engineer looking after the engine-room, the captain dead and the chief officer on the bridge, it was nearly impossible to control the deck passengers. A Chinese man who had fallen down and cut his head was seen streaming with blood and the rumour immediately spread that another man had run amok. The police were still on board however, and quickly calmed the situation.  The Straits Companies steam launch was used to ferry the wounded and dead back to the wharf.

One of the saddest and most ironic parts of this true story is that the chief officer found an unloaded revolver in one of Captain McDonald's pockets and some rounds of ammunition in another. It seems the genial Captain was reluctant to shoot the man, preferring to try and reason with him and resolve the situation without further bloodshed.
Nothing is known about the man who ran amok, but it is believed that he came From Bandjermassin, and that he had a quarrel with two Kedah Malays, a man and his sister, just before he started his reign of terror. It is said that this man wanted to share some deck space with these two passengers and when they refused he suddenly produced his Kris and lunged at them, missing both, he then ran amok on the crowded deck. The unnamed man was still alive when he was offloaded onto Johnston's pier, however he died on the way to the hospital.

A Kris - double edged , razor sharp blade designed for slashing, indigenous to Malaysia

During the amok 3 people were killed outright, The Captain - Murdoch McDonald, The Cook - Low Hiung Twan, The fireman - Wang Ha Kok.  Of the injured 5 later succumbed to their injuries that night, An aged Chinese woman (name unknown),  Malay passenger - Hadji Bakari, Malay passenger - Atam Bin Sahat, Malay passenger - Santong Bin Wmok and a Bengali passenger - Banja Misser.  The assailant had also died bringing the death toll of the incident to 9 people and leaving the chief engineer - Mr Rea, The ships boy - Wong King Pak,  passenger - Tay Chew Wee,  Bengali passenger - Climah  Ratnam and  Rakipan Bin Ahmat in hospital with serious injuries.

Mrs Elizabeth McDonald of course knew nothing of all this, she had been waiting at The Gap for Klang to make her way to sea, but had seen the vessel come about and head back towards Singapore. By the time Elizabeth drove back to the wharf, Murdoch was gone. Captain Murdoch McDonald had been a well known, liked and respected member of the Singapore maritime community which is shown by the large number of people who attended his funeral on November 1st.  Captain McDonald left a widow, three sons and two daughters, one of his sons, Captain Graham McDonald, was also a master with the Straits Steamship Company.
The Klang sailed the next day on her usual course under the command of Captain Rogers.

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