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There Once Were Armenians in Malacca

There Once Were Armenians in Malacca
Courtesy Michael Wright

Think of main trading ports in the 16th and 17th centuries, and you may be certain Armenian retailers visited them. One such port was Malacca (Melaka) in Malaysia. With its historic city middle, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Website, Malacca is as we speak a well-liked tourist vacation spot and to the surprise of many, Armenians as soon as lived there.

Captured in 1511 by the Portuguese, Malacca started to flourish with merchants from Europe, Asia and Africa. For sure, Armenians have been amongst them. Whereas some Armenians carried their own cargo, others acted as middlemen. To interrupt the long journey from Europe, they stopped in India at Gujarati ports, especially Surat, promoting items corresponding to opium, rose-water, silver, arms and glass. After re-stocking with textiles, indigo and pearls, they caught the monsoon winds right down to Malacca. When the winds modified course, these retailers headed back to India by way of the Maldives with their vessels laden with spices, sandalwood, porcelain, gold, silk and damask. In the intervening months, the retailers and seamen needed accommodation and protected storage for their items. Malacca offered each.

In 1641 the Dutch captured Malacca. Its importance as a trade nexus decreased, though it nonetheless attracted a big share of traders together with Armenians from Persia and India. Malacca turned a daily port of name in the buying and selling community established by the New Julfa retailers from Isfahan. Their different destinations included Canton (Guangzhou), Pegu and Syriam (Thanlyin) in Myanmar, as well as Manila and Batavia (Jakarta).

Armenian service provider by Johann Christoph Weigel, 17th century. Supply: Wikimedia Commons

Armenians have been dwelling in Malacca in the late 1600s, whereas in 1711, traveler Charles Lockyer remarked that amongst its inhabitants have been two or three Armenians. Although Lockyer regarded them as trustworthy and truthful traders, he commented that the Dutch had no time for them.

(Photograph: 3) Johannes Sarkies’ tombstone. Supply: Macler, ‘Observe sur quelques inscriptions funéraires Arméniennes de Malacca’, Journal Asiatique.

Five tombstones are the one proof of these transient traders. The oldest is that of Johannes Sarkies which as soon as lay in St. Peter’s Church.

The transcription from the Armenian (Photograph three) reads (non-literally):

In this tomb is enclosed the physique of younger Johannes who got here originally from Yerevan. He was the son of Sarkis, a most esteemed merchant. He died at 30 years of age in the yr of the Saviour 1736; and within the little era [of Azaria] 121, the 5th of Aram;

Might he relaxation in peace on this Dutch land referred to as Malacca.

The paraphrased Portuguese script reads barely in another way:

Right here lies Johannes an Armenian, son of Khojah Sarkies Melijian, a native of Erevan in Isfahan within the kingdom of Persia. He died on the age of 30 years on 31 December 1736. (Erevan was one of the Armenian quarters in Isfahan.)

The second tombstone (Photograph 4a), found in the ruined Church of St. Lawrence (San Laurenço) belonged to Tarkhan Chouqourents, son of Ovanjan, who died on January four, 1746. At the moment it rests in the Stadthuys Museum along with an unidentified Armenian tombstone.

(Photograph: 4a) Tarkhan Chouqourents. Source: Macler.

Bearing conventional Armenian funereal motifs and decorative designs very similar to those on Jacob’s tombstone, the owner of this partial tombstone (Photograph 5) remains a mystery.

The famed tombstone of Jacob Shamier (Photograph 6) is embedded in the central aisle of Christ Church. It displays a cranium and crossbones, together with the crest of the Shamier household. This comprised a pair of scales with small weights for weighing valuable stones, plus an ink pot and quill. Also proven are Jacob’s instruments of commerce—scissors and tape measure.

Jacob was a scholar in addition to a service provider. In 1772, he had set up the first Armenian press in India and revealed a pamphlet entitled Exhortation which aimed to arouse patriotism in the minds of younger Armenians. Hints of his personal fervent feelings can clearly be seen in his epitaph.

Jacob Shamier’s tombstone. Supply: Michael Wright

Hail to thee who readest the epitaph on my tomb!
Give me the information of my nation’s freedom, for which I’ve passionately longed.
[Tell me] if someone has risen amongst us, as deliverer and leader; which, while on earth, I so earnestly desired.
I, Jacob, scion of respectable ancestors from Armenia
I acquired the identify Chamrchamian
I was born in a overseas land, at New Julfa, a town in  Persia.
On attaining twenty nine years of age, I accepted my future
on the seventh of July, I reached the top of my life,
In the yr of the Saviour 1774, I laid myself right down to rest in this grave, which I had purchased.

The Dutch epitaph reads merely: Here lie the stays of Heer Jacob Shamier, Armenian merchant, who died on 7 July 1774 in his 29th yr.

An Armenian priest from the US, who had heard of the plaintive plea on this tombstone, traveled to Malacca after Armenia gained independence in 1991 to ‘inform’ Jacob that his country was free.

Dutch rule led to Malacca in 1795, when the British briefly occupied it till 1818. One ill-fated voyage throughout that time was that of Johannes Seth who had journeyed from Surat to Madras (Chennai), then boarded the Ararat, arriving in Penang in 1796. After promoting most of his cargo and choosing up new goods, he sailed on to Malacca. Sadly, the Ararat was attacked by the French who have been at warfare with the British. The Armenians have been put ashore in Penang, but the whole cargo was confiscated.

Beneath British rule, nevertheless, a couple of resident Armenian merchants prospered. They included Jacob Minas and his household who lived in a grand mansion on Heeren Road. After Jacob died in August 1806, his son Joseph turned head of the household, in addition to the spokesman for the handful of Armenian merchants.

In December 1816, they introduced an appreciative farewell letter to tax collector John MacAlister. Thanking him for his integrity and lamenting his departure, they wished him nicely for the longer term. The letter was signed by Joseph Minas, Marcar Carapiet, Sarkies Arratoon Sarkies and Harapiet Simon.  

In reply, John MacAlister thanked the Armenians for their gratifying remarks and hoped they might ‘individually continue to take pleasure in that well being, happiness and prosperity which [their] business, probity and common good conduct so eminently deserves.’

Joseph Minas and a Mr. Shamier made the information in October 1821. They have been passengers on Catchatoor Galastaun’s brig Covelong touring back to Malacca from Penang, when it stopped to help one other vessel in distress. The lads gave up their cabins to the ladies and youngsters rescued from the stricken vessel. When thanked publically by grateful husbands, the pair gallantly replied that the agreeable firm of the ladies on board was adequate thanks for the inconvenience they suffered.

Armenians from Rangoon (Yangon) and Penang continued to trade with Malacca. They included Petrus Arratoon who captained the Nancy, Isaiah Zechariah, Johannes Carapiet, Harapiet Gabriel and Jordan Mackertoom.

Nevertheless, by the 1820s Malacca, which was now back in Dutch palms, was in a backwater. In 1819 Singapore had been established as a British free trade port and realizing that it provided higher prospects some Armenians migrated there, together with Sarkies Arathoon Sarkies and Aristarkies Sarkies (who weren’t related). Marcar Carapiet moved to Penang as did Joseph Minas and his family in December 1822. After Joseph’s dying the following Might, the family returned to Malacca, however bought up in 1829 they usually too, settled in Singapore.

In future years, few Armenians lived in Malacca. Within the early 1870s, an M. Sarkies was listed as a planter at Merlimau.

In 1886 Singapore lawyer Joe (Joaquim) P. Joaquim (Hovakimian) and sister of Agnes, who hybridized the orchid which turned Singapore’s national flower, opened a branch office in Malacca. Originally run by English legal professionals, the firm was referred to as Joaquim, Groom and Everard. Joe’s youthful brother Carapiet was the senior clerk. He married Eliza Rodyk; their five youngsters (Conrad, Maria, Joseph and Elisa) have been born in Malacca. After Eliza died in childbirth in 1900, Carapiet and the youngsters moved back to Singapore the place Carapiet set up as a dealer. He remarried in 1903, however the following yr, dedicated suicide because of financial issues.

Basil Joaquim was a member of the varsity Rugby group in 1909. He is standing on the left. Supply: St Paul’s Faculty, London.

In 1889 John Joaquim, who had adopted Joe’s footsteps to Center Temple in London, was admitted as a barrister to the Straits Settlements Bar. In 1890 he moved to Malacca, taking charge of the workplace after Robert Groom left. The agency then turned Joaquim and Everard, but after James Everard died in 1891, it turned Joaquim Brothers. For the subsequent decade Joaquim Brothers, headquartered in Singapore, was one of the leading regulation companies in the Straits Settlements.

John, like his brothers, did not marry an Armenian, but chose Frances Poundall, whom he had met in London. The couple’s second son Basil was born in Malacca in 1890; he went on to turn into a outstanding Malayan lawyer. In 1896 John, Frances and their three youngsters settled in Kuala Lumpur the place John managed another new branch of Joaquim Brothers.

Younger brother Seth, who also qualified at Middle Temple, was admitted to the Straits Bar in 1893 and soon took charge of the Malacca workplace. He too, had married an English woman—Ellen Young—however that they had no youngsters. In 1904, Joaquim Brothers was dissolved after the premature deaths of the three brothers: Joe in 1902 aged 45, followed by John aged 46 and Seth aged 38 in 1904.

The only other Armenian household recognized to have lived in Malacca was that of Philip E. Aviet. Aviet was born in Madras in 1865, a son of Thomas Aviet and Julia Rencontre. Having joined the Japanese Extension Australasian and China Telegraph Company in 1884, he was transferred to Singapore, then on to Malacca in 1895. In Singapore, Aviet married Louisa Oehlers where the couple’s first three youngsters have been born. The subsequent four have been born in Malacca together with Eugene who turned a revered physician in Malaya. The family spent over 15 years in Malacca earlier than migrating to London in 1922.

Regardless of their minute numbers, the 1891 census listed four Armenians and the 1901 listed six. These have been the Joaquims. Contemplating that Malacca’s inhabitants exceeded 91,000 in 1891 and 95,000 in 1901, it’s shocking that they have been included in the censuses. In all probability fewer than 50 Armenians have lived in Malacca, and as we speak the only visual reminders of their presence are the five tombstones.


For extra particulars, see:

N.  Bland. (1905) Historic tombstones of Malacca principally of Portuguese Origin, London: Elliot Inventory.

Macler. (1919) ‘Notice sur quelques inscriptions funéraires Arméniennes de Malacca’, Journal Asiatique, 11th collection vol. 13: 560-568.

Susan E. Schopp. ‘Up from the Watery Deep, the invention of an Armenian gravestone in the South China Sea’, in Armenians in Asian Trade, 263-5, at

Nadia H. Wright. (2003) Respected Citizens: the History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia. Center Park: Amassia Publishing.

Nadia Wright

Dr. Nadia Wright, who’s of Armenian heritage, is a retired instructor and lively historian dwelling in Melbourne, Australia. Her research focuses on the Armenians in Southeast Asia in addition to the founding of Singapore. She is the writer of Respected Citizens: The Historical past of the Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia; William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow and The Armenians of Penang. She co-authored Vanda Miss Joaquim: Singapore’s Nationwide Flower & the Legacy of Agnes & Ridley and has revealed quite a lot of scholarly articles.

Nadia Wright

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