Malacca was founded in 1400 by an ambitious and aggressive Sumatran prince who hailed from Palembang, Parameswara. His impulsive takeover attempts of neighbouring islands caused him to flee to Malacca, where he transformed the fishing village to one of the greatest entreports of the region. Displaying political savvy, he forged an alliance with the powerful Ming dynasty of China, securing the fledgling princedom from external threat, especially Siam. A political alliance with the state of Pasai in northern Sumatra introduced Islam to Malacca. It is believed that Parameswara changed his name to Iskandar Shah at this time. In the years following Iskandar’s death in 1424, Malacca continued to flourish, benefiting from its strategic location that facilitated the confluence of traders from many lands in the region. Culturally, it was to become a major diffusion centre for Islam. Eventually, political turmoil, corruption and graft eroded the Malacca Empire, and the final downfall came with the Portuguese Invasion of 1511 led by Alfonso de Albuquerque.
Portuguese conquerors ruled Malacca for 130 years. One of Portugal’s immediate actions was to build a fortress around the city. It was a sound move as Malacca came under frequent attacks by neighbouring rivals Johor and Acheh. The constant presence of imminent attacks gave a sense of uneasiness to the kingdom. This impression was heightened with the suppression of Islam in the Christianizing of the port-kingdom.
Malacca’s reputation as the region’s principal entreport was gradually undermined by Batavia’s emergence as a main spice trading port. Dutch colonialists overran Malacca in 1641 after General Antonio van Diemen defeated Portuguese forces, but by then Malacca was subsequently reduced to an outpost, a point of tax collection and a lay-by for ships.
At the end of the 18th century and early 19th century, British colonialists strengthened their position in the region, occupying Penang in 1786 and Singapore in 1819. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 placed Malacca under them as well. In 1826, Penang, Singapore and Malacca were grouped together under the Straits Settlements political unit.
Robert Fullerton was the first Straits Settlements Governor and was based in Penang. He reported to the British Governor-General in India. A Resident Consular governed Malacca and Singapore.
The Straits Settlements administration lasted until 1941, when Japanese forces attacked the Malay Peninsula. After the Japanese defeat, Malacca was placed under the British Military Administration from September 1945 to early 1946.
British colonialists in London formed the Malayan Peninsula Planning Unit in 1943, and on 10 October 1945, the Malayan Union scheme was laid out before the British Parliament. A day later, Sir Harold MacMichael was sent to the Malayan Peninsula to obtain the agreement of the Malay Rulers. According to this agreement, Penang, Malacca and 9 other Malay states were united under the Malayan Union.
Malay opposition groups derailed the Malayan Union plan, and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was formed under Dato’ Onn Jaafar’s leadership on 11 May 1946. The Malay Federation was founded on 1 February 1948 and on 31 August 1957, independence was declared.