How Rajah Brooke’s secretary is related to Johor royalty through Mads Lange

This is a story of two siblings; half-siblings to be precise, how they lost their family fortune and how one of them became a wife to a Sultan and the other worked as a private secretary to a Rajah.

And it all started from their father, Mads Lange.

Mads Lange and how he became the King of Bali

Mads Johansen Lange
Mads Lange Painted by unknown Chinese painter on Bali. Credit: Public Domain.

Mads Lange was a trader and entrepreneur who made his fortune in Bali so much so that he was nicknamed the ‘King of Bali’.

According to Henk Schulte Nordhort in his paper The Mads Lange Connection (1981), Mads Johansen Lange (Sept 18, 1806 – May 13, 1856) was born on the island of Langeland, Denmark.

He grew up in a merchant family and in 1824, when he was eighteen, he went to sea as a crew member on one of the ships of the Danish Asiatic company.

Nordhort wrote in his paper, “In the 1830s the Danish Company sold many of its ships, and one of them, the Syden, was brought by Captain John Burd, who planned to trade along the China coast. He left Denmark in 1833 and his second-in-command was Mads Lange. Three brothers of Mads- Hans, Karl Emillius and Hans Henrik – were also members of the crew.”

Lange eventually made his way to Dutch East Indies and subsequently settled on Bali.

There, he built a thriving commercial enterprise, exporting rice, spices and beef and importing weapons and textiles.

At one point of his career, Lange owned as many as fifteen ships that travelled and traded among ports in the East Indies, the West Indies and Europe.

He also built a factorij at Kuta, Bali. (A factorij is the common name during the medieval and early modern eras for an entrepot which was essentially a free-trade zone.)

Apart from his business, Lange was historically known as the mediator between the local Rajahs and the Dutch colonists.

As for his personal life, Lange was never officially married but he fathered three children with his mistresses.

With a local Balinese woman named Nyai Kenyer, he had two sons – William Peter who was born in 1843 and Andreas Emil born in 1850.

His second known mistress was the daughter of a wealthy Chinese merchant, a woman who Lange called ‘Nonna Sangnio’.

Sangnio gave birth to a daughter in 1848 and Lange named her Cecilia Catharina Lange.

Sadly, William died at the age of 12 in Singapore reportedly due to dysentery.

Mads Lange’s daughter Cecilia Lange

Lange died on May 13, 1856. While there was no officially inquiry made into his death, it is widely rumoured that he had been poisoned either by the local Rajah or by the Dutch.

Just like the story of Sara Crewe in the children’s novel A Little Princess (1888) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Cecilia learned about her father’s death when she was in school in Singapore.

Unlike Sara, Cecilia was adopted by a British family and continued to be schooled in Singapore.

“She traveled with them to India, France and England before returning to Singapore. In 1869 she went to Bali to visit her father’s grave, the only time back there since she left as a child,” Peter Bloch in his book Mads Lange’ Forgotten Treasures.

She then returned to Singapore where she met her future husband. In 1870, Cecilia married Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor and converted to Islam taking the name Zubaidah binti Abdullah.

Mads Lange’s son Andreas Emil Lange

While Cecilia had her life transitioned from the daughter of the ‘King of Bali’ to the wife of the Sultan of Johor, her half-brother Andreas found his way to the shores of Sarawak.

After his father died, Andreas continued his education at Singapore’s Raffles Institution.

It is unclear on how exactly Andreas joined the Sarawak civil service but it is believed through Ludvig Verner Helms.

Helms (1825-1918) was a trader who later became the manager of the Borneo Company when it was first formed in 1856.

Before Helms came to Sarawak, he worked under Mads Lange for two years from 1847 till 1849.

After leaving Bali, Helms returned to the island only once in September 1858 to visit Lange only to find out about his death.

“He died, still in the vigour of manhood, and I returned only to find his lonely grave, instead of the friendship I had hoped one day to know,” Helms wrote in his book Pioneering in the Far East and Journeys to California in 1849 and the White Sea in 1878 (1882).

In Sarawak, Helms worked and lived here from 1852 until 1872.

A year before Helms’ departure, Andreas came to Sarawak to work. Looking at how the timeline fit, it is safe to say that Helms introduced the son of his old friend for a job in Sarawak.

Andreas brought along his wife who was originally from Pahang to Sarawak. Together, they had seven sons and five daughters, raising them in Kuching.

Fast forward to October 1909, the Sarawak Gazette published Andreas’ obituary which in the same time detailed his career in Sarawak.

“It was with a surprise and regret that we heard of the death of Mr. A. E. Lange who up to few years ago, was a well-known figure in Kuching. Mr Lange, whose death occurred in Singapore on Sept 12th from dysentery, entered the Government Service as a Clerk in the Shipping Office in 1871. In May 1872 he was appointed Court Writer and Storekeeper and in 1875 Storekeeper and Resident’s Clerk, being finally promoted Secretary to His Highness The Rajah in 1879 still keeping the office of Storekeeper, and this post he held until his retirement in 1905. By his death His Highness loses a trustworthy servant who spent the best years of his life in his Service and much sympathy will be felt with his family in their bereavement.”

After Andreas retired from Sarawak, he moved his large family back to Singapore.

Mads Lange and what is left of his fortune

Lange in fact left a will before he died in which he planned to divide his property among his children, his cousins, two nephews as well as Cecilia’s mother. At that time Andreas’ mother, Nyai Kenyer had already died most probably due to cholera.

Talking to her father’s biographer Aage Krarup Nielson, Cecilia accused Lange’s nephew Peter Christian Lange of ‘stealing everything’.

The biographer quoted Cecilia telling him, “He was a robber who left for home in Denmark with all that was left of my fathers’ riches, without leaving us two children a single penny.”

After Lange died, his business in Bali was left to his brother Hans and nephew Peter Christian.

Then in 1860, Hans died leaving Peter to keep the business going. Lange’s business however, had already been going downhill before his untimely death.

Peter eventually sold the business to a Chinese merchant and returned to Denmark where he died in 1869 at the age of 42.

Did Peter leave anything for his cousins after selling everything? Looking at how Cecilia called Peter a ‘robber’, the answer is most probably no.

The only thing Peter did not sell was a house in Banjuwangi which was supposed to pass down to Cecilia as per Lange’s will.

Unfortunately, Cecilia was unable to claim that house because she did not have the proper documentation to prove that Lange was her father.

If only Lange left not only a will but birth certificates for his children. Hence Cecilia never recovered his father’s wealth like Sara did.

Mads Lange and his legacy

Although his fortune did not survive through his lineage, Lange’s descendants are still thriving to this day especially through Cecilia.

Cecilia was the only one of Abu Bakar’s four wives who bore him a son. This grandson of Mads Lange later became widely known as Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, the 22nd Sultan of Johor who reigned from 1895 till 1959.

With that said, the current Raja Permaisuri Agong of Malaysia, Her Majesty Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah is a great-great-great-granddaughter of Mads Lange.

Additionally, the current sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail is Lange’s great-great-great-grandson.

Just like his half-sister, Andreas tried to claim back his inheritance left from their father.

His first attempt was in 1872 when he asked the Dutch Indies government to investigate what happened to his father’s assets.

But at that time Andreas found there was nothing left of value. After his retirement from Sarawak, he tried again.

“He went to Bali in late 1906 after the massacres of royal families of Depasar and Pemecutan in September, which led to the Dutch taking over Badung and the surrender of Tabanan. It was Andreas’ only visit back since he left as a child. He tried to claim the land of his late father but the colonial court ruled against him and left empty-ended,” Bloch wrote.

Andreas passed away three years after his last visit to Bali. The street that his family lived on in Singapore now became known as Lange Road.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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