Calum Olach in Java

The following comes from the Spring 1987 edition of Sanais, the Comann Eachdraidh’s quarterly publication under the editorship of Anna Mackinnon.  There are many tales about the Old Soldiers of Uig and this is another about the doughty Calum Olach of Valtos, serving with the Seaforth Highlanders as one of the Saighdeirean Mac a’Mhinisteir.  They were in Java in 1811.

We return to Java, to the stronghold of the Sultan of Jogjakarta, one of the native princes who had helped the French against the British. When a British force attacked his stronghold, the Sultan gathered his several wives and retreated to his last line of defence – his treasure chamber. Once inside, he thought himself safe from danger, because he could manipulate the vicious contrivance that guarded the doorway – a huge sword which could be slid up and down in the doorframe.

The Sultan, however, had never come across anyone from Valtos! Malcolm Smith took a good look at the sword and decided he could risk a leap into the room while the sword was nearing the top of the door.  He said as much to his commanding officer who was William Mackay from Thurso, the father of Mrs Watson of Balnacille and of Mrs James Macrae of Miavaig. Mackay twice forbade him to attempt any such feat but nevertheless Malcolm with split-second timing sprang throught he doorway and knocked the Sultan to the floor before he could bring the sword down again.  The Sultan’s wives began to scream in their own language “Trada boog el! Trada boog el!” – presumably, “Don’t kill him!”  We don’t know whether they killed him or not but what was actual fact was that the Palace was full of treasure and some of that still remains in the possession of the Regiment.

Malcolm Smith, in recognition of his valour, was allowed to help himself to as much of the treasure as he wishes. He found a horse and cart and pile the cart high with treasure but here the story takes a bizarre turn. The Sultan’s Palace was surround by a deep and treacherous marsh and as he left the palace leading the horse, pulling the heavily laden cart, the cart began to sink into the bog. He managed to save the horse but the cart sank into the depths where Calum Olach’s treasure probably still reposes to this day. Not only did he lose his personal booty, which he richly deserved, but the 78th lost £2000 worth of the Sultan’s treasure in a shipwreck in the Bay of Bengal when they were recalled from Java. There were six companies of British soldiers aboard the ill-fated transport Frances Charlotte which was en route for India and then home and the soldiers lost all their baggage. Their lives were saved only by their fine discipline and quick response to orders.