Bencoolen (Malay, Bangka Ulu, rolling uplands). I. A Dutch residency on the S. W. coast of Sumatra; area, including the island of Engano, 8,7:56 sq. m.; pop. about 100,000. The surface is hilly and undulating. The soil is inferior to that of the eastern slope of the island; it is for the most part a stiff red clay, burnt nearly to the state of a brick where it is exposed to the sun. The chief culture was pepper during the first intercourse of Europeans with this country. In 1798 the clove and nutmeg were introduced from the Moluccas; but the latter alone has succeeded, and that only by manuring and much labor and care. Some of the forests abound in gutta percha and gutta taban trees, which produce a gum of excellent quality. Coffee is cultivated to considerable extent. The styrax benzoin tree, from which the gum benjamin of commerce is obtained, is grown in plantations. The buffalo and goat are the only large animals domesticated. Tigers are very numerous, and materially impede the prosperity of the country. The Rejangs, one of the most civilized races of Sumatra, compose the greater portion of the population of this territory.
II. The chief town of the residency, in lat. 3° 47' S., lon. 102° 19' E.; pop. about 10,000. The British East India company established a factory at this point for the pepper trade in 1685. In 1714 Fort Marlborough was founded, 3 m. distant. In 1760 the French under Count d'Estaing captured and took possession of the fort and factory; but they were restored to the company by the treaty of Paris in 1763. By the treaty of London in 1824, the English government ceded the fort and factory, and establishments dependent on them, which then embraced a territory of about 12 sq. m., to the Dutch, in exchange for Malacca and its territory, and a small post near Madras. Bencoolen was an unprofitable dependency of the Bengal presidency, and cost the East India company, on an average, about $60,000 per annum during the whole period of its possession; it was maintained partly from a point of honor, but chiefly on account of an over-estimate of the advantages expected to grow out of the pepper trade.
During the English possession the town contained 20,000 inhabitants, but has now dwindled to one half that number, composed of Rejangs, Malays, Bughis, and a large number of Arabs and Chinese. A Dutch assistant resident is stationed there.