From Our Archives

The Capture of Malacca, A.D. 1511 (NEW!)

The Malacca Sultanate

Meteorological Report, 1885

Notes on Names of Places in Singapore and its Vicinity

History of the Translation of the Bible into Malay

The Philippine Claim to Sabah



Mencari Malaysia Reading Group

The Mencari Malaysia Reading Group (MMRG) represents an informal discussion group organized by key figures from the Society, the History Department of the University of Malaya and the Sociology Department of the National University of Singapore. Conceived and led by Prof Syed Farid Alatas, the MMRG will meet once every two months to read seminal works that stimulate discussion on the theoretical history, historiography and historical sociology of the Nusantara. The readings will deal with problems surrounding the issues of Eurocentric and nationalist history, and how social thought and theory can contribute to an understanding of history that resonates with contemporary issues shaping the public discourse. The objective of these sessions is to stimulate debate in order to develop a richer understanding of who we are as Malaysians.

At the fourth session of the MMRG to be held on Friday afternoon, 11 January 2019, the discussion will focus on "Interpreting the 1895 Federation Scheme", in a session led by Assoc Prof Sivachandralingam Sundara Raja and chaired by Prof Syed Farid.

For more information on the MMRG and the upcoming event, please CLICK HERE .

Admission is free and members of the public are warmly invited to participate. Further queries should be forwarded to Dr Shahridan Faiez at Kindly provide your name and mobile number for WhatsApp announcements.




MBRAS Index 1878-2018

List of Articles

  The fully updated Index to the JMBRAS, between the first issue of its precursor the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS) in 1878 and the latest issue of June 2018 can now be accessed on this site. The Index - virtually an extension of the Index Malaysiana and its Supplements, of which printed copies are still available - is offered completely free of charge in easily downloadable PDF format and will enable users to refer to all published JSBRAS/JMBRAS articles under relevant headings and subject matters.

Also included here - as a separate file - is the entire List of Articles of the JSBRAS and the JMBRAS, from the earliest to the latest issue - a useful tool for quick reference, particularly for those seeking out relevant articles in chronological order.

Please click on the respective titles above to download.




A Commemorative Tribute to the Life and Work of Dr Cheah Boon Kheng (1939-2015), Editor Emeritus, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and Historian

  Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, former Vice-President of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, passed away on 27 July 2015. He first joined the Society in 1976 and became its Vice-President in 1991, a post he relinquished in 2014 upon being diagnosed with cancer. Boon Kheng also served, with great distinction, as editor of the JMBRAS for nearly two decades, and handled the production of a large number of Monographs and Reprints.

In April 2017, the Society announced the creation of the Cheah Boon Kheng Memorial Fund, to be used to support MBRAS publications. The first volume to be financed by the Fund will be a selection of Boon Kheng’s articles - a prodigious intellectual output on Malaysian history over a period of more than 30 years - that will reflect his major scholarly concerns. The commemorative volume is being compiled and edited by our Hon. Editor Dr. Kratoska who is toiling ceaselessly to see the work through in its final stages. It is expected to be available to the public by 2019.

In view of the impending publication of this handsome tribute to Boon Kheng, the Society is once again inviting contributions to this fund. Remittances can be sent through PayPal, or by a bank transfer or a cheque payable to the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Details for a bank transfer are as follows:

Name of Bank : Maybank
Address : 66, 68 & 70 Jalan Maarof, Bangsar Baru, 59000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Account number: 514123165660
Account name : Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
Swiftcode : MBBEMYKL

For payments made by bank transfer, we ask that donors send MBRAS a scanned copy of the receipt by e-mail at along with their postal mailing address in order that we may publicly acknowledge the donation and send a receipt.



   Latest Journal Issue

JMBRAS June 2018


The June 2018 issue would have found its way into members' post boxes by now. In addition to the usual articles, readers may look forward with particular pleasure to a long-forgotten official report of a pivotal expedition in 1888 to North Perak, Kelantan and Southern Thailand in the Documents from Malaysian History section.

Peter Borschberg and Benjamin Khoo in their article examine the dynamics at work behind Singapore's history as a port over an extended historical period. This fascinating essay represents an extension to Borschberg's earlier article in our June 2017 issue which looked at the history of Singapore in the cycles of the longue durée, which may well be read together with this piece. Borschberg and Khoo go to some lengths to explain the conceptual origins of longue durée and have managed to skillfully manoeuvre conceptual currents to produce a convincing expostulation that sheds a great deal of light on pre-1819 Singapore.

Syed Farid Alatas, in a widely anticipated article, makes a bold attempt at extracting elements of classical Malay political theory from the Taj al-Salatin, a 17th Malay text on kingly etiquette, once a widely-read genre which received serious attention at a time when Muslims kingdoms and native states flourished throughout Southeast Asia before the middle of the 20th century. Syed Farid makes the case that anti-feudalism is a thread that runs through pre-modern Malay literature and that the orientation of Taj al-Salatin, which was an essentially anti-feudalistic text, actually ran against the flow of current opinion as expressed in the highly feudalistic texts such as Hikayat Hang Tuah and Sejarah Melayu.

Meanwhile, John van Wyhe - the acknowledged expert on the life of naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace - returns with another article which reveals a hitherto neglected aspect of Wallace's eight-year sojourn throughout the Malay Archipelago: his helpers and assistants, who supported him in his mammoth undertaking. This engrossing article postulates that individuals who assisted Wallace throughout his flora and fauna collecting expedition probably numbered in the thousands, 1200 being a conservative estimate. Readers may recall that van Wyhe's earlier article (co-written by Gerrell Drawhorn) on Wallace's Malay assistant had appeared in the June 2015 issue and that this article follows up the research on aspects of Wallace's life not previously touched upon by other researchers in the field.

Paul Kua's article on the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca, which existed only for a brief period of 25 years (1818-1843), represents a valuable addition to Malacca historiography and will hopefully spur renewed interest in research on the intellectual life of Straits port-cities such as Penang and Singapore. Using primary material, Kua has constructed a thorough and intimate account of the college and its principal movers.

Diving again into the unfathomable depths of the voluminous CO 273 files, our Hon. Editor has highlighted an unjustly forgotten extract from a journal kept by C.F. Bozzolo, the Magistrate and Collector of Upper Perak - predecessor of the legendary Hubert Berkeley - who gained a degree of infamy in imperial circles on account of the size of his harem of local girls, purportedly maintained during his tenure. Bozzolo's amorous proclivities aside, the report of a prospecting expedition he undertook to the uncharted border areas of North Perak, Kelantan and Southern Siam represents an exhaustive account of considerable intelligence value at the time. This lengthy albeit thrilling account sheds valuable light on local conditions in that region, considering that Bozzolo was collecting geological specimens and looking at the potentiality of tin deposits located in the vicinity of former mining areas such as Klian Intan and Reman.

The majestic building highlighted on the cover of the June 2018 issue is the Istana Jahar in Kota Bahru, the capital of the northeastern Malaysian state of Kelantan, so named after a local tree which grew in its compound. Construction of this former royal residence began in the 1880s during the reign of Sultan Muhammad II and was completed by his son Sultan Ahmad. It became the royal residence for three former rulers of Kelantan, beginning with Sultan Muhammad III for whom the palace was originally built by his grandfather. The newly-built Istana was referred to by Bozzolo in his report reproduced in this issue. The palace, which contains excellent specimens of indigenous woodwork and carving, was turned into the Muzium Adat Istiadat Diraja (the royal traditions and customs museum) in 1992 and remains a unique attraction for visitors to the state.

CLICK HERE to view the list of contents of the June issue.




Monograph 50 - Through Turbulent Terrain: Trade of the Straits Port of Penang

  Fresh off the press is Monograph No. 50 - Through Turbulent Terrain: Trade of the Straits Port of Penang, by Loh Wei Leng and Jeffery Seow, the latest in our series of books focusing on Penang history. The present volume is a rich account of trade in the Straits of Melaka port of Penang from its beginnings as Prince of Wales of Island right up to the end of the Second World War in 1945, about a decade before Malaya was granted its independence.

An indispensable accompaniment to this invaluable account would be the Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang, which offers fuller biographical information on key personalities in the port city during its halcyon period as a leading Straits port. Copies of both books are still available at our office. As with the Biographical Dictionary, the publication of Monograph No. 50 has been made possible through the generous support extended by urban regeneration vehicle Think City Sdn Bhd.

CLICK HERE for more details.
RM45 paperback, RM120 hardcover, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only.
For other postage options, please contact us for details.




Reprint 34: A Journal in the Federal Capital

  The Society's eagerly-awaited reissue, Reprint No. 34: 'A Journal in the Federal Capital' by the celebrated Straits Times journalist George L. Peet, is now once again available to the public. The Society's intention to republish Peet's sparkling gem has been made possible through the generous support extended by urban regeneration vehicle Think City.

Originally published in 1983, Peet's book proved to be a bestseller but has long since been out of print. A Journal in the Federal Capital assembles a selection of articles - personally handpicked by Peet himself - written at a time when he was assigned as the Straits Times' Kuala Lumpur correspondent in the early 1930s. These articles originally appeared under an eponymous weekly column which Peet maintained throughout his four-year sojourn in Kuala Lumpur.

To savour Peet's authentic impressions of 1930s Malaya, the reader need look no further than this engaging and lyrical account of pre-war Malayan life in all its brilliant hues.

CLICK HERE for more details.
RM40, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only
For other postage options, please contact us for details.




P. M. Shariffuddin (1936-2018)

  Pengiran Dato Paduka Haji Shariffuddin bin Pengiran Metali - better known to all as P. M. Shariffuddin - historian, former Vice-President of the Society and Life Member, passed away peacefully in Brunei on Sunday, 22 April 2018 aged 81. One of the few authoritative voices on Brunei history, P. M. Shariffuddin served the Brunei Government with great distinction as the director of the Brunei Museum, and served the Society as faithfully in his capacity as Vice-President. A fuller obituary may be accessed in the Obituaries section HERE. P. M. Shariffuddin's demise represents a significant loss to the Society and to the field of Brunei history in general. The Council shares the intense bereavement felt by his family over his passing and prays for the repose of his soul.


Mencari Malaysia Reading Group

On behalf of the Society, University of Malaya and our partners from the National University of Singapore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the inaugural "Mencari Malaysia: Readings in Historiography and Historical Sociology" event at the History Department, University of Malaya on Friday afternoon, 13 April 2018.

We had a very encouraging turnout of some 80 people, from diverse backgrounds and who participated very actively. We will be writing to those who were kind enough to leave their email addresses to thank each of you and also to update you about what is next in the project.

The late Dr Cheah Boon Kheng's paper was a good point of departure to better understand how the past was conceived, defined, taught and advocated. Whilst the objective was to explore together the process of "history-making", Dr Cheah's 1996 paper yielded a very lively debate. We particularly appreciated the thought provoking views from the audience pointing out the many hazards in trying to develop a historical narrative. Pitfalls involving inherent biases, particular perspectives and the writer's political agenda are what makes history so controversial, contested and interesting.

There were many issues and points of view on how future reading sessions should evolve. We would like to thank Professor Syed Farid Alatas for his commitment to a scholarly methodology. He assiduously kept to a logical framework sharing examples of the usefulness of theory, in this case, a sociology of history, when developing narratives.

This led to a lively discussion of what motivated Dr Cheah when he wrote the 1996 piece on Malaysian historiography. Can one be objective when recounting the past? Whilst many of us were impatient and "jumped the gun", these reading sessions are designed to help us address what motivates an historian and what influences him/her when developing histories.

We would also like to acknowledge the differing view points particularly from Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and others. We will try to accommodate all suggestions as Mencari Malaysia is definitely a multi-faceted project requiring different modes of enquiry.

For the historiography reading sessions, the focus area will be on the issue of "Euro-centricity" for only by understanding what this means and why Cheah Boon Kheng highlighted the concept, can we arrive at a point of departure offering alternative narratives to "find" Malaysia. We expect the next session to be after Hari Raya on 22 June 2018.

Please also follow us on Facebook and watch this space as there are plans to do a live stream feed of the sessions to allow our members to follow the discussions.

Neil Khor
Hon. Secretary, MBRAS



MBRAS Obituaries

The obituaries of former Society members which used to appear on the homepage may now be found under the heading About Us . Readers looking for the obituaries should scroll down the page until they come to a section called In Memoriam, which appears just before a section featuring Past Illustrious Members. The obituaries may be accessed simply by clicking on the images of the individuals appearing in that section.


   Our New Patron

Chan Sek Keong, Esq.

  Since the lamentable passing of our former Singapore patron Mr Lee Kuan Yew in March 2015, a new Patron for the MBRAS has been found in the eminent person of Mr Chan Sek Keong, the former Chief Justice of Singapore and one of the region's most respected legal minds. Mr Chan hails from Ipoh where he was born in November 1937. When he graduated in 1961 from the University of Malaya (then in Singapore), Mr Chan became among the first batch of 22 locally-trained law graduates who had completed the inaugural law degree programme.

Mr Chan has had wide-ranging experience in the legal and judicial services, coupled with a successful private practice. As the Attorney-General of Singapore, Mr Chan served in this capacity for 14 years. A considerable part of his life was spent on the Bench, first as Supreme Court judge before being elevated as Chief Justice in 2006, in which capacity he served for three terms before retiring in 2012. Mr Chan is married to Elisabeth Eber, herself a foremost legal practitioner and a cousin of Cambridge-educated lawyer-activist John Eber, a colourful figure in the post-war political landscape of Singapore. A rather more detailed biography of Mr Chan may be accessed HERE

Mr Chan was formally introduced to the Council during the Singapore round of the meeting in September 2016 when, together with Mrs Chan, he attended the MBRAS Lecture by Dr Tim Barnard on H.N. Ridley at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Council feels privileged to obtain the patronage of such an illustrious personality as Mr Chan and would like to extend a warm and sincere welcome to him.



   NEW Featured Article : The Capture of Malacca, A.D. 1511    

  The rise and fall of nations and governments are usually of mere passing interest to most of us. However when a formidable regional power like the Malacca Sultanante crumbles to the ground after holding sway for over a century, it represented a turning point that triggered a major political realignment in Southeast Asia in the 16th century and had far-reaching geopolitical consesequences for the region at the time and for several centuries thereafter.

The second part to our earlier featured article on "The Malacca Sultanate" offers an engaging account of the military campaign to capture Malacca by the Portuguese in July 1511. Its author, R.J. Wilkinson, was one of the finest scholar-administrators that British Malaya ever produced whose works on Malay subjects continue to be standard reference to this day. In this article, Wilkinson takes the reader through developments which set in motion events that eventually led to Malacca's rapid decline and spectacular downfall. Wilkinson's article illustrates the fate that awaits a major regional actor like Malacca when an emerging naval power like Portugal takes advantage of its weakness brought about by administrative decay, incompetence, internal dissent and damaging games of court intrigue.

CLICK HERE to view the article and summary.

As usual, comments and corrections are much sought after. Meanwhile we hope readers will enjoy this rather short article and our brief notes accompanying the article.

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