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





Not so Mad: H.N. Ridley, Science and Colonial Society


Timothy P. Barnard

Date: 24 September (Saturday) 2016

Time: 5.30 p.m.

Venue: Function Room, Singapore Botanic Garden, Singapore

  From 1888 until 1912, Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956) was the Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the leading colonial scientist in the Straits Settlements. Ridley oversaw the Botanic Gardens during an amazingly productive period when a number of plants, including rubber, were developed for the plantation economy. He also ventured into numerous other areas of scientific research that had a lasting impact on colonial society. When he left Singapore, however, he was a highly unpopular figure. Labelled “Mad” because of his passionate promotion of rubber cultivation in the early days of the rubber industry, he received little official recognition for the role that he played in transforming the economy and society of Malaya and the Straits Settlements. This talk will explore how Ridley became such a controversial figure, and how he fit into scientific and social communities in Singapore during the era of High Imperialism.

Dr Timothy P. Barnard is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore, where he specializes in the environmental and cultural history of island Southeast Asia. His research has focused on a range of topics including state formation in the eighteenth-century Straits of Melaka, Malay identity throughout history, Malay film in the 1950s, and the environmental history of Singapore. He has published numerous book chapters and articles, as well as the book Multiple Centres of Authority (KITLV, 2003) and the edited volumes Contesting Malayness (NUS Press, 2004) and Nature Contained (NUS Press, 2014). He has just completed a history of the Singapore Botanic Gardens entitled Nature’s Colony, which will be launched in October 2016.

This round of the annual MBRAS Lectures will be held at the Function Room of the Singapore Botanic Garden, located on Cluny Road. All are welcome to attend the lecture. Admission to the lecture is free, as is admission to the Gardens. MBRAS members are warmly encouraged to attend.

Apart from the attractive venue, the presence of Dr Barnard as featured speaker will be sufficient encouragement to attend this particular talk. Dr Barnard's undisputed expertise in the history of the Gardens makes him well-placed to discuss, in the course of the lecture, the Singapore phase of Ridley's professional life. Imperial history has not been very kind to Ridley, a largely forgotten but somewhat controversial figure whose subsequent career and life has all but fallen into relative obscurity, compared with those of more prominent officials such as High Commissioners and Residents General. Relatively little was known of the private life of this former Fellow of the Royal Society who had also helmed the MBRAS precursor - then known as the Straits Branch - as its Editor and Secretary. This lecture will hopefully throw some light on the elusive man and his botanical work, and help to cement his reputation as one the most distinguished botanists of the Empire in the 20th century.

As places may be limited, please confirm your attendance by telephone to MBRAS at +603-22835345 or by email: mbrasmsb@gmail.com.



   Latest Journal Issue

JMBRAS June 2016

  The June 2016 issue of JMBRAS is out and members who have fully paid up their annual subscriptions would have received their copies by now. It has been a year since the June 2015 issue when JMBRAS took on a new look and layout which we hope will enhance its appeal to a broader cross-section of readers. If you have any comments or suggestions about the JMBRAS' new look, feel free to share your thoughts. We would be happy to receive your feedback.

The June issue features a riveting conceptual essay on the idea of Nusantara by eminent Southeast Asian scholar Hans-Dieter Evers which was originally delivered during the MBRAS Lecture last December in KL. The complexities and contradictions borne out of the prevailing encounter between the Adat Perpatih and Islamic law assumes a more cogent form in the essay by Dr Maznah Mohamad. More light has been thrown on the post-war history of Malaya and the highly sensitive issue of citizenship in the article by Low Choo Chin who examines colonial policy towards immigration control focusing on the vital period during the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960. A fascinating description of a rare Lotud ritual following the 2015 Mount Kinabalu Earthquake also features in this issue.

A special section is devoted in this issue to commemorate our late and lamented patron Lee Kuan Yew (1922-2015), international statesman and former Prime Minister of Singapore, whose death in March 2015 was mourned by millions worldwide. Specially commissioned for this issue, these accomplished articles focuses on the socio-cultural and political legacies bequeathed by Lee to Singapore and affords exclusive insight into the significance behind the funeral rituals of the great man and its subsequent implications on the Singapore Story, the national narrative propounded and effectively articulated by Lee in which the former Prime Minister occupies a unique central position.

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



   New From MBRAS

MBRAS Index 1878-2015

  Visitors to the Society webpage will be pleased to learn that the full index to the JMBRAS between its first issue in 1878 and the latest issue of December 2015 can now be accessed on this site. The Index - virtually an extension of the Index Malaysiana and its Supplements - will enable users to discover all published JMBRAS articles under relevant headings.

Please click on the title above to download the entire Index.




Dr KG Tregonning MBE (1923-2015)

  Dr Kennedy Gordon Phillip Tregonning MBE, historian, educationist and the oldest Life Member of of the Society, passed away peacefully on Monday, 20 July 2015 at the age of 92. Dr Tregonning's memorial service was held on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 at The Memorial Hall, Hale School, Wembley Downs, West Australia.

Born in 1923, Dr Tregonning attended first Christ Church Primary School and later Hale School, then located at West Perth. At Hale he proved an ardent sportsman, excelling among others in swimming, cricket and athletics. Upon leaving school in 1941 - a period which coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War - Dr Tregonning joined the Army to serve in the 109th Tank Regiment briefly before being transferred to the RAAF where he was commissioned and eventually sent to the UK via the USA.

Dr Tregonning resumed his studies after the war at Adelaide University on the Tinline Scholarship, graduating with highest honours in Political Science and History. His athletic prowess shone equally as in Hale when he was made captain of the varsity rugby team. Dr Tregonning lectured for a time at the university and was even employed briefly as a reporter with the West Australian but by this time it was evident that Dr Tregonning's scholastic attainments would mark him out for greater things in future. In 1950, Dr Tregonning went up to New College, Oxford as a Gowrie Scholar where he earned a Bachelor of Literature. He married his wife Judy Manford that same year and was blessed with five daughters.

Upon coming down from Oxford, Dr Tregonning found himself in Singapore where, after joining the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) as lecturer in 1953, he succeeded C.N. Parkinson as Raffles Professor in History in July 1959 following the latter's resignation. Dr Tregonning's PhD - on the first forty years of British occupation in Malaya - had the singular honour of being the first degree awarded at the first convocation ceremony of the university in Kuala Lumpur in 1958. His Singapore spell - a tenure lasting some 14 years - counted among the happiest periods of his life, according to his daughter. Away in a foreign land for 14 years and with five growing daughters, Dr Tregonning soon decided to return to Australia. He was fortunate as it was during this time that the headmastership of Hale became vacant. Dr Tregonning, at a friend's suggestion, decided to apply for the position despite having no previous experience managing a school. Nevertheless, the school's Board of Governors to their eternal credit, decided to appoint Dr Tregonning - an Old Haleian - to the post, marking an exceptionally brilliant 22-year period when Hale flourished under Dr Tregonning's able stewardship.

Dr Tregonning's direct involvement with the Society went as far back as 1954 when he was made its Life Member. At the time of his demise, Dr Tregonning, at 92, was its oldest Life Member. However, Dr Russell Jones of Cornwall - the eminent Orientalist - has the honour of being Life Member for even longer than even Dr Tregonning, as the former was elected in 1949. Dr Tregonning's scholastic contributions to the Society's Journal amounted to no less than eleven significant articles over a period of 47 years on subjects as diverse as the elimination of slavery in North Borneo, a historical account of the Straits Trading Company and a bird's eye view of tertiary education in Malaya during the colonial period. In these terms, few can match Dr Tregonning's brilliant output with the exception of earlier scholars associated with the Society such as R.O. Winstedt or R.J. Wilkinson.

In a 1988 interview, Dr Tregonning admitted to having vague notions of being a writer when young. In fact, he was a gifted writer armed with a razor-sharp intellect as evinced by his prodigious literary output, all of which were characterised by a distinctive style in which clarity, brevity and smooth flow of narrative were paramount. Among them we may especially mention North Borneo Under Chartered Company Rule, A History of Modern Sabah 1881-1963 and Home Port Singapore, a history of the Straits Steamship Company, all of which were written during his years as Raffles Professor of History. Much less known were Dr Tregonning's output after his retirement years, namely The Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club 1896-1996, a centennial account of the local yacht club; Young Hearts Run Free, a history of his alma mater Hale School and also Merdeka and Much More, a brief memoir of his years in Singapore as Raffles Professor of History between 1953 and 1967, which was probably among his last works to be published.

In private life, Dr Tregonning was known as a quiet, unassuming gentleman with a sense of humour coupled with a modest demeanour. He was a dedicated yachstman all his life, having joined the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in 1938 and at his demise, also its longest serving member. He continued to retain a lifelong affection for Hale by being an active member of the Old Haleians and was frequently invited to its annual functions.

The Council extends its sincere condolences to his family members and notes with gratitude and humility his immeasurable contributions to the Society in particular, and to the discipline of History, in general. May his soul rest in peace.

The Council also notes with sorrow the tragic passing of three very eminent historians, all torchbearers of the Society, in quick succession one after the other, in the month of July 2015. The death of Dr Badriyah Haji Salleh on 2 July 2015 was followed by that of Dr KGP Tregonning on 20 July 2015 and Dr Cheah Boon Kheng on 27 July 2015, a week after Dr Tregonning's death. May their deeds and thoughts live on eternally to shine a beacon on Malaysian history and guide future historians to tread in their illustrious footsteps.

An obituary notice on Dr Tregonning may be published in the upcoming JMBRAS issue. Meanwhile the Society welcomes any of its members, or indeed anybody at all, who have had the good fortune to be acquainted with the late Dr Tregonning to write in and supply us with anecdotes or recollections that will help celebrate his memory and his outstanding scholarship as historian.



   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 mighty empire 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 later.

The second part to our earlier featured article on "The Malacca Sultanate" features 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 and his 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 decline and spectacular downfall. Wilkinson's article illustrates the fate that awaits a major regional power 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.




Monograph 48: Perniagaan Haji dan Dokumentasi Sultan Kedah

  The Society's latest publication is Monograph No. 48: 'Perniagaan Haji di Pulau Pinang dan Dokumentasi Sultan Kedah', two joint winners of the Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard Memorial Prize for the best-written academic essays from Malaysian and Singaporean universities.

Both essays are written in Bahasa Malaysia. The first one describes the Haj trade in Penang between the 19th century and its decline in the 1970s. The second essay builds on earlier scholarly efforts to study the Royal Correspondence of Sultan Abdul Hamid of Kedah (1864-1943, r. 1882-1943) while attempting a socio-economic survey of Kedah under his reign. The volume has been deftly edited by MBRAS Council member Dato Prof Abu Talib Ahmad, who also introduces the subject matters to readers.

CLICK HERE for more details.

Edited and introduced by Abu Talib Ahmad
RM40, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only
For other postage options, please contact us for details.




Reprint 33: Glimpses of Penang's Past

  Latest in the series of MBRAS Reprints, Reprint No. 33: 'Glimpses of Penang's Past' offers a collection of 14 mostly rare pioneering studies of Penang's history, specially selected and painstakingly prepared for easy reference with present-day readers in mind. Reprint No. 33 has been made possible through the generous support extended by urban regeneration vehicle Think City.

Fourteen articles have been judiciously handpicked by scholars Loh Wei Leng and Badriyah Haji Salleh - both specialists to some extent on certain aspects of the island's history - from back issues of the JSBRAS and the JMBRAS, articles long unobtainable and mostly inaccessible to the general public. This engaging collection of mostly rare articles - many inexcusably overlooked and forgotten - have been made available to the public yet again in an attempt to provoke a fresh reinterpretation of Penang history and to supplement, wherever possible, existing gaps in current Penang historiography. The new MBRAS reprint is expected to fulfill the growing public appetite for historical material on Penang, particularly during its 170 years of eventful colonial occupation.

CLICK HERE for more details.

Selected and introduced by Loh Wei Leng and Badriyah Haji Salleh
RM35, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only
For other postage options, please contact us for details.

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