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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

5 British Authors Who Wrote and Lived in Malaysia

Malaysian historian Dennis De Witt looks back at the country’s recent history, and discovers a number of British writers who spilled plenty of ink telling their stories of colonial Malaya, offering a different perspective on an evolving country.
British Malaya refers to the states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries.
Under British rule, Malaya became one of the most profitable territories of the Empire, being the world’s largest producer of tin and later rubber. To manage its commerce and administer its colony, British citizens were recruited and stationed in various parts in Malaya.
During the time when these British civil servants were stationed in British Malaya, many of them became fascinated with the local history, as well as its culture and heritage. They conducted research into the rich and unique culture and learnt about the colourful past of the land.
The outcome of their fascination took the form of publications about their experiences and about the legends, folktales, local communities, translation of ancient manuscripts, its geography, history, the traditions of its people, and the natural habitat.
However, when the British authors wrote and published their books, they never had the Malaysian audience in mind. As a matter of fact, their target audience were made up of a small group of fellow British citizens who had newly arrived in colonial Malaya but it was mostly for those who were back in the United Kingdom.
Their books were filled with tales of wonderment, showcasing a wild and exotic land ruled by Sultans, populated by unfamiliar Asians and covered by virgin jungles that were ready to be exploited for rich mining and plantations. Their intended purpose was to entice the British general public to sign up with the British Foreign Service to be transferred to one of the Empire’s faraway colonies.
Today, the works of the British authors are considered valuable sources to understand the history of Malaysia during British times. We cherish their dedication to tell us about our past and their eloquence in their writings to paint a comprehensive portrait of how things were during their time. Their books have become collectibles and there are more Malaysians who have begun purchasing these books to bring them back to Malaysia for the benefit of its future generations of Malaysians.
From the long list of British Malaysian authors, the following five persons require special mention for their invaluable contribution from their publications. They are: Sir Hugh Clifford, Sir Frank Swettenham, C. A. Gibson-Hill, Mubin C. ff Sheppard, and John Michael Gullick.

1. Sir Hugh Charles Clifford (1866–1941)

Sir Hugh was a colonial governor and author, was born in London on 5 March 1866, the eldest son of Major-General Sir Henry Hugh Clifford and grandson of the seventh Baron Clifford of Chudleigh. Clifford first came to Malaya in 1883 at the suggestion of his father’s cousin, Sir Frederick Weld, then Governor of the Straits Settlement. Clifford was 17 years old and served as a cadet in Perak.
Clifford socialised with the local Malays and studied their language and culture deeply. Later in Pahang, he even served as an interpreter for Weld. Clifford eventually served as the Resident at Pahang and was Governor of North Borneo.
Clifford had become fluent in Malay, recorded his observations, and assiduously collected data on indigenous peoples. He presented papers to learned societies, such as the Royal Geographical Society. His best-known book is Bushwhacking and other Sketches (published in 1901).

2. Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, GCMG, CH (28th March 1850 – 11th June 1946)

by Bassano, whole-plate glass negative, 16 March 1925
Sir Frank succeeded James Wheeler Woodford Birch as the British Resident of Perak and he was in office from 5th November 1875 to March 1876. He returned to Perak and succeeded Sir Hugh Low as the 5th British Resident of Perak and held the office from 1st June 1889 to 30 June 1896. He was the only person who became the British Resident of Perak twice.
He subsequently served as the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States from 1896 to 1901.
A number of places and roads in Penang and Singapore were named after him, including Swettenham Pier in Penang and Swettenham Road (near the Botanic Gardens) in Singapore. Malay Sketches (published in 1895) was his best-known publication.

3. Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill (23 October 1911 – 18 August 1963)

Carl Alexander was a British medical doctor, naturalist, ornithologist, and the curator of Singapore’s Raffles Museum. His main interest, area of expertise and legacy of published knowledge was the natural, geographical, and cultural history of Malaya.
Gibson-Hill and his wife Margaret came to Malaya toward the end of 1941 where she had a position at the Alor Star General Hospital while Gibson-Hill served in Singapore’s Health Department as a Health Officer for the rural areas. He arrived in Singapore only four days before Singapore’s fall to Japan. The Director of the Raffles Museum then had escaped the country but perished at sea after his ship was sunk by enemy forces. While Margaret managed to escape Malaya, Gibson-Hill had remained in Singapore. He was made Assistant Curator of the Museum in the absence of the other curators, but was soon interned at the Changi gaol with the rest of the British staff.
In 1956, Gibson-Hill was made Director of the Raffles Museum. He died at his home in Singapore shortly before he was due to retire as Director of the Raffles Museum. Gibson-Hill was a skilled sketcher and photographer, talents he used to illustrate his many publications.

4. Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Hj. Abdul Mubin (Mervyn) Cecil ffranck Sheppard (or just M.C.ff. Sheppard), PSM, JMN, PPT, CMG, MBE, OStJ, ED (died 11 September 1994)

Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard
Mervyn was a historian of Malaysian culture and heritage.
Mubin Sheppard was born in Ireland in 1905. In 1927 he sat for the Malayan Civil Service (MCS) Competitive Examination in London, and arrived in Malaya in 1928 to serve with the MCS till 1963.
He served as a Company Commander in the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (FMSVF) from 1941-1942. During the Second World War he became a Prisoner of War. He retired as a Major in the FMSVF in 1945. He was the fi rst Director of the National Archives of Malaysia and served from 1957 to 1962.

5. John Michael Gullick, born in Bristol on 6th February 1916

a history of kl 1856-1939
John Michael had careers in the colonial service, business and law He was the last in a remarkable line of Malayan scholar-administrators.
In 1945, he served at the Civil Affairs Staff Training Centre in Wimbledon as an instructor to those preparing for the re-occupation of Malaya. He was part of Operation Zipper, which was made up of a 100,000-strong invasion force that landed on Morib Beach, Selangor.
During the six months of British Military Administration (BMA) in Malaya, Lieutenant-Colonel Gullick was the second most senior civil affairs officer in the west coast Malay state of Negri Sembilan.
By the time civil government was restored to Malaya on 1st April 1946, his outstanding abilities as an administrator were widely recognised and he was transferred to the Malayan Civil Service. He was posted to Seremban as state secretary of Negri Sembilan. With the inauguration of the Federation of Malaya, he was appointed to the secretariat in Kuala Lumpur. Gullick was a scholar renowned for his socio-anthropological approach to the study of Malaysian history.
In August 1956, with the independence of Malaya only 12 months away, Gullick returned home to Britain and eventually served with Guthries. By the 1990s, Gullick had published over 14 books and although when he was well into his 90s, he continued to publish pieces in scholarly journals and works of reference. Gullick died at his home in Woodford Green, Essex, on 8th April 2012.
Although largely forgotten in their own country, these scholar-administrators are still well regarded by Malaysians for their many contributions as British Malaysiana authors.

Read This: A Book Review on Still Honking: More Scenes from Malaysian Life

Source: The Expat magazine July 2015

5 British Authors Who Wrote and Lived in Malaysia:

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I have traveled far and wide and lived in South Africa, the UK and Malaysia. 

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