Chief Secretary, Singapore

Chief Secretary, Singapore
Style The Honourable
Residence Sri Temasek (1869–1959)
Appointer Governor of the Straits Settlements
Governor of Singapore
Precursor Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements
Colonial Secretary, Singapore
Formation 1867
First holder Colonel Ronald MacPherson
Final holder E. B. David
Abolished 1959

The Chief Secretary, Singapore, known as the Colonial Secretary, Singapore, before 1955, and the Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements, before 1946, was a high ranking government civil position in colonial Singapore (the Straits Settlements before 1946) between 1867 and 1959. It was second only to the Governor of Singapore (formerly the Governor of the Straits Settlements) in the colonial government.

The Straits Settlements, which mainly comprised Singapore, Penang and Malacca, became a crown colony in 1867. The position of the Colonial Secretary (CS) was subsequently created with a view to replacing the Resident Councillor in Singapore. During the Second World War, the position was vacant and suspended following the downfall of the Malay Peninsula into the hands of the Japanese invaders. In 1946, Singapore parted from Penang and Malacca, forming itself into a crown colony, so the jurisdiction of CS was reduced to Singapore only. The name "Colonial Secretary" was later changed to "Chief Secretary" in 1955 when the crown colony adopted the Rendel Constitution. Having been in existence for 92 years, the position was abolished in 1959 with the complete introduction of internal self-rule for Singapore.

Being the head of the CS's Office, the CS was an ex-officio member of both the Executive and Legislative Councils, and at the same time the head of the Colonial Secretariat from 1867 to 1955. When Singapore adopted its new constitution in 1955, although the Colonial Secretariat was abolished, the CS remained an ex-officio member of the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Assembly. The workplace of CS was located at Empress Place Building while Sri Temasek, which was next to the Government House (Istana), was the official residence of the CS.


Background of its creation

In the context of the British Empire's outward expansion, the British East India Company (EIC) had gradually started to extend their influence to the Malay Peninsula as early as the late eighteenth century. In February 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles, EIC's Bengkulu Governor took the lead by establishing a trading settlement in Singapore; he appointed Resident of Malacca William Faquhar as the first Resident and Commandant of Singapore to administer its trade affairs, marking the prelude to the colonial history of Singapore.[1] In 1826, the EIC established the Straits Settlements by centralising the administration of trading settlements in Singapore, Penang and Malacca for better efficiency.[2] After the formation of the Straits Settlements, the post of the Resident in Singapore was restructured as Resident Councillor, who continued to be Singapore's highest-ranking official;[1] The posts of Resident Councillor, Penang and Resident Councillor, Malacca were also created,[3][4] while a holder of the newly created Governor of the Straits Settlements would be stationed in Penang.[5]

Soon after, due to the rapid development of trade and the constant expansion of trading ports, the office of the Governor of the Straits Settlements was relocated from Penang to Singapore in 1832, thus replacing the Resident Councillor as the highest-ranking official in Singapore.[5] When the Straits Settlements was established in 1826, it was administered under India as its Presidency; it was later administered as a Residency from 1830 to 1851, when it was directly under the Governor of India. However, the ultimate control over the Straits Settlements remained under EIC's Board of Directors in London.[6]

The British Government took over the EIC's administrative powers over India in 1858 due to the Sepoy Mutiny and established direct rule in India. The Government of the Straits Settlements continued to be accountable to the Government of British India, while local Resident Councillors, originally employees of the EIC, were transited over to the colonial civil service.[5] In 1867, the Colonial Office of the British Government decided to directly administer the Straits Settlements as a crown colony,[7] with Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the last Resident Councillor of Singapore as the inaugural Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements.[8]

Straits Settlements

Nineteen people served as the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements from 1867 to 1942, excluding acting officials. Even though this position evolved from the post of Resident Councillor of Singapore, the nature of both differed. On one hand, the status of the Colonial Secretary was higher than that of the Resident Councillors in Penang and Malacca. On the other hand, the main duties of the Colonial Secretary was to oversee and coordinate administration, while that of the Resident Councillor of Singapore under the EIC's administration covered areas such as law enforcement, land use, vessels, postal services, custom affairs and municipal services.[9] Therefore, the newly created position was similar to the Secretary to the Government of British India as well as the colonial secretaries or chief secretaries in other British colonies in terms of its nature.[8] At that time, the Colonial Secretary was stationed in Singapore, the post was also known as the "Colonial Secretary of Singapore".[10]

In July 1896, the British Government formed the Federated Malay States (FMS), which comprised Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak and Pahang in the Malay Peninsula, with the Governor of the Straits Settlements concurrently as High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Malaya.[11] However, both the Governor and Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements were stationed in Singapore, so the Resident-General of the FMS (renamed Chief Secretary in 1911 and Federal Secretary in 1936) stationed in Kuala Lumpur was put in charge of the administration of the FMS.[11] The responsibilities of the Resident-General of the FMS and the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements did not overlap, but both were similar in nature; a resident was stationed in each of the states of the FMS, but the Resident-General of the FMS had to govern in his daily routine on behalf the High Commissioner. Hence, he held relatively more powers as compared with the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements.[12]

Flag of the Straits Settlements (1874–1942)
Flag of Singapore (1946–1959)

During Japan's invasion of Singapore in January 1942, the then-Colonial Secretary Stanley Jones was revoked from his position due to alleged ineffective defence coordination.[13] The position was taken over temporarily by FMS Federal Secretary Hugh Fraser, who retreated to Singapore.[14] Both Fraser and Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor of the Straits Settlements, stayed in Singapore until the last moment; they were imprisoned following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. The post of Colonial Secretary was vacant due to the fall of Singapore. Following the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945, the United Kingdom set up a provisional military government without restoring the post, so as to prepare for the dissolution of the Straits Settlements, in response to the post-war situation.

Evolution after World War II

Following the dissolution of the Straits Settlements, Singapore became a crown colony on 1 April 1946. Its Governor restored the civil government, while Penang and Malacca, previously part of the Straits Settlements, were incorporated into the newly formed Malayan Union.[7] In view of this, the post of the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was renamed Colonial Secretary of Singapore, with Sir Patrick McKerron as the first to hold this post.[15] After the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the post was renamed as Chief Secretary of Singapore, in response to the growing post-war self-governance movements in Singapore, and to the change in the functions and powers.[16]

In the 1950s, constitutional amendments were made several times in preparation for self-governance in Singapore. In June 1959, the State of Singapore was established according to constitutional arrangements; under British suzerainty, the Governor was replaced by the Yang di-Pertuan Negara while the position of Chief Secretary was abolished. E. B. David was the last person to hold this position in colonial Singapore.[17] Since then, Singapore's governing powers fell into the hands of the newly created Prime Minister of Singapore and his cabinet.[17] From 1946 to 1959, only four colonial officials held the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary in post-war Singapore.

Major responsibilities and powers

The Colonial Secretariat and the Colonial Secretary's Office (later Chief Secretary's Office) were located in the Empress Place Building.
The Chief Secretary was one of the three ex officio members of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore

The position of the Chief Secretary and Colonial Secretary of Singapore, as well as the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements, i.e. their predecessor, was the highest ranking position in the civil service during the colonial period. The status of a person holding this position was second only to that of the Governor of Singapore and the Governor of the Straits Settlements.[2] When the Governor was on leave or when its post was vacant, the Chief Secretary would usually be in charge of appointing an acting Governor. As the highest-ranking official second to the Governor, the Chief Secretary was the head of the Chief Secretary's Office (formerly the Colonial Secretary's Office)[18] and worked in the Empress Place Building, with other officials to assist him with his administration.[19] The Colonial Secretary, predecessor of the Chief Secretary, was also responsible of the Colonial Secretariat situated in the Empress Place Palace, but after the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the Secretariat was abolished following a reduction in the Chief Secretary's powers, while the Chief Secretary's Office continued to function.[20]

The Colonial Secretary had comparatively greater powers than the Chief Secretary. Similar to other British colonies, the Colonial Secretary was responsible of coordinating and overseeing the daily operation of government sectors and presided over the planning and enactment of important government policies. Besides Singapore, other places such as Penang, Malacca, Dinding and Labuan were also under the Colonial Secretary's jurisdiction during the Straits Settlements period; in addition, other than Singapore, these places also had their own Resident Councillor. On 1 April 1946, Singapore became a crown colony, reducing the Colonial Secretary's jurisdiction to only Singapore.[16] After the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the Chief Minister position, the Council of Ministers as well as Legislative Assembly were created and the ministers who were popularly elected took up responsibility in governing Singapore, thus significantly reducing the Chief Minister's powers.[16] Nevertheless, the Chief Secretary still controlled areas such as Singapore's foreign affairs, internal security, defence, broadcasting and public relations.[21]

The Colonial Secretary and Chief Secretary had long been important official positions in colonial Singapore; since the formation of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements in 1867, the Colonial Secretary was an ex officio member for both Councils. After World War II, both Councils were initially replaced by the Singapore Advisory Council in 1946; it was later officially restructured as the Executive and Legislative Councils of Singapore. The Colonial Secretary served in the Advisory Council as well as the Executive and Legislative Councils as an ex officio member in post-war Singapore.[7] In February 1955, a democratic election system was introduced, with the Executive Council being replaced by the Council of Ministers, while the Legislative Council was restructured to form the Legislative Assembly.[16] The Council of Ministers continued to be chaired by the Governor, while the Legislative Assembly was to be presided over by the Governor-appointed Speaker; The Colonial Secretary, together with the Attorney-General and the Financial Secretary continued to remain as ex officio members in both bodies, leaving them the only members who were concurrently colonial civil servants.[16] In 1959, the State of Singapore was established, while the Council of Ministers was replaced by the Cabinet; The Legislative Assembly continued to function and the Prime Minister of Singapore was to preside over the Cabinet, while the position of the Chief Secretary was abolished.[17]

The Colonial Secretary had the power to issue warrants to arrest and deport any persons suspected of endangering public order and social stability.[22] The Chinese community back then regarded the colonial Governor as the highest ranking "prince" ( wáng) under the British monarch, while the Colonial Secretary was viewed as a "prince" second to the Governor. Also, the word "warrant" was transliterated as "hua" ( huā). Therefore, the Chinese community termed warrants issued by the Colonial Secretary as the "Second Prince's Warrant" (二王花 Èr-wáng Huā).[22] Persons who were taken into custody and deported by the Colonial Secretary included Hau Say Hoan (侯西反), an anti-Japanese Chinese businessman who resided in Singapore for 38 years.[22] He was accused by Sir Alexander Small, the then-Colonial Secretary of being anti-British and engaging in dealings with illegal organisations to endanger public order in December 1939;[23] Small invoked the Expulsion Order and deported Hau, and prohibited him from re-entry.[24]

Career paths

In the colonial history of Singapore, the posts of Colonial Secretary and Chief Secretary were held by British colonial officials. Unlike Hong Kong, which is also a former British colony, no locals had ever been appointed as Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary. In the early days, most of the Colonial Secretaries had colonial military background or had previously served in other parts of the Straits Settlements or the Malay peninsula. In 1905, F. G. Penney became the first cadet to be appointed Colonial Secretary.[25] Since then, many Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries were cadets from the FMS or other parts of the Straits Settlements. Cadets were recruited from London by the Colonial Office through a systematic open recruitment test, and those who stand out were mainly outstanding graduates from top universities;[26] these Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries include Edward Brockman, Richard James Wilkinson, Sir Hayes Marriott, Sir Andrew Caldecott, Sir Alexander Small and E. B. David.[27][28][29][30]

In colonial Singapore, the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary provided opportunities for promotion in the colonial civil service: Cecil Clementi Smith and Sir Arthur Young later became Governors of the Straits Settlements; Sir William Goode later served as Singapore's last Governor;[31] John Douglas, Alexander Swettenham, Walter Egerton (acting), Richard James Wilkinson and Andrew Caldecott later became Governors in other British colonies.[10] There were also holders who retired after leaving office: F. G. Penney, Sir Hayes Marriott, Sir John Scott, Sir Alexander Small, Sir Patrick McKerron and W. L. Blythe.[32][33]

The longest serving holder of the post was Sir F. S. James; he served for eight years from 1916 to 1924.[34] The shortest serving was Edward Brockman; he held this appointment in 1911 but was transferred to serve as Chief Secretary of the FMS shortly after in the same year.[35] In addition, Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the inaugural Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was the only holder to have died in office.[8]

Sri Temasek, the official residence for Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries from 1869 to 1959
Cecil Clementi Smith
Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements
Sir Andrew Caldecott
Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements

Holders of the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary enjoyed remuneration and welfare similar to that of colonial secretaries or chief secretaries in other British colonies.[36] According to data in 1892, the annual salary of the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was $10,800 (Straits dollar), the second highest among colonial officials in British Malaya after the Governor; the third highest-paying was the Resident Councillor of Penang, with a salary of $9,600 per year, excluding bonuses.[36] The official residence of the Chief Secretary or Colonial Secretary was Sri Temasek, inaugurated in 1869, located within the grounds of the Government House. All holders of the position resided in Sri Temasek from 1869 to 1859.[37]

Holders to the post

Colonial Secretaries, Straits Settlements (1867–1942)

Note: The following table lists only the main acting Colonial Secretaries

Term of office
Colonel Ronald MacPherson[8] 1867–1869 (Died in office)
James W. W. Birch[38] 1870–1874
Thomas Braddell (acting)[39] 1874–1875
William Willans (acting)[40] 1875
Charles J. Irving (acting)[41] 1875–1876
John Douglas 1876–1878
Cecil Clementi Smith[42] 1878–1885
Sir F. Dickson[43] 1885–1891
A. P. Talbot (acting)[44] 1891–1892
William Edward Maxwell[45] 1892–1895
Alexander Swettenham[46] 1895–1899
Walter Egerton (acting)[47] 1899–1901
Sir William Thomas Taylor[48] 1901–1904
F. G. Penney[25] 1905–1906
Captain Sir Arthur Young[35] 1906–1911
Edward Brockman[35] 1911
Richard James Wilkinson[49] 1911–1916
Sir F. S. James[34] 1916–1924
George Hemmant (acting)[50] 1924
Edward Shaw Hose[51] 1924–1925
Sir Hayes Marriott[27] 1925–1928
George Hemmant (acting)[52] 1928–1929
Sir John Scott[32] 1929–1933
Sir Andrew Caldecott[28] 1933–1935
Sir Alexander Small[29] 1935–1940
Stanley Jones[14] 1940–1942
Hugh Fraser (acting)[14] 1942

Colonial Secretaries, Singapore (1946–1955)

Term of office
Sir Patrick McKerron[15] 1946–1950
Wilfred Lawson Blythe (9 November 1896 - 1975)[33] 1950–1953
William Goode[31] 1953–1955

Chief Secretaries of Singapore (1955–1959)

Term of office
Sir William Goode 1955–1957
E. B. David[30] 1958–1959

See also


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  2. 1 2 The Statesman's Year-Book 1941, page 182.
  3. "Penang", retrieved on 13 March 2012.
  4. "Malacca", retrieved on 13 March 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 Lepoer, 1989.
  6. "Straits Settlements", retrieved on 13 March 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 The Statesman's Year-Book 1955, page 245.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Sutherland, 16 September 2009.
  9. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 90.
  10. 1 2 "SWETTENHAM, Sir Alexander", 1996.
  11. 1 2 Andaya, page 183.
  12. Bertram, page 235.
  13. Lippman, 1998.
  14. 1 2 3 "Mr. S. W. Jones", 28 January 1942.
  15. 1 2 "McKERRON, Sir Patrick (Alexander Bruce)", 1996.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 The Statesman's Year-Book 1956, page 244.
  17. 1 2 3 The Statesman's Year-Book 1960, page 245.
  18. Sandhu and Wheatley, page 75.
  19. Omar, 5 April 2006.
  20. Quah, page 36.
  21. Quah, page 37.
  22. 1 2 3 Jin, page 59.
  23. Tan, page 115.
  24. "Expulsion of Hau Say Hoan", 30 December 1939.
  25. 1 2 Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 140.
  26. Allen, page 158.
  27. 1 2 "MARRIOTT, Sir Hayes", 1996.
  28. 1 2 "CALDECOTT, Sir Andrew", 1996.
  29. 1 2 "SMALL, Sir Alexander Sym", 1996.
  30. 1 2 "DAVID, Sir Edgeworth (Beresford)", 1996.
  31. 1 2 "GOODE, Sir William (Allmond Codrington)", 1996.
  32. 1 2 "SCOTT, Sir John", 1996.
  33. 1 2 "BLYTHE, Wilfred Lawson", 1996.
  34. 1 2 Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 145.
  35. 1 2 3 Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 141.
  36. 1 2 "On Promotion Bent.", 16 December 1891.
  37. Sutherland, 25 February 2011.
  38. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 100.
  39. Foster, page 528.
  40. "Legislative Council", page 2.
  41. The Straits Times, 22 May 1875, page 5.
  42. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 107.
  43. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 112.
  44. ""Government Gazette," 28th Augt.", 1 September 1891.
  45. "The New Colonial Secretary.", 16 February 1892.
  46. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 125.
  47. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 131.
  48. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 139.
  49. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 144.
  50. "Colonial Secretariat", 12 March 1924.
  51. "HOSE, Edward Shaw", 1996.
  52. "HEMMANT, George", 1996.



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External links

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