Walter John Napier

Singapore Infopedia


Walter John Napier (b. 10 July 1857, Alderly Lodge, Cheshire, England-d. 14 February 1945) was joint founder of the law firm Drew & Napier, and Attorney-General of the Straits Settlements from 1907 to 1909, during which he was responsible for introducing a new Civil Procedure Code. As a lawyer-academic, Napier played a key role in the publication of the Straits Settlements Law Reports in 1893 and was its first editor. In 1898, he published An Introduction to the Study of the Law Administered in the Colony of the Straits Settlements, which addressed the contentious issue of whether English law should take precedence over native law.1 In recognition of his services as Attorney–General and other contributions, Napier was bestowed a knighthood in 1909.2

Early life
Napier was born to the family of George W. Napier. He was educated at Rugby School and later apprenticed with a law firm in Manchester. Napier then broke his contract to study at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he took a first in Law. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1881, and practised as a barrister in Manchester from 1882 to 1888.3

Civic contributions
Napier came to Singapore in 1889. In March of the same year, he and Alfred Henry Drew founded the law firm Drew & Napier. In 1896, Napier was appointed acting Unofficial Member of the Legislative Council, and held the position until 1897. He was reappointed from 1900 to 1907 as a full Unofficial Member. During his term, Napier introduced two bills, namely the Married Women's Property Bill and the Partition Bill, both in 1902, which were later passed as ordinances. On 1 March 1907, he was appointed Attorney-General of the Straits Settlements and served in this position until 31 December 1909. As Attorney-General, Napier was instrumental in spearheading a new Code of Civil Procedure, and in preparing the Merchant Shipping Ordinance of 1910.4

Napier served as Secretary of the Straits Settlements Association from 1890. In March 1893, he drafted the vital memorandum of the association regarding the issue of military contributions.5 Napier was also a founding member of The Straits Philosophical Society. It was established on 5 March 1893 to engage in critical discussions on philosophy, theology, history, literature, science and art.6

Contributions to law publishing
Napier was the proponent and first editor of the Straits Settlements Law Reports first published in 1893. The journal became the pillar of law reporting in Singapore.7 In 1898, Napier published the highly regarded An Introduction to the Study of the Law Administered in the Colony of the Straits Settlements, which was submitted as his dissertation for a doctorate degree in Civil Law at Oxford University in 1900.8 He also contributed articles and papers about legal subjects regularly to the Straits Chinese Magazine.9

In 1880, Napier was initiated as a Freemason at the Apollo University Lodge in  Oxford. In 1892, he joined the Lodge of St George in Singapore and held various offices, including District Grand Treasurer, District Grand Senior Warden and President of the Board of General Purposes.  On 20 February 1903, Napier was installed as District Grand Master of the Eastern Archipelago, a position he held until 1910. He also founded the Napier Lodge in Teluk Anson on 29 November 1909, and became its Patron.10

In honour of his services, Napier was knighted on 9 March 1909, the same year in which he retired. He came out of retirement in 1912 to serve on the Colonial Office Committee on the Land Tenure of West African Colonies and Protectorates.11 

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. “Napier, Sir Walter John,” Gov. UK, n.d.; Thian Yee Sze, Chong Chin Chin and Sharon Lim, eds., In Session: Supreme Court Singapore: The Building, Her Heritage and Her People (Singapore: Supreme Court, 2002), 58 (Call no. RSING 347.5957035 IN); Lim Kuang Hui, ed., Installation of District Grand Master and Grand Superintendent, May 31, 2003 (Singapore: District of the Eastern Archipelago, United Grand Lodge of England, 2003), 75 (Call no. RSING 366.1095957 INS); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 232. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
2. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 9 November 1909, 6; “Sir W. J. Napier, Kt.” Straits Times, 9 November 1909, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 231.
4. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 231–33; Thian, Chong and Lim, eds., Her Heritage and Her People, 58.
5. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 232; “Untitled,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 13 May 1907, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 301–02.
7. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 232; Thian, Chong and Lim, eds., Her Heritage and Her People, 58.
8. Thian, Chong and Lim, eds., Her Heritage and Her People, 58.
9. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 232.
10. Lim, District Grand Master and Grand Superintendent, 75.
11. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 231–33;  “Untitled.”

The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

J. F. A. McNair


John Frederick Adolphus McNair (Major) (b. 23 October, 1828, Bath, England–d. 17 May 1910, Brighton, England), known as Frederick, was arguably Singapore’s most important architect of the latter 19th century. He oversaw the construction of St Andrew’s Cathedral, designed the former Empress Place Building (Asian Civilisations Museum) and Government House...

Fort Canning Park


Fort Canning Hill, previously known as Bukit Larangan and Government Hill, is 156 ft high and located at the junction of Canning Rise and Fort Canning Road. It has been a landmark since Singapore’s earliest recorded history. In the 14th century, it was likely the site of a palace whose...

Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery


The Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery was established to serve the burial needs of the Chinese community. Officially opened on 1 January 1922, it operated for more than half a century before its closure in 1973. The cemetery was previously a section of a 211-acre plot of land, belonging to the...

Chinese Commercial Bank


The Chinese Commercial Bank (????) was founded in 1912 by Lim Peng Siang, a Hokkien businessman who established the Ho Hong group of companies. Set up by the Hokkien business community, the Chinese Commercial Bank had many leading figures involved in the establishment – such as Yin Suat Chwan, Yeo...

Charles Burton Buckley


Charles Burton Buckley (b. 30 January 1844, London, England–d. 22 May 1912, London, England) was a prominent resident in colonial Singapore, and had close links with the state of Johor. Buckley revived The Singapore Free Press newspaper after purchasing it in 1884, and wrote An Anecdotal History of Old Times...

Ladies Lawn Tennis Club


The Ladies Lawn Tennis Club in Singapore was established in 1884. The club gained popularity soon after it was formed, but membership started falling by the 1920s and it was eventually closed in 1932. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) took over the club’s grounds in Dhoby Ghaut in 1933....

Singapore Green Plan


The Singapore Green Plan (SGP) is Singapore's first environmental blueprint. Released in 1992 by the then Ministry of the Environment (now known as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources or MEWR), its objective is to ensure that Singapore could develop an economic growth model that does not compromise...

Straits Settlements


The Straits Settlements, comprising Penang, Malacca and Singapore, was an administrative unit of the East India Company (1826–1867) and later the British Colonial Office (1867–1946). It was formed in 1826 as a presidency under the administration of the East India Company in India. The Cocos-Keeling Islands, Christmas Island and Labuan...

Richard James Wilkinson


Richard James Wilkinson (b. 29 May 1867, Salonika, Greece–d. 5 December 1941, Izmir, Turkey) was a colonial administrator and scholar. In addition to being the schools inspector for the Federated Malay States (FMS) and the colonial secretary, Wilkinson was also remembered for writing the classic Malay-English dictionary and his contributions...

Revere Bell


The Revere Bell was presented to St Andrew’s Church in 1843 by Maria Revere Balestier, wife of Joseph Balestier, the first American consul to Singapore. The bell now resides in the Singapore History Gallery of the National Museum of Singapore....