Straits Settlements Association

Singapore Infopedia


The Straits Settlements Association was founded in London by a group of ex-Straits Settlements residents on 31 January 1868.1 The association, which mainly comprised members from the mercantile community, aimed to safeguard the commercial and political interests of the Straits Settlements through representations to the British government. John Crawfurd was appointed the association’s first president. Local branches were formed in Singapore and Penang on 20 March and 28 April 1868 respectively.2 It yielded considerable power over public policy, and was involved in accelerating constitutional reforms in the Straits Settlements.3
Criticism of the colonial administration
In April 1869, the Straits Settlements Association in London submitted a memorandum to the Colonial Office criticising the poor state of colonial administration in Singapore. The association argued that the legislative council was ineffective and acquiescent to the will of the then governor of the Straits Settlements, Harry St George Ord. The strong rebuke led to heated exchanges with the governor, as well as public protests organised by William H. Read, who was both chairman of the association’s Singapore branch and a senior unofficial member of the legislative council.4
Debate on military contribution
The mounting threat from Russia sparked debates on Singapore’s military defences during the 1880s. In 1885, the association petitioned to the Colonial Office in London for the strengthening of defences in the Straits of Malacca. Although the British government had constructed fortifications for the port area, they were unwilling to build defences for the town, which led to a public outcry in the legislative council. Then in 1890, the Colonial Office demanded £60,000 from the Straits Settlements to build new barracks and other military installations.5 It also proposed to double the Straits Settlements’ annual military contribution to £100,000. The revised contribution drew strong objections from non-officials of the legislative council.6 The Straits Settlements Association’s Singapore and London offices held meetings of protest and submitted memoranda to the Colonial Office. After years of debate, the dispute was resolved in 1896 by pegging the military contribution to 20 percent of the colony’s revenue.7
Association of British Malaya
By 1920, British interests in Malaya had extended beyond the scope of the Straits Settlements Association.8 It was decided that the association’s London branch would be dissolved. In its place, therefore, the Association of British Malaya was formed in 1920 to represent planting, mining and commercial interests in the Malay States.9 The Singapore branch of the Straits Settlements Association, however, remained as an independent body that lobbied for the interests of the Straits Settlements.10
Despite the differing objectives of the Association of British Malaya and the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association, both groups came together and successfully opposed the Straits Settlements Income Tax Ordinance introduced in 1921 by then Governor Laurence Guillemard.11
Constitutional reform
In 1920, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association put forward recommendations for changes to the constitution of the legislative council. A referendum taken by the association showed that members wanted an increase in the number of non-officials on the council, retention of official majority, election of non-officials and nominations for representatives from all racial groups.12 Guillemard subsequently appointed a select committee to consider reforms to the constitution of the legislative council. Although the association’s recommendations were not accepted, Guillemard introduced some changes to the constitution in 1924.13

In 1930, the association submitted a proposal for further changes including equality for officials and non-officials in the executive council, and the election of unofficial legislative councillors by British subjects of all races. However, the proposal saw little support.14
Later developments
By 1927, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association had grown to have over 700 members and it was fast becoming the most influential non-government body in the Straits Settlements. The importance of the association as a non-government political advocacy group, however, was eventually overtaken by the Straits Chinese British Association.15
After World War II, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association was succeeded by the Singapore Association.16

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. E. Kay Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power (Singapore: Talisman, 2005), 49 (Call no. RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS]); K. Mulliner and Lian The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore (N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 143 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])
2. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 49; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 297–98. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
3. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 49.
4. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 80. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
5. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 120.
6. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 51; Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 120.
7. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 53; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred years of Singapore, 400, 402. 
8. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 53.
9. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 153.
10. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 54; “Association of British Malaya,” Straits Times, 19 November 1920, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 150, 153.
12. Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 54.
13. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 152.
14. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 153.
15. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 153; Gillis, Singapore Civil Society and British Power, 88.
16. Mulliner and The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore, 144; “Singapore Association,” Morning Tribune, 29 July 1946, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 242, 304, 334, 522. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])

Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association, Council Reform: Recommendations and Views (Singapore: Malaya Tribune Press, 1931). (Call no. RRARE 328.595707 COU; microfilm NL11927)

The information in this article is valid as at April 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.

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