Charles Burton Buckley

Singapore Infopedia

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia


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 in Singapore, an account of the history of early Singapore.1 Buckley Road, near Newton Circus, was named after him.2

Early life
Buckley came from a family of 10 children. He was educated at Winchester College, and suffered from poor health after leaving school. A family friend of the Buckleys’, William Henry Read suggested that Buckley come to Singapore to recuperate in a warmer climate and offered to give the young Buckley a job at his firm, A. L. Johnston & Company.3

Buckley arrived in Singapore in 1864 at the age of 20, and began working for A. L. Johnston & Company. In 1875, he left to work at the Chendras Gold Mine near Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang) in Johor but soon returned to Singapore to study law and worked as an assistant to Attorney-General Thomas Braddell. Buckley then went on to become a partner of Rodyk and Davidson, a law firm established in 1877. When Rodyk and Davidson were retained as solicitors by the sultans of Johor, Buckley became the confidential adviser to Sultan Abu Bakar and subsequently his successor, Sultan Ibrahim. In 1899, Buckley became a member of the Johore State Council. After Buckley retired from Rodyk and Davidson in 1904, he was appointed as the honorary financial and general adviser to the Johor government.4

The Singapore Free Press
In 1884, Buckley acquired The Singapore Free Press, which had been Singapore’s leading newspaper until it ceased publication in 1869. Despite the fact that the newspaper business was deemed not profitable due to the small English-speaking community, Buckley decided to revive the paper. He started a history column in the newspaper, publishing materials from past issues of the Free Press, some written by Abraham Logan, as well as articles by Braddell and Buckley himself. The weekly newspaper was well received, and the history column generated great interest. In 1887, Buckley converted the Free Press into a daily newspaper and expanded the history column.5

For over two decades Buckley collected articles published in the Free Press as well as other resources pertaining to sketches and observations of early Singapore. In 1902, the fruit of his labour, the two-volume An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, was published by Fraser & NeaveAn Anecdotal History provided a chronicle of Singapore’s early years, from its founding by the East India Company in 1819 up to 1867 when it became a crown colony under the Colonial Office in London.6 The book, however, was criticised by the naturalist Carl Gibson-Hill for its lack of accuracy and poor research.7

Social and public life
Buckley had keen interests in acting, music and cricket. He performed in many amateur theatricals and concerts, and was also a talented stage manager. When the Amateur Musical Society in Singapore was formed in 1865, Buckley gave a solo performance at its opening concert at the Town Hall. He joined the society’s committee in 1867 and sang for many of its productions. Like many other European residents in the colony, Buckley was a cricket enthusiast, and frequently went to the field after work.He was also remembered as the owner of Singapore’s first motorcar, a 4.5-horsepower Benz Victoria that he nicknamed “The Coffee Machine”.9

Charitable work
Buckley was passionate about children’s charity, organising many events for them, such as plays. He was known for holding annual Christmas parties for children. Some of these parties were attended by as many as 1,000 children.10

Later years
Buckley officially stepped down as adviser to the Johor government in at the start of 1910, but continued to maintain close links with the Johor royal family. In March 1912, he travelled to England with Tunku Ismail, the eldest son of Sultan Ibrahim. During the trip, Buckley fell ill and shortly thereafter died on 22 May 1912 in London. Following his death, a memorial committee comprising the young people and others associated with Buckley’s annual children’s Christmas parties organised a portrait of Buckley to be commissioned, and this was hung at the Victoria Memorial Hall.11


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. C. M. Turnbull, “Introduction,” in Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819–1867 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), v–x. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])

2. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 48–49 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]) “One Map,” Singapore Land Authority, n.d.,
3. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert Edward Brooke and Roland St. John Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2. (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 453–54 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “Death of C. B. Buckley,” Straits Times, 23 May 1912, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Turnbull, “Introduction,” vi–vii.
5. Turnbull, “Introduction,” v–x.
6. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819–1867, vol. 1. (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1902), v. (From BookSG)
7. C. A. Gibson-Hill, “Review of An Anecdotal History of Olden Times in Singapore,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 27, no.1 (165) (May 1954): 235–243. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
8. Turnbull, “Introduction,” vi.
9 Chan Kwok B and Tong Chee Kiong, eds., Past Times: A Social History of Singapore (Singapore: Times Editions, 2003), 115–16. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PAS-[HIS])
10. “The Late Mr Charles Burton Buckley,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 May 1912, 342. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Death of C. B. Buckley”; “The Late Mr Buckley,” Straits Times, 25 September 1912, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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

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...

Boon Tat Street


Boon Tat Street is a one-way street located in the Central Business District (CBD). It connects Amoy Street to the junction of Shenton Way and Raffles Quay. The street was named in 1945 after Ong Boon Tat (b. 1888–d. 1941), a Singapore-born businessman and former Municipal Commissioner. ...

Keppel Road


Keppel Road is located in the Tanjong Pagar sub-zone of the Bukit Merah Planning Area within Singapore’s Central Region. The road was developed through the reclamation of mangrove swamps and mudflats that stretched from Tanjong Pagar to Telok Blangah, and was named after Captain (and later Admiral) Henry Keppel (1809–1904)....

Alexander Laurie Johnston


Alexander Laurie Johnston (b. Dumfriesshire, South Scotland–d. 19 February 1850, Bluehill, Kircudbright, Scotland), a former ship’s owner/captain, merchant, businessman, magistrate and Justice of the Peace, arrived in Singapore between 1819 and 1820. One of the earliest and much-liked settlers, he was among the first magistrates appointed by Sir Stamford Raffles....

Raffles' Bust


Raffles' Bust, a marble portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles, was originally designed and cast by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey in 1817. The original was believed to have been destroyed with the sinking of the ship, the Fame in 1824. Copies were however made for the London Zoological Society and the...

Cross Street


Cross Street is a one-way street that begins from Raffles Quay. The street becomes Upper Cross Street after meeting South Bridge Road and ends at Havelock Road. Cross Street intersects with several historic streets in Singapore, such as Telok Ayer Street, Amoy Street, China Street, South Bridge Road, New Bridge...

Mount Sophia


One of the few remaining hills in Singapore, Mount Sophia, located in the Rochor area in the Central Region was an important inner city residential district for the middle and upper classes at the turn of the 19th century. Early residents included William Flint, who was appointed by Stamford Raffles...

Singapore Institution Library (1837–1844)


The Singapore Institution Library grew from a vision, by Sir Stamford Raffles, for an educated Singapore. Upon the founding of Singapore, one of Raffles’s early initiatives was the setting up of an institution of learning and along with it, the means to collect and preserve the treasures of the region....

Coleman Street


Coleman Street stretches from Armenian Street to St Andrew’s Road. It was named after George D. Coleman, the first architect in Singapore, who was also overseer of convict labour, superintendent of public works and topographical surveyor. In 1829, Coleman built his personal residence at 3 Coleman Street, which was later...

Sailors' Home


The Sailors’ Home in Singapore was a seamen’s lodging from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. It became well known because novelist Joseph Conrad described his stay there in his novels, The Shadow-Line, The End of the Tether and Lord Jim. The home was established on High Street in 1851....