David Saul Marshall

Singapore Infopedia


David Saul Marshall (b. 12 March 1908, Singapore–d. 12 December 1995, Singapore),1 Singapore’s first elected chief minister from 6 April 1955 to 7 June 1956, was a diplomat, top-notch criminal lawyer, leader of the Labour Front and founder of the Workers’ Party.2 The bushy-browed politician with his trademark pipe was well-known for his great oratorical skill and stirring speeches made under the “apple tree” at Fullerton Square. He was also known for his clashes with the People’s Action Party (PAP) and its leader, Lee Kuan Yew.3 Marshall served as Singapore’s first ambassador to France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland between 1978 and 1993 at the invitation of former Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam.4

Early life
Marshall was the eldest son of seven children. His father was Saul Nassim Mashal, whose name was anglicised to Marshall. Marshall had had a strict Orthodox 
Jewish upbringing, observing all Jewish ceremonies and rituals.He studied at a number of schools in Singapore, including Raffles Institution where his circle of friends included Benjamin Sheares and George Oehlers, who became Singapore’s second president and first Speaker of Singapore’s Legislative Assembly respectively.

Marshall was afflicted with poor health as a young adolescent and suffered from malaria and, later, tuberculosis. His dream of obtaining the Queen’s Scholarship to pursue a medical degree was thwarted when he collapsed before the examination. Instead, he went to Belgium to study textile manufacturing. Upon his return, he joined a Straits company as a textile representative and later worked as a salesman and French language teacher. He was in his late 20s when he decided to pursue a law career in London.7

With the impending Japanese invasion of Singapore, Marshall arranged for his family to leave Singapore, while he remained.8 He joined the Singapore Volunteers Corps B company. During the war, he was stationed in the southern area of the island under the command of Major-General Keith Simmons. Marshall was captured in February 1942, interned in Changi Prison and later sent to a forced labour camp in Hokkaido, Japan. He was moved to several prisoner-of-war (POW) camps, and made an impression on his fellow prisoners for frequently standing up to the Japanese on their behalves.9

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Marshall went to Australia, where his father and brothers were. In 1946, he returned to Singapore and re-joined the law firm Allen and Gledhill.10

Legal career
Marshall was a lawyer for 41 years and gained a reputation, particularly during the 1950s, as a sensational and brilliant criminal lawyer.11

Upon the completion of his law degree in London and subsequent return to Singapore, Marshall joined the firm Aitken and Ong Siang, and later Allen and Gledhill. He resigned from the latter in January 1950 to pursue his dream of studying medicine again. He subsequently abandoned the idea and joined the law firm Battenberg and Talma instead.12 His involvement in politics left him no time to practise law and he left the firm in March 1955, returning soon after his resignation as chief minister in 1956.13 Upon his retirement as an ambassador in 1992, he joined Drew & Napier as its consultant.14

Marshall was an outspoken lawyer and took a public stand on various legal issues. He vehemently opposed the abolition of trial by jury and capital punishment.15 Coincidentally, he was the defence counsel in the first no-jury trial case in Singapore. In April 1970, he was appointed as a permanent member of the Presidential Council, but resigned on 23 November 1970.16

One blemish on Marshall’s legal career was a six-month suspension in October 1972, after he was found guilty of circulating affidavits. He was then representing newspaper executives from Nanyang Siang Pau who had been detained under the Internal Security Act and undergoing habeas corpus court proceedings.17

Political career
Before Marshall became a household name in Singapore politics, he was actively involved in the founding and running of many societies and organisations fighting for one cause or another. He became the first elected president of the Jewish Welfare Board on 27 June 1946 and remained its president for the next six years. He formed and became honorary secretary of the Singapore War Prisoners’ Association, which fought, among other things, for better compensation for former POWs.18 He was a member of the Singapore Rate Payers Association, arguing against rent control and seeking to lower light, gas and water dues.19 To find an avenue to raise municipal matters, he joined the Singapore Association in 1947.20

David Marshall joined the Singapore Progressive Party in 1949, but resigned in 1952 due to differences of opinion with party president C. C. Tan. In 1954, he led the Singapore Socialist Party, which later entered into an alliance with the Singapore Labour Party to form the Labour Front, with Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas as his party colleagues. Marshall became the first chief minister of Singapore when the Labour Front formed the coalition government after the first Legislative Assembly election in 1955.21

During his short tenure of 14 months as chief minister, Marshall had to deal with incidents of civil unrest, including strikes, student demonstrations, and riots such as the Hock Lee bus strike and riot.22 The mass rally he organised to welcome the British parliamentary delegation in March 1956 was used by pro-communist members to stage a riot and discredit Marshall’s leadership. But Marshall continued his efforts to win self-government for Singapore and led an all-party delegation to London from 23 April to 15 May 1956. The talks broke down, because of differences between parties in the delegation, the inability of the delegation and the British to agree on key issues, and Marshall’s unwillingness to compromise on these issues.23 Marshall resigned and stepped down as chief minister on 7 June 1956, having failed to obtain self-governance for Singapore.24

Marshall continued to be active in politics as a backbencher. After failing to get the expected left-wing support in the April 1957 by-election against Lee Kuan Yew, he resigned from the Legislative Assembly.25 He founded the Workers’ Party (WP) on 7 November 1957 and won the Anson by-election on 15 July 1961.26 However, played out by his own party members, Marshall resigned from the WP in January 1963. He ran again in Anson as an independent candidate but lost by a great margin, the event convincing him it was time to withdraw completely from politics. He later declined J. B. Jeyaretnam’s request in 1968 to rejoin the WP.27

Many of the policies and ideas that Marshall introduced before and during his time as chief minister were later expanded on and implemented by the PAP government.28 He inspired the meet-the-people sessions.29 During his tenure as chief minister, the All-party Report on Education Policy and a white paper on education policy were published. These proposed many revolutionary ideas, such as multilingualism and an emphasis on learning English, which forms the basis of Singapore’s present education system.30

Marshall also advocated the use of three official languages in the Legislative Council to accommodate greater and more diverse participation in the affairs of the country; this was implemented by Lim Yew Hock’s government in 1958. Marshall proposed a scheme to resolve the citizenship issue for 220,000 China-born Chinese, setting the tone for future Singapore citizenship schemes. He appointed B. R. Sreenivasan to head the Malayanisation Commission committee to look into appointing locals in the civil service. Sreenivasan’s recommendations were included in the White Paper on Malayanisation passed by the assembly in 1956.31

Marshall was instrumental in passing the Labour Ordinance towards the end of 1955, which brought an end to long work shifts. When he was in the Progressive Party, Marshall was interested in the idea of a provident fund and even paid a lawyer to get some advice on this. When he came into office, the Central Provident Fund Ordinance of 1953 was amended, exempting contribution from employees earning less than $200. He also established an elected City Council, which replaced the Rural Board; in this, he saw the opportunity to educate the populace on democracy to train future legislators.32

In June 1956, Marshall spent two months in China as a guest of the Foreign Relations Institute of China, as well as to lead a trade mission.33 The letters he wrote to his brother during that period were later published by the Singapore Heritage Society as Letters from Mao’s China. They contain valuable insights on communist China.34

Marshall passed away on 12 December 1995 at the age of 87, after a year-long battle with lung cancer.35 In recognition of his exemplary service as a lawyer, he was appointed as an Honorary Member and Fellow of the Academy of Law in 1992, and the David Marshall Professorship in Law was set up in 1995.36 In 2007, the 
Singapore Management University’s School of Law introduced the David Marshall Prize for the top student in criminal law. The prize was established in perpetuity with a S$50,000 endowed donation by several members of the Jewish community in Singapore.37 Marshall’s family later donated a bust of David Marshall to the university, which was placed in their moot court.38

Kindergarten of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street and St Joseph’s Institution.39 

1919–23: St Andrew’s School, Singapore.
1923–25: Raffles Institution. 
1937: LLB (University of London) and barrister-at-law (Middle Temple, Britain).40
 Singapore Progressive Party. 

1954: President, Singapore Socialist Party.41
1955–57: Member, and soon after, leader, Labour Front. 
6 Apr 1955–7 Jun 1956: Chief minister.42
23 Apr–15 May 1956: Leads all-party delegation to London. 
7 Nov 1957–19 Jan 1963: Chairman, Workers’ Party.43
15 Jul 1961: Wins a seat in the Anson by-election.44
1961–63: Member, Singapore Legislative Assembly.45
1963: Runs unsuccessfully as an independent in Anson.46
Apr–23 Nov 1970: Member, Presidential Council. 
Oct 1978: Singapore’s ambassador to France.47
1981: Singapore’s ambassador to Portugal / Singapore’s ambassador to Spain.
1991: Singapore’s ambassador to Switzerland.48
Oct 1993: Consultant, Drew & Napier.49

Other offices
President, United Nations Association of Singapore.50

May 1969–Nov 1974: Chairman, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.51 
1946–52, 1967, 1969–70: President, Jewish Welfare Board (formerly Jewish Welfare Association)52
1993: Chairman, Jewish Charities Trust, Singapore.53
1972: President, Singapore Mercantile Co-op Thrift and Loan Society.54

1965: Dato Jurnia Johan Pahlawan, conferred by the sultan of Pahang.55
1978: Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, France.56

Father: Saul Nassim Mashal, a Sherpadi Jew from Baghdad, was a former dealer in dyed cloth from Mesopotamia, and later a trader in dates and a property broker.57
Mother: Flora Ezekiel Mashal, a highly religious woman who brought up her children strictly observing Sabbath and Jewish rituals and festivities.58
Wife: Jean Mary Gray, a social work lecturer (m. April 1961).59
Son: Jonathan Mark. 
Daughters: Ruth Ann, Sarah Farha and Joanna Tamar.60

David Marshall, Letters from Mao’s China, ed. Michael Leifer (Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 1996). (Call no. RSING 951.05 MAR)

David Marshall, Singapore’s Struggle for Nationhood 1945–59 (Singapore: University Education Press, 1971). (Call no. RSEA 959. 57024 MAR-[HIS])

David Marshall, Facets of the Accusatorial Inquisitorial systems, the ninth Braddell Memorial Lecture, 1978 (Singapore: Malayan Law Journal, 1979). (Call no. RSING 345.05 MAR)

Sitragandi Arunasalam

1. Susan Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore a Legend in His Life-Time,” Straits Times, 13 December 1995, 27; Chua Mui Hoong, “David Marshall, 87, Dies of Cancer,” Straits Times, 13 December 1995, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Kevin Y. L. Tan, Marshall of Singapore: A Biography (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008), 1. (Call no. RSING 959.5705092 TAN-[HIS])
2. Chan Heng Chee, A Sensation of Independence: David Marshall, A Political Biography (Singapore: Times Books International, 2001), 1, 82 (Call no. RSING 324.2092 CHA); “Marshall’s Famous Cases,” Straits Times, 5 October 1993, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Marshalling His People,” in Singapore Days of Old: A Special Commemorative History of Singapore Published on the 10th Anniversary of Singapore Tatler (Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine, 1992), 78. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
3. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 266; Paul H. Kratoska, ed., South East Asia: Colonial History, vol. 5 (New York: Routledge, 2001), 260 (Call no. RSING 959 SOU); Chua, “David Marshall, 87, Dies of Cancer”; “The Lion in Winter,” Business Times, 14 December 1995, 13; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
4. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 2; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; “Vintage Marshall,” Business Times, 14 December 1995, 13. (From m NewspaperSG)
5. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 18–20; Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996), 69–70 (Call no. RSING 920.05957 CHE); Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 13–14; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
6. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 23–26; Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2006), 388, 472. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
7. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 24, 28–30; Ian Mok-Ai, An Idealist with a Driving Force,” Singapore Free Press, 21 October 1960, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 44, 51, 53.
8. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 43; Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 71.
9. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 41–42, 48–49, 51–52; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
10. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 53, 60; Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 69.
11. “Marshall’s Famous Cases”; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; “Marshalling His People,” 78.
12. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 39, 42, 60, 70–71; Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 191.
13. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 197, 427.
14. Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; Anna Teo, “One of the Most Remarkable Men S’pore Produced,” Business Times, 13 December 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 266–67; “Death Sentence Should Go, Says Marshall,” Straits Times, 21 April 1960, 14; William Campbell, “Singapore Lawyers Oppose Move to End System of Trial By Jury,” Straits Times, 16 December 1968, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 266–69; “Why I Quit – Marshall,” Singapore Herald, 24 November 1970, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
17. T. F. Hwang, “Marshall: Court Action,” Straits Times, 4 October 1972, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; T. F. Hwang, “Marshall Suspended,” Straits Times, 8 October 1972, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 62–63, 65.
19. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 67, 72–73; Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 72.
20. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 67.
21. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 68, 75, 81, 91–92, 97–98; “Marshall Ministry Named,” Indian Daily Mail, 7 April 1955, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 115–19, 121–24, 196; K. Mulliner and Lian The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 103. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS])
23. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 179–81, 183–84, 188, 190–91; Kratoska, South East Asia, 270, 273.
24. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 196; Ernest C.T. Chew and Edwin Lee, eds., A History of Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1996), 136 (Call no. RSING 959.57 HIS-[HIS]); Chua, “David Marshall, 87, Dies of Cancer”; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
25. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 196, 231–32, 240–41; “Marshalling His People,” 80; S. Raja Ratnam, “The By-Elections That Attracted Red-Herrings,”  Straits Times, 27 June 1957, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 243, 254; Mulliner and The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore, 160; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 409.
27. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 263, 269–70; “Mr. M and Mr. Chua: ‘Row Personal’,” Straits Times, 21 January 1963, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
28. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 280.
29. “Marshalling His People,” 79; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
30. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 151–53; Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; Multi-Linguism,” Singapore Standard, 28 April 1955, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Marshalling His People,” 79.
31. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 80, 155–58, 160, 162; “Marshalling His People,” 79–80.
32. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 74, 162–63.
33. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 201–02.
34. Asad Latif, “’56 Close-Up of Emerging China,” Straits Times, 21 September 1996, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Chua, “David Marshall, 87, Dies of Cancer.”
36. “Ex-CJ Wee, Marshall Honoured,” Business Times, 20 April 1992, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
37. Jane Ng, “SMU Law School Offers Professorship and Student Awards,” Straits Times, 11 May 2007, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
38. Leonard Lim, “Bust of David Marshall to Grace SMU Court Named after Him,” Straits Times, 11 November 2011, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 21–29.
40. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 23–25, 30; Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 22, 32, 35, 45; Michael Lim, “An Old Boy Revisits SJI,” Straits Times, 25 April 1986, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.”
41. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 70, 75, 81; Mulliner and The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore, 102.
42. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 81–82, 196, 239; Chew and Lee, History of Singapore, 136; “Marshall Names His Men,” Straits Times, 7 April 1955, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 183–84, 191, 243; Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 424–25.
44. Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 409.
45. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 243, 254, 263.
46. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 425.
47. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 268–69, 274; “Marshall to Leave in October,” Straits Times, 21 June 1978, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Mulliner and The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore, 103.
48. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 537.
49. Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore”; Teo, “One of the Most Remarkable Men.”
50. “Marshall is UNA President,” Singapore Herald, 15 April 1971, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 504.
52. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 150–54.
53. Tan, Marshall of Singapore, 154.
54. “$9,800 in Co-op Awards for 156 Children,” Straits Times, 21 June 1972, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
55. “Marshall Honoured,” Straits Times, 31 May 1965, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
56. “France’s Top Award for Marshall,” Straits Times, 6 April 1978, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
57. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 16, 19; Marshalling His People,” 78.
58. Chan, Sensation of Independence, 4, 20–21.
59. Sim, “Shooting Star of Singapore.
60. Chan Heng Chee, “Marshall,” Singapore Monitor, 26 August 1984, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at August 2021 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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