Edwin Brown

Singapore Infopedia


Edwin Arthur Brown (b. 22 July 1878, Eccles, Manchester, England1–d. 19 September 1955, Gloucester, England2) was a broker, municipal councillor and long-time stalwart of music and theatre in Singapore. He is perhaps best remembered for his memoir describing life in Edwardian Singapore.3

Early life and professional career
Brown began work in 1896 as an assistant at Hiltermann Brothers, a shipping company in Manchester. Five years later, the company sent him to work for their Singapore branch, Brinkmann and Company, where he was one of two non-German employees. He remained with the company until 1918, when he became a partner in Adis & Ezekiel exchange brokers.4

Public service
Municipal commission
Brown was the vice-president of the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association.5 He was appointed as a municipal commissioner in 1921 and served for over 16 years in the position.He was instrumental in the creation of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee, which developed Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore’s first public pool at Mount Emily and Katong Park, which was sited on a former military site.7

Brown also spearheaded efforts to form the police brass band8 and installed the St Clair organ in Victoria Memorial Hall in 1931.9 He was a driving force behind the formation of the Singapore Musical Society and set up the Children’s Orchestra.10 Brown left the municipal commission in 1940.11

Singapore Volunteer Corps
Brown joined the Singapore Volunteer Corps (Rifle) in 1901.12 The corps was dissolved in 1904, but about 30 diehards, including Brown, refused transfer into other units and continued reporting for duty. The Maxim Gun Company of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery was eventually established to accommodate them.13 In 1913 Brown was given command of the Chinese Company of the Singapore Volunteer Corps and worked closely with Song Ong Siang.14 The two became friends, and Brown was the best man at Song’s wedding.15

In 1915 Brown was commended for his cool-headed leadership of the inexperienced force that broke the siege of Alexandra Barracks during the sepoy mutiny, a critical point in the mutiny’s suppression.16 He acted as the Singapore Volunteer Corps’ last commandant in 1921, and then re-enlisted as a private in the new Straits Settlements Volunteer Force. After being decorated for his long service, Brown retired with the rank of major in 1923.17

Contributions to culture in Singapore
In 1901, Brown joined the St Andrew’s Cathedral choir, and became its choirmaster in 1910.18

Brown was involved in arranging music for numerous special public occasions. These included helping to prepare a choral welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) in 1901, conceiving and overseeing a short performance by 10,000 children for the Prince of Wales in 1922, and organising an interdenominational concert celebrating the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.19 Brown was chiefly behind the Singapore Musical Society,20 and established and conducted a Children’s Orchestra for six- to 16-year-olds. Their first radio broadcast in 1934 was attended by important local personalities and heard by the Master of the King’s Music in England.21

Amateur drama
Brown had acted semi-professionally in Manchester and accepted an invitation to join the cast of a musical soon after moving to Asia. In 1906, he formed the Singapore Amateur Dramatic Committee along with individuals such as E. F. H. Edlin and F. A. Langley.22 He performed at a memorial concert after Arthur Sullivan’s death in 1901; stage-managed and starred in the 1909 staging of The Pirates of Penzance at the inauguration of Victoria Theatre; and sang songs from The Mikado in a tea house in Kobe, Japan. Appointed the foreman of the set construction, he also assisted with the backstage work for a pantomime of Cinderella staged at Fort Canning by members of the Royal Garrison Artillery.23 One of his last performances was The Sorcerer in 1940, in which he was lauded as a scene-stealer.24

Other activities and honours
Besides music and drama, Brown was also active in sports. His shooting skills twice earned him the Rifle Association’s Governor’s Cup, and he played in Singapore’s first football league, which was established in 1904.25 In addition, Brown was president of the Singapore and South Malaya Boy Scouts Association during the 1920s.26 Only a fraction of his experiences was included in his memoir, Indiscreet Memories, which focused on his first four years in Singapore. The book, which recounted events “grave and gay” and colourful characters who lived in or simply passed through Singapore, portrayed a way of life lost due to the colony’s rapid development.27

In 1933 Brown received the honour of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division).28 Interned during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), Brown retired after liberation in 1945. He returned to England, where he died in 1955.29

Published works
1921: “Music”, published in One hundred years of Singapore30
1929: St Andrew’s Cathedral and its Music31
1935: Indiscreet Memories32


Brown married the sister of his friend from Manchester. The couple had two daughters, Barbara and Shelagh, and a son, Alec.33


Duncan Sutherland

1. Who’s Who in Malaya 1925 (Singapore: n.p., 1925), 43. (Call no. RRARE 920.9595 WHO; microfilm NL6705)

2. “Memory Man Mr Brown Is Dead,” Straits Times, 22 September 1955, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Government House Investiture,” Straits Times, 25 September 1933, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Memory Man Mr Brown Is Dead.”
4. Who’s Who in Malaya 1925, 43–44; Edwin A. Brown, Indiscreet Memories (Singapore: Monsoon Books, 2007), 15. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 BRO-[HIS])
5. Edwin A. Brown, “Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association,” Straits Times, 31 May 1922, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Who’s Who in Malaya 1925, 44; “Municipal Old Boys Who Have Retired,” Straits Times, 27 January 1940, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Municipal Old Boys Who Have Retired”; “Government House Investiture.”
8. “Municipal Commission,” Singapore Free Press, 25 September 1925, 16; “Music Jottings,” Straits Times, 6 September 1924, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Municipal Old Boys Who Have Retired”; “Opening of the St. Clair Organ,” Malayan Saturday Post, 26 September 1931, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Government House Investiture”; “Children’s Orchestra ‘On the Air’,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1934), 26 July 1934, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Municipal Old Boys Who Have Retired.”
12. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 61; Who’s Who in Malaya, 1939: A Biographical Record of Prominent Members of Malaya’s Community in Official, Professional and Commercial Circles (Singapore: Fishers Ltd, 1939), 39. (Call no. RCLOS 920.9595 WHO-[RFL])
13. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 191–2, 204–5.
14. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 78; “Public Services Recognised,” Malayan Saturday Post, 26 September 1931, 19; “S.V.C. Orders,” Straits Times, 17 July 1913, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 246. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
16. R.W.E. Harper and Harry Miller, Singapore Mutiny (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 157 (Call no. RSING 355.1334095957 HAR); Song, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore, 514; “Memory Man Mr Brown Is Dead.”
17. Who’s Who in Malaya 1925, 44; “Government House Investiture.”
18. Who’s Who in Malaya 1925, 44; “Memory Man Mr Brown Is Dead.”
19. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 55; “The Royal Visit,” Straits Times, 17 March 1922, 10; “Great Empire Service,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 2 April 1937, 2; “S.S.C. Coronation Dinner and Dance,” Straits Times, 6 April 1937, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Government House Investiture.”
21. “First Broadcast,” Straits Times, 26 July 1934, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 398 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 33.
23. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 78, 168, 229; “New Theatre Opened,” Straits Times, 12 February 1909, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “‘The Sorcerer’ Rehearsal,” Straits Times, 11 November 1940, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Who’s Who in Malaya, 1939, 39; Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 193.
26. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 5 February 1923, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, foreword.
28. “Government House Investiture”; Who’s Who in Malaya, 1939, 39; “King’s Birthday Honours,” Straits Times, 3 June 1933, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Memory Man Mr Brown Is Dead.”
30. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 406–15.
31. Edwin A. Brown, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Its Music (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1929), 17–18. (Call no. RRARE 781.71 BRO; microfiche NL0015/019)
32. Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 4.
33. “Naval Officer Married at Cathedral,” Straits Times, 19 April 1939, 15 (From NewspaperSG); Brown, Indiscreet Memories, 172; Celia Ferguson, Foreword to Singapore Mutiny: A Colonial Couple's Stirring Account of Combat and Survival in the 1915 Singapore Mutiny, by Edwin A rown & Mary Brown, xxvii-xxxv. (Singapore: Monsoon Books, 2015), xxxii. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 BRO)

The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 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

Singapore Golf Club


The Singapore Golf Club was opened in 1891 at the Singapore Sporting Club. After World War I, it was moved to new premises, leaving behind certain members who joined forces with locals to form a club of their own. In 1963, the two clubs merged to become the Singapore Island...

Ben Line Steamers Ltd.


Ben Line Steamers Ltd. has been associated with Singapore since the 1860s. Its ships, bearing names prefixed by “Ben”, used to ply the Europe–Far East route, calling at Singapore and other ports in the region. However, an inability to compete with larger carriers ultimately led to Ben Line selling off...

Seow Poh Leng


Seow Poh Leng (b. 1883, Singapore–d. 1942, Singapore) was a prominent banker. He was one of the three pioneers of Ho Hong Bank, which later merged with two other banks to form the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation. Seow also played an instrumental role in promoting international banking to the Chinese in...

Percy Reginald Hill


Percy Reginald Hill (b. 1888, Lancashire, England –d. 1950, Sydney, Australia) was a chartered accountant who lived in Singapore and Malaya between 1906 and 1919. He is best remembered for his collection of photographs depicting bygone ways of everyday life in Singapore and Malaya that was donated to the National...

Seah Eu Chin


Seah Eu Chin (???; She Youjin) (b. 1805, Guangdong, China–d. 23 September 1883, Singapore) was a wealthy Teochew merchant who made his fortune from the cultivation of pepper and gambier. A prominent member of the Chinese community in early colonial Singapore, Seah is also well known as the founder of...

Metropolitan Young Men's Christian Association (MYMCA)


The Metropolitan Young Men’s Christian Association (MYMCA) is located at 60 Stevens Road. Founded on the same Christian principles as its parent, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Britain, the MYMCA was established in 1946 by Chen Su Lan (Dr) to cater to the Chinese population. Originally known as...

Woolley Report on the state of education, 1870


On 29 December 1869, then Governor Harry Ord appointed a select committee chaired by Colonel R. Woolley to look into the state of education in the Straits Settlements, which comprised Singapore, Melaka and Penang. The resultant “Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council to Enquire into the State...

Tan Kim Seng


Tan Kim Seng (b. 1805–d. 14 March 1864, Malacca, Malaya) was a wealthy trader and property owner with business interests in tin. A prominent philanthropist, Tan left behind memorials of his philanthropy in Singapore and Malacca. ...

Singapore Chinese Girls’ School


Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) is an independent school comprising primary and secondary levels. Established in 1899 on Hill Street, it is the first Chinese girls’ school founded in Singapore. During its early history, the school provided education in English and Chinese to Chinese girls, at a time when female...

South East Asia Cultural Festival


The South East Asia Cultural Festival was held in Singapore from 8 to 15 August 1963. It featured a series of performances involving about 1,500 artistes from 11 Asian countries. The main events were held at the National Theatre, which has since been demolished, and the Victoria Theatre. The festival...