Thomas Shelford

Singapore Infopedia

by Tan, Bonny

Thomas Shelford (b. 23 November 1839, Cosford, Suffolk, Englandd. 12 January 1900, Guildford, Surrey, England), CMG, was a long-serving member of the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements and a municipal commissioner.

1Often opposing government policies to seek the best for the colony, he remained highly regarded.2 He was conferred the honour of Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1892.3

Shelford came to Singapore from the Cape of Good Hope in 1863 or 1864, apparently to alleviate his poor health.4 He then joined the trading firm Paterson, Simons & Co. as a junior assistant, and rose to the position of partner by the time he left Singapore in 1897. In England, Shelford was a partner of the London arm of Paterson and Simons.5 He was well regarded for his good memory and in-depth knowledge of the business.6

Public service
In addition to being a successful merchant, Shelford also gained recognition for his contributions to public service, particularly as a member of the Legislative Council.7 He began as an unofficial member of the Legislative Council in June 1872, and continued to serve as a council member for some 25 years.8

In a community with predominantly itinerant expatriates who seldom stayed longer than five years, Shelford was recognised for his commitment to the Legislative Council and his dedication in voicing the interests of the community. He was conferred the CMG in 1892, a distinction usually given to those who served in the civil or military services.9

Shelford was known for his meticulous analysis of legal documents and financial records, often arguing on the side of public interests and was thus frequently at loggerheads with government opinions.10 Because of poor health, Shelford devoted more time to studying public affairs, instead of engaging in physical exercise.11 He was respected for his logical arguments and oratory skills during the Legislative Council meetings.12

Other contributions
In 1887, Shelford, along with Charles BuckleyJohn Fraser, David Neave and John Cuthbertson, contributed funds to convert The Singapore Free Press from a weekly to a daily publication.13 Shelford also served as a committee member of the Raffles Library and Museum.14

Personal life
Shelford had a habit of tilting his head to one side, a feature captured in his portrait. Owing to this trait, the locals gave him the nickname Tuan kepala singet (meaning “the master with his head tilted to one side” in Malay).15

In 1873, Shelford donated a brass lectern to St Andrew’s Cathedral in memory of his first wife who had died that year. The brass rails in front of the communion table in the church were donated by Shelford’s family after his death in 1900.16

Shelford returned to England reluctantly in 1897, as his second wife and young children were unable to adapt to life in Singapore.17 He died at 60 following a bout of influenza during the Christmas week of 1899.18 His net estate was valued at £49,981, and £500 was each bequeathed to the Sons of the Clergy and the Suffolk Clergy Widow’s and Orphan’s Fund.19

After his death, advertisements were placed in the local newspapers seeking to set up a memorial as a tribute to Shelford’s contributions.20 In 1901, artist John Adamson completed Shelford’s portrait, which was unveiled at the Town Hall.21

In 1941, a road in Singapore was named after Shelford.22 Shelford Road is near Watten Estate, beginning at Dunearn Road and branching off into several side roads before curving back into a dead end.23

Bonny Tan

[1] Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819–1867 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 234. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); “Saturday, July 26, 1890,” The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 30 July 1890, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
[2] Walter Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” in One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2, ed. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 448. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “The Council Debates,” Straits Times, 2 January 1875, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
[3]Yesterday’s C.M.G.,” Straits Times, 26 May 1892, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
[4]Death of Mr. T. Shelford, C.M.G.,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 18 January 1900, 40; “The Late Mr. Shelford,” Straits Times, 13 January 1900, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
[5] Buckley, An Anecdotal History, 233; “The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[6] Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” 448.
[7]The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[8] Walter Makepeace, “The Legislative Council,” in One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1, ed. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 150–151. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[9]Yesterday’s C.M.G.”; “The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[10] Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” 448.
[11]The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[12] Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” 447.
[13] Walter Makepeace, “Institutions and Clubs,” in One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2, ed. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 284. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
[14]Friday, 27th December. Saturday, 28th December,” Straits Times, 28 December 1878, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
[15] Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” 449.
[16] Buckley, An Anecdotal History, 299.
[17]The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[18]The Late Mr. Shelford.”
[19] “Mr. Shelford's Will,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser(Weekly), 12 April 1900, 230. (From NewspaperSG)
[20]A Shelford Memorial,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 5 April 1900, 205. (From NewspaperSG)
[21] Makepeace, “Concerning Known Persons,” 449; Untitled, Straits Times, 18 February 1901, 3; “The Late Mr. T. Shelford,” Straits Times, 11 June 1901, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
[22] Victor R. Savage and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 344. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
[23]Mighty Minds Street Directory
(Singapore: Angel Publishing, 2014), 86. (Call no. RSING q912.5957 MMSD-[DIR])

The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we can 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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