Cecil Clementi Smith

Singapore Infopedia


Cecil Clementi Smith (Sir), (b. 23 December 1840, London–d. 7 February 1916, London)1 was the governor and commander-in-chief of the Straits Settlements from 1887 to 1893, and the honorary Colonel of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery.2 A forceful and efficient administrator, he paralysed the power of secret societies that were a menace in Singapore then.3 In 1885, he established the Queen's Scholarship in Singapore to assist and fund bright local students to further their studies in British universities.4 Smith was held in such high regard by the local community that when he left Singapore in 1893, they petitioned for the extension of his period of office.


Smith studied at St Paul’s School and did his Master of Arts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.6

Cecil Clementi Smith joined the colonial service as a cadet in Hong Kong in 1864, where he attained knowledge of Chinese customs and culture.He spent most of his career in Asia. He served in Singapore as colonial secretary of the Straits Settlements from 1878 to 1893, was then acting governor and subsequently, governor of the Straits Settlements.Smith also served as lieutenant-governor and colonial secretary in Ceylon, as well as consul-general and high commissioner for Borneo and Sarawak.He was also the honorary colonel of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery.10 

Smith was determined to get rid of secret societies, which were rampant then. He achieved this by enforcing laws in 1890, setting up the first Societies Ordinance and establishing the Chinese Advisory Board in 1889-1890 to act as a liaison organisation between the government and the Chinese community.11

He initiated and established the Queen's Scholarships in 1885, which aimed to encourage boys to remain in school to acquire a useful education. The scholarships, which were funded by the British government, enabled outstanding local students to attend British universities. Over the years, some Queen's scholars returned to Singapore as doctors, lawyers and teachers. Two such recipients were Lim Boon Keng (Dr) and Song Ong Siang (Sir).12

Smith was well-liked and widely admired among all communities, especially the Chinese who petitioned for his continued leadership as governor for another term following his retirement. In recognition of his contributions in promoting education in the colony, the Chinese established a Cecil Clementi Smith Scholarship.13 Clementi New Town and Cecil Street are named after him.14 

Farewell banquet
A farewell dinner was held for the out-going governor, Sir Clementi Cecil Smith, on 23 August 1893 at the Singapore Town Hall. Legislative Council members, heads of the mercantile community and officials from various public service branches of the Straits Settlements and neighbouring Malayan States were present to bid Smith goodbye.15

Departure from Singapore
On 30 August 1893, Smith, his wife Lady Clementi Smith and their two daughters departed Singapore on board the French mail steamer Salazie. A large assembly, including key officials, gathered at Johnston’s Pier to bid a final farewell to the Governor and his family. In tribute to their Honorary Colonel, the Singapore Volunteer Artillery paraded near the post office and saluted Smith as he made his way to the pier.16

Smith married Teresa Newcomen in 1869.17

Career timeline
1864–1878: Served in various offices in Hong Kong, including Colonial Treasurer.18
1878–1885: Colonial Secretary for the Straits Settlements.19
1884–1885: Administered the government for the Straits Settlements.20
1885–1887: Lieutenant-Governor and Colonial Secretary for Ceylon.21
1887–1893: Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements.22

Vernon Cornelius

1. “Sir Clementi Smith Dead,” Singapore Free Press, 9 February 1916, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Farewell Public Banquet to H. E. the Governor,” Singapore Free Press, 24 August 1893, 2; “T. F. Hwang Takes You Down Memory Lane,” Straits Times, 3 June 1989, 26 (From NewspaperSG); “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
3. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 103. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
4. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 369, 471–72. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
5. “His Excellency Sir Cecil Clementi Smith,” Straits Times, 5 September 1893, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 103.
6. “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
7. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 102; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 110.
8. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 102–03; “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
9. “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
10. “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
11. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 103; Wilfred Blythe, The Impact of Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Historical Study (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1969), 233. (Call no. RSEA 366.09595 BLY)
12. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 369, 471–72; “The Queen's Scholars Since 1885 in Malaya,” Straits Times, 16 November 1948, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “The Singapore Chinese Address to H. E. the Governor,” Straits Times, 30 August 1893, 3 (From NewspaperSG); “His Excellency Sir Cecil Clementi Smith.” 
14. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 67, 85. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
15. “Farewell Public Banquet.”
16. “Departure of the Governor,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 30 August 1893, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
18. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 102; “Sir Clementi Smith Dead.”
19. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 107.
20. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 103; “Farewell Public Banquet”; “Government Gazette Extraordinary, 29th March,” Straits Times, 31 March 1884, 2 (From NewspaperSG); “Sir Clementi Smith Dead”; “His Excellency Sir Cecil Clementi Smith G.C.M.G.,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (weekly), 29 August 1893, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
21. J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, part II, vol. v (Cambridge: University Press, 1953), 543.
22. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 110; “His Excellency Sir Cecil Clementi Smith.”

The information in this article is valid as at July 2019 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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