Walter Makepeace

Singapore Infopedia

by Sutherland, Duncan


Walter Makepeace (b. 22 December 1859, Coventry, England–d. 1941) was a journalist and an editor of The Singapore Free Press. He was also active in numerous local organisations in Singapore and is best remembered for co-editing One Hundred Years of Singapore, the colony’s official history commissioned to commemorate 100 years of British rule in Singapore in 1919.1

Early life
Makepeace was educated at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and Saltry College in Birmingham, United Kingdom. He came to Malaya in 1884 to join the Straits Settlements Education Department and became a schoolmaster in Malacca.2 As a skilled shorthand writer, Makepeace also worked as a court reporter.3

Journalism and publishing
The Singapore Free Press
After being asked to go to Singapore as the Legislative Council’s reporter for no extra pay, Makepeace left government service in 1887 to join the Free Press as an assistant editor.4 The paper also appointed him as legislative correspondent. In the absence of formal transcripts, his reports served as the official record for 16 years. Makepeace noted the tedious council proceedings and the lack of repeat visitors in the public gallery.5 Makepeace’s role as a reporter of Legislative Council proceedings enabled him to learn about colonial affairs and personalities.6

In 1895, Makepeace and William St. Clair became joint proprietors of the Free Press, and Makepeace was named business chief. Eleven years later, he became joint proprietor and editor with Reginald Davies. Makepeace was known to be an encouraging and sympathetic employer. He obtained Malaya’s first linotype typesetting machines for the press. The machine was installed in the paper’s premises above Robinson’s store in Raffles Place, and Makepeace performed minor repairs himself.7 He had an international readership as a correspondent for Reuters and the Paris edition of the New York Herald, and represented Malaya at the 1920 Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa.8 After his retirement in 1926, Makepeace Road in Newton was named in his honour.9

One Hundred Years of Singapore
In 1918, the Singapore Centenary Committee commissioned an official history of the colony to be written and asked Makepeace, who possessed both literary skill and a vast knowledge of Singapore affairs and history, to be the senior editor. He was assisted by Gilbert Brooke, Roland Braddell (former attorney-general of the Straits Settlements) and a committee of former Singapore residents in London. Their efforts brought to fruition One Hundred Years of Singapore, which was published in 1921, two years after the actual centenary.10

The book relied heavily on newspaper sources and personal reminiscences.11 Unable to accommodate the history of the Chinese in Singapore into a few chapters, the editors commissioned a separate companion volume on the Chinese, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore (1923), compiled by Song Ong Siang.12

Community activities
In 1888 Makepeace enlisted in the new Singapore Volunteer Artillery (later the Singapore Volunteer Corps), of which he allegedly quipped: “Whereas Singapore is a small piece of land surrounded entirely by water, the Singapore Volunteer Artillery is a small body of men surrounded entirely by officers”.13 He retired as a captain and honorary major in 1914 but remained on the reserve list until 1920. He was recalled in 1915 to command 200 special constables during the Sepoy Mutiny. Makepeace received the long service medal and officially retired from the service in 1920.14 During World War I he served as a propaganda officer for the region and despatched thousands of documents across the East and Southeast Asia.15

Makepeace participated in numerous and diverse local organisations. A Freemason, Makepeace became the Worshipful Master of Singapore’s oldest lodge, Zetland in the East, in 1894 and district Grand Master in 1919.16 He was also active in the Straits Settlements Association, which sought to safeguard the interests of Singapore’s business community both domestically and in London, and was elected its vice president in 1919. Between 1890 and the 1920s, Makepeace was secretary and then treasurer of the Masters and Mates’ Association and its successor the Singapore Merchant Guild Association.17

Besides being on the Education Board, Makepeace was also a member of the Raffles Library and Museum Committee and served as librarian, vice-president and honorary secretary of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.18 In addition, he was involved in recreational activities such as the short-lived Singapore Cycling Club,19 the Chess Club20 and the Singapoe Swimming Clubof which he was captain and later president.21

Return to England
By 1926 Makepeace had been in Malaya for over four decades, longer than most European expatriates. That year, he returned to England to settle in Bristol.22 He died in 1941.23

Makepeace married Miss Pitt (d. 1934) in 1901, and they had two daughters and a son.24

G. M. Reith, Handbook to Singapore with Map, 2nd ed., rev. by Walter Makepeace (Singapore: Singapore and Straits Print. Office, 1892; Singapore: Fraser and Neave, 1907). (Call no. RRARE 959.5703 REI–[LKL]; microfilm nos.: NL 24341, NL 30196)

Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1925). (Call no. RCLOS 959.91 MAK)

Duncan Sutherland

1. Julius. S. Fisher comp., Who’s Who in Malaya 1925 (Singapore: J.S. Fisher and Mass Printers Ltd, 1925), 124 (Call no. RRARE 920.9595 WHO; microfilm no. NL 6705); Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2006), 320 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), v (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Olimpiu G. Urcan, Surviving Changi: E. E. Colman, a Chess Biography (Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 2007), 9. (Call no. RSING 794.1092 URC)
2. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 320; P. H. Romney, “Makepeace and Davies as I Knew Them,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 155.
4. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vi, 155; Francis T. Seow, The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), 7. (Call no. RSING 323.445095957 SEO).
5. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vi.
6. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vii.
7. Romney, “Makepeace and Davies as I Knew Them”; “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vi.
8. “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It.”
9. Ng, Yew Peng, What's in the Name? How the Streets and Villages in Singapore Got Their Names (Singapore: World Scientific, 2018), 317 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 NG -[TRA]); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S.A. Yeoh. Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2023), 322–23. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV)
10. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vi; “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It”; Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819–1867 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 697 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 320.
11.  “Mr. G. W. A. Trimmer,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 2; Koh Buck Song, “The Republic’s Life, From Settlement Days to Recent Times,” Straits Times, 27 July 1996, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
12.  “Singapore History,” Straits Times, 13 February 1925, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Romney, “Makepeace and Davies as I Knew Them.” 
14. Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 320; “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It.”
15.  “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It.”
16. “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It”; Romney, “Makepeace and Davies as I Knew Them”; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vvi.
17. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vi–vii.
18. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 317. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It.”
19. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2, 317.
20. Urcan, Surviving Changi, 9.
21. “The Singapore Free Press and the Men Who Have Made It.”
22. Romney, “Makepeace and Davies as I Knew Them”; As I Was Saying,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 28 August 1933, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Fisher, Who’s Who in Malaya 1925, 124.
24. Untitled, Straits Times, 14 October 1901, 2; “Mrs. W. Makepeace,” Straits Times, 27 July 1934, 13; “News of Malayans at Home,” Straits Times, 23 September 1933, 12; “Mr. W. Makepeace Jun. weds in England,” Straits Times, 27 October 1937, 16. (From NewspaperSG)

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. 

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