Malaya Tribune

Singapore Infopedia

by Lee, Gracie


The Malaya Tribune was the first English language daily newspaper founded in Singapore for an Asian readership. It began publication in Singapore on 1 January 1914 as an afternoon newspaper, and by the 1920s, it was distributed across Singapore, Malaya, Siam, Java, Sumatra and Borneo. The Malaya Tribune Press Limited expanded in the 1930s, creating a chain of newspapers that comprised the Sunday Tribune, the Morning Tribune, and their local editions for Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. At the height of its circulation, Malaya Tribune was the largest daily newspaper in Malaya. However after suffering heavy losses during the Japanese Occupation and with rising post-war operating costs, the newspaper folded after publishing its last issue on 31 January 1951.1

Early beginnings of the Malaya Tribune
The objective of the Malaya Tribune was to express the views and defend the interests of the permanently settled Asian population in Singapore, whose needs were overlooked by The Straits Times and the Singapore Free Press, the two English language dailies in circulation at that time. Both papers were regarded by readers of Asian descent as European, imperialistic and conservative in outlook. Despite discussions for an English newspaper to meet the needs of all English-speaking races in Malaya, the plan failed to materialise because of the lack of capital and support. Investors felt that there was no room for a third English-language newspaper in Singapore, where the English-reading public was small. Among those who held ambitions for a third English daily was George Edward Bogaars, a Ceylon-born Eurasian printer who ran a printing firm in Change Alley known as the Straits Albion Press with his business partner, Alex Westerhout. Sold on the idea, Westerhout began garnering support from the Asian community for the enterprise and registered their business as a limited liability company on 9 October 1913. The name of the company was later changed from the Straits Albion Press to the Malaya Tribune Press Limited in 1925.2

At the inaugural meeting of the first board of directors on 17 October 1913 held at the Straits Albion Press office in Collyer Quay, the aims of the newspaper were laid out as follows:

  1. To represent the views and interests of the Asian communities
  2. To uphold their privileges and rights and to defend their interests
  3. To treat Asians with the same courtesy as extended to Europeans
  4. To guard the traditions of the Asian peoples against ridicule or unfair criticism
  5. To be unbiased and free from partisanship, prejudice and sectarianism3

To reflect the company’s aspiration of serving the whole of Malaya, several titles for the newspaper were proposed. “Malaya Tribune” was eventually selected over alternatives such as “The Voice of Malaya” and “The Voice of the People”. Another key policy adopted at the meeting was to price the newspaper at no more than 5 cents per copy, so as to make it accessible to the Asian community. Newspapers at that time were priced between 10 to 25 cents. Following the meeting, a prospectus was issued to potential investors throughout Malaya. Though it met with tepid response from investors, the newspaper commenced with the release of its first issue on 1 January 1914.4

The first board of directors consisted of Dr Lim Boon Keng (Chairman), Koh San Hin, A. M. S. Anguillia, M. V. Pillai, Alex Westerhout (Managing Director) and George E. Bogaars (Secretary and General Manager). Subsequent directors included prominent businesspersons such as Ong Boon Tat and his son Ong Tiang Wee, Yeo Hock Hoe, Tan Cheng Lock, E. A. Elias, S. Q. Wong, Lee Chim Tuan, Loke Wan Tho, Khoo Teik Ee, and I. A. Elias.5 In keeping with the newspaper’s objectives, the directors did not receive dividends as shareholders, as all profits were re-invested for the company’s growth and expansion.6

Vernacular editions of the Malaya Tribune
Besides the Malaya Tribune, the company also published a Malay edition of the newspaper, titled Lembaga Malayu (also spelled Lembaga Melayu) from 1914 to 1931, and a short-lived Tamil edition called Malaya Valakam in 1914. Lembaga Melayu was the first Malay daily newspaper in Singapore and was circulated throughout Singapore, Johore Bahru, the Malay States, Java, Sumatra, British North Borneo and parts of the Malay Archipelago. The newspaper achieved considerable success under the editorship of Mohd Eunos, the former editor of Utusan Melayu, and outlasted rival newspapers such as Neracha and Utusan Melayu.7

The fledgling years of the Malaya Tribune were precarious. Just months after its inception, World War I broke out, causing the price of newsprint to increase. Supplies from Europe became difficult to procure, and shipping was further disrupted by attacks launched by the German cruiser SMS Emden in regional waters. Some supplies such as type and machinery were hard to replace even at steep prices. The threat that production could cease because of the lack of suitable paper or ink loomed large. To address the shortage of newsprint, local stocks had to be cut to size to fit the machines.

In the Malaya Tribune’s second year, the Singapore Mutiny sprung up. As most staff were called upon to round up the mutineers, sometimes the newsroom had no staff except for a local reporter and writer. Despite these obstacles, the newspaper survived, partly because of the surge in demand for news during those unstable times.8

Printing facilities
The first printing house of the Malaya Tribune was located at Collyer Quay in a godown that was used by trading firm Messrs McAlister & Co. to store coconut oil. In the beginning, all typesetting was done by hand and printed on two used double royal Wharfedale printing machines that could produce 700 copies per hour. As Singapore lacked skilled printers, most of the compositors, who knew little or no English, had to be brought in from Madras. Production under such conditions was laborious and time-consuming until the introduction of more modern machines. In the 1920s, the addition of Miehle, Linotype and Ludlow machines improved the efficiency of printing and typesetting, and the design of the newspaper. In 1932, the printing factory shifted to larger premises at Anson Road, which allowed the installation of large Duplex machines that could produce 6,500 copies per hour. The acquisition of these labour-saving devices greatly increased productivity. After overseeing the relocation of the printing office, Bogaars retired in 1933 because of poor health. He was replaced by Edwin Maurice Glover as general manager.9

Period of expansion
The move to more spacious facilities marked the beginning of a period of rapid growth for the newspaper. Under Glover’s leadership, the Malaya Tribune Press launched a chain of newspapers and set up publishing offices in Singapore and Malaya.10 The Sunday Tribune was launched on 21 May 193311 and incorporated the Malayan Saturday Post Illustrated, which was acquired in 1932.12 Next came editions for the Federated Malay States (Kuala Lumpur) in 1934,13 Perak (Ipoh) in 193514 and Penang in 1938.15 These Malayan editions were produced and printed locally, with the establishment of editorial and printing offices in these towns, which also enabled the inclusion of more local and up-to-date news. Previously, the Federated Malay States edition was printed in Singapore and delivered to Malaya.16 In 1936, the Morning Tribune was published for readers in Singapore and Johore.17 The newspaper was designed to be a popular morning read with its bright and cheerful tone and use of pictures. Published in a handy size, the paper contained sports and film supplements as well as daily columns for women.18

The Malaya Tribune sought to stand out from its competitors by implementing modern styles of news presentation with brighter headlines and introductions, more pictures, better coverage of local and sports news, and faster reports on horse racing results. In keeping with its founding principles, the newspaper highlighted issues facing the Asian communities in Singapore, such as education, council reform and the lifting of the colour bar in government and municipal services.19 The newspaper was helmed by respected editors – such as W. Arthur Wilson (formerly of the Singapore Free Press and the Malay Mail), C. H. Stanley Jones and H. L. Hopkin (formerly of the Bangkok Times and The Straits Times) – and nurtured the careers of local journalists such as Leslie Hoffman, who went on to be the first Asian editor-in-chief of The Straits Times, and T. S. Khoo, who became the group editor of The Straits Times and president of the Singapore Press Club.20

Through improvements in the quality of its newspaper and its competitive price – which proved advantageous for readers during the Great Depression – the Malaya Tribune became the daily newspaper with the largest circulation in Malaya by the 1930s, forcing its rival The Straits Times to lower the price of its newspaper to five cents a copy in 1938.21 In 1941, the newspaper reported the following circulation figures: 16,000 for the Malaya Tribune, 4,500 for the Morning Tribune, and 23,200 for the Sunday Tribune.22

The aftermath of the Japanese Occupation
The Japanese Occupation brought about massive destruction of lives and properties. The Malaya Tribune Press was not spared. Half a million dollars’ worth of machinery and newsprint at its Singapore office were damaged, and the Penang office was completely destroyed. Its offices in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh fared a little better, as the Japanese continued using the plants. With losses at such a scale, it was hard to resume operations after the Japanese surrender in 1945. New machinery and stock had to be acquired from London. In the meantime, publication of the Malaya Tribune and the Sunday Tribune resumed on 15 October 1945, with printing being carried on a small flat-bed machine from hand-set type. The Morning Tribune returned on 30 April 1946. Through these historic events, the newspaper’s commitment to be the “People’s Paper” and its policy of being pro-Asiatic remained unchanged, and even took on renewed purpose. Reflecting the new political landscape towards Malayanisation, the newspaper sought to advocate for

  1. ultimate self-government for Malaya,
  2. political unification of Malaya,
  3. equality of treatment and opportunity for all members of the different communities, irrespective of colour or creed, and
  4. a better standard of working and living conditions for the labourer.

However the losses suffered during the Japanese Occupation, coupled with the increased cost of raw materials and labour in the post-war years, proved crippling. On 31 January 1951, the last issue of the newspaper was published, and the company wound up in 1956.23

Gracie Lee

1. “Page 7 Advertisements Column 2: Onward,” Malaya Tribune, 1 August 1921, 7; Lim Boon Keng, “Vigorous Defender of the Interests of All Races,” Malaya Tribune, 16 January 1939, 9; The Editor,  “The Tribune Says Farewell,” Malaya Tribune, 31 January 1951, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Chua Ai Lin, “Nation, Race, and Language: Discussing Transnational Identities in Colonial Singapore, circa 1930,” Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 2 (March 2012): 285. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
2. “Annual Dinner of ‘People’s Paper’,” Malaya Tribune, 1 April 1931, 11; George E. Bogaars, “A Founder’s Reminiscences – Vital Early Struggles Recalled,” Malaya Tribune, 16 January 1939, 3; C. H. Stanley Jones, “This Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya,” Malaya Tribune, 16 January 1939, 2; “Death of Mr. G. E. Bogaars,” Malaya Tribune, 7 April 1941, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. S. Q. Wong, “A Record of Public Service,” Malaya Tribune, 31 January 1951, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Annual Dinner of ‘People’s Paper’”; Bogaars, “Founder’s Reminiscences”; Jones, “Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya”; Wong, “Record of Public Service.”
5. “Annual Dinner of ‘People’s Paper’”; Bogaars, “Founder’s Reminiscences”; “Last Tribune Today,” Straits Times, 31 January 1951, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Jones, “Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya”; Editor, “Tribune Says Farewell.”
7. Singapore and Straits Directory for 1915 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1915), 161 (Call no. RRARE 382.09595 STR); Singapore and Straits Directory for 1917 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1917), 160 (Call no. RRARE 382.09595 STR); The Singapore and Malayan Directory for 1932 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1932), 439 (Call no. RRARE 382.09595 STR); Lim Patricia Pui Huen, Marion Southerwood and Katherine Hui, Singapore, Malaysian and Brunei Newspapers: An International Union List (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992), 7, 50 (Call no. RSING 016.0795957 LIM-[LIB]); “Page 10 Advertisements Column 8,” Malaya Tribune, 2 September 1921, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Nik Ahmad Bin Haji Nik Hassan, “The Malay Press,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 36, no. 1 (May 1963): 37–78. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
8. “Annual Dinner of ‘People’s Paper’”; Bogaars, “Founder’s Reminiscences”; Jones, “Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya.”
9. “Annual Dinner of ‘People’s Paper’”; Bogaars, “Founder’s Reminiscences”; “Death of Mr. G. E. Bogaars”; G. S. Hammonds, “This Is Progress,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 11 October 1936, 12; “The ‘Malaya Tribune’: Removal to New Premises,” Malaya Tribune, 22 March 1932, 8; “The ‘Malaya Tribune’: In Occupation of New Premises,” Malaya Tribune, 30 March 1932,  2. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Jones, “Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya.”
11. “Instantaneous Success of the ‘Sunday Tribune’,” Malaya Tribune, 22 May 1933, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Masthead,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 4 June 1933, 1; “‘M.S.P.’s’ New Owners,” Malayan Saturday Post, 24 September 1932, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Malaya’s First National Newspaper to Be Printed also in Kuala Lumpur,” Malaya Tribune, 18 January 1935, 1; “Big Day in History of Malayan Journalism,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 13. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “New Perak Edition of the Malaya Tribune,” Sunday Tribune(Singapore), 4 August 1935, 11; “Progress of the ‘Tribune’ in the F.M.S,” Malaya Tribune, 6 May 1936, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “History Is Being Made,” Malaya Tribune, 1 November 1938, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Sunday Tribune Development,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 23 August 1936, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Editor, “Tribune Says Farewell”; “Malaya’s First National Newspaper.”
17. “Tribune’s Decision to Publish Morning Paper to Serve Singapore and Johore,” Malaya Tribune, 29 January 1936, 14; “Our Morning Paper,” Malaya Tribune, 1 February 1936, 8; “Around Malaya,” Malaya Tribune, 1 February 1936, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
18. H. L. Hopkin, “The Tribune’s Great Triumph,” Malaya Tribune, 16 January 1939, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Jones, “Paper Will Cover the Whole of British Malaya”; “Silver Jubilee,” Malaya Tribune, 16 January 1939, 10; “Again We Lead,” Morning Tribune, 24 April 1939, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
20. C. M. Turnbull, Dateline Singapore: 150 Years of the Straits Times (Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 1995), 86 (Call no. RSING 079.5957 TUR); “Mr. W. A. Wilson,” Straits Times, 22 December 1947, 3; “Mr. C. H. Stanley Jones,” Malaya Tribune, 8 July 1924, 6; Hopkin, “Tribune’s Great Triumph”; “Hoffman: “First and Last a Newsman,” Straits Times, 12 June 1987, 18; “ST’s First Asian Chief Editor Dies, 72,” Straits Times, 12 June 1987, 40; “T. S. Khoo Re-Elected S’pore Press Club Chief,” Straits Times, 29 March 1990, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “The ‘Malaya Tribune’ to Be 20 Pages Every Day,” Malaya Tribune, 11 May 1934, 12; “Largest Circulation in Malaya,” Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 23 August 1936, 1; “Malaya’s Senior Paper Dies,” Malaya Tribune, 12 September 1938, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Turnbull, Dateline Singapore86–87, 92–97.
22. Directory of Malaya for 1941 (Singapore: Lithographers, 1941), 238. (Call no. RRARE 382.09595 DIR)
23. Editor, “The Tribune Says Farewell”; Wong, “Record of Public Service”; “Notices. Malaya Tribune Press Limited (In Voluntary Liquidation) Members’ Voluntary Winding Up,” Straits Times, 10 February 1956, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at November 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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