Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sarkies Brothers - Armenians

(Top Clockwise - Arshak, Tigram Aviet)

The Eastern and Oriental Hotel, Penang

The Sarkies brothers - Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak who came from Isfahan in Persia, became the foremost hoteliers of the East, their enterprises in Penang and Singapore dominating the hospitality trade in the Straits Settlements for nearly fifty years.

It was 23-year-old Tigran who took the first step into the hotel industry, seeing it as more profitable than his fledgling auctioneering business. Taking over the lease of a large compound house at 1A Light Street, he named it the Eastern Hotel, announcing on 15 April 1884 that the hotel was open to receive boarders.

Tigran was joined by his older brother Martin, and calling themselves Sarkies Brothers, the pair acquired Hotel de l’Europe which was situated on the seafront in Farquar Street, and renamed it the Oriental Hotel. Tigran managed the Oriental while Martin was responsible for the Eastern. Younger brother Aviet was persuaded to join them and was soon made manager of the Eastern Hotel.

By August 1889, the extended and entirely renovated Oriental Hotel was ready for the public. The brothers gave up the Eastern, but not wanting to lose the goodwill and familiarity of its name, decided to rename the Oriental, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel - which soon became shortened to the E. & O.

When Martin retired to Isfahan in late 1890, youngest brother Arshak joined the E. & O., having gained valuable work experience at Raffles under Tigran’s watchful eye. Soon each brother took responsibility for a different hotel. Tigran remained in charge of Raffles, while Aviet opened the Sarkies Hotel in Rangoon, leaving Arshak in control of the E. & O. Apart from short breaks in Singapore or abroad, Arshak ran the hotel until his death in 1931.

Within a decade of opening the Eastern Hotel, the brothers’ reputation had been made. Speaking at a celebratory lunch at the E. & O. in 1893, Sir Frank Swettenham first told the joke which was to pass into history: ‘A little boy was asked by his teacher in Perak who the Sakais were, and replied that they were people who kept hotels.’ (The Sakais are one of the indigenous races of Malaysia.)

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

With experience gained from running their hotels in Penang, Tigran and Martin Sarkies investigated the possibility of opening a new hotel in Singapore. They found a large bungalow on the corners of Beach and Bras Basah Roads, fronting the seashore, yet quite close to the commercial centre of town.

Previously the boarding house for boys at the nearby Raffles Institution, the bungalow needed only a few alterations and repairs before Tigran announced the opening of his new hotel which he called Raffles, in December 1887. His initial advertisement highlighted the factors that would make Raffles such a success: the promise of ‘great care and attention to the comfort of boarders and visitors’.

Hotel extensions in 1889 soon proved insufficient, so the brothers opened a new two-storey Palm Court Wing in December 1894, offering thirty well-furnished suites, bringing the hotel’s total to seventy-five. Sarkies Brothers were rewarded for their efforts as members of royal and aristocratic families and other dignitaries began to patronise Raffles.

But the Straits Times remained scathing of Singapore’s hotels, declaring that Singapore lacked a well-designed, convenient hotel offering quality accommodation. Presumably Tigran heeded this criticism for he announced extensive, grandiose renovations in 1897. These plans finally won over the Straits Times which concluded that the ‘palatial building with excellent ventilation, and the vast airy dining room’ would make Raffles ‘one of the largest and handsomest hotels in the East’.

The new wing was opened on 18 November 1899. The old central block had been replaced by a magnificent Renaissance style three-storey block featuring a huge T-shaped dining room as the centrepiece. Boasting a Carrara marble floor, it seated 500 and occupied the whole of the ground floor, while its roof, crowned by a skylight gave the room an awesome air space. The two upper floors each contained fifteen suites, plus a large reading room and two drawing rooms. Two suites were set aside for Tigran and his family. A wide, richly decorated verandah surrounded the building, protecting the rooms from sunlight and rain while the new billiard room and bar were sensibly housed in a separate block.

The hotel now offered 100 suites, all with furniture suited to the climate, as well as electric lighting - making Raffles the only hotel in the Straits lit by electricity. Not only did the hotel have its own steam engine to generate electricity, but a 10,000-gallon tank ensured a steady water supply.

A special inauguration dinner for 200 guests was held in the dining room where electric light was used for the first time. The Straits Times representative who went along after the grand opening to see what things were like on an ordinary night, was most impressed, especially by the blazing lights as he approached the hotel from the sea front. Indeed, his only complaint was that the drawing rooms were unsuitable for flirting - due to a lack of screens, anyone who walked along the passageways could look in. Tigran should have sought the advice of a lady, he admonished.

Tigran was quick to respond, assuring the writer that when the drawing rooms were finished, they would give every facility for flirtation.

Ecstatic reviews of dinners dotted the press for the next three decades. Among early successes was the 1900 New Year’s Eve dinner. Lauded as the best banquet yet offered by a hotel in Singapore, it was claimed that half the town turned up for the dinner and the rest came in later to dance.

However, travellers were once more complaining of the dearth of quality accommodation, strongly feeling that a first rate hotel under European management was urgently needed. Perhaps such comments en­couraged Arathoon Sarkies and Eleazar Johannes to acquire the Adelphi Hotel in 1903, and the new owners of the Hotel de l’Europe to construct a modern hotel in 1904 (poaching Charlie Chaytor from Raffles to manage it).

These entrepreneurial Armenians in charge of Singapore’s three leading hotels kept one another on their toes. An intense advertising war ensued as each tried to outdo the other vying for patronage for their special dinners, race dinners, coronation dinners and musical dinners. They wooed the diverse expatriate communities with lavish menus accompanied by musical delights to celebrate the birthdays of Kaiser Wilhelm, Queen Wilhelmina, King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

In November 1910, having guided Raffles for twenty-three years, a sick Tigran sailed for England. Of some consolation would have been the Pinang Gazette’s glowing praise of his achievement - 'Raffles is more than a hostelry, it is an institution – the hotel has made Singapore famous to the tourist and an abode of pleasure to the resident.'

Catchick Moses - Armenian Colonial

Catchick Moses was the most famous of the pioneering Armenians. Born at Basra on 30 August 1812, Catchick landed in Singapore on 1 August 1828, just before his sixteenth birthday, and his well-established uncle, Aristarkies Sarkies soon found him work as a clerk with Boustead & Company.

After gaining five years’ experience at Boustead’s, Catchick set up on his own and began trading with Calcutta. Then, on 2 March 1840 he teamed up with his uncle to establish the firm of Sarkies & Moses, merchants and agents. On 6 March 1841, just two days before his death, Aristarkies relinquished his interest in the firm, leaving it in Catchick’s capable hands. Retaining the existing name, Catchick guided the firm for the next four decades, making it a respected entity in the commercial world of old Singapore. Apart from running Sarkies & Moses, Catchick was a shareholder in the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company and other companies, and also invested in considerable real estate.

In the early years, Catchick had regularly served on grand inquests and the grand jury. A subscriber to the Singapore Institution and its successor, Raffles Institution, he was wealthy enough to stand for election as a municipal commissioner. However, unsuccessful in his first attempt in 1862, Catchick never tried again.

The recognised head of the Armenian community, Catchick was its representative in the delegation which welcomed Prince Albert and Prince George upon their arrival in Singapore in 1882. Actively involved with the Church, Catchick was unstintingly donated money for renovations and additions.

Catchick founded the Straits Times, albeit almost by default. In the early 1840s, his friend, Martyrose Apcar had ordered a printing press from England, intending to publish a newspaper but his firm’s financial woes seemed to dash this hope. To ensure Martyrose’s dream materialised, Catchick took over the equipment and launched the Straits Times, having appointing Robert Woods as editor. (Perhaps Catchick had developed an interest in papers during his early days with Edward Boustead who had edited the Singapore Chronicle before starting the Singapore Free Press.)

The first edition of the Straits Times came out on 15 July 1845. An eight-page weekly, it was published at 7 Commercial Square using a hand-operated press. The paper comprised two sections - the first covered matters of general interest to the settlement while the second provided current prices and market information. It was also planned to send an eight-page monthly summary to Europe and elsewhere. With a subscription of Sp.$1.75 per month, Catchick did not find the venture financially rewarding and in September 1846, he sold the paper to Robert Woods.


Vanda Miss Agnes Joachim

“One morning around the year 1890, Miss Agnes Joaquim had stepped into the garden of her Tanjong Pagar house when she discovered, peeking out from the middle of a bamboo clump, a little purple flower. It was a beauty. Its broad round petals were rosy-violet and its centre a fiery orange.

“The 36 year-old Armenian woman, an avid horticulturist, was excited because she had just discovered a new orchid hybrid.”

Many orchid breeders through the years have discounted this tale. A guide at the Singapore Botanic Gardens told Ng Tze Yong the flower “could not have been found in a clump of bamboo. It is a plant that grows only in direct sunlight with free air movement.” More to the point, there’s Agnes Joaquim to consider.

She was a skilled and “avid” horticulturist. “The eldest daughter in her family, Miss Joaquim helped her mother raise her 10 siblings after her father died. She never married. She divided her time between the Armenian Church of St Gregory on Hill Street and her garden in Tanjong Pagar.”

Agnes Joachim first disclosed the voluptuous purple beauty at an 1899 flower show where, “It won the $12 first prize for being the rarest orchid. Suffering from cancer, Miss Joaquim died just three months later. She was 45.”

For more than 100 years, many people were happy to accept that two native orchids had bred in the wild. How could a little Armenian lady have hybridized the flower anyway? It now seems that she did, secretly. Joaquim wasn’t just good at botany; she was a savvy humanist too. Recognizing that her orchid would be preferred as a natural wonder, Joaquim hid her accomplishment inside the “bamboo” of fantasy: a tale of discovery.

When the Miss Joaquim orchid was nominated as the national flower in 1981, many objected, rooting instead for The Vanda Tan Chay Yan, an orchid that had been developed not by someone of Armenian descent but a “true son of the soil.” Miss Joaquim prevailed. In fact, Agnes “like her mother - was born in Singapore, in 1853. Her maternal grandfather had settled here in the 1820s.”

John Elliott, president of the Orchid Society of South-East Asia, got it so right: “The Vanda Miss Joaquim is a hybrid, just like Singapore is a hybrid. .... Our national flower was not created by a bee. It was a human product, just like Singapore.”

Malabar Mosque - Singapore

Building on the mosque started in 1956 on a corner of a cemetery Sultan Ally Iskander Shah had opened for Muslim Klings. the mosque was completed in 1962 and opened on 24 Jan 1963. As with many historical facts about Singapore, I wonder whether there was an earlier masjid on this site.

However, the now famous blue-white tiling of the mosque is relatively recent - the tiling was only completed in 1995.

Back to Malabar, the southwestern coast of India is called the Malabar Coast and the people there speak Malayalam. On the modern political map, Malabar is on the northern part of the Indian state of Kerala. There are many religions in Malabar: the Syrian Christians of Malabar aka the St Thomas Christians being a notable community.

We went on a short tour of the mosque, going into the upper women’s balcony. Women with short wear had to put on robes given by the mosque.

After, we descended to the basement and ‘sampled’ the food (it was really a meal). The mutton curry was heavenly! Practically melted in my mouth.

Malabar Mosque, known as the Golden Dome Mosque is situated at the corner between Victoria Street and Jalan Sultan.
This is the only Mosque in Singapore which is fully managed by the Malabar Muslim Community.This is the place where all our Malabar Muslims gather during Friday, Aidil Fitri, Aidil Adha or any other major functions. The new outlook of the mosque also attracts people from all corners.

Building this mosque started in the late 50s by the Malabari Community who were headed by the Malabar Muslim Jama-ath (Association that leading all the activities organised in the mosque). Malabar Muslim Jama-ath was established in 1927 and was registered in 1929 and functioned from a shop house at Changi Road. The Malabar Muslim Jama-ath's office shifted to Bussorah Street and finally established at 471, Victoria Street where it is today. After some period the Malabar Muslim Jama-ath with the help of the Malabar Muslims had a plan to build a mosque at Victoria Street. With this plan in mind, a stone laying ceremony was held on 10th April 1956 by the Mufti of Johor, Tuan Syed Alwi Adnan who had represented the Sultan Ibrahim bin Abu Bakar of Johor. Read More
7 September 2006 (The New Paper and The Star) - The exhumation of the graves of Ngah Ibrahim and Laksamana Mohd Amin Alang were caried out earlier today. Reports were published in both Singapore (New Paper) and Malaysia (The Star). The New Paper is a tabloid, hence the mildly sensational and attention-grabbing headline and almost sob-story:

THE two men were figures in Malaysian history.
In the 19th century, they resisted the British rule and played key roles in the murder of Perak’s first British resident, Mr J W W Birch, in 1875.

That year, Tengku Menteri Ngah Ibrahim and his father-in-law, Laksamana (Admiral in Malay) Mohd Amin Alang were banished from Perak by the British and eventually ended up in Singapore. Their tombs were long forgotten.

The search for their tombs by relatives yielded nothing.

But after more than a century, all it took was someone to trip on a headstone to find one of the tombs.

Tengku Menteri Ngah’s great-grandson, Datuk Dr Wan Mohd Isa Wan Ahmad, 61, was about to give up searching for his ancestor’s burial site when he made the accidental discovery.

Datuk Isa, territorial chief of Larut, Matang and Selama districts in Perak, said: ‘I was ready to give up. We were about to leave when I suddenly felt this urge to walk to a corner of the graveyard.’

That was when he tripped over a large broken headstone. He picked it up and read the inscription.

He said: ‘I was close to tears. I had been waiting for this moment for so long. I felt so happy.

From The Star:

Preparing for heroes’ homecoming

The remains of Perak heroes Tengku Menteri Ngah Ibrahim of Larut and Laksamana Mohd Amin Alang of Hilir Perak, buried in two Muslim cemeteries in Singapore, will be exhumed today.

The National Heritage Department will start the exercise with the exhumation of Laksamana Mohd Amin’s remains at Pusara Aman in Choa Chu Kang at 9am.

Ngah Ibrahim’s remains will be exhumed an hour later at the Al-Junied Muslim Cemetery in Jalan Kubor.

'Ned Kelly's burial site' found - Tell Them I Died Game (BBC)

'Ned Kelly's burial site' found

Ned Kelly has become part of Australian folklore

The burial site
Scientists in Australia believe they have found the grave of 19th Century outlaw and national icon Ned Kelly.
His remains are thought to be among those of executed prisoners found on the site of an abandoned prison in the southern city of Melbourne.

Kelly was a bank robber who was hanged in 1880 for murdering three policemen.

After evading arrest for several years, he used home-made armour in a final shoot-out with police; his exploits have been the subject of several films.

The scene of his last stand has also been designated a national heritage site.

Kelly's story divides modern Australians, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney. Some see him as a folk hero, who fought the colonial British establishment, others simply as a violent criminal.

Either way, the Irish convict's son's daring bank robberies and escapes made him a legend.

Guns blazing

After two years on the run, police finally caught up with Kelly and his gang.

The outlaw made his own armour by beating plough blades into shape and walked towards police with guns blazing. He was shot 20 times but survived.

He was hanged for his crimes in 1880 and buried in a mass grave at the old Melbourne Gaol, but the whereabouts of his body has remained a mystery.

His remains, and those of others, were thought to have been reburied half a century later at Pentridge prison in Melbourne.

Archaeologists say they have now found the remains of 32 bodies in coffins in various states of decomposition. The bodies will now be subject to forensic tests.

"We believe we have conclusively found the burial site, but that is very different from finding the remains," Jeremy Smith, senior archaeologist with Heritage Victoria, told Reuters.

"If the remains exist, then we will have found them."


Ned Kelly, the subject of this year's Booker Prize-winning novel, was a violent outlaw. But Australians prefer to see him as a victim of heartless colonialism. And that makes him ripe for the Hollywood treatment, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

More than 120 years after his death, Australia's most celebrated outlaw is growing ever more popular in his homeland.

And now the success of Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel about Ned Kelly may be set to boost the whiskery anti-hero onto the world stage via the Hollywood movie business.

Not everyone is happy with this emerging state of affairs, however.

Earlier this year the New South Wales Commissioner of Police complained that "adoration of Kelly reflects the black heart of nothingness that lies at the centre of the Australian character".

A few days later Australia's population looked deep into the dark existential void of its collective character and passed judgement in a TV opinion poll.

More than nine out of ten thought he was a national hero. The general opinion is that he is a martyr hounded into crime and then unjustly executed by evil Victorian British colonialists.

The British empire is now such a distant memory - with some of its horrors officially apologised-for by the UK government - that justified Victorian-Brit bashing causes little difficulty or offence and much cheer to many in Australia and around the world.

It is important that Kelly came from Ireland, the son of John 'Red' Kelly, born in 1820 in County Tipperary. Red Kelly was transported from Ireland to Van Diemens Land in 1841 for stealing pigs.

Carey emphasises the Irish connection throughout his novel and, at one point, has his fictional Ned say: "When our brave parents was ripped from Ireland like teeth from the mouth of their own history every dear familiar thing had been abandoned on the docks of Galway."
Fair enough perhaps, given the treatment of the Irish by English landlords in the 19th Century.

The erosion in respect for the old Australian Anglo-Saxon elite against whom Kelly fought - and the need for non-Brit national heroes to symbolise the new multi-cultural Australia - has led a bout of Ned-mania in the country.

A Ned Kelly exhibition opens in Melbourne Old Gaol this Monday and is expected to attract crowds, especially after the news of Carey's Booker Prize triumph.

Good auction bet

Exhibits include "Betty" - the outlaw's Snider Enfield Carbine rifle as used at the Euroa bank hold up in December 1878, the whiskey still used by the gang to brew moonshine at their Bullock Creek hideout and the doorframe from the Kelly family's outback shack.

In July 2001 a piece of Kelly's famous home-made suit of armour was sold at auction for more than US$100,000.

And last year there was a hell of a fuss when a modern day outlaw claimed he had stolen Kelly's skull from a prison museum 22 years ago, and said he would nor return it until Ned was officially pardoned.

The demand for a statue to be erected in front of the former British governor's mansion can not be long in coming.

World fame beckons?

The question now is whether Ned Kelly can achieve similar hero status in the United States and throughout the world.
American folk-hero bank robbers and outlaws like Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd have been big box office in the US.

Many of these enduring American anti-heroes could claim Irish or immigrant descent - but only at the distance of a few generations.

The potential attraction of Ned Kelly and his gang is that he combines the plus points of Bonnie and Clyde with the direct anti-English insurgency of a Braveheart. Film rights to Carey's book have already been snapped up.

At one point in Carey's novel Kelly says "all the Micks was just a notch below cattle".

That's the sort of talk that, even 150 years after the Irish potato famine, still strikes as much of a chord in Boston and California as it does in Botany Bay and Canberra.

The following is an Interview with author Dr.Graham Seal, folklorist and cultural historian. Dr. Seal is Deputy Director of Australian Studies at Curtin University of Technology in Perth. His other works include; The Outlaw Legend: a Cultural Tradition in Britain, America and Australia and the Encyclopedia of Folk Heroes.

Q. Firstly Graham, congratulations on your book 'Tell em I died game'. I enjoyed reading it and consider it a quality addition to anyone's Kelly collection. Was it the current surge in Kelly popularity and demand that inspired you to revise and re-release your work?
[Graham Seal] Thanks Nicky. Yes, to some extent it was the resurrection of Ned as a national icon after a few quiet years, though he never goes away altogether, of course! Also I'd had some further thoughts about it all since 1980 and felt the urge to get them down.

Q. You say in your book that as far as the legend of Ned Kelly is concerned it does not matter if he was a larrikin criminal, or a hero. Do you think the ongoing debate and 'side taking' on the issue manages to enhance or detract from the Kelly legend?
[Graham Seal] I think the debate is an essential element of Ned's longevity. As I say in the new last chapter his contradictions and his dual status as hero and villain neatly encapsulate our own contradictions - we have a romantic image of the bush but mostly live in cities; our mythologies are strong on anti-authoritarianism, but we are an exceptionally governed and law abiding mob and we espouse the 'fair go', yet there are demonstrably many who do not receive that, including but not restricted to indigenous peoples and asylum seekers.

Q. Given that you believe that the 'truth' is not that relevant to the Kelly legend, do you think the lack of clarity over historical 'facts', enables people to adjust their ideas of Ned to keep the legend relevant?
[Graham Seal] Mythmaking works by selecting and enhancing from historical events and producing a story or version that appeals to people for a variety of reasons, often fulfilling their needs. Certainly this is what I was trying to show regarding Ned Kelly's legend. Once the cultural processes of mythmaking and legendry get going the truth - whatever that might be - takes back seat.

Q. You note how Ned is described variously at different times in history - that the characteristics valued by society at any given time are used to depict and, or admire him. However you have not gone into much detail on the anti-Ned literature, such as that of Ned's contemporary Frances Hare, or the modern writings of Edgar Penzig. Do you think a national folk hero such as Ned Kelly needs such voices speaking against him in order to keep his supporters passionate in his defense? Is such 'anti-hero' sentiment essential to maintaining hero status?
[Graham Seal] Yes, this goes back to the earlier answer about Ned being an icon who combines the hero and the villain (actually quite common with folk heroes, especially those of the outlaw variety). In our case, he combines certain contradictions that resonate strongly of our national identity.

Q. You address the idea that Aaron Sherritt was "cast in the role of traitor", and claim his guilt or innocence is no more relevant to the Kelly story than Ned's. Without Aaron as the turncoat, do you think the police would have been sufficiently 'villainous' enough for the legend to retain its force?
[Graham Seal] From the perspective of folklore there has to be a traitor in outlaw hero stories. Sherritt - actually a very complex character - filled the role nicely. I don't think the police needed much help to be cast as, to say the least, heavy-handed! The Royal Commission that was held after the execution made it quite clear that there were major problems in the Victoria Police at that time and in the policing of n-e of Victoria. It is also very difficult to see the actions of the police at Glenrowan in a positive light.

Q. You explain how over time Kate Kelly has been seen as the prevailing 'heroine' of the story. The more recent public perception of her importance seems to have waned, and been spread more between her, Maggie Skillion (nee Kelly) and various love interests of Ned. Why do you think this has occurred within the myth?
[Graham Seal] Yes, that's an interesting point that I could have considered more. Again from a folkloric perspective, the helpful heroine is a stock standard of outlaw and some other types of hero traditions. While it was clearly Maggie who did most of the heroic stuff the younger and more publicity-conscious (took after her brother Ned there) Kate got the guernsey. I think the work done on the Kelly's in the last 20 years or so by scholars like Ian Jones and John McQuilton have contributed to a reassessment of Maggie's role, though I would argue that as far as folklore is concerned it matters little which sister it was, as long as there is a helpful heroine!

Q. You assert that the Kellys were not actually as motivated by Irish sentiments as is widely portrayed, but that they "...had no other means of expressing their anger than through the inherited images and clich├ęs of Irish nationalism." How important do you think the Irish influence is over the Kelly legend? Do you believe the legend would have been so widely accepted if, from the outset, the gang had expressed an 'Australian sentiment' instead?
[Graham Seal] The Irish heritage was extremely important, of course, as it comes out in Ned's own words in the Jerilderie Letter and elsewhere. But his problems, and those of people like him were very much of that time and place and his actions, even though informed by the language and grievances of Irishism, were responses to the local situation. Given the resonances of Irishism in Australia, especially in those days, and the widespread conflicts associated with free selection (to which bushranging was one response), Ned didn't need to articulate an Australian-ness, his actions were perceived as relating to Australian issues.

Q.What do you think of the way Ned is portrayed in schools, and do you think this has/will change over time? Every Aussie school kid learns about the bushranger Ned Kelly. Is the schoolroom where opinion on Ned is generally formed? Do you think it is it the nursery for the persistence of the legend?
[Graham Seal] Is he portrayed in schools? My impression is that Australian history, culture, etc have just about disappeared from secondary curricula altogether!

Q. What role, if any, do you see the 'information age' playing in the future of the legend of Ned Kelly?
[Graham Seal] I really think that Ned has staying power as a national icon. Until we undergo some fundamental changes to the ways we think about ourselves Ned will continue to appeal and to be reworked and adapted to new circumstances, generation after generation.

Q. Do you think Ned would recognize himself in the legend?
[Graham Seal] That's a good question: yes, I think that his character and his actions, whatever we might think of them, were such that they were appropriate to the genesis of his legend. He was noted by his peers before the outbreak and his bushranger actions (which he made sure were good 'spin') were carried out in accordance with the moral code of the outlaw hero, which was familiar to the many who supported and sympathised with him and which acted as guidelines for what was OK and what was not. How many other bushrangers were not celebrated as heroes - an awful lot.
[Nicky] Thank you very much for your time Graham, I wish you all the best with the release of the book.

Copyright Bailup 2002

David Marshall True Hero

March 12, 2008
David Marshall 'a true national hero'
By Li Xueying

AFTER the late David Marshall was elected as Singapore's Chief Minister in 1955, he wore a safari jacket to his first meeting with British governor John Nicoll - unacceptable wear for the occasion.

'Marshall insults the Queen,' trumpeted The Straits Times the next day.

Following in his footsteps, another minister wore sandals, and no socks, to the opening of the Legislative Assembly.

'So clothing became our anti-colonial protest,' recounted Professor Chan Heng Chee, a political scientist, author of a biography on Mr Marshall and currently Singapore's ambassador to the United States.

While many criticised the burly lawyer-turned-politician for his 'histrionics', he felt that this was what the average man could grasp.

'He could mobilise them and inspire them to join his nationalist movement,' said Prof Chan of Mr Marshall, who led talks with London to bargain for Singapore's independence in the late 1950s.

President SR Nathan described him thus: 'Under colonial domination, he made us aware of who we were and made us dream of independence.'

'He was a giant of a man, in that he sought to inspire in us a sense of hope, and what we needed to be.'

These descriptions of Mr Marshall occurred during a one-day symposium yesterday to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Mr Marshall, who died in 1995.

In his time, Mr Marshall had been at turns Singapore's most formidable criminal lawyer, its first Chief Minister, founder of the Workers' Party (WP), a respected diplomat, a Jewish community leader, and a passionate advocate of liberal democratic values.

Marshall's life and legacy remembered
By K.C. Vijayan
SINGAPORE'S first chief minister David Marshall was urged several times to write his memoirs, but his answer was always no.
The reason: He was more interested in 'today's breakfast, not yesterday's dinner'.

His widow, Mrs Jean Marshall, said: 'I think he felt it was very difficult to write memoirs in a balanced way and he'd rather live life than write about it.'

He may have been hesitant about looking back on his own story, but his life and legacy will be discussed today by several leading figures at a symposium to mark the centenary of his birth.

Among them are Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, Singapore's ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee and Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh.

Messages from the guest-of-honour President S R Nathan and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew will be read at the Raffles City event. There will be speeches by Senior Counsel Harry Elias and legal historian Kevin Tan, who is writing Mr Marshall's biography.

The bushy-browed, pipe-toting Mr Marshall died 12 years ago. Best known as Singapore's first chief minister, he played a historic role in the country's struggle against its colonial masters and left his mark as a lawyer, diplomat and community leader.

He was anything but colourless. His biographer Dr Tan pointed to his combative style, electrifying speeches and sincere attempts to reach the masses to free them from the clutches of colonialism, saying that these qualities 'made him a larger-than-life personality'.

He led the Singapore Labour Front in 1955. Much later, he described his role as a 'midwife' of Singapore's independence, but one who 'didn't know how to bring up its children'.

Mr Marshall's oratorical skills made for stirring speeches at Empress Place and in clashes against the People's Action Party.

Years later, in 1990, then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew lauded his contributions as Singapore's ambassador to France, which bore 'the imprint of excellence which Singapore needs to make its mark'.

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), which is hosting today's symposium with the National Library Board, The Singapore Academy of Law, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Diplomatic Academy and the Jewish Welfare Board, described Mr Marshall as a 'man of exceptional civic consciousness'.

Iseas director K. Kesavapany said the event would pay tribute to Mr Marshall as an individual 'instrumental in evolving a desire for independence among our people'. Concerned that Mr Marshall's work should be made known, he said: 'It is important that we remember our forebears and the contributions that they have made form part of Singapore's heritage.

'If we do not pass this on to our children, in less than 20 years, no one would know who David Marshall was and that he was a Jew and was able to become chief minister.'

Born in Singapore of orthodox Jewish parents, Mr Marshall began practising law in 1938 and continued to do so, with interruptions, until 1995. It was during one of these breaks from the law - one which began in 1978 and lasted 15 years - that he became Singapore's ambassador to France, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

Lawyers here remember him as the foremost criminal lawyer whose persuasiveness in the courtroom contributed to the end of the jury system here.

Senior lawyer C. Arul, who was a deputy public prosecutor in 1963, called Mr Marshall 'the toughest criminal defence lawyer I ever came across'.

When he was working on a case, Mr Marshall would wake up at 4am and work on it through the day. 'When it was all over, he would drop everything and go for a big meal,' said Mr Arul.

Mrs Marshall said she was gratified that people both eminent and ordinary had done enough re-thinking to deem her late husband's contributions worth examining.

She found it moving that the symposium was being held, considering that her husband had always been passionate about what he did and was 'a controversial figure at times'.

'David was a man of commitment and compassion who saw situations in life in very vivid colours,' she said.

He also enjoyed the company of young people, for he saw the future in their hands. 'He was not a man to look backwards. He knew the future was in the hands of young people and he was hoping they would take on a passion for things other than themselves,' she added.

She added that her husband enjoyed life's luxuries but did not make them the aim of his life. For him, living fully was more important.

'He wasn't a person who had enough of living. He was 87 when he died and he didn't think he had enough of life. The last months were not easy months, but he didn't want to give up on life,' she said.

Mr Marshall married her late in his life, when he was 53 and she was a social work lecturer at the then-University of Singapore. They had four children. The three eldest are now based overseas and the youngest, Jonathan, is an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Dr Tan said that, looking back to 1955, Singapore could not have asked for a more suitable chief minister. 'He was not a good politician, but he symbolised something important: the neutrality of race and religion and the paramountcy of merit,' he said.

Singapore might have found a more effective first chief minister, he added, but it would not have found a more appropriate person in terms of symbolism, stature and the embodiment of humanity.