Prisoners Their Own Warders - A Record of the Convict Prison at Singapore in the Straits - Settlements Established 1825
by J. F. A. McNair
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Late Royal Artillery, C.M.G., A.M.I.C.E., F.L.S., and F.R.G.S Late Colonial Engineer and Surveyor General and Comptroller of Indian Convicts Straits Settlements from 1857 to 1877 Author of "Perak and the Malays" (Sarong and Kris)


Mem. Soc. Engineers Lond., Late Superintendent of Works and Surveys and Superintendent of Convicts, Singapore


"A willing bondman." —SHAKESPEARE (Julius Caesar, Act I., Sc. 3)





Some explanation appears to be due from us for writing this account of the Singapore Convict Jail so long after the date of its final abolition.

The truth is, that for several years it has been our opinion that it ought to be written by some one, and the same suggestion had often been made to one of us by the late Doctor Mouat, Inspector General of Jails, Bengal, and others who were well acquainted with its administration.

An opportunity lately occurred to bring us into communication on the subject, and when we came to compare the voluminous notes that each of us had collected during the time that the jail was in full vigour, we arrived at the conclusion that there was abundant material for a work upon it. It also appeared to us that there were some exceptional features in the training and discipline of these native convicts, that might even at this day prove of service to other Superintendents of native jails in different parts of India and the Colonies; while, at the same time, such a work would not be devoid of some interest to those who make a study of the punishment and reformation of the criminal class of all countries, a subject in regard to which, in spite of the great progress we have made, the last word has certainly not yet been said.

This, then, is our apology for the attempt we have made, and we trust that our joint labours may be received with indulgence.

When this old Singapore jail was put an end to in 1873, some six years after the transfer of the Straits Settlements to the Crown, the convicts then under confinement were removed to the Andaman Islands, at that time not long established as a penal settlement for India; while those on a ticket-of-leave were permitted to merge into the population, continuing to earn their livelihood as artizans, cow keepers, cart drivers, and the like. Those who were old and infirm were retained at Singapore at the expense of the Indian Government, and a certain number of convicts from Hongkong were returned to that colony to complete their sentences. There remained, therefore, only the local prisoners to be dealt with, and for these, under the subsequent orders of the Colonial Government, was planned and constructed by our Department, and under our supervision, a spacious prison on the cellular system, and situated on a more healthy site than the old convict jail, which had become surrounded by the buildings of the town.

We should much like to have given a consecutive history of this old jail from the date of its first construction until it was finally abolished, but unfortunately the jail registers have not been carefully kept from the beginning, or are not forthcoming; but we have had access to some old scattered letters and papers, and to statistics from the year 1844, since which time the records have been regularly kept from year to year.

A good deal of useful information has also come within our reach from works written upon Singapore and the Straits Settlements, and especially are we indebted to an Anecdotal History of Singapore, published by the Free Press, and extending from the year 1822 to 1856, which gives an interesting account of our early occupation of that island, and of the use to which the labour of these convicts was turned.

From the Memoirs of Sir Stamford Raffles, written by his widow in 1830, and from his Life by Demetrius Charles Boulger, in 1897, we have been able to trace that, so far back as the year 1823, there were between 800 and 900 of these Indian convicts at our settlement of Bencoolen, on the south-west coast of Sumatra; and that, when this place was conceded to the Dutch by the London treaty of 1825, these convicts were removed to Penang, and were subsequently distributed amongst the three settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. This distribution would in all probability have taken place about the year 1825, when Singapore was incorporated with Penang and Malacca, under the Governor and Council of the Incorporated Settlements.

We think the account which we are about to give of the various employments of these Indian convicts at Singapore, will abundantly show how considerably this important settlement has benefited by their early introduction. They made most of the roads in the settlement, including timber bridges, viaducts and tunnels, and executed for the Government many important public buildings. Moreover, when released from imprisonment upon a ticket-of-leave, they were absorbed innoxiously into the native community, and again contributed to the advantage of the place in the various occupations they had recourse to, in order to obtain an honest livelihood. By a judicious system of rewards, and a graduated scale of promotion, a very remarkable spirit of industry was infused into the bulk of these convicts during their incarceration, and it may be honestly said that this was effected without the sacrifice of that wholesome discipline always essential in the control especially of the criminal class.

We could not, of course, interfere with their religion, but by a well-judged scale of punishments and rewards, and by instruction given to them in their own vernacular, we endeavoured to raise their character by helping them to good conduct, and to a better way of living. To encourage and foster that industry to which we have referred, we taught them the trades to which each of them appeared to be best adapted, and held out to them the hope that they might again become good citizens, and earn for themselves a creditable subsistence; and, as it was our practice to deal with each of them "individually," we were often made aware that there was many an honest heart immured within those prison walls.

In the narrative we have given of the Settlements, it may seem that we have dwelt at too great length upon their early history, but we thought it would add to the interest of the work, if we gave what is really only a limited sketch of the various places to which those Indian convicts were first banished beyond the seas.

In the initiation of the system of industrial training among these convicts, special credit is due to the late General (then Captain) Man, who in his early years had been trained at Chatham as a sapper. The late Colonel Macpherson, who succeeded him, carried on and improved the system, and both these officers were well seconded in their efforts by the late Mr. J. Bennett, C.E., who practically was their clerk of the works. Mr. Bennett subsequently rose to a high position in the Department.

It would be impossible to mention the names of all the subordinate staff, but Burnett, Stuart, and Lamb are prominent in our recollection as having done good service as warders and instructors.

In 1864, the Resident of Rhio, Java, Mr. E. Netscher, was appointed by the Dutch Government to study and report upon the convict system in force in Singapore, and both the Siam and Japan Governments sent special missions for the like purpose, the mission from Japan being accompanied by Mr. Hall, of the British Consulate. Many others, also, recorded their opinions in its favour, and some among them were authorities upon prison systems pursued in some parts of both Europe and America.

The local government, we should add, in their direction of this convict establishment, fully recognised that the distinctive feature in the native mind was to look to one rather than to many masters, to one European executive officer rather than to a collective body of magistrates, and, therefore, beyond that general supervision which the Government must ever assume over its Departments, it committed the whole of the management, discipline, and control of this large body of convicts entirely to their Superintendent, under the approved rules and regulations for his guidance, and for the administration of the whole establishment.

J. F. A. McNAIR, R.A., C.M.G. W. D. BAYLISS.



Chapter I


Chapter II


Chapter III


Chapter IV


Chapter V


Chapter VI


Chapter VII


Chapter VIII


Chapter IX


Chapter X


Chapter XI


Chapter XII


Chapter XIII



List of Illustrations and Plates




Plate I


Plate II


Plate III


Plate IV


Plate V


Plate VI


Plate VII


Plate VIII


Plate IX


Plate X


Plate XI


Plate XII


Plate XIII


Plate XIV


Plate XV


Plate XVA


Plate XVI


Plate XVII




Plate XIX


Plate XX


Chapter I


In opening this account of the old convict jail at Singapore, it will be necessary to refer, as we have said, in some little detail to the history of the settlements of Bencoolen, Penang, and Malacca, to which convicts from India were first sent, prior to their reception into the Singapore prison.

The first penal settlement was Bencoolen, the Banka-Ulu[1] of the Malays, to which they were transported from India about the year 1787, much about the same time that transportation to Australia for English convicts was sanctioned by our laws.

[Footnote 1: Literally, swollen at the source.]

Bencoolen was singularly adapted as a receptacle for convict labour; it was not a populous place when we took it in 1685, nor, as far as we can gather, had the population much increased up to the year 1787, and the few Sumatrans and Malays that were its inhabitants were an indolent race, and preferred a life of ease to any kind of labour. They were content to get their livelihood from fishing, and they had no artificial wants. They would occasionally work upon pepper plantations, and would bring the berries to Bencoolen for sale to British merchants. Labour was therefore wanted here, and the East India Company thought that by its introduction they would make of Bencoolen a thriving settlement; but as it turned out they were greatly disappointed, for both pepper and camphor, which were the only commodities there for trade, greatly declined; and commerce, which was all-important to the East India Company, almost entirely disappeared after its establishment for some few years. It was a miserable place from all accounts, and was described by Captain James Lowe, in 1836, "as an expensive port, and of no use to any nation that might possess it," and he only echoed what was previously said of it by William Dampier, who had once been there in the humble position of a gunner, that it was "a sorry place, sorrily governed, and very unhealthy." So unhealthy was it, that it became necessary as early as 1714 to remove the Residency and offices to a point of land about two miles further off the coast, which was called Fort Marlborough; but even this locality was found not to be beyond the reach of malaria, and the place continued, as Crawfurd says, to be more or less unhealthy down to the cession of the settlement in 1825. But it had, however, done its work in providing for us a firm footing in those seas, and was a help to the next step in our progress towards a wider empire.

It is important to relate here that its last Lieut.-Governor was the founder of our now important settlement of Singapore. He took up the appointment at Bencoolen on the 20th March, 1818, founded Singapore in 1819, returned to Bencoolen in 1820, and finally left for England in 1824.

It is not our present purpose to dwell upon the intellectual and moral greatness of this remarkable man, for full justice has been done to his memory in the recent account of his life by Demetrius Boulger, and by an impressive tribute to his worth by General Sir Andrew Clarke, R.E., G.C.M.G., in a paper read by him in May last at the Royal Institution.

It is of course impossible at this late date to trace what was done in connection with the convicts on their first arrival at this settlement, though we gather from old letters that they were employed principally upon road-making, and on clearing estates which, "owing to their owners having died intestate, had reverted to the State." They were also let out to planters on a guarantee as to their not quitting the settlement.

The first authentic information we have in regard to the management and treatment of these convicts is from a letter to the Government by Sir Stamford Raffles, written from Bencoolen in 1818; which we give bodily from his Life, written by his widow in 1830. It is a paper which gives evidence of the soundness of his views upon this subject, and indeed it may be truly said, that with every question with which he had to deal he always displayed the greatest judgment and keenness of insight.

It is as follows:—

"But there is another class of people that call for immediate consideration. Since 1787 a number of persons have been transported to this place from Bengal for various crimes of which they have been found guilty.

The object of the punishment as far as it affects the parties must be the reclaiming them from their bad habits, but I much question whether the practice hitherto pursued has been productive of that effect. This I apprehend to be, in a great measure, in consequence of sufficient discrimination and encouragement not having been shown in favour of those most inclined to amendment, and perhaps to the want of a discretionary power in the chief authority to remit a portion of the punishment and disgrace which is at present the common lot of all. It frequently happens that men of notoriously bad conduct are liberated at the expiration of a limited period of transportation, whilst others, whose general conduct is perhaps unexceptional, are doomed to servitude till the end of their lives.

As coercive measures are not likely to be attended with success, I conceive that some advantage would arise from affording inducements to good conduct by holding out the prospect of again becoming useful members of society, and freeing themselves from the disabilities under which they labour. There are at present about 500 of these unfortunate people. However just the original sentence may have been, the crimes and characters of so numerous a body must necessarily be very unequal, and it is desirable that some discrimination should be exerted in favour of those who show the disposition to redeem their character. I would suggest the propriety of the chief authority being vested with a discretionary power of freeing such men as conduct themselves well from the obligation of service, and permitting them to settle in the place and resume the privileges of citizenship. The prospect of recovering their characters, of freeing themselves from their present disabilities, and the privileges of employing their industry for their own advantage would become an object of ambition, and supply a stimulus to exertion and good conduct which is at present wanting.

It rarely happens that any of those transported have any desire to leave the country; they form connections in the place, and find so many inducements to remain, that to be sent away is considered by most a severe punishment.

While a convict remains unmarried and kept to daily labour very little confidence can be placed in him, and his services are rendered with so much tardiness and dissatisfaction that they are of little or no value; but he no sooner marries and forms a small settlement than he becomes a kind of colonist, and if allowed to follow his inclinations he seldom feels inclined to return to his native country.

I propose to divide them into three classes. The first class to be allowed to give evidence in court, and permitted to settle on land secured to them and their children; but no one to be admitted to this class until he has been resident in Bencoolen three years. The second class to be employed in ordinary labour. The third class, or men of abandoned and profligate character, to be kept to the harder kinds of labour, and confined at night.

In cases of particular good conduct a prospect may be held out of emancipating deserving convicts from further obligation of services on condition of their supporting themselves and not quitting the settlement.

Upon the abstract question of the advantage of this arrangement I believe there will be little difference of opinion. The advantage of holding out an adequate motive of exertion is sufficiently obvious, and here it would have the double tendency of diminishing the bad characters and of increasing that of useful and industrious settlers, thereby facilitating the general police of the country and diminishing the expenses of the Company."

These intentions were acted upon afterwards, and the good effects of the regulations were soon apparent; a large body of people who had been living in the lowest state of degradation soon became useful labourers and happy members of society. So grateful were they for the change, that when they were sent round to Penang on the transfer of Bencoolen to the Dutch in 1825, as we have stated, they entreated to be placed on the same footing as they had been placed at Fort Marlborough, and not reduced to the state of the convicts in Prince of Wales Island, who were kept as a Government gang to be employed wherever their services might be thought most desirable.

Upon December 20th, 1823, Sir Stamford Raffles wrote a further letter to Government in regard to these convicts, of which we can only give an extract, which runs thus—

"As the management of convicts ought to be a subject of consideration, I send you a copy of the regulations established for those of this place. The convicts now at Bencoolen amount to 800 or 900, and the number is gradually increasing. They are natives of Bengal and Madras; that is to say, of those presidencies. The arrangement has been brought about gradually, but the system now appears complete, and, as far as we have yet gone, has been attended with the best effects. I have entrusted Mr. John Hull with the superintending of the department, and he feels great pleasure and satisfaction in the general improvement of this class of people."

It is greatly to be regretted that we have been unable to obtain a copy of the regulations to which Sir Stamford Raffles refers, but we have no doubt they formed the basis of what were hereafter called the "Penang rules."

It was, as we have said, in the year 1825 that the whole of the Bencoolen convicts were transferred to Penang, and thence, as opportunities offered later on, to Malacca and Singapore. One point we trace in regard to those convicts is that, greatly to their disappointment, they missed the freedom they had possessed at Bencoolen, for they were sent to work in gangs upon the roads, and in levelling ground near the town of Penang. At first they were tried at jungle cutting and burning, but had no aptitude for it. This work was therefore entrusted to Malays, who we all know have a natural bent for cutting down trees and underwood, and are possessed of implements wonderfully suited for the purpose.

We may remark here that transportation in those early times had its terrors both to the European from our shores to Australia, and to the native of India to these settlements, and more especially to the latter.

Though, by a system of "assignment" or "compulsory" servitude to masters, or by a ticket of leave which made it open to the European criminal to work for whom and where he pleased, expatriation became in time to be less severely felt; still, for a long period it continued to act as a deterrent to others, though to the convict himself it was "greater in idea perhaps than in reality." To the native of India it meant even a severer punishment than to the European, for to be sent across the "kala pani," or "black water," in a convict ship or "jeta junaza," or "living tomb" as they called it, meant, especially to a man of high caste, whether of the right or left hand section, the total loss to him of all that was worth living for. He could never be received in intercourse again with his own people, and so strong are the caste ideas of ceremonial uncleanness that it would be defilement to his friends and relations even to offer to him sustenance of any kind, and he was in point of fact excommunicated and avoided. Happily this dread of caste defilement has now, by railway communication over the country and equalization of classes under our rule, greatly diminished, but it is still, as Balfour says, "a prominent feature in every-day Hindu life." Sir Stamford Raffles' views as to the treatment of those transported convicts have in the main been recognised by all authorities in the Straits Settlements since his time; and his suggestion as to the privileges to be granted to men of the first class, though not defined by him as a "ticket of leave," has been all along kept in view, and was in regular force in the jail of which we treat. He divided his convicts into three classes only, but as time went on they were separated into six classes, and later on in the narrative will be given the reasons for this enlargement of the number. Dr. Mouat, Inspector General of Jails, Bengal, in a paper read before the Statistical Society some few years ago, spoke of this jail and the ticket-of-leave system as follows:—

"I visited the Straits Settlements in 1861 when under the rule of my friend, Sir Orfeur Cavenagh, and found in existence a system of industrial training of convicts superior to anything we had at that time on the continent of India. It was said to have been inaugurated by the celebrated Sir Stamford Raffles in 1825, when Singapore was first selected for the transportation of convicts from India, and to have been subsequently organised and successfully worked by General H. Man, Colonel MacPherson, and Major McNair. The ticket-of-leave system was in full and effective operation, and very important public works have been constructed by means of convict labour, chief amongst them St. Andrew's Cathedral, a palace for the Governor, and most of the roads. The ticket-of-leave convicts were said to be a well-conducted, industrious lot of men, who very rarely committed fresh crimes, who all earned an honest livelihood, and were regarded as respectable members of the community amongst whom they dwelt. The public works were creditable examples of prison industry and skill St. Andrew's Cathedral, built under Major McNair from plans prepared by Colonel MacPherson entirely by convict labour, struck me as one of the finest specimens of ecclesiastical architecture which I had seen in the East, and I believe there exists in no other country a more remarkable example of the successful industrial training of convicts."

We are not of course greatly concerned in this treatise with the original crimes committed by those Indian convicts, and for which they had received a sentence of transportation. Suffice it to say that their warrants showed generally that, in the case of convicts for life, the crimes were for the most part those of Murder, Thuggee, and Dacoity; while those sentenced to a term of years had been tried and convicted of frauds and forgeries, robbery with violence, and such like misdemeanours. "Thuggee," we all know, though it will bear repetition here, was in full operation all over India from very early times, but at the beginning of this century it engaged the serious attention of the Indian Government; and it was found to be an hereditary pursuit of certain families who worked in gangs—the Hindus to satisfy their goddess Bhawani, and other sects the goddess Devi—and they committed a countless number of murders all over the country. Thugs were a bold, resolute set of men, and as a rule divided themselves into groups consisting of a leader, a persuader, a strangler, a scout, and a gravedigger, but all the gangs, happily for India, were finally broken up under Colonel Sleeman about 1860. Some of the men were hanged, and many transported to our penal settlements in the Straits of Malacca. Dacoity was in some parts of India akin to Thuggee, for the leaders carried with them in the same way a sacred implement, which was devoted to Bhawani. In the case of the Thugs this was a pickaxe, but with the Dacoits it was an axe with a highly-tempered edge.

In the early days we talk of, it was the common practice of the authorities to brand these life convicts with a hot iron to indicate the character of their crime, and this was in some cases done upon the forehead both in the English language and in the vernacular of the district where the crime was committed. This was very properly put a stop to shortly after the custom became known. We have seen some of those in our jail who, by good conduct, have risen to a ticket of leave, using their utmost endeavours to get rid of the marks, but without effect; and finally as a last resource they were obliged to be content to hide the "stigma" by wearing their turbans, or head-dresses, inconveniently low down over their brows.

It is worthy of remark here, in reference to those native criminals who are in the habit of working in gangs, more especially among the Thugs, how signally they often fail when they attempt to act alone. Amongst our Thugs we had one (a strangler) who, coveting a pair of gold bangles on the wrist of a fellow-convict employed at the General Hospital, one night tried the handkerchief upon him, but missed his mark, and got away without being detected. Later on, the convict authorities examined the warrants of all the men at the hospital, and this gave them a clue, which they followed up successfully and caught the "Thug." He was punished, and then confessed, saying, "Bhawani was unkind, and I could not do it by myself; I missed my companions," or "saubutwale" as he called them, literally meaning those "I kept company with."

It will not be inappropriate to mention here the callous and brutalized nature of those gang-robbers, of whom it is recorded that, when one of their gang was suddenly arrested, they at once decapitated him, and carried off the head, lest the whole gang should be betrayed.

Chapter II


Penang, also named "Prince of Wales" Island as a compliment to the then Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. This name for the island has become almost obsolete, and the Malay name Pi'nang, for the "Areka Palm," which flourishes there, is that by which it is now always known. It is situated at the northern extremity of the Malacca Straits, and was ceded to us by the Rajah of Kedah in 1785, when we gave up, but only for a time, our British settlement on the North Andaman, which we had acquired in 1789 and abandoned in 1796. Province Wellesley, opposite to Penang, upon the Malay Peninsula, was thirteen years later taken by us for the purpose of suppressing piracy, and forms part of this British settlement. The island has an area of 107 square miles, and the province of 270 square miles. Another dependency of the settlement since 1889 is the Dindings with the Island of Pangkor, where the treaty of 1874 was made by Sir Andrew Clarke, and which eventually led to our protectorate of several of the native states of the Malay Peninsula, and their complete federation in 1896.

When Penang was first occupied it was almost uninhabited, and the whole island was covered with the densest jungle, but it was not long before Captain Light, who was appointed the first Superintendent of Trade, made a road to the highest point of the island, then called "Bel retiro" but now Penang Hill.[2] A great part of the island was soon cleared and roads made, so that in 1792, seven years after it came into our hands, Captain Light was able to report that the population had increased to 10,000 souls; this increase of population has been steadily going on from year to year, until, with its dependencies, Penang, after a little more than a century, now numbers no less than 240,000.

[Footnote 2: There is an old legend in the island that Captain Light, in order to encourage the Malays in the work of cutting down the jungle, pointed a cannon in the direction in which he required it to be cleared, then he loaded it with powder, and instead of a shot he put in several dollars, and firing it off he called out to the Malays, "Now you may have all you can find."

It is said that the eager contest which ensued, of one endeavouring to get the money before another, led to a regular scramble, which considerably helped forward the work.]

Since 1825, when the Indian convicts from Bencoolen were added to those already on the island, their labour was almost wholly turned to account in the construction of roads both on the island and in the province; but about 1850 some intramural work was also undertaken. The gangs in the province were at last taught to cut and burn the jungle as well as to construct the roads, and the records say at some risk from tigers which infested the province in those days, and occasionally carried off a straggler from the gangs at work. They were also bitten in large numbers by the venomous hamadryads which used to abound there, and from the poison of which some died.

About the time our treatise commences, Penang had acquired the monopoly of the trade of the Malayan Peninsula and Sumatra. It also had a large traffic with China, Siam, Borneo, the Celebes, and other places in the Eastern Archipelago; but after the establishment later on of Singapore it had begun to decline, and the settlement then became second only in commercial importance. But within the last quarter of a century the trade has considerably revived, owing largely to the planting of tobacco in Sumatra by European planters, and the annexation of the native states of the Malayan Peninsula, both of which have constituted Penang the chief shipping centre for their produce.

Before we pass on to treat of the Singapore jail, it will be well briefly to describe the method pursued in dealing with the Indian convicts on their first arrival in Penang, as far back as we can trace any definite notice in regard to them. They were confined at the outset in the then existing prison known as "Chowrusta Lines," situated on the Penang road; but this proving to be too small to accommodate all the convicts from India, a larger and more commodious prison was built on the opposite side of the road. It consisted of an enclosure, surrounded by a high brick wall, subdivided into yards, in each of which were erected the wards or dormitories. These were simply long rooms open to the high roof, having windows on either side secured by iron bars. Iron gates closed the doorways to each ward, which were locked at night. A gangway seven to eight feet wide ran the whole length of the ward, and sleeping platforms about seven feet wide extended to the full length of the ward on either side of this gangway. The hospital ward was similar to the others, except that it was a two-storied building, and cots were provided instead of the continuous sleeping platforms. The hospital and women's ward were all within the enclosure in a separate yard. Warders' and apothecary's quarters were provided at the main entrance to the prison. Cooking places for the different castes and latrines were constructed in each yard; a military guard room, food and clothing stores were also supplied. Little can be said in favour of this prison, as the wards were ill-ventilated, and the sanitary arrangements were very imperfect. All the prisoners were in a somewhat lax system of association, except those undergoing punishment in cells. Prior to the receipt of the convicts from Bencoolen, Penang itself, as a penal settlement, had already been supplied from India with a number of transported criminals of all tribes and castes, who were working in gangs under free warders; but from vacancies and dismissals, and the consequent inability to supply the place of these warders, where free labour of the kind required was not obtainable, an attempt was then made to enlist the services of well-behaved convicts to oversee their fellow-prisoners. But it does not appear to have at all succeeded at that time, and we have it on record that the Governor in Council at Penang, in the year 1827, deemed it necessary to revise the regulations under which these Indian convicts were controlled; and accordingly we learn that a committee was appointed to assemble at Penang in November, 1827, when a code of revised rules was drawn up, and the following comment was made by the committee as to the employment of convicts as warders: "With regard to the present system of employing convicts as tindals and sirdars, the committee think it very objectionable, as it is impossible that men so intimately connected with those over whom they are placed can exercise that authority and control which is so essential in the management of such a body of men as the convicts. The duties at present performed by these servants are provided for in the proposed increase to the establishment."

These rules, subsequently known as the "Penang Rules," received the sanction of the Governor in Council, and were sent for guidance to the Resident Councillor at Singapore, to which settlement some few convicts had already been sent. This remark of the Penang committee, which in all fairness we have quoted, was doubtless quite true at the time when it was penned, and when the system of employing prisoners as warders was in its infancy, and, moreover, when the whole prison discipline was acknowledged to be in more or less an indifferent state; but, as will hereafter be shown, it did not hold good when the system was well established, and the choice of warders was made from those classes best suited for the control of their fellow-prisoners, especially in the outstations, or "commands" as they were called, where gangs of convicts were placed under their control in the construction and repairs of roads or in stone-quarrying.

In these early days, no organised system of industrial employment appears to have been carried on in this Penang jail, and no intramural workshops of any kind were provided, the convicts being employed almost exclusively on extramural works, such as opening up roads on the Penang Hill and throughout the island, and in Province Wellesley; also in brick-making, felling timber, burning lime, and reclaiming mangrove swamps. The ground on which some portion of the present town is built was filled up by convict labour. Much later on, however, in the Fifties, rattan work was introduced into the prison, and easy chairs, lounging chairs, baskets, and other articles of a very substantial quality were manufactured and sold to the public at a higher price than that for which the same articles could be purchased in the town, but they were far superior both in the quality of rattan and in their make. About the year 1860, blacksmiths' and carpenters' shops were established in the prison, and on the different "commands" in the country districts.

The ordinary discipline of the jail was carried out in accordance with the "Penang Rules" referred to, and any breach of these rules was punished according to the nature of the offence, at the discretion of the Superintendent. There was then no formal investigation or inquiry into convict complaints or misdemeanours, and no records of them were kept with any show of regularity. It was only after the appointment of the late General Man as Resident Councillor of Penang, Captain Hilliard being Superintendent, that a manifest improvement in the management and control of the convicts took place, and especially in their industrial training. He brought with him the system in force in Singapore, and the new rules and regulations formed with the sanction of the Governor, then Colonel Butterworth, and which were an improvement on the old Penang rules, but were only at this time being tentatively carried out in Penang. By these rules the entire abolition of free warders was approved, and petty officers raised from amongst the convicts themselves fully established, though as the Governor himself said in his letter to the Resident Councillor of Singapore in August, 1854, "I had drawn up these rules as long ago as 1845 in the face of much opposition."

The late General Man held the appointment at Penang from 1860 until 1867, when the Straits Settlements were transferred to the Crown, and from Penang he went to the Andaman Islands to introduce there the system of convict management in force in the Straits Settlements;[3] and with the view to uniformity of practice, the Government of India had previously deputed Major, now General, Forlong to prepare a code of rules based on those in force in the Singapore jail.

[Footnote 3: Now under the able management of Col. R. C. Temple, C.I.E.]

When the transfer was fully effected, the new office of Comptroller of Indian Convicts was created, and the whole of those Indian convicts in the three settlements were placed under his charge. The "Butterworth Rules" remained in force, with certain alterations and improvements, until the disestablishment of the whole department in 1873.

As many of the convicts were continued to be employed at Penang and Province Wellesley on roads and works at a distance from the main jail, it was necessary to provide accommodation for them in convict lines, or "commands," as we have said, pronounced "kumman" by the convicts.[4] It will be interesting to give some particulars about them: They consisted of a stockaded fence, constructed of rough poles of wood from four to six inches in diameter, and from ten to twelve feet long, set perpendicularly in a trench about two feet deep, and placed close together, being secured longitudinally by adze-dressed poles nailed securely on the outside and along the top of them. The stockade enclosed an area sufficient for the erection of the dormitory, cooking place, and sheds for the bullocks employed in carts to convey road material, and for protection also against the possible attacks of wild animals. The walls of the dormitory were constructed in what is well known as "wattle and daub." They were made with stout stakes driven firmly into the ground at about one foot apart, twigs of trees were then interwoven, and the whole then thickly plastered with a mixture of clay and cowdung, and when this had become thoroughly dry it was coated with whitewash. This formed both a substantial, and at the same time a sanitary walling, which was frequently treated with a further coating of limewash made thin. The dormitories were ten feet high, with a continuous open grating of wooden bars at the top, under the eaves of the roof, for the purpose of complete ventilation. The sleeping platforms were raised three feet off the ground floor, which was covered with the same composition as that of the walls, and the building was roofed with thatch. In the centre of the dormitory an earthenware brazier of burning charcoal was always maintained day and night, and occasionally crude fragrant gum Benjamin was thrown upon it. The natives believe that an aromatic perfume exhaled by fire keeps off all noxious effluvia; and we certainly found that they were in better health from the use of this incense, and from the fresh plastering of the floor every morning with cowdung diluted with water, which is a common practice in most of the native huts in India. This was regularly kept up by two convicts of the invalid class, who also acted as caretakers. The entrance to the enclosure was secured by a stout gate, which, after the roll was called, was locked every night at nine o'clock. The number of convicts stationed on one "command" averaged about thirty, and they were under the charge of a responsible convict warder of the grade of a tindal, with a peon and two orderlies and a native "moonshi," or timekeeper, to keep account of work done, and to forward reports to the main jail. By a system of surprise visits both day and night occasionally, we rarely found that any irregularities occurred.

[Footnote 4: Simpson, in his Side Lights on Siberia, uses "command" as denoting a jail outside of the prison walls.]

It has not been already mentioned that the local jails, or houses of correction, though according to law they were kept distinct from the convict jails at the several settlements, nevertheless were in their superintendence placed under the Superintendent of Convicts and convict petty officers. A good proportion of these local prisoners were employed upon extramural works, under the guard of these convict petty officers, who, being natives of India, had nothing in common with the Chinese and Malays who formed the bulk of these prisoners, and they kept them well under control, and allowed but few escapes, and, moreover, they were never found open to the taking of bribes from the prisoners' relations and friends, who now and again would attempt to offer them forbidden articles.

At Penang there were a considerable number of these Indian convicts upon ticket of leave, who gained their livelihood in a variety of ways. Some of them were the first to discover the palm known by the Malays as "Plas tikoos," and by botanists as the "Licuala acutifida," a small palm, ordinarily not higher than from five to six feet. From this palm, which grew mostly upon the Penang Hill, were constructed walking-sticks called "Penang lawyers," and the process of preparing them was very simple: the epidermis, or exterior coating, was scraped off with glass, and then the stick was straightened with fire, as is done by the Malays in preparing the Malacca canes. Several of these Penang lawyers were sold by the convicts on the spot, and many more were exported to Europe and America.

Chapter III


Authorities differ very considerably as to the origin of the name of this place. Some attribute it to the Malay name for a shrub which largely abounded near the shore, a sort of "Phyllanthus emblica" of the spurge order; others, again, ascribe it to a plant called the "Jumbosa Malaccensis," or "Malay apple tree" of the myrtle bloom order; others, again, say that the Javanese were the first to colonize the place about the year 1160 of our time, and that they gave it the name "Malaka," which in that language means "an exile," in memory of one "Paramisura" who came there as a fugitive from the kingdom of Palembang.

In the original manuscript of Godinho de Eredia, of date 1613, reproduced by Janssen in 1882, he says that "Paramisura," the first king of the Malays, settled on the coast near to the Bukit China River, which is close to the present town, and called it "Malaka," after the fruit of a tree which grew there. (See sketch from that old work, Plate IV.) Anyway, like all Malay history, it is full of obscurity, and it really does not concern us very much just now as to what it is really derived from, though it would be no doubt interesting to Malay scholars to pursue the inquiry.

We know, however, on the best authority, that it was the first settlement formed by a European power in those seas. The Portuguese, in their palmy days under Albuquerque, took it from a Malay Sultan, named Mahomed Shah, in 1511. They kept quiet possession of it for 134 years, when it fell into the hands of the Dutch, who held it for seventy-four years; then the British took possession in 1795, restored it to the Dutch in 1818, who gave it back in 1824, and we have held it ever since. In size it is forty-two miles long and from eight to twenty-five miles broad, and contains 659 square miles.

In the old Portuguese days it was a very important place of trade, so much so that De Barros, their famous historian, wrote of it that, "the native town was a good league in length along the shore, and that there were many merchant vessels there from Calicut, Aden, Mecca, Java, and Pegu, and other places." This splendid trade, however, began to decline in the time of the Dutch, and shortly after we had opened Penang in 1785 it had almost entirely vanished.

The Portuguese must have attached great value to this their first settlement in what was then known as the "Golden Chersonese," for they spent vast sums of money in fortifying it, and enclosed a considerable enceinte by a wall of great height and thickness, and crowned the small hill of St. Paul's within by the erection of a fine cathedral dedicated to our Lady Del-Monte, with a monastery annexed to it. These fortifications were afterwards razed to the ground, and some of the old foundations may still be seen; but we left the buildings standing and the greater part of the cathedral to go to ruins. Some of the tombstones in the old nave bear the date 1515, and there is a tomb to the two Bishops of Japan, but there is nothing to indicate that the saintly St. Francis Xavier laboured here beyond a small tablet; but the memory of his deeds is yet fresh amongst the traditions of the Portuguese descendants still resident there.

Seen from the sea in these days, Malacca looks an antiquated old place, with all the signs of desertion about it. The old ruins on the hill form the most prominent feature in the landscape, and the once busy river (see Plate VI.) is now almost closed even to boat traffic by the silt which has been brought down from the interior. It is difficult indeed to realize that this strange, dim old place was once the centre of a thriving trade from so many distant countries, though it still carries on its cultivation of rice and other grain, and this is yearly being more developed.

As far as we can gather, the first batch of convicts were sent to this place from Penang shortly after we took possession, and that they were employed in filling up the moat to suit it and the glacis for a parade ground. These convicts were confined first of all in the town jail, which was situated on the steep or eastern side of St. Paul's Hill, and was in point of fact the old Portuguese soldiers' barrack, and was constructed on a terrace excavated from the hillside; and, together with a hospital, warders' quarters, store rooms and other necessary buildings, was surrounded by a high wall built from the stone from the old fort ramparts. The few local prisoners were put into the old Dutch prison, and both these prisoners and the convicts were placed under the charge of half-blood Portuguese warders. For some years few convicts were sent into the interior, their labour being required for the public works in and near the town; but about the year 1840, as fresh arrivals came from Penang, which is about 250 miles north of it, gangs were made up to keep in repair about 100 miles of the public roads that were left to us, and to open up new communications near the frontier; so that we now have nearly 300 miles to keep in order. They were located in temporary huts surrounded by a palisading, and warders were raised from amongst the best behaved to be responsible for their work and general supervision. This practice was continued with satisfactory results, and gradually was introduced into the town jail, and the half-bred Portuguese warders were dismissed.

Prior to the appointment to Malacca of Captain Man as Resident Councillor, but little had been done in the way of training the convicts in industrial occupation, but he established a few workshops and started them in various trades. It was not, however, until 1860 that anything approaching to really skilled labour could be got out of them. They were then supplied with good tools and an instructor, also a convict, was sent down from Singapore. After this, carts for the roads, iron and wood work for bridges, roofing timbers for public works, and other necessary requirements for the erection of minor works were satisfactorily accomplished. For some classes of work the convicts were superior to the Chinese workmen in the town, especially in metal turning and fitting. One Cingalese convict became so expert at this trade that upon his release from confinement he established himself in Ceylon, and has been doing a very profitable business, and occupies now a respectable position in life.

As far as can be gathered from the records, the convicts were, as a rule, well behaved, though in the early Sixties, owing to their maltreatment by an overseer who had the supervision of a gang for clearing the jungle and making roads upon Cape Rachado for the erection of a lighthouse, an emeute took place, and some life was lost, and many escaped inland, but were subsequently returned by the native Malay chiefs.

Some of the Indian convicts here on ticket of leave were expert shikarries, and frequently with their trained dogs would hunt the deer and wild boar, and dispose of the flesh to Chinese in the town at some profit to themselves.

In 1873, when the convict establishments in the Straits Settlements were finally broken up, those convicts still wanting time to complete their sentences were transferred to Singapore for transmission to the Andamans, those upon ticket of leave being permitted to merge into the population.

Chapter IV


The origin of the name of this island it is difficult to trace, but the generally accepted derivation is from the Sanscrit words, "Singh," a lion, and "Pura," a city or town; and if so, it would not have been given by the Malays, but more probably by the Indians, who, according to native history, came over with one, Rajah Suran, and conquered Johore and this island in about the year A.D. 1160. "Singh" is a title adopted by the Hindus, and by several military castes of Northern India, and the word "Singhpur" is often used by them to mean the grand entrance gate to a palace.

If, on the other hand, we assume that the Malays conferred the name to the island, they would in all probability have given it from their word "Singgah," which means "a place to stop at," or "to bait by the way," and as the embouchure of the Singapore river formed a commodious and sheltered retreat for their rowing and sailing prahus, this view is not inappropriate, the more especially as the affix "pura," meaning a city, had been known to them from the earliest times, and of which we have one instance at least from their original home of Sumatra, in the naming of their kingdom of Indrapura, which was, as Marsden says, "for a long time, from 1400 A.D., the seat of a monarchy of some consideration and extent."

The island is about twenty-seven miles long by fourteen broad, and contains an area of 206 square miles, and therefore is somewhat larger than the Isle of Wight. It is separated from the mainland of Johore by what is known as "The Old Straits," from its having been the only channel used in the early days by vessels bound eastward. The island was first settled upon, according to Balfour, "in A.D. 1160, by one Sri Sura Bawana," and from an inscription on a sandstone rock at the mouth of the Singapore River, now unfortunately destroyed, it would appear that Rajah Suran, of Amdan Nagara, after conquering the state of Johore with certain natives of India (Klings), proceeded in 1201 to a country then called "Tamask," and afterwards returned to "Kling," leaving the stone inscription in memory of his visit and victory. To have conquered Johore, the Rajah's vessels must have sailed by the Old Straits; but we have no record as to where "Tamask" was situated, and it is not given in the oldest Atlases we have been able to consult, viz. by D'Anville and others, though it may be in the charts of the 14th and 15th centuries. It seems more probable that the expedition set out from Java or Sumatra, to which places Hindus had, as we know, in very remote times proceeded from India, as the old ruins they have left there of their temples, supposed to be of the 7th century, plainly prove.

Sir Stamford Raffles, as we have already stated when treating of Bencoolen, took up the appointment of Lieutenant-Governor of that settlement on the 22nd March, 1818, and he had not been there long before he recognized the fact that British interests needed a trading centre somewhere in the Straits of Malacca. It was, he said, "not that any extension of territory was necessary, but the aim of Government should be to acquire somewhere in the Straits a commercial station with a military guard, and that, when once formed, it was his belief that it would soon maintain a successful rivalry with a neighbouring Power, who would be obliged either to adopt a liberal system of free trade, or see the trade of these seas collected under the British flag."

It is well known how the port of Rhio, on the west coast of the island of Bintang, which is separated from the island of Battam by the Rhio Strait, was first thought of; but we were too late in occupying it. Then the Carrimon Islands were suggested by the Resident Councillor of Malacca, at that time Major Farquhar; but the harbour was too exposed to the prevailing monsoon. Subsequently Tanjong Jatti, on the island of Bengkalis, was deemed to be a suitable site, but this had its objection as to situation; and after coasting about these seas for some little time, Sir Stamford Raffles finally fixed upon the island of Singapore for an entrepot for trade, and the wisdom and sagacity displayed by him in this selection has been abundantly proved.

Sir Stamford Raffles concluded the treaty with the native chiefs for the cession of the island to Great Britain, and the British flag was planted on the island on the same day that the treaty was signed, viz., the 19th February, 1819, but it has since been found to have been actually signed on the 6th of that month.

Our new possession, some 600 miles from Batavia, then contained in round numbers about 120 Malays and 30 Chinese. Some of these lived wholly in their boats at the mouth of the river, and the remainder in huts at Teloh Blangah, on the south side of the island. In the course of a year the population had risen to 5,000, and in little more than five years to 19,000 or 20,000 of all nations actively engaged in commerce, "offering to each and all a handsome livelihood and abundant profit." When the census was taken in 1881 the population had risen to 139,208, and in 1891 there was an increase of 45,346, making a total of 184,554, representing nearly every nationality and tribe in the Indian Archipelago, China, and India, and about 1,500 Europeans.

In the year 1822, the first settlers to dwell on the island were traders in the Archipelago, and they lived in raft houses, so called, or more probably in huts, erected on poles in the Malay style, and these were located on the site of the present "Commercial Square," which was then little more than a mud flat covered by the sea at high water. One of the first steps taken by the Government was to fill up this low-lying sea marsh, which was executed by free labour, but was subsequently largely assisted by some local prisoners who were confined in a temporary jail near by, on the site where the present Court-house now stands. The first magistrates to be appointed in the settlement, and who tried and sentenced these prisoners, were men whose names will ever be preserved unforgotten by the colony, and we make no excuse in giving them in full as obtained from The Anecdotal History, viz., Messrs. A. L. Johnstone, D. A. Maxwell, D. F. Napier, A. F. Morgan, John Purvis, Alexander Guthrie, E. Mackenzie, W. Montgomery, Charles Scott, John Morgan, C. R. Read, and Andrew Hay. Two magistrates sat in court with the Resident Councillor, to decide cases both civil and criminal, and juries were formed of five Europeans, or four Europeans and three leading natives. This court sat once a week, but a court of two magistrates sat twice a week to try cases, their office being open daily to hear complaints.

The insecurity of the temporary prison mentioned above, and the defects in its control, led to changes in its structure and general management. The Resident, then Mr. J. Crawford, expended $900 towards the construction of a more substantial building for the local prisoners, the transmarine convicts from Bencoolen and India having not yet arrived in the settlement. In April, 1823, as there was a great difficulty in obtaining free labour, the local prisoners were ordered to work upon the public roads.

When finally leaving the settlement, Sir Stamford Raffles entered into a new agreement with the Sultan and Tummongong of Johore, by which the whole of the island of Singapore and the adjacent islands were to be considered as entirely British territory. He considered this fresh agreement necessary on account of some peculiar ideas that were held at the time by certain dissentients.

On his final departure from Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles received an address from the European and native merchants of Singapore, from which we quote the following significant extract:

"To your unwearied zeal, your vigilance, and your comprehensive views, we owe at once the foundation and maintenance of a settlement, unparalleled for the liberality of the principles on which it has been established—principles, the operation of which has converted in a period short beyond all example a haunt of pirates into the abode of enterprise, security, and opulence."

Sir Stamford replied with his characteristic modesty in a letter dated Singapore, June 9th, 1823. The letter is too long to quote in extenso, but we give the following extracts from it. After acknowledging the receipt of their address, and remarking upon the impossibility of his being indifferent to any of the interests, especially the commercial interests, of Singapore, under the peculiar circumstances of his connection with the establishment of the settlement, he says, "It has happily been consistent with the policy of Great Britain, and accordant with the principles of the East India Company, that Singapore should be established as a 'free port,' and that Singapore will long, and always remain a free port, and that no taxes on trade or industry will be established to check its future rise and prosperity, I can have no doubt." "I am justified in saying thus much on the authority of the Supreme Government of India, and on the authority of those who are most likely to have weight in the councils of our nation at home."

Referring to difficulties which had to be encountered on the establishment of the freedom of the port, he says, "In the commanding station in which my public duty has placed me, I have had an opportunity of, in a great measure, investigating and determining the merits of the case, and the result renders it a duty on my part, and which I perform with much satisfaction, to express my most unqualified approbation of the honourable principles which actuated the merchants of Singapore on that occasion."

We give the above extracts to show the rapid advance that had been made in the first five years of the settlement's existence, owing mainly to the sagacity, forethought, and wisdom of its eminent founder, and we have added the population up to this period to show its steady rise and progress.

It was, however, in January, 1824, that the first regular census was taken. The population then consisted of 74 Europeans, 16 Armenians, 15 Arabs, 4,580 Malays, 3,317 Chinese, 756 natives of India, and 1,925 Bugis, making a total of 10,683. It was in this year that Singapore was first mentioned in the House of Commons, in a remark made by Mr. Canning, who had been nominated Governor-General of India in 1822, but did not go out to that country, that "Singapore in six years would produce spices sufficient for the consumption of Great Britain and her colonies"—a prophecy not yet fulfilled.

In May of the same year the Resident made a voyage round the island in the ship Malabar, 380 tons burden, to view the boundary of the island and to take formal possession; and it was while on this voyage that the British flag was planted on the island of "Pulo Obin," an island which has since largely supplied the town of Singapore with granite for making roads and also for building purposes. The Government quarries situated upon it were subsequently worked almost entirely by transmarine convicts, of which more will be said hereafter.

On the 18th of April, 1825, the first batch of convicts transported from India to Bencoolen were transferred from there to Singapore. They arrived in the brig Horatio, and consisted of 80 convicts transported from Madras, of whom 73 males and 1 female were for life, and 6 male convicts on short sentences. On the 25th of the same month another batch was received, also convicts from Bencoolen. These consisted of 122 convicts transported from Bengal, of whom 88 males and 1 female were for life, and 33 for short terms. When these Indian convicts were landed at Singapore they were placed at first in an open shed, or godown (from the Malay word "godong," a shed), which stood on the site where the present public offices stand, with only four free petty officers, or "peons," natives of Chittagong in the Bengal presidency, in charge of them. Subsequently temporary buildings, to contain 1,200 to 2,000 convicts, were erected near the Hindu temple, then situated near the Brass Basa Canal, and at a considerable cost it is given as L13,199 (see Plate IX.). They were all located in these sheds, and there was little or no prison control over them; only, occasionally, an officer of the police came and called the roll in order to report to Government that all were present. These convicts were afterwards detailed to the work of filling up the mud flat before referred to as the site of the present "Commercial Square." For this purpose they carried the soil from near the Hindu temple and from Pearls Hill. Mr. Bonham, the Resident, finding that the convicts worked willingly, and were well behaved, discharged the free "peons," or warders, and selected five Madrasees and five Bengalees from their number to supervise their fellow-convicts. This was, as far as we gather, the first trial of the system of convict warders at Singapore, possibly the first venture of the kind made in any penal establishment. As convicts continued to arrive from India, many of those from Bencoolen were constituted warders over their fellows, in the proportion of one warder to every twenty convicts. Each warder was granted a monthly wage of $3.00 in addition to his rations and clothing, with the usual blanket given to each convict once a year. In addition to his ordinary rations, clothing, and annual blanket, each convict received a monthly allowance of 50 cents (say 2s.) a month, to purchase condiments and salt. A European overseer was placed in immediate charge of the convicts, and a Superintendent over the whole convict establishment, this responsible duty first falling upon Lieutenant Chester, of the Bengal Native Infantry.

The convicts from Bencoolen were not sent over to the Straits of Malacca in chains, but those received from India in the earliest times were manacled with light leg fetters, in which they had to work for a probationary period of three months. As, however, they were granted, equally with the others, the privilege of going about the town to make their purchases, it is said they ceased to consider their fetters a mark of degradation, being so completely overwhelmed with the thought of banishment from their country and kindred; and to many men of caste it must be remembered that transportation alone was a severe punishment.

In the year 1826 there was a change of government in the settlements. Hitherto the settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore had not been incorporated under one government. In this year it was decided by the Supreme Government to do so, and the seat of government was fixed at Penang, that being our oldest settlement in these seas. On this change taking place, many more of the Indian convicts from Penang were sent down to Singapore, the ship Esperanza bringing down a further batch of 23 Bengal life convicts (males), and 26 Madras convicts (males), and 1 female; 31 Bombay (males), and 2 female convicts.

From the accounts given in the newspapers of that day, the convicts were at this time treated with great indulgence if of proved good behaviour, being permitted, after their work was over, to engage themselves as servants to the residents, who, in the scarcity of labour at that time, and the fitness of the convicts for such service, were content to give them a very liberal wage. In the early days of penal colonies this has not infrequently occurred, and some of these old convicts have been known to amass considerable sums of money, and, indeed, to become possessed of landed property in the town. The Government, however, under Major Campbell, who succeeded Lieutenant Chester, took care to exact from them a large amount of useful work in the filling up of swampy ground near the town, and laying out plots of land for building purposes. They also blasted the rocks at the mouth of the Singapore river, on the site of which was afterwards constructed a fort, named after the first Resident, Mr. Fullerton, and much of the rock was also used in the construction of the sea and river walls adjoining. Their services were also turned to account on any occasion when the presence of a body of men under discipline was required, such as the suppression of fires. An instance is given in the journal already quoted of a serious outbreak of fire in Market Street, in the year 1830, which threatened to consume the houses in several streets adjoining. There were no fire engines in those days, and the only supply of water was carried in buckets by the convicts, which materially helped to subdue it. The houses in the square at the back of Market Street were not burnt; they, and also the houses on the side of Market Street next the square, were partly built of brick, but those on the opposite side were wholly of wood, and were quickly destroyed. The middle of the square was covered with goods carried from the burning houses.

Occasionally, even in those days, convicts were employed as orderlies and servants to public officers, and when Dr. Oxley's house was attacked by burglars in 1821, his Indian convict servant, though wounded by a "kris," succeeded in capturing the burglar, who turned out to be a Malay pirate from Bencoolen. Robbery on land was not common amongst Malays in those days, but piracy was one of their pastimes, and their romances always glorify their ancestors in this pursuit.

The rules at that time in force amongst the convicts were what were known as the "Penang Rules," already mentioned, and published in 1827; but there were also a few scattered rules known as the "Bencoolen Rules," probably some of those drawn up by Sir Stamford Raffles, and referred to in his letter of the 20th September, 1823, and incorporated with the former.

In 1832 an alteration in the seat of government took place. Penang had hitherto been the seat of government, but in this year it was transferred to Singapore, which had by this time become the most important of the three Settlements.

When later on, in the year 1833, Mr. G. D. Coleman was placed in charge of the convicts as "Surveyor and Executive Officer of Government," a great improvement was set on foot in the regular and systematic employment of these convicts. He, by their means, reclaimed large plots of land as intakes from the sea and river marshes, and largely extended the town lots, so that Captain Begbie, who in that year wrote a book upon the Straits Settlements, stated that "200 of these convicts, in eight months, at a small money outlay of $500 for covered drains, had reclaimed 28 acres of marsh, and intersected it with roads. This land was shortly afterwards sold at a handsome price, and was very quickly covered with good, substantial upper-story houses, which were readily let."

Under Mr. Coleman the public roads on the sea front were marked out and constructed, and also the main road from the town to Campong Glam, now known as North and South Bridge Roads. He surveyed and marked out the first country road towards Bukit Timah, and he afterwards laid out the Serangoon, the New Harbour, Budoo, and Thompson's Roads, and employed Indian convicts principally in their construction. When the convicts could not be marched out to and from their daily work to the prison, owing to the long distance they had to traverse, Mr. Coleman constructed for them temporary buildings, surrounded by a fence, similar to those already described when treating of Province Wellesley and Malacca. In these "commands" they were located until the work on which they were employed was completed; and in many cases these "commands," as they were always called, became permanent stations for the convicts employed in maintaining the roads. At first their rations were sent out to them from town once a month, but subsequently it was found desirable for them to attend the general muster at the main prison on the first of every month, and to receive their rations then, and to be inspected at the same time by the Superintendent.

The records of the jail at this time, and until the year 1844, have not been kept, as we have said, with any precision, and, indeed, most of them are missing; but the excellent work performed by Mr. Coleman (in the execution of which he, as far as possible, employed convict labour) is, fortunately, to be seen in the map of the town and its environs surveyed by him in 1836, and lithographed in Calcutta the same year, a copy of which is given in Moor's Notices of the Indian Archipelago.

Mr. Coleman was no mean architect. It was he who designed the first church for Singapore. It was erected on the site where the present cathedral stands. It was completed in 1837, and consecrated in September, 1838, but was opened for service on the 18th June, 1837, by the first chaplain appointed from Bengal, the Rev. Edmund White. Indian convicts were employed in the erection of this church, chiefly as labourers, as they were also at the public buildings which were erected about this time, notably the first extension of the Raffles Institution and its museum.

To Mr. Coleman, however, the colony is chiefly indebted for the many excellent roads on the island, and the carrying out of the disposition of town allotments, projected in the first instance by Sir Stamford Raffles himself, in his instructions to the Committee appointed for the purpose shortly after the settlement was founded.

Mr. G. D. Coleman died on the 27th March, 1885, and the newspapers of the day, in regretting his death, brought about by hard work and exposure in the public service, spoke in the highest terms of his ability as an architect and surveyor, and Superintendent of Convicts.

Chapter V

SINGAPORE (Continued)

There were then about 1,100 or 1,200 Indian convicts in Singapore, divided into six classes, and employed in various ways as already narrated, but the following extract from The Anecdotal History is worth quoting verbatim:

"Singapore, Malacca, Penang, and Maulmein were the Sydneys of India. There are upon an average about 1,100 to 1,200 native convicts from India constantly at Singapore. These are employed making roads and digging canals; and, undoubtedly, without them the town, as far as locomotion is concerned, would have been now but a sorry residence. They are secured within high walls, and although a few now and then escape, they meet with such rough treatment from the Malays on the Peninsula, that they find it commonly the most prudent course to return, or allow themselves to be brought back. The native of India accommodates himself more easily to banishment than a European does, because his ideas lead to predestination, and his habits are simple. In former days, when convict discipline was not so well understood as it is now, the convicts transported from India used to traffic and amass money; banishment was in some cases, perhaps, sought for, and crimes were, it is feared, sometimes committed by natives to obtain it; but the felon must now expect to be kept in his place and hard at work. Still, the convict whose period is short, contrives to save something out of his allowance, and on the expiration of his term he generally sets up as a keeper of cattle, or a letter-out of carriages and horses; and undoubtedly some of these men are as well, if not better behaved than many of their native neighbours of higher pretensions. There are regulations by which the convict is encouraged by certain rewards, or remission short of emancipation, to orderly conduct."

When Mr. Coleman resigned, the duties of Superintendent were taken up by Captain Stevenson of the 12th Madras Native Infantry, who carried out the system then in force, and somewhat added to the strength of the convict warders; for we find in his annual report for 1845 the following remarks: "Convict peons are selected from the second class for general good conduct and intelligence, and they continue to receive $3 each per mensem, in addition to provisions and clothing. Free peons were, I hear, formerly tried, but found not to be so well suited for the peculiar duties required of them; besides, the prospect of gaining a belt—a mark of authority—is a strong inducement to good conduct on the part of the convict, and conduces much towards lightening, in the well disposed, the feeling of hopelessness that ever accompanies a sense of imprisonment and slavery for life."

At this time (1840 to 1845), Singapore was more than ever before infested with tigers—it is supposed that they swam across the narrow part of the Old Straits, from Johore to Kranji. The number of natives, principally Chinese, employed on gambier and pepper farms, that were carried off or destroyed by them annually was considerable, and it was said at the time that not a day passed without one man being killed by wild animals. Whether it was actually so or not, there are no police statistics to prove, but as many as five in eight days were reported at that time, and in later years, about 1860, as many as 200 deaths were notified to the police in one year, and probably a great number never were brought to notice, because the difficulty of obtaining coolies to work in the thick jungle, as it then was, was a great inducement to the "Towkays," or Head Chinese, to keep the number of deaths as much as possible from being known. In those days a reward of one hundred dollars was offered by Government for every tiger brought to the police station, whether alive or dead; and this sum, owing to their continued ravages, was subsequently increased to one hundred and fifty dollars.

One seizure of a man-eater is worth recording here; it is taken from The Singapore Free Press of the year 1840, and runs as follows:—

"The news of the capture and death of a tiger last Saturday night on a Chinaman's plantation, close to that of Mr. Balustier, the American Consul, gave general satisfaction, being the first of these destructive animals which the Chinese had succeeded in catching alive. A pit was dug where his track had been observed, the mouth of which was covered lightly over, and two or three dogs tied as bait. The ruse luckily took effect, and, when advancing to his imagined prey, he was himself precipitated into the pit head foremost, where he was very soon despatched by the natives, who pounded him to death with stones. He was a large animal for the Malay type, measuring 9 ft. 3 in. from the nose to the tip of the tail, which was 35 inches long, the circumference round the forearm being 21 inches. The captors have claimed and obtained from the local authorities the promised reward of one hundred dollars, besides having sold the flesh of the animal itself to the Chinese, Klings, and others for six fanams a catty (a fanam is about three halfpence), by which they realized about seventy dollars more."

It is singular how all natives believe that by eating the flesh of the tiger they absorb the essence or distinctive features of the animal. Balfour says that "the clavicle or collar-bone of the tiger is considered of great virtue by many natives of India. The whiskers are supposed by some to endow their possessor with unlimited power over the opposite sex." Tiger bones are often sold in China to form an ingredient in certain invigorating jellies, made of hartshorn, and the plastron of the terrapin or tortoise. Burmese and Malays eat the flesh of the tiger, because they believe that by eating it they acquire the courage and sagacity of the animal. Tigers' claws are used as charms, and the most solemn oath of one of the aboriginal tribes of India, the "Santals," is sworn when touching a tiger's skin; handsome brooches and earrings are also made from tigers' claws mounted in gold. In 1854 no less than six persons were killed within the space of a few days not far from the town, and in April of that year the Government, alarmed for the safety of the people, sanctioned a considerable expenditure for the construction of tiger pits over many parts of the island. In August of the same year the following article appeared in The Singapore Free Press:—

"The attention of His Honour the Governor having been directed to the continued deplorable ravages committed by tigers on the island, he has expressed himself ready to adopt any measures which may tend to remove the evil. It has been suggested that persons are to be found in the vicinity of Calcutta trained for the purpose of destroying tigers; and His Honour has written to the Bengal Government requesting that half a dozen of these 'shikarries' should be sent to the Straits for a limited period, to be employed in the destruction of these animals. The Governor has also directed that in the meantime, should it be deemed expedient, a certain number of volunteers from convicts of the third class should be permitted to beat the jungle once every month with tom-toms (native drums), horns, etc., which, if they do not lead to the destruction of the tigers, may frighten them away from the island, to which they come from the neighbouring state of Johore."

Later, in 1859, finding that the number of tigers on the island, and the number of people killed by them, were still increasing, the Governor, General Sir Orfeur Cavenagh, discussed the matter with the then Superintendent of Convicts (Major McNair), who informed him that he had good shikarries amongst the Indian convicts, and it was arranged to organize parties of convicts for their destruction. Three parties, of three men in each party, were selected, and armed with the old muzzle-loading muskets and ball ammunition. One party was sent to the Bukit Timah or Central district, another to the Serangoon and Changi or Eastern district, and the third to the Choo Choo Kang or Western district. These parties were generally successful in killing half a dozen or so in the course of the year, chiefly in the Central or garden district. Recourse was also had to trapping them in cleverly-constructed deep pits, built cone-wise, and by heavy beams of timber suspended from tree to tree over their tracks, connected on the ground with springes; but only upon rare occasions were they successful in this way. We had in our possession several skins and skulls from those destroyed by convicts. Some castes amongst these convicts from India, when employed on this duty, were also very expert in catching such venomous snakes as cobras and craits. They appeared not to possess the slightest dread of them, and would stealthily follow them to their burrows, then grasp the tail, and by a rapid movement of the other hand along the body to just below the head, grip the snake firmly at the neck and allow it to coil round their arm. During the construction of Fort Canning, later on, many were so caught and brought down to the jail for the reward. They were then destroyed, the convicts at the time always asking pardon of the snake for so betraying it to their masters. It is worth mentioning here that in the jail there were so many different races of India, and men of so many occupations and artifices, that what a man of one caste did not know, another would be sure to volunteer to perform. This collection of such a variety of races in a jail under the association system had another and more important advantage, for it was at once a safeguard and protection against any possible combined revolt against the authorities, for one caste would invariably "split" against another.

It was in the year 1841 that it was decided to erect a jail for the Indian convicts on a site near the Brass Basa Canal on the east of the town, and immediately below Government Hill, now known as Fort Canning. The boundary wall was first built, and then a brick building within, which was subsequently used as a convict hospital. This is shown in the plan of the whole prison made in 1872, a copy of which is given later. In this brick building the defaulters and those in irons were placed on one side, and the local prisoners on the other. The remainder of the convicts were lodged in temporary structures inside the enclosure wall; and those employed in positions of trust were allowed to erect small huts for themselves in the style of a native village just outside the wall, in which they were allowed to have their wives and families. There was but one entrance to this enclosure, where convict warders were at all times stationed as a gate guard. It will be readily understood that discipline could not well be maintained under such circumstances, while no records appear to have been kept of any kind, relating to their daily employment or occupation, so there is nothing to show whether the convicts were employed in the erection of this boundary wall; but it is more probable that they were only used as labourers, and not as artisans, for it was not until a later date that they were organized and trained as skilled workmen.

It may be well for us to indicate here the progress made in the Singapore town up to 1842, as given by The Free Press newspaper in that year. It runs thus:—

"A stranger visiting Singapore cannot fail to be struck by the signs everywhere exhibited of the settlement being in a high state of prosperity and progressive improvement. If he lands on the side next the town he beholds the pathway in front of the merchants' 'godowns' or warehouses cumbered with packages, and if he glances inside one of the 'godowns' he will see it filled with packages and bales of goods from all parts of the world. If he goes among the native shops he finds them filled with clamorous Klings (natives of the Coromandel Coast of India) and Chinese, all busily engaged in driving bargains. Passing on, he comes to where, near the jail, the swamp is being filled up and covered with shops, which are seen in every stage of progress, some with the foundations newly laid, and others nearly completed. If he wishes to leave the town he crosses the Singapore River by a new bridge, which was built two years ago. The scene now undergoes a change: in place of the narrow and crooked streets the stranger finds himself amongst rows of neat villas, each standing in its own enclosure. The Governor's residence is to the left upon a small hill commanding a fine view of the town and harbour. The flag-staff is also placed there, and at all hours of the day may be seen covered with flags, announcing the approach of ships from every quarter of the globe. If he should go into the country, the many thriving plantations of spices and other tropical productions (amongst which are to be noted one or two sugar estates) present an equally pleasing sight, and give promise of a long continuance to the well-being of the settlement."

In this year, 1842, or it may perhaps have been in the previous year, Mr. J. T. Thompson came to Singapore in the capacity of Government Surveyor; whereupon the Government called upon all holders and occupiers of land to point out to him their boundaries, preparatory to the issue of proper leases. Under his direction there was a systematic survey made of all allotments upon the island; and intelligent Indian convicts were provided him to act as his survey party, being preferred for that duty over freemen to be obtained in the town. These convicts formed the nucleus of a regular native staff for this department of the Government; and, indeed, up to the time of the abolition of the jail they continued to be employed as chainmen and survey assistants.

When Mr. Thompson visited Malacca, to inquire into the system pursued there, he found it to be of the most primitive type. For the linear measurements the surveyor had for a chain, rattans jointed together, and this, with a ten-foot rod and a common compass, formed their whole equipment. When he tested however the measurements of the fields and the town lots, he was surprised to find to what approach to accuracy they had arrived with their rude implements. Indian convicts were also there employed as land measurers and assistants.

Upon his return to Singapore, Mr. Thompson designed a European hospital, and adjoining it a pauper hospital, erected mostly at the cost of a benevolent Chinese gentleman of the name of Tan-Tock-Seng. They were built on a plateau of Pearls Hill facing the town. Some years later these buildings were required for military purposes, and were adapted for the purposes of a Commissariat and Ordnance Department respectively. A new building, in which was incorporated a general hospital, was subsequently erected facing the Bukit Timah Road, and the Tan-Tock-Seng hospital for paupers was built further outside the town on the Serangoon Road. In the erection of these buildings convict labour was very largely utilised, and in the front elevation of Tan-Tock-Seng's hospital they had some rather difficult mouldings to execute.

In the year 1844, owing to the amount of building that was then going on in the town, there was a great dearth of bricks; so much so, that the Chinese brick-kilns could not supply the immense demand, and the price per laksa of 10,000 rose more than fifty per cent. This led to the determination on the part of the Government to make their own bricks, and an order was issued to the Public Works Department to arrange for their manufacture by the convicts. This was subsequently done; and a suitable site having been found upon the Serangoon Road, a large establishment was started, an account of which will be given in detail when we come to deal with the industrial occupations of the Indian convicts. The first Government brick-field, however, was started at Rochore, under Captain Faber, but was given up after only a short trial. He employed free labour.

Chapter VI

SINGAPORE (Continued)

During the year 1845 the Bukit Timah Road was opened up by convict labour between Bukit Timah and Kranji, so that the produce hitherto carried by water to Singapore from the neighbouring country of Johore could now be brought into town by road, while at the same time land was thus opened up for cultivation. The convicts were also employed in this year in constructing a road to the summit of Telok Blangah Hill, now called Mount Faber, for the purpose of building there a signal station, that upon the island of Blakan Mati having proved unhealthy, due, as it was said at the time, to malaria from the enclosed marsh at the back of the island, and to the tainted air from decaying pine-apple leaves, which were left by the Malays, who cultivated the fruit upon all the available soil. Pine-apple growing has been largely extended in this island, as is now generally known at home; and as it is a source of some wealth to the colony, it may be incidentally mentioned in this running history of the place, and more particularly in reference to the fact that the Indian convicts upon ticket of leave have been often employed in its culture in order to earn a daily wage. The plant that produces the pine-apple known as the "ananas," or by the Malays as "nanas," grows literally wild upon the hills on Blakan Mati Island, and other islands round about Singapore. It delights in a moist climate, and here it has it to perfection, with just enough heat to help its growth. There is little or no trouble in its propagation, for after the apple is sufficiently ripe and cut, the crown that surmounts the fruit is planted, and a new plantation soon springs up. There is, however, some difference in the sweetness and flavour of the fruit, according to the exposure to which it is subjected, those having the benefit of the sun being preferred.

The first to export the tinned fruit to Europe was a Frenchman named Bastiani,[5] who succeeded far beyond his expectations, and the industry has since been taken up largely by the Chinese in Singapore and Johore.

[Footnote 5: He was known to both of us when he commenced the undertaking.]

Yet another of the important public works of the colony, upon which the labour of Indian convicts was employed some five years earlier, was at the construction of the lighthouse on "Pedro Branca," called the "Horsburgh," after the celebrated hydrographer of that name. The design was by Thompson, and the selection of the site by Sir Edward Belcher, R.N., and most of the detail work was under the direct supervision of Mr. J. Bennett, a civil and mechanical engineer, who afterwards, as we have said, played a prominent part in the direction and control of the labour and industrial training of the Indian convicts in the Singapore jail. He had, as an assistant, Mr. Magaelhaens of the Convict Department, and both the officers and the convicts lived on board of a "Tonkong," or a large boat, which was anchored close to the rock. The convicts were chiefly employed in the capacity of blasters and dressers of stone. The foundation stone was laid with masonic honours by the Worshipful Master Brother M. F. Davidson, on the 24th May, 1850, in the presence of the Governor, Colonel Butterworth, and a large party from Singapore; and the work was completed and the lamps lighted on the 27th September, 1851.

The Free Press spoke of it as an edifice of which Singapore might well be proud. "The granite blocks which form the walls were quarried and shaped at Pulo Ubin, the timber used in the building was the growth of our island, the brass rails of the staircases were moulded and turned in this settlement, and last, not least, the architect and engineer acquired the skill and experience which enabled him to erect so rapidly the chaste and stately building during a long and useful career as Government Surveyor at Singapore." Both the quarrying of the stone at Pulo Ubin, and the felling of the timber required in the erection of this lighthouse, were by the work of Indian convicts.

In 1845 the foundation stone of a second lighthouse was laid on a reef near a small island at the eastern entrance to the Straits of Malacca called "The Coney." It was also laid with masonic honours by the Worshipful Master and Brethren of the Lodge Zetland in the East, No. 748, in the presence of the Governor, Colonel Butterworth, and many of the British and foreign residents at Singapore. This lighthouse was named after the eminent founder of the settlement, Sir T. Stamford Raffles, and was completed in 1856. It was built by free labour, but many convicts were employed, as at the "Horsburgh," as stone cutters, blasters, and as labourers, under the charge of an officer of the Convict Department.

We have referred elsewhere to the rules that had from time to time been framed for the control of these Indian convicts, but now we are able to state that in 1845-46 what may be called the most complete code of rules was permanently established. Colonel Butterworth, who was then Governor of the Straits Settlements, in consultation with the Superintendent of the Convicts, collected all that had been previously issued, together with those that subsequent experience had shown to be necessary, and working on the principles laid down by Sir Stamford Raffles, the new set of "Rules and Regulations for the Management of the Indian Convicts" was formally sanctioned, and put in force under the title of the "Butterworth Rules."

These rules practically recognised the total abolition of free warders in the control of the convicts, and the substitution entirely of petty officers, raised from amongst the convicts themselves, together with the division of the convicts into six distinct classes, according to their date of arrival in the prison, and their general subsequent behaviour; holding out to one and to all by exemplary conduct during their probationary period a certain progressive reward and promotion.

Added to these "Butterworth Rules" were several others of importance, introduced by Major McNair in 1858-59, and sanctioned by the Government from time to time as additions to this code. Later, Captain, now General, J. G. Forlong came to Singapore, as we have stated, to study the convict system in force; and from the rules in use and the numerous standing orders that had been issued at various times, he prepared a valuable digest of the whole, which he duly submitted to the Government of India, in which he said, "I have but lately visited most of the convict prisons of England, living for some time with the Governor of the Dartmoor jail, and I have seen many Indian prisons, and can state for the Singapore system and establishment, that it is not inferior to those of England, and quite unequalled by any I have seen in India."

It is to Captain, the late General, Man that the initiation of several handicrafts is due, and he commenced by starting all kinds of carpenter work. The old Guthrie's timber bridge across the Singapore River, for instance, was entirely their work. They were also then taught brick-laying and blacksmith work; and so valuable was this trained labour to the State, even at that time, that the Superintending Engineer of the station wrote to Government in 1849 as follows:—

"I can most confidently, and without fear of refutation, assert it to be simply impracticable to induce and obtain from Chinese carpenters that accurate, close, substantial, and lasting workmanship which not only can be, but is derived from the convict artificers under the absolute control of the present able and zealous Superintendent, Captain Man."

We must here not forget to refer to another public building, in the erection of which the Indian convicts took their part, viz. the New Civil Jail at Pearls Hill, the foundation stone of which was laid by Captain Faber, the Superintending Engineer of the Straits Settlements. Below the stone a brass plate was deposited with the following inscription, which we give in full as of some peculiar interest, and evidence of the progress of the settlement up to 1847.

This Foundation Stone of H. M. Gaol, at Singapore, was laid by Captain Faber, Madras Engineers, Superintending Engineer, Straits Settlements, on the 6th February, 1847, the 27th Anniversary of the Foundation of a British Settlement on this Island. The Hon'ble Colonel W. J. Butterworth, C.B., being Governor of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore, and Malacca, and the Hon'ble T. Church, Resident Councillor at Singapore. VICTORIA, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, the Right Hon'ble Lord Hardinge, G.C.B., Governor-General of British India. God save the Queen.

In a bottle, likewise placed below the stone, the following statistical information relative to the Straits Settlements, written on parchment, was enclosed.

The trade for the year 1845-46 of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore, and Malacca aggregated the sum of Company's Rs. 52,190,685 in merchandise, and Company's Rs. 9,606,061 in bullion and treasure, making a grand total of Rs. 61,796,746 (exclusive of the trade between the three settlements) as follows:—

Imports. Exports. Total.

P.W. Island Rs. 6,614,794 6,528,452 = 13,143,246

Singapore " 26,616,448 21,162,987 = 47,779,435

Malacca " 509,872 364,193 = 874,065 Grand total, Company's Rs. 61,796,746 —————

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