Chief Secretary, Singapore

The chief secretary of Singapore, known as the colonial secretary of Singapore before 1955, and the colonial secretary of the Straits Settlements before 1946, was a high ranking government official position in the Straits Settlements before 1946 and the Colony of Singapore after 1946, between 1867 and 1959. It was second only to the governor of Singapore, formerly the governor of the Straits Settlements in the colonial government.

Chief Secretary of Singapore
Coat of arms of the Straits Settlements
StyleThe Honourable
ResidenceSri Temasek
Term lengthNo fixed term
  • Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements
  • Colonial Secretary of Singapore
Formation1867 (1867)
First holderRonald MacPherson
Final holderEdgeworth Beresford David
Abolished1959 (1959)

The Straits Settlements, which mainly comprised Singapore, Penang and Malacca, became a Crown colony in 1867. The position of Colonial Secretary was subsequently created with a view to replacing Resident Councillor in Singapore. During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the position was vacant and suspended following the downfall of the Malay Peninsula into the hands of the Japanese Empire. In 1946, Singapore parted from Penang and Malacca, forming itself into a Crown colony, so the jurisdiction of Colonial Secretary was reduced to Singapore only.

The title "Colonial Secretary" was later changed to "Chief Secretary" in 1955 when the Crown colony adopted the Rendel Constitution. Having been in existence for 92 years, the position was abolished in 1959 after Singapore attained self-governance.

Being the head of the Colonial Secretary's Office, the colonial secretary was an ex-officio member of both the Executive and Legislative Council, and at the same time the head of the Colonial Secretariat between 1867 and 1955.

When Singapore adopted its new constitution in 1955, although the Colonial Secretariat was abolished, the chief secretary remained an ex-officio member of the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Assembly.

The workplace of Chief Secretary was located at Empress Place Building while Sri Temasek, which was next to the Government House, was the official residence of the chief secretary.


Background of its creation

In the context of the British Empire's outward expansion, the British East India Company (EIC) had gradually started to extend their influence to the Malay Peninsula as early as the late eighteenth century. In February 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles, EIC's Bengkulu Governor took the lead by establishing a trading settlement in Singapore; he appointed Resident of Malacca William Farquhar as the first Resident and Commandant of Singapore to administer its trade affairs, marking the prelude to the colonial history of Singapore.[1] In 1826, the EIC established the Straits Settlements by centralising the administration of trading settlements in Singapore, Penang and Malacca for better efficiency.[2] After the formation of the Straits Settlements, the post of the Resident in Singapore was restructured as Resident Councillor, who continued to be Singapore's highest-ranking official;[1] The posts of Resident Councillor, Penang and Resident Councillor, Malacca were also created,[3][4] while a holder of the newly created Governor of the Straits Settlements would be stationed in Penang.[5]

Soon after, due to the rapid development of trade and the constant expansion of trading ports, the office of the Governor of the Straits Settlements was relocated from Penang to Singapore in 1832, thus replacing the Resident Councillor as the highest-ranking official in Singapore.[5] When the Straits Settlements was established in 1826, it was administered under India as its Presidency; it was later administered as a Residency from 1830 to 1851, when it was directly under the Governor of India. However, the ultimate control over the Straits Settlements remained under EIC's Board of Directors in London.[6]

The British Government took over the EIC's administrative powers over India in 1858 due to the Sepoy Mutiny and established direct rule in India. The Government of the Straits Settlements continued to be accountable to the Government of British India, while local Resident Councillors, originally employees of the EIC, were transited over to the colonial civil service.[5] In 1867, the Colonial Office of the British Government decided to directly administer the Straits Settlements as a crown colony,[7] with Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the last Resident Councillor of Singapore as the inaugural Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements.[8]

Straits Settlements

Nineteen people served as the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements from 1867 to 1942, excluding acting officials. Even though this position evolved from the post of Resident Councillor of Singapore, the nature of both differed. On one hand, the status of the Colonial Secretary was higher than that of the Resident Councillors in Penang and Malacca. On the other hand, the main duties of the Colonial Secretary was to oversee and coordinate administration, while that of the Resident Councillor of Singapore under the EIC's administration covered areas such as law enforcement, land use, vessels, postal services, custom affairs and municipal services.[9] Therefore, the newly created position was similar to the Secretary to the Government of British India as well as the colonial secretaries or chief secretaries in other British colonies in terms of its nature.[8] At that time, the Colonial Secretary was stationed in Singapore, the post was also known as the "Colonial Secretary of Singapore".[10]

Flag of the Straits Settlements (1874–1925)
Flag of the Straits Settlements (1925–1946)
Flag of the Colony of Singapore (1946–1959)

In July 1896, the British Government formed the Federated Malay States (FMS), which comprised Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak and Pahang in the Malay Peninsula, with the Governor of the Straits Settlements concurrently as High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Malaya.[11] However, both the Governor and Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements were stationed in Singapore, so the Resident-General of the FMS (renamed Chief Secretary in 1911 and Federal Secretary in 1936) stationed in Kuala Lumpur was put in charge of the administration of the FMS.[11] The responsibilities of the Resident-General of the FMS and the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements did not overlap, but both were similar in nature; a resident was stationed in each of the states of the FMS, but the Resident-General of the FMS had to govern in his daily routine on behalf the High Commissioner. Hence, he held relatively more powers as compared with the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements.[12]

During Japan's invasion of Singapore in January 1942, the then-Colonial Secretary Stanley Jones was revoked from his position due to alleged ineffective defence coordination.[13] The position was taken over temporarily by FMS Federal Secretary Hugh Fraser, who retreated to Singapore.[14] Both Fraser and Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor of the Straits Settlements, stayed in Singapore until the last moment; they were imprisoned following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. The post of Colonial Secretary was vacant due to the fall of Singapore. Following the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945, the United Kingdom set up a provisional military government without restoring the post, so as to prepare for the dissolution of the Straits Settlements, in response to the post-war situation.

Evolution after World War II

Following the dissolution of the Straits Settlements, Singapore became a crown colony on 1 April 1946. Its Governor restored the civil government, while Penang and Malacca, previously part of the Straits Settlements, were incorporated into the newly formed Malayan Union.[7] In view of this, the post of the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was renamed Colonial Secretary of Singapore, with Sir Patrick McKerron as the first to hold this post.[15] After the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the post was renamed as Chief Secretary of Singapore, in response to the growing post-war self-governance movements in Singapore, and to the change in the functions and powers.[16]

In the 1950s, constitutional amendments were made several times in preparation for self-governance in Singapore. In June 1959, the State of Singapore was established according to constitutional arrangements; under British suzerainty, the Governor was replaced by the Yang di-Pertuan Negara while the position of Chief Secretary was abolished. E. B. David was the last person to hold this position in colonial Singapore.[17] Since then, Singapore's governing powers fell into the hands of the newly created Prime Minister of Singapore and his cabinet.[17] From 1946 to 1959, only four colonial officials held the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary in post-war Singapore.

Major responsibilities and powers

The Colonial Secretariat and the Colonial Secretary's Office (later Chief Secretary's Office) were located in the Empress Place Building.
The Chief Secretary was one of the three ex officio members of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore

The position of the Chief Secretary and Colonial Secretary of Singapore, as well as the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements, i.e. their predecessor, was the highest ranking position in the civil service during the colonial period. The status of a person holding this position was second only to that of the Governor of Singapore and the Governor of the Straits Settlements.[2] When the Governor was on leave or when its post was vacant, the Chief Secretary would usually be in charge of appointing an acting Governor. As the highest-ranking official second to the Governor, the Chief Secretary was the head of the Chief Secretary's Office (formerly the Colonial Secretary's Office)[18] and worked in the Empress Place Building, with other officials to assist him with his administration.[19] The Colonial Secretary, predecessor of the Chief Secretary, was also responsible of the Colonial Secretariat situated in the Empress Place Palace, but after the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the Secretariat was abolished following a reduction in the Chief Secretary's powers, while the Chief Secretary's Office continued to function.[20]

The Colonial Secretary had comparatively greater powers than the Chief Secretary. Similar to other British colonies, the Colonial Secretary was responsible of coordinating and overseeing the daily operation of government sectors and presided over the planning and enactment of important government policies. Besides Singapore, other places such as Penang, Malacca, Dinding and Labuan were also under the Colonial Secretary's jurisdiction during the Straits Settlements period; in addition, other than Singapore, these places also had their own Resident Councillor. On 1 April 1946, Singapore became a crown colony, reducing the Colonial Secretary's jurisdiction to only Singapore.[16] After the Rendel Constitution took effect from February 1955, the Chief Minister position, the Council of Ministers as well as Legislative Assembly were created and the ministers who were popularly elected took up responsibility in governing Singapore, thus significantly reducing the Chief Minister's powers.[16] Nevertheless, the Chief Secretary still controlled areas such as Singapore's foreign affairs, internal security, defence, broadcasting and public relations.[21]

The Colonial Secretary and Chief Secretary had long been important official positions in colonial Singapore; since the formation of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements in 1867, the Colonial Secretary was an ex officio member for both Councils. After World War II, both Councils were initially replaced by the Singapore Advisory Council in 1946; it was later officially restructured as the Executive and Legislative Councils of Singapore. The Colonial Secretary served in the Advisory Council as well as the Executive and Legislative Councils as an ex officio member in post-war Singapore.[7] In February 1955, a democratic election system was introduced, with the Executive Council being replaced by the Council of Ministers, while the Legislative Council was restructured to form the Legislative Assembly.[16] The Council of Ministers continued to be chaired by the Governor, while the Legislative Assembly was to be presided over by the Governor-appointed Speaker; The Colonial Secretary, together with the Attorney-General and the Financial Secretary continued to remain as ex officio members in both bodies, leaving them the only members who were concurrently colonial civil servants.[16] In 1959, the State of Singapore was established, while the Council of Ministers was replaced by the Cabinet; The Legislative Assembly continued to function and the Prime Minister of Singapore was to preside over the Cabinet, while the position of the Chief Secretary was abolished.[17]

The Colonial Secretary had the power to issue warrants to arrest and deport any persons suspected of endangering public order and social stability.[22] The Chinese community back then regarded the colonial Governor as the highest ranking "prince" ( wáng) under the British monarch, while the Colonial Secretary was viewed as a "prince" second to the Governor. Also, the word "warrant" was transliterated as "hua" ( huā). Therefore, the Chinese community termed warrants issued by the Colonial Secretary as the "Second Prince's Warrant" (二王花 Èr-wáng Huā).[22] Persons who were taken into custody and deported by the Colonial Secretary included Hau Say Hoan (侯西反), an anti-Japanese Chinese businessman who resided in Singapore for 38 years.[22] He was accused by Sir Alexander Small, the then-Colonial Secretary of being anti-British and engaging in dealings with illegal organisations to endanger public order in December 1939;[23] Small invoked the Expulsion Order and deported Hau, and prohibited him from re-entry.[24]

Career paths

In the colonial history of Singapore, the posts of Colonial Secretary and Chief Secretary were held by British colonial officials. Unlike Hong Kong, which is also a former British colony, no locals had ever been appointed as Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary. In the early days, most of the Colonial Secretaries had colonial military background or had previously served in other parts of the Straits Settlements or the Malay peninsula. In 1905, F. G. Penney became the first cadet to be appointed Colonial Secretary.[25] Since then, many Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries were cadets from the FMS or other parts of the Straits Settlements. Cadets were recruited from London by the Colonial Office through a systematic open recruitment test, and those who stand out were mainly outstanding graduates from top universities;[26] these Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries include Edward Brockman, Richard James Wilkinson, Sir Hayes Marriott, Sir Andrew Caldecott, Sir Alexander Small and E. B. David.[27][28][29][30]

In colonial Singapore, the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary provided opportunities for promotion in the colonial civil service: Cecil Clementi Smith and Sir Arthur Young later became Governors of the Straits Settlements; Sir William Goode later served as Singapore's last Governor;[31] John Douglas, James Alexander Swettenham, Walter Egerton (acting), Richard James Wilkinson and Andrew Caldecott later became Governors in other British colonies.[10] There were also holders who retired after leaving office: F. G. Penney, Sir Hayes Marriott, Sir John Scott, Sir Alexander Small, Sir Patrick McKerron and W. L. Blythe.[32][33]

The longest serving holder of the post was Sir F. S. James; he served for eight years from 1916 to 1924.[34] The shortest serving was Edward Lewis Brockman; he held this appointment in 1911 but was transferred to serve as Chief Secretary of the FMS shortly after in the same year.[35] In addition, Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the inaugural Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was the only holder to have died in office.[8]

Sri Temasek, the official residence for Colonial Secretaries and Chief Secretaries from 1869 to 1959
Ronald MacPherson
Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements
Cecil Clementi Smith
Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements
Sir Andrew Caldecott
Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements

Holders of the post of Colonial Secretary or Chief Secretary enjoyed remuneration and welfare similar to that of colonial secretaries or chief secretaries in other British colonies.[36] According to data in 1892, the annual salary of the Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements was $10,800 (Straits dollar), the second highest among colonial officials in British Malaya after the Governor; the third highest-paying was the Resident Councillor of Penang, with a salary of $9,600 per year, excluding bonuses.[36] The official residence of the Chief Secretary or Colonial Secretary was Sri Temasek, inaugurated in 1869, located within the grounds of the Government House. All holders of the position resided in Sri Temasek from 1869 to 1959.[37]

List of officeholders

Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements (1867–1942)

Portrait Name
Term of office Origin Background or
previous appointment
Took office Left office
1 Colonel Ronald MacPherson
1 April 1867 6 December 1869
(Died in office)
Island of Skye, Scotland Resident Councillor of Singapore
Sir Harry St. George Ord
E W Shaw
7 December 1869 5 June 1870 Colonial administrator
2 James Wheeler Woodford Birch
6 June 1870 4 November 1874 Colonial administrator

Edward Anson
1st time Acting

Sir Harry St. George Ord

Edward Anson
2nd time Acting

Sir Andrew Clarke

Thomas Braddell
4 November 1874 17 February 1876 County Wicklow, Ireland Attorney-General of Singapore
William Willans
(d. 1905)[39]
Colonial Treasurer of Straits Settlements

Sir William Jervois

Charles John Irving
London, England Auditor-General of Straits Settlements
3 Sir John Douglas
17 February 1876 17 August 1878 Limerick, Ireland Accountant General and Controller of Revenue

Edward Anson
3rd time Acting

Sir William Cleaver Francis Robinson

4 Sir Cecil Clementi Smith
3 September 1878 17 November 1885 London, England Colonial Treasurer of Hong Kong

Edward Anson
4th time Acting

Sir Frederick Weld

5 Sir John Frederick Dickson
17 November 1885
31 August 1891
Colonial administrator

Sir Cecil Clementi Smith

Arthur Philip Talbot
(b. 18?? – d. 19 December 1898)[43]
31 August 1891
9 March 1892
Colonial administrator
6 William Edward Maxwell
9 March 1892
11 February 1895 British Resident of Selangor

William Edward Maxwell

Sir Charles Mitchell

7 James Alexander Swettenham
11 February 1895 7 December 1899 Derbyshire, England Accountant General and Controller of Revenue
Sir Walter Egerton
7 December 1899 5 July 1901 Colonial administrator
James Alexander Swettenham
Charles Walter Sneyd-Kynnersley
Colonial administrator
8 Sir William Thomas Taylor
5 July 1901 31 December 1904 Accountant General and Controller of Revenue
Sir Frank Swettenham

Sir John Anderson

9 Frederick George Penney
(c. 1856–1928)
1 January 1905 13 April 1905 Resident Councillor of Malacca
Edward Lewis Brockman
13 April 1905 29 June 1906 Assistant Colonial Secretary of Straits Settlements
10 Sir Arthur Young
29 June 1906 31 January 1911
Colonial administrator
Navy officer
11 Edward Lewis Brockman
1 February 1911
4 September 1911
Resident of Pahang
12 Richard James Wilkinson
4 September 1911
February 1916 Salonika, Greece British Resident at Negeri Sembilan
Sir Arthur Young
William George Maxwell
February 1916
April 1916 Malacca, Straits Settlements British Adviser for Kedah
13 Sir Frederick Seton James
April 1916 19 March 1924 UK Colonial administrator

Sir Laurence Guillemard

George Hemmant
1st time Acting
19 March 1924 2 April 1924 Colonial administrator
14 Edward Shaw Hose
2 April 1924 21 November 1925 Surrey, England British Resident of Negri Sembilan
15 Sir Hayes Marriott
21 November 1925 16 December 1928 General Adviser to Johore

Sir Hugh Clifford

George Hemmant
2nd time Acting
16 December 1928 12 February 1929 Colonial administrator
16 Sir John Scott
12 February 1929 23 May 1933 Chief Secretary of Tanganyika Territory

Sir John Scott

Sir Cecil Clementi

17 Sir Andrew Caldecott
23 May 1933 7 December 1935 Kent, England Chief Secretary of Federated Malaya States (FMS)

Sir Shenton Thomas
(1934-1942) & (1945-1946)

18 Sir Alexander Sym Small
7 December 1935 19 January 1940 North Lanarkshire, Scotland Treasurer of Straits Settlements
19 Stanley Wilson Jones
19 January 1940 27 January 1942 British Resident of Selangor
Hugh Fraser
27 January 1942 15 February 1942 Colonial administrator

Colonial Secretary of Singapore (1946–1955)

Portrait Name
Term of office Origin Background or
previous appointment
Took office Left office
1 Sir Patrick Alexander Bruce McKerron
1 April 1946 29 April 1950 Aberdeen, Scotland Deputy Chief Civil Affairs Officer
Sir Franklin Charles Gimson
J D M Smith
29 April 1950
30 June 1950
Colonial administrator
Wilfred Lawson Blythe
30 June 1950 30 July 1953 Colonial administrator
Wilfred Lawson Blythe

Sir John Fearns Nicoll
3 William Allmond Codrington Goode
30 July 1953 February 1955 Middlesex, England Colonial administrator

Chief Secretary of Singapore (1955–1959)

Portrait Name
Term of office Origin Background or
previous appointment
Took office Left office
1 William Allmond Codrington Goode
February 1955 9 December 1957 Middlesex, England Colonial Secretary of Singapore William Goode
Sir Robert Brown Black
William Goode
2 Edgeworth Beresford David
1958 2 June 1959 London, England Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong

See also


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  4. "Malacca", retrieved on 13 March 2012.
  5. Lepoer, 1989.
  6. "Straits Settlements", retrieved on 13 March 2012.
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  8. Sutherland, 16 September 2009.
  9. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 90.
  10. "SWETTENHAM, Sir Alexander", 1996.
  11. Andaya, page 183.
  12. Bertram, page 235.
  13. Lippman, 1998.
  14. "Mr. S. W. Jones", 28 January 1942.
  15. "McKERRON, Sir Patrick (Alexander Bruce)", 1996.
  16. The Statesman's Year-Book 1956, page 244.
  17. The Statesman's Year-Book 1960, page 245.
  18. Sandhu and Wheatley, page 75.
  19. Omar, 5 April 2006.
  20. Quah, page 36.
  21. Quah, page 37.
  22. Jin, page 59.
  23. Tan, page 115.
  24. "Expulsion of Hau Say Hoan", 30 December 1939.
  25. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 140.
  26. Allen, page 158.
  27. "MARRIOTT, Sir Hayes", 1996.
  28. "CALDECOTT, Sir Andrew", 1996.
  29. "SMALL, Sir Alexander Sym", 1996.
  30. "DAVID, Sir Edgeworth (Beresford)", 1996.
  31. "GOODE, Sir William (Allmond Codrington)", 1996.
  32. "SCOTT, Sir John", 1996.
  33. "BLYTHE, Wilfred Lawson", 1996.
  34. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 145.
  35. Braddell, Brooke and Makepeace, page 141.
  36. "On Promotion Bent.", 16 December 1891.
  37. Sutherland, 25 February 2011.
  38. "Straits Settlement Government Gazette".
  39. "Legislative Council". The Straits Times. 8 May 1875. p. 2.
  40. "Death of Sir Frederick Dickson". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly). 29 December 1891. p. 1.
  41. "Departure of Sir Frederick Dickson". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly). 1 September 1891. p. 6.
  42. "Gazette Notifications". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly). 1 September 1891. p. 10.
  43. "Special Telegram". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. 14 January 1899. p. 2.
  44. "Local and General". Straits Times Weekly Issue. 15 March 1892. p. 2.
  45. "The Governor's Trip". The Straits Times. 31 January 1911. p. 7.
  46. "Mr. and Mrs. Brockman". The Straits Times. 5 September 1911. p. 7.
  47. "No. 28527". The London Gazette. 1 September 1911. p. 6453.
  48. "Legislative Council Changes". The Straits Times. 11 February 1916. p. 8.
  49. "Mr. J.D.M. Smith". Malaya Tribune. 2 May 1950. p. 5.
  50. "Mr. Blythe Back For New Post". The Straits Times. 30 June 1950. p. 7.
  51. "Leaves Tomorrow". The Straits Times. 1 July 1950. p. 7.


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