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Imperial Security and Moslem Militancy, With Special Reference to the Hertogh Riots in Singapore (December 1950)

  • A.J. Stockwell


In the nineteenth century the British, Dutch, French and Russians bit deep into the Islamic world. European colonial power rested on the active support of Moslem rulers who, as leaders of clearly defined and hierarchical societies possessed of laws and monarchs, were attractive collaborators in the exercise of imperialism. With a pragmatism born of frontier experience, Europeans reached agreements with Islamic regimes throughout Asia and Africa. The dictum of Usuman dan Fodio — “The government of a country is the government of its king. If the king is Moslem, his land is Moslem” — was echoed in many a European statement on the principles and practices of colonial rule. The British, for their part, struck deals with Indian princes and Fulani emirs, with the Egyptian Khedive and the Sultan of Zanzibar, with the royal houses of the Arab world and the rulers of the Malay states.



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This article is a version of a paper given at the conference of the Association of South East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom,University of Kent at Canterbury,March 1984.

1 Robinson, Francis, Atlas of the Islamic World since 1500 (Oxford, 1982), pp. 118–19, 151–53.

2 Roff, William R., “South-east Asian Islam in the Nineteenth Century” in The Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 2, ed. Holt, P.M., Lambton, A.K.S. and Lewis, B. (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 155–81; Harry J. Benda, “South-east Asian Islam in the Twentieth Century”, ibid., pp. 182–207; Roff, , The Origins of Malay Nationalism (New Haven, 1967), passim.

3 Swettenham, F.A., “The Real Malay” in Malay Sketches (London, 1895), pp. 45.

4 Swettenham, “Malay Superstitions”, ibid., p. 192.

5 Clifford, H.C., “Mohammadanism as a Proselytizing Religion” in The Pilot VII, 158 (28 03 1903): 300302.

6 Wheeler, L. Richmond, The Modern Malay (London, 1928), pp. 97, 99, 177.

7 Robinson, Francis, “Islam and Muslim Society in South Asia”, Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.) 17, 2 (1983): 189, 201.

8 Roff, William R., “Whence Cometh the Law? Dog Saliva in Kelantan, 1937”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (1983): 323–35.

9 I am grateful to Dr. Dennis Duncanson for comments on this aspect of the paper.

10 Attlee “felt that there was no evidence as to the present conduct of the Rulers or attitude of the people themselves … and the expression of an intention to re-negotiate treaties with the rulers might commit us to reinstate them whatever we or the people might wish”. C.M.B. (44) 1st meeting, 22 Mar. 1944, Public Record Office, CAB 98/41.

11 Stockwell, A.J., “British Imperial Policy and Decolonization in Malaya, 1942–52”, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History XIII, 1 (10 1984): 7374.

12 Malayan Security Service: Fortnightly Intelligence Journals together with Supplements (1946–48), supplement 9/47, Rhodes House Library, Oxford; for Fripp's report see CO 537/1583, Public Record Office.

13 Stockwell, A.J., British Policy and Malay Politics during the Malayan Union Experiment, 1942–1948 (Kuala Lumpur, 1979), pp. 146–61.

14 MSS/Political Intelligence Journals.

15 Dalley (14 Nov. 1964) to H.P. Bryson, cited by Bryson in a letter to J. de V. Allen, 22 Dec. 1964, Royal Commonwealth Society. I am grateful to Mr. Allen for letting me read his correspondence with Mr. Bryson. Lt. -Col. Dalley reasserted his claim to have written Onn's speeches in a letter to me, 11 July 1974.

16 CO 537/7302.

17 Minute by H.T. Bourdillon, 21 Jan. 1948, on Colonial Office discussions with MacDonald on the subject of Indonesian influence in the Malay peninsula, CO 537/2177.

18 Bullock, Alan, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary 1945–1951 (London, 1983), p. 673.

19 For the life of Maria Hertogh see Hughes, Tom Eames, Tangled Worlds: The Story of Maria Hertogh, Local History and Memoirs No. 1 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1980). Hughes was head of the Social Welfare Department in whose care Maria was temporarily placed in April-July 1950. See also Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, Singapore, 1951 (hereinafter Riots Inquiry) and Public Record Office: CO 537 nos. 7245, 7246, 7247, 7248; CO 717/194/52745/21/1; FO 371 nos. 93114, 93115, 93116, 93117.

20 Litigation in 1950 revealed that while Che Aminah regarded Maria as a member other own family, Mrs. Hertogh maintained that Maria had been handed over to Che Aminah only for safe keeping.

21 Riots Inquiry, pp. 1011.

22 Means, Gordon P., Malaysian Politics (London, 1970), p. 92. There are references to Burhanuddin, Kalu, Taha bin and Mustaza, M. in Boestamam, Ahmad, Carving the Path to the Summit, trans, and introd. by W. R. Roff (Athens, Ohio, 1979).

23 For a summary of the career of Burhanuddin see Funston, John, Malay Politics in Malaysia: A Study of the United Malays National Organisation and Party Islam (Kuala Lumpur, 1980), pp. 118–20.

24 Boestamam, op. cit., p. 118.

25 J.D. Higham, 29 Mar. 1949, CO 537/4763.

26 CO 537/4742.

27 Funston, op. cit., pp. 119 and 132 n. 52.

28 Riots Inquiry, pp. 3033.

29 Gimson, secret teleg. to C.O., 14 Dec. 1950, CO 537/7246.

30 CO 537/7245, 7246, 7247, 7248.

31 Riots Inquiry, p. 51.

32 Tarling, Nicholas, “‘The merest pustule’. The Singapore Mutiny of 1915”, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society LV, 2 (1982): 50.

33 CO 1022/434, Reuter report, 11 July 1952.

34 See Riots Inquiry, Conclusion (2) p. 64 and Gimson's defence of Blythe in despatch of 13 July 1951, ibid., pp. 97–98.

35 CO 717/194/52745/21/1.

36 Riots Inquiry, p. 51.

37 Shinwell to Attlee, secret, 4 Sept. 1951, CO 537/7247.

38 Ernest Davies (Foreign Office), 10 Sept. 1951, FO 371/93117.

40 CAB 130/65: GEN 345/5, 27 Feb. 1951.

41 CO 537/7297, extract from a review of Malayan politics, PMR 1/51, 31 Jan. 1951.

42 CO 1022/434, extract from PMR 3/1952. The Tunku has since recalled his part in launching a fund insupport of the Malays appealing against murder convictions; see Putra Al-Haj, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Looking Back (Kuala Lumpur, 1977), pp. 189–91 and “The Nadrah Case”, The Star (Penang). 27 03 1985. I am grateful to Ms. Juita Puthucheary for bringing the latter to my attention.

43 Means, op. cit., p. 119, accepts that “Malay radicalism received a set-back” from the Hertogh case “inthe short run” but suggests that it “may have been extremely significant in the long run, for when these individuals returned to active political life, Malay radicalism abandoned its earlier leftist secular stance to combine Malay nationalist radicalism with militant revivalism”.

44 CO 1022/434.

45 Ibid., extract from PMR 3/1952.

46 Ibid., extract from PMR 5/1952.

47 Roff in Boestamam, op. cit., pp. xxiv-xxv.

48 Gimsonto Lloyd, teleg., 8 Jan. 1951, CO 537/7246.

49 CO 537/7302 and FO 371/93114.

50 W.K. Daniels, Acting High Commissioner, Singapore, to Deputy Commissioner General, SE Asia, 12 Nov. 1951, FO 371/93117.

51 J.B. Williams, 31 Jan. 1951, CO 537/7302.

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Imperial Security and Moslem Militancy, With Special Reference to the Hertogh Riots in Singapore (December 1950)

  • A.J. Stockwell


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