The Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps was the first volunteer corps established in Singapore. Acting as a supplement to the local constabulary, the volunteer corps was formed to strengthen the internal security of Singapore, which was compromised by rising criminal activities, in particular the riots started by secret societies at the time. The notion of forming a volunteer corps was first mooted in 1846 after the so-called Chinese funeral riots. However, the corps was set up only eight years later on 8 July 1854 after the idea was revisited at a public meeting. This was in response to the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853–1856) in Europe and the violence that erupted in Singapore during the May 1854 Hokkien-Teochew riots. The riots lasted about 10 days and left some 500 people dead and over 300 homes destroyed.
The volunteer corps was envisaged to be a civilian institution to assist the police in preserving or restoring the settlement’s law and order during times of emergency. It was also expected to help defend Singapore against external threats. Members of the volunteer corps were required to undergo proper training and drills to ensure that they could perform their tasks effectively.
After the proposal to form the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps was approved, it was raised with a membership of 61 European residents. Then Governor of the Straits Settlements William J. Butterworth was appointed as the corps’s first colonel, while Captain Ronald MacPherson of the Madras Artillery was its first commandant. Since the volunteer corps was a new form of organisation at the time of its inception, there were no existing legal provisions for its maintenance. As a result, the corps was supported by private funding and subscriptions. Over the years, the volunteer corps underwent several reorganisations and was known by various names. Its composition was also expanded to include non-European members. In fact, in 1902, only a year after the corps was renamed the Singapore Volunteer Corps, units for different ethnic groups were created to make it a more inclusive body.
1. Winsley, T. M. (1938). A history of the Singapore Volunteer Corps 1854–1937: Being also an historical outline of volunteering in Malaya (p. 1). Singapore: Govt. Print. Off. Call no.: RCLOS 355.23 WIN.
2. Winsley, 1938, p. 2.
3. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 606–607). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE.
4. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, Vol. 2, pp. 606–607; Untitled: Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps. (1854, July 11). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. .
5. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, Vol. 2, pp. 606–607; Blythe, W. (1969). The impact of Chinese secret societies in Malaya: A historical study (pp. 75–79). London: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSEA 366.09595 BLY; Winsley, 1938, p. 2.
6. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, Vol. 2, p. 607.
7. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, Vol. 2, p. 607.
8. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, Vol. 2, p. 607.
9. Choo, M. (Ed.). (1981). Singapore Armed Forces (p. 34). Singapore: Public Affairs Dept., Ministry of Defence. Call no.: RSING 355.0095957 SIN.
10. Choo, 1981, pp. 34–35.
11. Winsley, 1938, pp. 42–44.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.