Straits Settlements Association


The Straits Settlements Association was founded by a group of ex-Straits Settlements residents in London on 31 January 1868.  The association, comprising largely of members from the mercantile community, aimed to safeguard the commercial and political interests of the Straits Settlements through representations to the British government.  John Crawfurd was appointed as its first President, and local branches of the association were formed in Singapore and Penang on 20 March 1868 and 28 April 1868 respectively.  The association yielded considerable power over public policy, and was involved in accelerating constitutional reforms in the Straits Settlements.

Criticism of the Colonial Administration
In April 1869, the association in London submitted a memorandum to the Colonial Office criticising the poor state of colonial administration in Singapore.  They argued that the legislative council was ineffective and acquiescent to the will of the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Henry St. George Ord. The strong rebuke led to heated exchanges with the Governor and public protests meetings organised by W. H. Read, who was both Chairman of the Singapore Branch of the Straits Settlements Association and a senior unofficial member of the Legislative Council.  

Debate on Military Contribution
In the face of mounting threat from the Russians, debates on Singapore's military defences rekindled during the 1880s. In 1885, the association petitioned to the Colonial Office for the strengthening of defences in the Straits of Malacca. Though the British government had constructed fortifications for the port area, they were unwillingly to build defences for the town. This led to a public outcry in the Legislative Council. In 1890, the Colonial Office demanded £60,000 from the Straits Settlements in order to build new barracks and other military installations.  It also proposed to double the Settlements' annual military contribution to £100,000.  The revised contribution drew strong objections from non-officials of the Legislative Council. The Singapore and London offices of the Straits Settlements Association held meetings of protest and submitted memorandums to the Colonial Office.  After years of debate, the dispute was finally resolved in 1896 by pegging the military contribution to 20 percent of the colony's revenue.  

Association of British Malaya
By 1920, British interests in Malaya had extended beyond the scope of the Straits Settlements Association.  It was decided that the London branch of the Straits Settlements Association would be dissolved and in its place, the Association of British Malaya was formed to represent planting, mining and commercial interests in the Malay states. The Singapore branch of the Straits Settlements Association, however, remained an independent body which lobbied for the interests of the Straits Settlements. Despite the differences between the Association of British Malaya and the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association, both groups came together and successfully opposed the Straits Settlements Income Tax Ordinance introduced by Sir Laurence Guillemard in 1921. 

Constitutional Reform
In 1920, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association put forward recommendations for changes to the constitution of the Legislative Council. A referendum, taken by the association, showed that members wanted an increase in the number of non-officials on the Legislative Council, retention of official majority, election of non-officials and nominations for representatives from all racial groups. A select committee was appointed by the Governor Sir Laurence Guillemard to consider reforms to the constitution of the Legislative Council. Though the association's recommendations were not accepted, Sir Laurence Guillemard did introduced some changes to the constitution in 1924.   By 1927, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association had grown to over 700 members and it was fast becoming the most influential non-government body in the Straits Settlements.  In 1930, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association submitted a proposal for further changes which included equality for officials and unofficials in the Executive Council, and the election of unofficial legislative councillors by British subjects of all races. The proposal found little support.  The importance of the Straits Settlement (Singapore) Association as a non-government political advocacy group would eventually be overtaken by the Straits Chinese British Association.  

After World War II, the Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association was succeeded by the Singapore Association.

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

Gillis, E. K. (2005).  Singapore civil society and British power (pp. 49-54, 86-88).  Singapore: Talisman.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 GIL)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1 pp. 100, 176, 232, 400-402, Vol. 2 pp. 297-301). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Mulliner, K., & The-Mulliner, T. (1991). Historical Dictionary of Singapore (pp. 143-144). Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
(Call  no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL)

Turnbull, C. M.  (1989).  A history of Singapore: 1819-1988 (pp. 80, 120, 152-154, 230-231).  Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Further Readings
Song, O. S. (1985).  One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (pp. 242, 304, 334, 522).   Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)

Straits Settlements (Singapore) Association. (1931). Council reform: Recommendations and views [Microfilm: NL 11927]. Singapore: Malaya Tribune Press.
Microfilm NL 11927

The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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. 

Straits Settlements Association--Political activity
Straits Settlements--Politics and government
Colonial administration--Singapore
Politics and Government
Law and government>>Public administration

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