Franklin Charles Gimson



Franklin Charles Gimson (Sir) (b. 10 September 1890, Barrow-on-Soar, Leicestershire, England–d. 13 February 1975, Yorkshire, England)1 was Singapore's first postwar governor and commander-in-chief from 1946 to 1952. He was often associated with the rehabilitation of postwar Singapore and the reconstitution of Singapore’s legislative bodies including that of the Legislative Council, which represents a bold start in Singapore's journey towards self-government. Gimson also introduced the Income Tax Ordinance in 1947, a task that previous administrators had been unable to do, and was a response to the wide-ranging welfare improvements planned for Singapore’s postwar rehabilitation.

Career in Ceylon and Hong Kong
Gimson received his education at the Cheltenham Grammar School and Balliol College (1909–13),2 in Oxford, United Kingdom. He began his service with the Ceylon Civil Service as a cadet in 1914,3 and served in the army from 1918 to 1919.4 He rose steadily through the ranks until he was promoted to controller of labour in October 1938. In this role, he impressed his superiors with his conciliatory approach to workers grievances, a progressive response to the growing riots and popular protests that were troubling colonial governments. The mark Gimson made in labour welfare in Ceylon likely swayed the Colonial Office to send him to Hong Kong as the new colonial secretary in 1941. Gimson’s transfer went through despite not being grounded in the needs of a Chinese colony as his previous experience had been strictly confined to the Indian territories.5

On 6 December 1941, Gimson arrived in Hong Kong to assume his new appointment.6 He had only been in office for one day when the Japanese declared war on Hong Kong. Gimson was interned in Stanley Camp between March 1942 and August 1945.7 After Japansurrendered, Gimson swiftly re-established British sovereignty over Hong Kong to pre-empt the possible annexation of Hong Kong by the Nationalist Chinese during the power vacuum. Appointing himselfacting governor, he speedily formed a provisional government while waiting for the Allied powers to arrive and reoccupy Hong Kong.8 He left for England for recuperation in September 1945 after passing the administration of Hong Kong to Brigadier MacDougall, a member of the Hong Kong Civil Service before the war.9  

By November 1945, a fitter Gimson was keen to return to his colonial duties. His “splendid” track record in Ceylon, “conspicuous courage” during his Hong Kong internment and “spirited organisation” of a provisional British authority after Japan’s surrender made him a leading candidate for the governor of Singapore.10 On 29 January 1946, Gimson was appointed as the governor and commander-in-chief of Singapore,11 and was installed on 3 April 1946.12                                                                                                

Reforms
Reconstitution of Legislative Council

On 1 April 1946, civil rule returned to Singapore and the island was administered as a separate Crown Colony after the Straits Settlements was disbanded and mainland Malaya came under the Malayan Union. The constitution set out in the Singapore Colony Order-in-Council of March 1946 essentially preserved the prewar governing structure in Singapore but with an expanded scope for representation. The constitution came under heavy criticism for its inadequate representation of local interests.13 When Gimson became the governor in April, he immediately convened two committees to look into the reconstitution of the Legislative Council and the local governments. The Legislative Council Constitution Committee proposed to introduce popularly elected members into the legislature and to have 11 unofficial members, six of which were to be popularly elected, three to be elected each by the Singapore, Chinese and Indian chambers of commerce, and two to be nominated by the governor.14 Gimson endorsed the committee’s proposal and went further to recommend an unofficial majority in the Legislative Council.15

The Colonial Office in Britain approved all but two of the Committee’s proposals. The number of nominated non-officials was increased from two to four to protect minority interests. The committee’s suggestion to set the age of suffrage at 25 and not 21 years old was rejected.16 The approved membership of the Legislative Council was finally revealed in May 1947. The government was represented by four ex-officio members and five nominated officials, while the people were represented by four nominated unofficials and nine elected unofficials, three of which were chamber-of-commerce representatives and six popularly elected members.17 This change was significant because, firstly, there was now an unofficial majority of 13 to nine official members in the legislature, and secondly, Singapore was to have its first elections.18 Singapore’s roadmap to self-government got off to a progressive start under Gimson’s administration when Singapore’s first election was held on 20 March 194819 and the new Legislative Council inaugurated on 1 April 1948.20

Social welfare
Gimson’s term as governor was marked by welfare policies that not only aimed at relieving exceptional hardship after the war, but were necessary for shaping a democratic electorate.21 In June 1946, the Social Welfare Department was established and it first addressed the scarcity of food.22 Under Gimson’s leadership, the government began its communal feeding programme by setting up two restaurants – People’s Restaurant and Family Restaurant – to provide cheap but nutritious meals to the working class and the masses.23

The following year, a 10-year programme was initiated to provide six years of free and compulsory primary education to all children of school age. By 1948, all government and government-aided schools had been repaired. By 1950, the number of these schools had increased to 213 from 93 in 1946, while enrolment increased to 87,191 from 50,057 in 1946.24

To ensure adequate housing, the government increased the expenditure of the Singapore Improvement Trust from $4 million in 1948 to $8 million in 1950.25

Income Tax Ordinance
To support Singapore postwar welfare programmes, Gimson instituted the Income Tax Ordinance in 1947, overruling the decision of the advisory committee. This was the first and only time he exercised his reserved rights.26 Previous attempts at introducing the income tax in 1860, 1910 and 1921, had met with failure.27

Assassination attempt
An assassination attempt on Gimson marred an otherwise smooth and successful term for Gimson as governor. On 28 April 1950, a hand grenade was hurled at Gimson as he was leaving the Happy World Stadium just before midnight, after presenting prizes to the winners of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association Championships. The grenade struck his leg and rolled about 6 ft away before exploding. The bomb turned out to be defective and no one was hurt.28

Honours
Gimson was knighted with a KCMG (Knight Commander) in June 1946 for his service during the war.29 He was conferred the title of the first honorary Freeman of the city on 14 March 1952. This is the highest honour bestowed by the City Council.30 Gimson also received an honorary doctor of laws by the University of Malaya on March 1952.31


Gimson was scheduled to leave Singapore on November 1951. However, the assassination of Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner to Malaya, in 1951 delayed his departure until his retirement the following March.32 He eventually left for England on 20 March 1952.33

Family

Wife: Margaret Dorothy Gimson34
Children: Daughters Margaret35 and the younger Judith Annette Gimson36
Siblings: Brother Frederick (brother) and sister Dora, Kathleeen, Edna and Betty (sisters)37



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia




References
1. Menon, K. R. (Ed.). (1948). Who's who in Singapore and Malaya, 1947 [Microfilm: NL 10071]. Singapore: Oriental Publishers, p. 64; Sir Franklin Gimson dies, 84. (1975, February 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Hilliard, E. (Ed.). (1914). The Balliol College register, 1832–1914. Oxford: Horace Hart, p. 121. Retrieved from Internet Archive website: https://ia902604.us.archive.org/23/items/balliolcollegere01balluoft/balliolcollegere01balluoft_bw.pdf
3. Emerson, G. C. (2008). Hong Kong internment, 1942–1945: Life in the Japanese civilian camp at Stanley. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 27. (Call no.: R 940.53175125 EME-[WAR])
4. Roberts, M. (1965, November 24). Oral history project. Tape 131. Gimson, Sir Franklin, p. 1. Retrieved from University of Adelaide Library website: https://eres.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/handle/2440/85083; Menon, K. R. (Ed.). (1948). Who’s who in Singapore and Malaya, 1947 [Microfilm: NL 10071]. Singapore: Oriental Publishers, p. 64.
5. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 173-179. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])
6. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 179. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS]); Emerson, G. C. (2008). Hong Kong internment, 1942–1945: Life in the Japanese civilian camp at Stanley. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 10. (Call no.: R 940.53175125 EME-[WAR]); Menon, K. R. (Ed.). (1948). Who’s who in Singapore and Malaya, 1947 [Microfilm: NL 10071]. Singapore: Oriental Publishers,, p. 64.
7. Emerson, G. C. (2008). Hong Kong internment, 1942–1945: Life in the Japanese civilian camp at Stanley. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 6. (Call no.: R 940.53175125 EME-[WAR])
8. Felton, M. (2013). China station: the British military in the Middle Kingdom 1839-1997. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, p. 176. (Call no.: R 951.033 FEL); Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 185. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS]); Governor, leader & friend. (1952, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 187. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])
10. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 187–188. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])
11. Governor-general appointed. (1946, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Full attention to development of Singapore colony. (1946, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tan, K. (1989). The evolution of Singapore’s modern constitution. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 1, 6-7. Retrieved from Singapore Academy of Law website: http://www.sal.org.sg/digitallibrary/Lists/SAL%20Journal/Attachments/2/1989-1-SAcLJ-001-Tan.pdf
14. Pulle, J. E. (1991). The management of political change: British colonial policy towards Singapore, 1942-1954 [doctoral thesis], p. 71–72. Retrieved from EThOS: UK E-Theses Online Service website: http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/theses/ethos/
15. Pulle, J. E. (1991). The management of political change: British colonial policy towards Singapore, 1942-1954 [doctoral thesis], p. 77. Retrieved from EThOS: UK E-Theses Online Service website: http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/theses/ethos/
16. Pulle, J. E. (1991). The management of political change: British colonial policy towards Singapore, 1942-1954 [doctoral thesis], p. 71. Retrieved from EThOS: UK E-Theses Online Service website: http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/theses/ethos/
17. General elections for Singapore. (1947, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. McKerron, P. A. B. (1946). Report of the committee appointed by His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to make recommendations for the reconstitution of the Legislative Council of the colony. Singapore: [s.n.], p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5951 SIN-[RFL]); Tan, K. (1989). The evolution of Singapore’s modern constitution. Singapore Academy of Law Journal, 1, 7. Retrieved from Singapore Academy of Law website: http://www.sal.org.sg/digitallibrary/Lists/SAL%20Journal/Attachments/2/1989-1-SAcLJ-001-Tan.pdf
19. Singapore goes to the polls today. (1948, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Governor opens the council. (1948, April 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 190. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])
22. Social Welfare Department. (1948). Annual report 1947 [Microfilm: NL 9517]. Singapore: Social Welfare Department, p. 1.
23. Governor eats & likes 35-cent lunch. (1946, June 30). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Big rush for 8-cent meals. (1946, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ho, C. T. (2013, October–December). Communal feeding in post-war Singapore. BiblioAsia, 9, 3. Retrieved from National Library Board website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx
24. Governor, leader & friend. (1952, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Governor, leader & friend. (1952, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Governor, leader & friend. (1952, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 191. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])
28. Midnight bomb attack on Gimson. (1950, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 1. . Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Governor of Singapore made a knight. (1946, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Sir Franklin is made first Freeman of the city. (1952, March 15). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. A big day for Sir Franklin. (1952, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Sir Franklin Gimson agrees to stay on. (1951, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. It’s ‘good-bye’ Sir Franklin this morning. (1952, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. [34] Menon, K. R. (Ed.). (1948). Who’s who in Singapore and Malaya, 1947 [Microfilm: NL 10071]. Singapore: Oriental Publishers, p. 64.
35. Gimson is now a grandfather. (1951, October 24). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
36. Lady Gimson to see daughter wed. (1950, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 959.570072 STU-[HIS])



Further resources
Akbur, P. M. (2002). Policing Singapore in the 19th & 20th centuries. Singapore: Singapore Police Force, p. 62.

(Call no.: RSING 363.2095957 PEE)

Councillors ‘lose a just man'. (1952, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Councillors sang 'for he's a jolly good fellow'. (1952, March 15). The Straits Times, pp. 1, 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Gimson names the freedoms. (1952, March 15). The Straits Times, pp. 1, 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 213.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
 
Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore: 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 225, 230, 236, 252.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)



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. 


 

Subject
Politics and Government
Education
Personalities
Colonial administrators--Singapore
Politics and Government>>Education
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Colonial administrators

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