Constance Mary Turnbull



Constance Mary Turnbull (Professor) (b. 9 February 1927, Northumberland, England1–d. 5 September 2008, Oxford, England), also known as Mary Turnbull or C. M. Turnbull, was most recognised for her publication, A History of Singapore, which was first published in 1977 and has since become regarded as an authoritative reference on Singapore's modern history.2

Early years

Turnbull was an only child who grew up in Coventry, England, during the Great Depression. She was often sent away to stay with relatives as the family faced financial difficulties, and partly because Coventry was targeted by the German army during World War II – young Turnbull was evacuated at least three thrice. She obtained straight As for her School Leaving Certificate, and gained entry into London University.3

Working in Malaya
Turnbull first arrived in Malaya in 1952, when it was in the throes of the Malayan Emergency, to serve as an administrative officer in the Malayan civil service in Kuala Lumpur. As Malaya faced the threat of communism during this turbulent period, British male officers in the civil service were required to operate as district officers, and female officers were required to replace them in the cities. It was uncommon at the time for British women to receive foreign postings, and Turnbull was probably the first woman to have served in the overseas colonial service.4 In fact, only two females were sent out during the time she was recruited. However, David Watherston, the chief secretary of the Federation of Malaya, cancelled the scheme when he realised that British female officers were recruited to supervise the local male staff, on the grounds that it was not culturally acceptable.5

Finishing her duties in 1955, Turnbull turned to teaching history at the University of Malaya in Singapore.6 At the time, writer and historian Cyril Parkinson, who was heading the Department of History, spotted her talent and introduced her to the academic world.7 He recognised that it was imperative that local students were adequately trained to lead their own country, and the university should therefore admit as many capable students as possible.8

Turnbull entered her teaching stint during this time, and her classes were amongst the largest for the department. Many of her students continued to excel after graduation, holding high positions in the civil service and academia.9 She continued teaching at the University of Malaya, in both Singapore and Malaysia, before moving to the University of Hong Kong in 1971 where she headed the Department of History and gained professorship.10 She retired from the University of Hong Kong in 1988, and moved to Northamptonshire in England, and finally to Oxford in 1999.11

Published works
Turnbull is well known for her writing, which encapsulates Singapore’s history in a concise, readable style. Many of her works have become key references for the study of Singapore’s history. For example, her 1972 publication on the Straits Settlements, The Straits Settlements, 1826–67: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony,was cited at the hearing on the sovereignty over Pedra Branca that took place at the International Court of Justice.12


One of the books she wrote after retirement was Dateline Singapore: 150 years of The Straits Times (1995). Commissioned by the Singapore Press Holdings, the book was launched on the occasion of The Straits Times’ 150th anniversary.13 Chronicling the history of Singapore’s main daily had been daunting because, at the time, there was no single repository that held all the editions of the newspaper.14

Turnbull is most noted for her work, A History of Singapore, 1819–1975, which was produced with the support from Oxford University Press to detail a comprehensive history of Singapore. Turnbull had lived in Malaya and experienced the milestones leading to Singapore’s independence. For example, she was the presiding officer at Tumpat, Kelantan, during the federal elections in 1955, and witnessed the victory of the Alliance Party.15 This work by Turnbull was the first major work on Singapore modern history. It has become a key reference work and used as the definitive guide for Singapore’s national education programme. There have been a few revised editions of the book since it was first published.16

Death
In 2008, Turnbull passed away suddenly in Oxford after doctors detected a tear in her aorta during a routine check-up. At the time of her death, she was working on the latest revision of A History of Singapore.17

Publications
1969:
Constitutional development 1819–1969. In J. B. Ooi & H. D. Chiang (Eds.), Modern Singapore (pp. 181–196). Singapore: University of Singapore.

(Call no.: RSING 959.57 OOI-[HIS])

1972: The Straits Settlements, 1826–67: Indian presidency to crown colony. London: Athlone Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 TUR-[HIS])

1977: A history of Singapore, 1819–1975. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])

1989: A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])

1989: A history of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Stanmore, NSW: Cassell Australia.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 TUR)

1995: Dateline Singapore: 150 years of The Straits Times. Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 079.5957 TUR)

2003: Bibliography on writings in English on British Malaya, 1786–1867. In L. A. Mills, British Malaya, 1824–67 (pp. 327–424). Selangor, Malaysia: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 MIL)

2009: A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])

Career18
1952–1955:
Administrative officer, Malayan Civil Service.

1955–1960: Lecturer, University of Malaya, Singapore.
1960–1963: Lecturer, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
1963–1971: Lecturer, University of Singapore.
1971–1988: Senior lecturer, University of Hong Kong; retired as professor and head of the History Department in 1988.
1990: Retires from University of Hong Kong and moves to Northamptonshire before settling in Oxford.19

Family
Husband: Leonard Rayner, former area representative (Singapore and Malaysia) of the Confederation of British Industry. He was the director of three local companies, a member of the Singapore West Rotary Club and a trustee of the Institute of South East Asian Studies.20




Author
Bonny Tan




References
1. Jayakumar, S. (Interviewer). (2006, February 12). Oral history interview with C. Mary Turnbull [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003025/2/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S’pore story. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. ‘Too little, yet too much information’. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 8; Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S’pore story. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. ‘Too little, yet too much information’. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S’pore story. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. ‘Too little, yet too much information’. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Gullick, J. (2008). Obituary: Professor Mary Turnbull. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 81(2), 99–103. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
8. Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S’pore story. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Byramji, N. (1978, March 19). Remember the past – so you’ll know just how far you have come. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. ‘Too little, yet too much information’. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Gullick, J. (2008). Obituary: Professor Mary Turnbull. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 81(2), 99–103. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
11. Gullick, J. (2008). Obituary: Professor Mary Turnbull. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 81(2), 99–103. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
12. Liaw, W.-C. (2008, September 11). Expert on S’pore history dies at 81. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Veloo, R. (1995, July 8). Attempting a record in a race against time. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. ‘Too little, yet too much information’. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times, p. 8; Veloo, R. (1995, July 8). Attempting a record in a race against time. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Byramji, N. (1978, March 19). Remember the past—so you’ll know just how far you have come. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S’pore story. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Liaw, W.-C. (2008, September 11). Expert on S’pore history dies at 81. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Jayakumar, S. (Interviewer). (2006, February 12). Oral history interview with C Mary Turnbull [Transcript of cassette recording no. 003025/02/01, n.p.]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
19. Gullick, J. (2008). Obituary: Professor Mary Turnbull. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 81(2), 99–103. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
20. Byramji, N. (1978, March 19). Remember the past – so you’ll know just how far you have come. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resource
Tarling, N. (Ed.). (2012). Studying Singapore’s past: C.M. Turnbull and the history of modern Singapore. Singapore: NUS Press.

(Call no.: RSING 959.5700072 STU-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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
Writers
College teachers--Singapore--Biography
Turnbull, C. M. (Constance Mary), 1927-2008--Biography
Education>>Higher education>>Colleges and universities
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors