Swiss consulate in Singapore



The Swiss consulate in Singapore was established on 6 March 1917 as a response to the difficulties faced by Swiss businesses during World War I.1 It was headed by honorary consuls until 1960 when the first career Swiss consul was sent to Singapore.2 The consulate was raised to the status of an embassy in October 1967.3

19th century to World War I
In the 19th century, most Swiss trading companies based at Asian ports did not enjoy official representation, even though Switzerland‘s share in the trade between Europe and Asia was sizeable.4 Contrary to the norm of establishing a diplomatic presence in states where trade was carried out, Switzerland’s economic presence in the East was represented by a dismal network of honorary consuls. These consuls were nominated by the Swiss government and were usually members of the Swiss business community abroad. In the Far East, there were three Swiss consulates: Manila, Philippines (1862); Batavia (present-day Jakarta), Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia, 1863); and Yokohama, Japan (1866).5

As early as 1885, Swiss merchants in British India had voiced concerns about the lack of consulate protection, but the Swiss Federal Council resisted placing consulates in Indian and Malay ports, and suggested that they seek protection from consulates of other Western powers such as Germany and the United States.6 Swiss merchants in Singapore first came under the wings of the German consul, and later the American and then Dutch consuls.7

This casual stance changed with the onset of World War I in 1914 as Britain extended its trading restrictions towards neutral countries including Switzerland, highlighting the Swiss problem of insufficient consular representation. It was a hard lesson for Swiss international trade; by the time the war ended in 1918, Swiss consulates had been set up in Bombay (now Mumbai), India (1915); and Colombo, Sri Lanka (1916). Many more were established in the following years.8

Establishment
In 1915, H. R. Arbenz, an architect in Singapore and prominent member of the Swiss community, highlighted the inadequate diplomatic representation of the Swiss community in Singapore by commenting that the nearest Swiss consulate was in Batavia, which served the whole of British India and British Malaya.9 The same year, following the tightening of Britain’s trading rules as a result of World War I, and the lack of protection of Swiss commercial interests due to the dearth of diplomatic presence in Asia in the midst of the war, the Swiss Club submitted a petition to the Swiss Federal Council asking for a Swiss consulate to be set up in Singapore. Two years later, on 6 March 1917, the Swiss Federal Council appointed Walter Ingold of Swiss company Diethelm & Co. as the first consul of Switzerland in Singapore, beating candidates from Sturzenegger & Co. and Jaeger & Co.10 The exequatur from the British government, allowing the establishment of a Swiss consulate in Singapore, was received in December later that year.11

Early Swiss consuls
Ingold served as the honorary consul in Singapore from 6 March 1917 to May 1926. He was manager of Diethelm & Co. and served as president of the Swiss Club in 1916. Upon his retirement in 1926, Ingold returned to Switzerland.12

H. Greminger, also from Diethlem & Co. Ltd., was appointed as honorary consul in 1928. He had been serving as acting Swiss consul even before Ingold’s departure.13 However, he held the position of honorary consul for only a few months as ill health forced him to return to Switzerland later the same year.14 W. H. Leuthold stepped in as interim consul until 1929 when Arbenz was appointed as honorary consul.15 Arbenz held the position until the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) and died in 1944.16

Honorary consuls represented Swiss diplomatic presence in Singapore until 1960 when Switzerland sent its first career consul, Curt Mahnig, to Singapore.17

Roles
The Swiss community in Singapore has remained small since the 19th century. The community numbered over 20 in the 1870s,18 and around 50 in 1941.19 The main task of the Swiss consulate was to protect Swiss commercial interests. In addition, it also regulated passports and visas, and provided assistance to Swiss individuals living in Singapore.20 In 1916, the Swiss community in Singapore set up the Swiss Relief Fund to aid needy Swiss nationals residing in or travelling through Singapore. The fund was administered by the Swiss consulate.21

In October 1967, the Swiss consulate was elevated to the status of a full embassy to mark not only the increasing presence of the Swiss in Singapore but also the enduring friendly relations between the two countries.22

Premises
When the Swiss consulate was formed in March 1917, it operated from the office of Diethlem & Co. Ltd, then situated at Collyer Quay. Later the same year, following the completion of Diethlem’s own building on Market Street, the company, together with the consulate, moved into the new premises.23 The company continued to host the Swiss consulate until 1 August 1933 when the consulate moved to the second floor of the Union Building in Tanjong Pagar.24 At the onset of World War II, the consulate was used as a shelter for refugees between February and March 1942.25



Author

Nor Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Gritti, O. (1984, August 1). Strong ties that go way back. Singapore Monitor, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 224. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN); The first Swiss consul in S’pore arrives with wife, 2 children. (1960, April 6). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Swiss consulate raised to embassy. (1967, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Dejung, C., & Zangger, A. (2010, May). British wartime protectionism and Swiss trading companies in Asia during the First World War. Past and Present, 207(1), 183–184. Retrieved from Oxford Journals website: http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/207/1/181.full.pdf; Bartu, F. (2005). The Fan Tree Company: Three Swiss merchants in Asia. Zurich: Diethelm Keller Holding, p. 55. (Call no.: RSING 381.065494 BAR)
5. Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN); Dejung, C., & Zangger, A. (2010, May). British wartime protectionism and Swiss trading companies in Asia during the First World War. Past and Present, 207(1), 183–184, 206. Retrieved from Oxford Journals website: http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/207/1/181.full.pdf
6. Dejung, C., & Zangger, A. (2010, May). British wartime protectionism and Swiss trading companies in Asia during the First World War. Past and Present, 207(1), 205–206. Retrieved from Oxford Journals website: http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/207/1/181.full.pdf
7. Untitled. (1917, December 29).  The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: Swiss Club, pp. 81–82. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH)
8. Dejung, C., & Zangger, A. (2010, May). British wartime protectionism and Swiss trading companies in Asia during the First World War. Past and Present, 207(1), 200–205. Retrieved from Oxford Journals website: http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/207/1/181.full.pdf; Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN)
9. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, pp. 81–82, 316–317. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH)
10. Gritti, O. (1984, August 1). Strong ties that go way back. Singapore Monitor, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN); Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, p. 104. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH)
11. Untitled. (1917, December 29). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertise (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, pp. 104, 319. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH); Page 5 advertisements column 3. (1917, March 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Untitled. (1920, April 7). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6; Swiss Federation Day. (1920, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH); F.M.S. gazettings. (1928, May 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 224. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN)
16. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, pp. 174, 179. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH).
17. The first career Swiss consul for Singapore.  (1960, April 6). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Wanderlust – and Swiss turned up in S’pore just after its founding. (1964, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore Swiss celebrate to-day. (1941, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Zangger, A. (2013). The Swiss in Singapore. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 117, 173. (Call no.: RSING 305.835095957 ZAN)
21. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, p. 120. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH).
22. Swiss consulate raised to embassy. (1967, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 6; Koh, V. (1998, July 31). A tale of two countries. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH); Page 4 advertisements column 3.  (1929, October 12).  The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24.  Page 2 advertisements column 2. (1933, August 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Schweizer-Iten, H. (1981). One hundred years of the Swiss Club and the Swiss community in Singapore, 1871–1991. Singapore: The Swiss Club, pp. 174–176. (Call no.: RSING 367.95957 SCH)



The information in this article is valid as at 26 October 2015 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.

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