David Saul Marshall
David Saul Marshall (b. 12 March 1908, Singapore–d. 12 December 1995, Singapore) Singapore's first elected chief minister from 6 April 1955 to 7 June 1956, a diplomat, a top-notch criminal lawyer, head of the Labour Party and founder of Workers' Party. The bushy-eyebrowed politician with his trademark pipe was well known for his great oratorical skill and stirring speeches made under the "apple tree" in Fullerton Square as well as clashes with the ruling party, People's Action Party (PAP), and Lee Kuan Yew on the political arena. He also served as Singapore's first ambassador to France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland between 1978 to 1993 on the invitation of former Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam.
Marshall was the eldest son of seven children of Saul Nassim Mashal, whose name was anglicised in 1920 to Marshall. Marshall had a strict Jewish orthodox upbringing observing all Jewish ceremonies and rituals since his childhood.
He studied in prestigious schools in Singapore such as the Raffles Institution where his circle of friends included Singapore's second president, Benjamin Sheares, and George Oehlers. Marshall was always afflicted with poor health since young and suffered from malaria and later tuberculosis. His dream of obtaining the Queen's Scholarship to pursue a medical degree was thwarted when he collapsed on the eve of his examination. He went instead to Belgium to study textile manufacturing. Upon his return, he joined a Straits company as a textile representative and later worked as salesman and a language teacher before deciding to pursue a law career in London whilst in his late twenties.
Kindergarten of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street.
St. Joseph's Institution.
1919–1921 : St. Andrew's School, Singapore
1922–1924 : Raffles Institution.
1937: LLB (University of London) and barrister-at-law (Middle Temple in Britain)
Prisoner of war
With the impending Japanese invasion of Asia, Marshall's family members had left Singapore but Marshall refused to leave. Instead, he joined the Singapore Volunteers Corps' (SVC) "B" company. During the war, he was stationed at the southern area under the command of Major-General Keith Simmons. He was captured in February 1942, interned in Changi Prison and later sent to a forced labour camp in Hokkaido, Japan. He was moved to 26 different prisoner-of-war camps where he gained popularity as a chief spokesperson for his fellow prisoners.
After the Japanese surrender, he chose to go to Australia. In 1946, he returned to Singapore and rejoined the law firm of Allen and Gledhill.
Marshall served 41 years as a successful and a sensational criminal lawyer known for getting acquittal for most of his cases.
On his return from London, completing his law degree, he joined Aitken and Ong Siang, and later Allen and Gledhill. He resigned from the latter on January 1950 to pursue his dream to study medicine, but subsequently abandoned the idea and joined the law firm Battenberg and Talma. His involvement in politics left him no time to practise law. Upon his retirement as an ambassador in 1992, he joined Drew & Napier as its consultant.
He was passionate about law and spoke openly on various legal issues. He vehemently opposed the abolition of trial by jury and opposed capital punishment. Incidentally, he was the defence counsel in the first no-jury trial case in Singapore. In April 1970, he was appointed as a permanent member in the Presidential Council, but resigned on 23 November 1970.
The only incident that tarnished his legal career was his six-month suspension in October 1972, having been accused of circulating affidavits. He was then representing the Nanyang Siang Pau executives detained under the Internal Security Act and were undergoing habeas corpus court proceedings.
Before Marshall became a household name in Singapore politics, he was actively involved in the founding and running of many societies and organisations fighting for one cause or another. He became the first elected president of the Jewish Welfare Board on 27 June 1946 and remained its president for the next six years. He formed the Singapore War Prisoners' Association, becoming its honorary secretary, which fought for better compensation for the former prisoners of war. He was a member of the Singapore Rate Payers Association, debating issues like rent control and tenancies. To find an avenue to raise municipal matters, he joined the Singapore Association in 1947.
David Marshall joined the Singapore Progressive Party in 1949 but left it in 1952 due to differences of opinion with the party president, C. C. Tan. In 1954, he led the Singapore Socialist Party that later merged with the Singapore Labour Party to form the Labour Front, with Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas as his party colleagues. Marshall became the first chief minister of Singapore when the Labour Front formed the coalition government after the first Legislative Assembly election in 1955.
During his short tenure of 14 months as chief minister, Marshall had to deal with riots such as the Hock Lee bus strike and riot, various other strikes as well as communist threats. The mass rally he organised to welcome the British parliamentary delegation in March 1956 was used by pro-communist members to stage a riot and created a doubt on the ability of the Marshall government to rule an independent Singapore. But Marshall continued his efforts to win self-government for Singapore and led an all-party delegation to London from 23 April to 15 May 1956. Disunity among the political parties and Marshall's emotional fury and lack of diplomacy led to the breakdown of the talks. Marshall resigned and stepped down from the post of chief minister on 7 June 1956, failing to obtain self-government for Singapore.
He continued to be active in politics as a backbencher. After failing to get the expected support from the left-wing in the April 1957 by-election against Lee Kuan Yew, he resigned from the Legislative Assembly and from the Labour Front. He founded the Workers' Party on 7 November 1957 and won the Anson by-election on 15 July 1961. Played out by his own party members, Marshall resigned from the Workers' Party on 19 January 1963. The disappointed Marshall withdrew from politics after losing the September 1963 election where he stood as an independent in the Anson ward. He later even refused J. B. Jeyaretnam's request in 1968 to rejoin the Workers' Party.
The policies and ideas that Marshall introduced before and during his short tenure as chief minister was later expanded and implemented by the Lim Yew Hock government and the PAP government. He inspired the meet-the-people sessions. During his tenure as chief minister, the All-party Report on Education Policy and a white paper on education policy were published. They proposed many revolutionary ideas such as multilingualism and emphasis on learning English, which formed the basis for Singapore's present educational system.
Marshall also advocated the use of multilingualism in the Legislative Council to get all citizens to participate in the affairs of the country; in 1958, it was implemented by the Lim Yew Hock government. Marshall proposed a scheme to resolve citizenship issue for the 220,000 China-born Chinese, which set the tone for future Singapore citizenship schemes. He appointed B. R. Sreenivasan to head the Malayanisation Commission committee to look into appointing locals in the civil service. Sreenivasan's recommendations were included in the White Paper on Malayanisation passed by the assembly later in 1956.
Marshall was instrumental in passing the Labour Ordinance towards the end of 1955, which brought an end to long work shifts. When he was in the Progressive Party, Marshall was interested in the idea of a provident fund and in fact paid a lawyer to get some advice on this. When he came into office, the Central Provident Fund Ordinance of 1953 was amended, exempting employees earning less than $200. He also established an elected City Council, which replaced the Rural Board; in this, he saw the opportunity to train and educate the populace on democracy and, later, self-government.
Marshall spent two months in China in June 1956 as a guest of the Foreign Relations Institute of China, as well as to lead a trade mission. The letters he wrote to his brother during that period was later published by the Singapore Heritage Society as Letters from Mao's China. They give valuable insights on communist China.
Marshall, at age 87, passed way on 12 December 1995 after a year-long battle with lung cancer. In recognition of his exemplary service as a lawyer, he was appointed as the Honorary Member and Fellow of the Academy of Law in 1992, and the David Marshall Professorship in Law was set up in 1995. In 2007, the Singapore Management University (SMU)'s School of Law established the David Marshall Prize for the top student in criminal law. The prize was established in perpetuity with a S$50,000 endowed donation by several members of the Jewish community in Singapore.
1949–1952: Singapore Progressive Party.
1954: President, Singapore Socialist Party.
1955–1957: Member and later president, Labour Front.
6 Apr 1955–7 Jun 1956: Chief minister.
23 Apr–15 May 1956: Led all-party delegation to London.
7 Nov 1957–19 Jan 1963: President, Workers' Party.
15 Jul 1961: Won a seat in Anson by-election.
1963: Stood as an independent in Anson.
1961–1963: Member, Singapore Legislative Assembly.
Apr–23 Nov 1970: Member, Presidential Council.
19?–1978: Advocate and solicitor, High Court of Singapore.
Oct 1978: Singapore's ambassador to France.
Apr 1981: Singapore's ambassador to Portugal.
Sep 1981: Singapore's ambassador to Spain.
Oct 1993: Consultant, Drew & Napier.
President, United Nations Association of Singapore.
May 1969–Nov 1974: Chairman, board of trustees, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Trustee, Jewish Trust Fund, Singapore.
President, Singapore Mercantile Co-op Thrift and Loan Society.
1965: Datuk Jurnia Johan Pahlawan, conferred by the sultan of Pahang.
1978: Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, France.
Father: Saul Nassim Mashal, a Sherpadi Jew from Baghdad, trader in dates and a property broker.
Mother: Flora Ezekiel Mashal, an orthodox Jew, who brought up her children strictly observing Sabbath and Jewish rituals and festivities.
Wife: Jean Mary Gray, a sociology lecturer (m. April 1961).
Son: Jonathan Mark.
Daughters: Ruth Ann, Sarah Farha and Joanna Tamar.
Letters from Mao's China. (1996). Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society.
(Call no.: RSING 951.05 MAR)
Singapore's struggle for nationhood 1945–59. (1971). Singapore: University Education Press.
(Call no.: RSEA 959. 57024 MAR)
Facets of the accusatorial inquisitorial systems, the ninth Braddell Memorial Lecture, 1978. (1979). Singapore : Malayan Law Journal
(Call no.: RCLOS 345.05 MAR)
Chan, H. C. (2001). A sensation of independence: David Marshall, a political biography. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA)
Chew, M. (1996). Leaders of Singapore. Singapore: Resource Press.
(Call no.: RSING 920.05957 CHE)
Hwang, T. F. (1972, October 4). Marshall: Court action. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Kratoska, P. H. (Ed.). (2001). South East Asia: Colonial history (Vol. 5, pp. 257-277). New York: Routledge.
(Call no.: RSING 959 SOU)
Mulliner, K. (1991). Historical dictionary of Singapore (pp. 102-102, 160-161). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 MUL)
Singapore days of old: A special commemorative history of Singapore published on the 10th anniversary of Singapore Tatler (pp. 78-81). (1992). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)
Chua, M. H. (1995, December 13). David Marshall, 87, dies of cancer. The Straits Times, p. 1.
Sim, S. (1995, December 13). Shooting star of Singapore a legend in his life-time. The Straits Times, p. 27.
Teo, A. (1995, December 13). One of the most remarkable men Singapore produced. The Business Times, p. 2.
Marshall names his men. (1955. April 7). The Straits Times, p. 1.
The Marshall diary. (1956, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 2.
SMU law school offers professorship and student awards. (2007, May 11). The Straits Times. Retrieved February 25, 2008, from Factiva database.
Chew, E. C. T., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1996). A history of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 132–136.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)
Josey, A. (1981). The David Marshall trials. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 345.595702523 JOS)
Josey, A. (1982). David Marshall's political interlude. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 320.95957 JOS)
Asad Latif. (1996, September 19). Marshalls China mail published. The Straits Times, p. 4.
Marshall, D. (1954, October 31). I believe manifesto. The Sunday Times, p. 6.
Marshall hands in resignation of his cabinet to Sir Robert (1956, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 1.
The lion in winter: Vintage Marshall. (1995, December 14). The Business Times, p. 13.
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.
Marshall, David Saul, 1908-1995
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