The Singapore Free Press

The Singapore Free Press, Singapore's second English-language newspaper after Singapore Chronicle, was published for the first time on 1 October 1835. Launched by William Napier with co-founders G. D. Coleman, Edward Boustead and Walter Scott Lorrain, The Singapore Free Press remained in circulation until 1869. It was revived in 1884 by Charles Buckley, bought over by The Straits Times in 1946 and merged with The Malay Mail in 1962.

Singapore Chronicle, the first English-language newspaper in Singapore, was originally owned by publisher and editor Francis James Bernard. It was published for the first time on 1 January 1824. In September 1835, the newspaper was sold to a Singapore merchant, Walter Scott Lorrain. A month later, the paper's ownership was transferred to a Scottish merchant James Fairlie Carnegie from Penang, who had ideas of news distribution throughout the Straits Settlements. The Penang takeover provoked and spurred a group in Singapore to set up a rival newspaper, The Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser, which first appeared in October 1835. To compete, Singapore Chronicle halved its price and advertising rates, but the business failed despite this. The last issue of the paper was published on Saturday, 30 September 1837.

The group that set up The Singapore Free Press as a rival to Singapore Chronicle consisted of the main owner, William Napier, a lawyer; and co-founders G. D.Coleman, the first Superintendent of Public Works, Edward Boustead, founder of Boustead and Company, and Walter Scott Lorrain, head of Lorrain, Sandilands and Company. Edward Boustead had previously been helping to edit Singapore Chronicle.

In the early colonial days, press censorship was imposed on publications through the Gagging Act. The act required every issue of a publication to be submitted to the government before it was published to the public, as it forbade criticism of the English East India Company, the local government and their policies. This Gagging Act was abolished in 1835, and to mark the event, the new paper to be released was called The Singapore Free Press.

The Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser was a four-page weekly, with a page of commercial and shipping news that catered to the colony's burgeoning commercial enterprise. Backed by private merchants and lawyers, it earned a reputation of being a reliable, sober and moderate journal. With the demise of Singapore ChronicleThe Singapore Free Press remained unrivalled for 10 years until The Straits Times came on the scene in 1845. The Singapore Free Press remained in circulation until 1869.

William Napier edited The Singapore Free Press from its launch in 1835 until 1846, after which he returned to his homeland, the United Kingdom. The editorship of the paper was taken over by notary public Abraham Logan in 1846 who also became its proprietor for more than 20 years. The newspaper flourished under both the editors, William Napier and Abraham Logan. However, the publication ceased in 1869 with Jonas Daniel Vaughan as its last editor. The main reason for its demise was probably the stiff competition brought by the circulation of The Straits Times and other vernacular newspapers that took away some of the readership.

Later series of The Singapore Free Press
Second series
In 1884, Charles Burton Buckley resumed the publication of The Singapore Free Press with a special correspondent placed in Malacca. Along with 32 subscribers, Buckley bought over the plant and the old materials of The Singapore Free Press  and resumed the weekly publication. He not only edited but also contributed many papers on Singapore history to the newspaper. These papers eventually became the content of the popular book, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867. Contributors to the resumed series of The Singapore Free Press were Jonas Daniel Vaughan who contributed articles to the paper till his death, and William H. Read who contributed articles and letters under his well-known signature "Delta". The newspaper became very popular as a reference work for the history of the Settlements.

Owing to the success of the newspaper, five notable personalities got together in 1887 to make it a daily publication: Charles Buckley, John Fraser, John Cuthbertson, David Neave and T. Shelford. W. G. St. Clair was chosen as editor and Walter Makepeace joined as a reporter and assistant. The first issue of The Singapore Free Press as a daily was published on 16 July 1887. The Malacca edition, however, did not seem to be doing well. Around 1889, H. B. Collinge made an attempt to resuscitate the Malacca edition and succeeded moderately for about a year. The Singapore edition continued to do good, and in 1895, St. Clair and Makepeace bought over the newspaper. When St. Clair retired in 1916, the newspaper was converted into a private limited liability company by St. Clair and Makepeace. Well-known personalities who joined The Singapore Free Press include William Craig, in 1893, and R. D. Davies, in 1901.

In 1907, The Singapore Free Press decided to set up the Malay edition of the newspaper, Utusan Malayu. The paper invited Mohammed Eunos, a wealthy merchant educated at Raffles Institution, to join as editor. Initially published three times a week, it became a daily newspaper in 1915. However, The Singapore Free Press sold the newspaper in 1918 to a group of Indian businessmen. The Singapore Free Press, too, ceased publication.

Third series
Ending a century-old rivalry, The Straits Times bought over The Singapore Free Press and revived it with its first publication on 15 May 1946. The purchase by The Straits Times was mainly to fend off competition from Malaya Tribune, which was launched in 1914. The new Singapore Free Press was published as a daily. Friendly rivalry between The Straits Times and The Singapore Free Press proved beneficial to both parties. With editors having their own independence, the papers at times took contradictory stands on issues. As The Singapore Free Press appeared as an afternoon newspaper, it was constantly hard-pressed to produce a front-page story that would outdo the morning paper. When Times House was constructed in 1958, writers and staff of The Singapore Free Press moved to the building. In the 1950s, The Singapore Free Press was headed by the late Lee Siew Yee.

On 28 February 1962, The Singapore Free Press merged with The Malay Mail – a paper that was first issued on 14 December 1896 and later bought by Straits Times Press in 1952 – and the latter became a national paper. The popular paper was distributed to all major towns with separate editions for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. On 1 September 1972, with the split of Straits Times Press Group, the Malaysian operations changed its name to The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd and took The Malay Mail with it. The Malay Mail continues to be in publication in Malaysia today.

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (p. 134-317). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 375). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 278-284). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1997). The development of Singapore's modern media industry (p. 2). Singapore: B. & Jo Enterprise.
(Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore: 1819-1988 (pp. 68-69, 118, 119, 143, 160). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (1824-37). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175-199.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 GIB)

Jeyasingam, J. (2001, December 14). Paper that cares for the people turns 105. New Straits Times, Management Times

Tan, S. E. (2002, February 11). Moving with the Times. The Straits Times, Life!.

How the afternoon daily has grown! (2002, December 14). The Malay Mail.

Singapore Press Holdings. (1997). Simple beginnings. Retrieved February 18, 2004, from

The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad. (n.d.). The Malay Mail. Retrieved February 3, 2005, from

Further Readings
Nordin, M. (2000, July 21). Measure of a man named Samad Ismail. The New Straits Times, p. 12.

Chronicles of the times. (1999, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 40.

The information in this article is valid as at 15 June 2005 and correct as far as we can 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.

Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Communication and media
Newspaper publishing--Singapore
Commerce and Industry>>Communications
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature

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