The Singapore Free Press



Published for the first time on 8 October 1835, The Singapore Free Press was Singapore’s second English-language newspaper, after the Singapore Chronicle.1 It was launched by William Napier with co-founders George D. Coleman, Edward Boustead and Walter Scott Lorrain, and remained in circulation until 1869. The newspaper was revived in 1884 by Charles Burton Buckley, bought over by The Straits Times in 1946 and merged with The Malay Mail in 1962.

Background and establishment
The Singapore Chronicle first  issued on 1 January 1824, was the first English-language newspaper in Singapore.  It was originally owned by publisher and editor, Francis James Bernard, a son-in-law of Singapore’s first British Resident, William Farquhar.2 In September 1835, the newspaper was sold to Walter Scott Lorrain, a merchant in Singapore. A month later, the paper’s ownership was transferred to James Fairlie Carnegy, a Scottish merchant from Penang who had ideas of news distribution throughout the Straits Settlements.3 The Penang takeover spurred a group in Singapore to set up a rival newspaper, The Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser, which was published in October 1835. To compete, the Singapore Chronicle halved its price and advertising rates, but the business still failed eventually. The last issue of the paper was published on Saturday, 30 September 1837.4


The group that set up The Singapore Free Press consisted of William Napier, who was a lawyer and the paper’s main owner, as well as George D. Coleman (the first superintendent of public works), Edward Boustead (founder of Boustead and Company) and Lorrain (head of Lorrain, Sandilands and Company). Boustead had previously helped to edit the Singapore Chronicle.5

The newspaper was named The Singapore Free Press to mark the abolishment of the Gagging Act in 1835. Prior to that, press censorship was imposed on publications through the act, which forbade criticisms of the East India Company, the local government and their policies, and thus required every issue of a publication to be submitted to the government before it could be published.6

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.7 Backed by private merchants and lawyers, it earned the reputation of being a reliable, sober and moderate journal. With the demise of the Singapore Chronicle, The Singapore Free Press remained unrivalled for 10 years until The Straits Times was launched in 1845. The Singapore Free Press was in circulation until 1869.8

Napier edited The Singapore Free Press from its launch in 1835 until 1846 when he returned to the United Kingdom. The editorship was taken over by law agent and notary public Abraham Logan in 1846, who also became the newspaper’s proprietor for  more than 20 years.9 The paper flourished under Napier and Logan, but ceased publication in 1869 with Jonas Daniel Vaughan as its last editor. The main reason for its demise was probably stiff competition from The Straits Times and other vernacular newspapers that reduced its readership.10

Subsequent series
Second series
In 1884, Charles Burton Buckley relaunched The Singapore Free Press, with a special Melaka correspondent.11 Buckley resumed the weekly publication after he managed to interest 32 subscribers into buying over the “plant and material of the old paper”.12 Besides serving as the editor, Buckley also contributed many articles on  Singapore’s history to the newspaper. These articles eventually became the content of his classic book, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 18191867.13

Contributors to the new series of The Singapore Free Press included Vaughan, who contributed articles until his death, as well as William H. Read, who wrote articles and letters under his well-known signature “Delta”. The paper became popular as a reference on the history of the Straits Settlements.14

With the success of the newspaper, five notable personalities got together in 1887 to make it a daily publication. They were Buckley, John Fraser, John Cuthbertson, David Neave and Thomas Shelford.15 W. G. St Clair was appointed the newspaper’s editor, and Walter Makepeace joined as a reporter and assistant.16

The inaugural issue of The Singapore Free Press as a daily was published on 16 July 1887.17 However, the Melaka edition did not seem to be doing well. Around 1889, H. B. Collinge, who later became Inspector of Schools in Perak, made an attempt to resuscitate the Melaka edition, and succeeded moderately for about a year. The Singapore edition, on the other hand, continued to do well, and it was bought over by St Clair and Makepeace in 1895. When St Clair retired as the newspaper’s editor in 1916, it was converted into a private limited liability company by St Clair and Makepeace.18

Other well-known personalities who had worked for The Singapore Free Press included William Craig, who subsequently left the paper to join the British colonial government service in the Post Office in 1893, and R. D. Davies, who started his career as a reporter in 1901 and rose to become managing director and editor by time of his death in 1932.19

In 1907, The Singapore Free Press decided to set up Utusan Malayu, the Malay edition of the newspaper. Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah was invited to join as editor. The first issue was published on 7 November 1907.20 Initially issued three times a week, Utusan Malayu became a daily newspaper in 1915.21 In 1918, Utusan Malayu was sold to a group of Muslim businessmen in Singapore.22

Third series
Ending a century-old rivalry, The Straits Times bought over The Singapore Free Press and revived it as a daily with its first publication on 15 May 1946.23 The purchase by The Straits Times was mainly to fend off competition from The Malaya Tribune, which was launched in 1914.

The 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 an afternoon newspaper, The Singapore Free Press was constantly hard-pressed to produce front-page stories that would outdo the morning paper.

In the 1950s, The Singapore Free Press was headed by Lee Siew Yee. When Times House was built in 1958, writers and staff of the paper moved into the building.24

Later developments
The last issue of The Singapore Free Press was published on 28 February 1962 before it merged with The Malay Mail, a paper first issued on 14 December 1896 and bought by the Straits Times Press in 1952. The new paper retained the name The Malay Mail and became the national paper.25 The popular paper was distributed to all major towns in Malaya, with separate editions for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.26

On 1 September 1972, with the split in the Straits Times Press Group, the entity in Malaysia was renamed The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd., and took ownership of The Malay Mail with it. The Malay Mail continues to be in publication in Malaysia today.27



Author
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, p. 195. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB]); [Masthead]. (1835, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, pp. 175–176. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB]); Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
3. Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, p. 193. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB])
4. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 153–154. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, pp. 196–197. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB])
5. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 275. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, pp. 194–195. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB])
6. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 154. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (182437). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1), 175–200, pp. 180–182. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[JSB])
7. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 275. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
8. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 68–69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 278–284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
9. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 499. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
10. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 68–69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 153–154. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
11. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
12. The Singapore Free Press And The Men Who Have Made It (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Makepeace, W. (1991). Institutions and clubs. In W. Makepeace, G. E. Brooke, & R. S. J. Braddell (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 278–319). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. v–x. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Chandy, G. (1978, December 4). How press was born... New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Makepeace, W. (1991). Institutions and clubs. In W. Makepeace, G. E. Brooke, & R. S. J. Braddell (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 278–319). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 283-284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
15. Makepeace, W. (1991). Institutions and clubs. In W. Makepeace, G. E. Brooke, & R. S. J. Braddell (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 278–319). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
16. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
17. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
18. Makepeace, W. (1991). Institutions and clubs. In W. Makepeace, G. E. Brooke, & R. S. J. Braddell (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 278–319). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 283-284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
19. The Singapore Free Press And the men who have made it. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Death of Mr. R. D. Davies (1932, July 11). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 278–284. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
20. Utusan Malayu. (1907, November 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN); Utusan Malayu. (1907, November 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Nik Ahmad bin Haji Nik Hassan. (1963, May). The Malay press. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36((1) (201)), 37–78, p. 50. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
23. Singapore Free Press out tomorrow (1946, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 1; The Singapore Free Press. (1946, May 16) The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
24. A period of great expansion (1953, Janurary 18) The Straits Times, p. 6; Turnbull, C. M. (1995, July 15). The making of a national of a national newspaper. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
25. Richards, A. (1962, February 28). After 126 years.... The Singapore Free Press, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 119. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
26. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)
27. Tan, Y. S., & Soh, Y. P. (1994). The development of Singapore’s modern media industry. Singapore: Times Academic Press, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 338.4730223 TAN)



Further resources
Chronicles of the times. (1999, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Evolution of the modern press in Malaya. (1934, March 15) The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Nordin, M. (2000, July 21). Measure of a man named Samad Ismail. The New Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



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.

 

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