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Maria Hertogh riots erupt 11th Dec 1950

Maria Hertogh was born on 24 March 1937 in Tjimahi, Java, to a Dutch Eurasian Roman Catholic family, and was baptised Maria Huberdina Hertogh.[1] During the Japanese Occupation of Java, Maria’s father was interned by the Japanese. Having just given birth to her sixth child, Maria’s mother placed her in the care of a family friend, Che Aminah binte Mohamed, on 1 January 1943.[2] After the war, Maria and her foster family moved to Kemaman, Aminah’s hometown in Terengganu, Malaya, where she was brought up in the Muslim faith and renamed Nadra binte Ma’arof.[3]

The Hertoghs were reunited after the war and returned to the Netherlands. They decided to search for Maria who was successfully located in September 1949.[4] The Hertoghs then launched a legal effort to reclaim Maria through the Dutch authorities. On 22 April 1950, Jacob Van Der Gaag, who was then the acting Dutch Consul-General in Singapore, applied to the High Court of the Colony of Singapore for an order under the Guardianship of Infants Ordinance directing Maria to be delivered into the custody of the Social Welfare Department of the Singapore government.[5] An interim order was made to this effect by the court and Maria was placed in York Hill Home under the custody of the Social Welfare Department. On 19 May 1950, the court passed an order that gave custody of Maria to the Dutch Consulate “with the liberty to restore her to her parents in Holland”.[6] Aminah successfully appealed against the court order and Maria was returned to her custody two months later on 28 July.[7] By this time, Maria’s case had attracted the attention of the Muslim community, which saw the court ruling as a victory for Aminah.[8]

On 1 August 1950, 13-year-old Maria entered into a nikah gantung or “truncated marriage” with Mansoor Adabi, a 21-year-old probationary teacher from a wealthy family in Kelantan.[9] The Hertoghs challenged the legality of Maria’s marriage on 26 August. The summons requested that Maria’s marriage be declared illegal and sought the restoration of her custody to her biological parents. The summons also directed Maria “to be kept within the jurisdiction of the court during the hearing of the case”.[10] The hearing was conducted from 20 to 24 November 1950 and in his verdict delivered on 2 December the following month, Justice Brown of the Singapore High Court declared that Maria’s marriage was illegal “on the grounds that under her personal law, [which was] Dutch law, Maria was not [of] an age to contract a marriage”.[11] Brown’s verdict upset members of the Muslim community who viewed it “as being directed against the Islamic law of marriage”.[12] This sentiment became stronger when sensationalised coverage of Maria’s life in the Roman Catholic Convent of the Good Shepherd was published in the newspapers after the verdict. She was staying temporarily at the convent while waiting to leave Singapore for the Netherlands.[13]

On 11 December 1950, before Aminah’s appeal was to be heard, a small procession of about 20 demonstrators approached the Supreme Court from St. Andrews Road, carrying a green flag bearing a crescent and star, and banners with slogans calling for the removal of Maria from the convent.[14] The situation began to deteriorate when the judge dismissed Aminah’s appeal, and by evening, the riots had spread outwards and intensified in areas such as Bukit Timah Road, Kampong Java, Kampong Glam, North Bridge Road, Kallang and Geylang.[15] Europeans and Eurasians were dragged from cars and buses and beaten up, and in some cases, killed.[16] The rioters also tried twice to march to the convent where Maria was staying and this prompted the authorities to relocate Maria and her biological mother to St. John’s Island.[17] By the end of the day, it was reported that nine people had been killed and another 127 injured.[18] The military was called in on 12 December and given orders to open fire to restore law and order.[19] By  the time  the situation  returned  to normal on 13 December,  the  riots had  left 18 dead  and  173 injured.[20] Maria and her mother left for the Netherlands on 12 December during the upheaval.[21]

1. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission 1951 together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies (p. 7). Singapore: Government Printing Office. Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN.
2. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 7.
3. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 7.
4. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia (p. 337). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board. Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN.
5. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 7.
6. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 7–8.
7. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 7.
8. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 10.
9. Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath (p. 17). London: Routledge. Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ.
10. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 8.
11. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 8.
12. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 10.
13. Nordin Hussin. (2005). Malay press and Malay politics: The Hertogh riots in Singapore. Asia Europe Journal, 4(3), 568.
14. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 15.
15. Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied,  2009, p. 20. 
16. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, pp. 30–31.
17. Hughes, T. E. (1980). Tangled worlds: The story of Maria Hertogh (p. 57). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call no.: RSING 364.143095957 HUG.
18. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 33.
19. Clutterbuck, R. L. (1984). Conflict and violence in Singapore and Malaysia: 1945–1983 (p. 73). Singapore: G. Brash. Call no.: RSING 959.57 CLU.
20. Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951, p. 33.
21. Hughes, 1980, p. 57.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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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