Charles Burton Buckley

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

Charles Burton Buckley (b. 30 January 1844, London, England–d. 22 May 1912, London, England) was a prominent resident in colonial Singapore, and had close links with the state of Johor. Buckley revived The Singapore Free Press newspaper after purchasing it in 1884, and wrote An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, an account of the history of early Singapore.1 Buckley Road, near Newton Circus, was named after him.2

Early life
Buckley came from a family of 10 children. He was educated at Winchester College, and suffered from poor health after leaving school. A family friend of the Buckleys’, William Henry Read suggested that Buckley come to Singapore to recuperate in a warmer climate and offered to give the young Buckley a job at his firm, A. L. Johnston & Company.3

Buckley arrived in Singapore in 1864 at the age of 20, and began working for A. L. Johnston & Company. In 1875, he left to work at the Chendras Gold Mine near Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang) in Johor but soon returned to Singapore to study law and worked as an assistant to Attorney-General Thomas Braddell. Buckley then went on to become a partner of Rodyk and Davidson, a law firm established in 1877. When Rodyk and Davidson were retained as solicitors by the sultans of Johor, Buckley became the confidential adviser to Sultan Abu Bakar and subsequently his successor, Sultan Ibrahim. In 1899, Buckley became a member of the Johore State Council. After Buckley retired from Rodyk and Davidson in 1904, he was appointed as the honorary financial and general adviser to the Johor government.4

The Singapore Free Press
In 1884, Buckley acquired The Singapore Free Press, which had been Singapore’s leading newspaper until it ceased publication in 1869. Despite the fact that the newspaper business was deemed not profitable due to the small English-speaking community, Buckley decided to revive the paper. He started a history column in the newspaper, publishing materials from past issues of the Free Press, some written by Abraham Logan, as well as articles by Braddell and Buckley himself. The weekly newspaper was well received, and the history column generated great interest. In 1887, Buckley converted the Free Press into a daily newspaper and expanded the history column.5

For over two decades Buckley collected articles published in the Free Press as well as other resources pertaining to sketches and observations of early Singapore. In 1902, the fruit of his labour, the two-volume An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, was published by Fraser & Neave. An Anecdotal History provided a chronicle of Singapore’s early years, from its founding by the East India Company in 1819 up to 1867 when it became a crown colony under the Colonial Office in London.6 The book, however, was criticised by the naturalist Carl Gibson-Hill for its lack of accuracy and poor research.7

Social and public life
Buckley had keen interests in acting, music and cricket. He performed in many amateur theatricals and concerts, and was also a talented stage manager. When the Amateur Musical Society in Singapore was formed in 1865, Buckley gave a solo performance at its opening concert at the Town Hall. He joined the society’s committee in 1867 and sang for many of its productions. Like many other European residents in the colony, Buckley was a cricket enthusiast, and frequently went to the field after work.8 He was also remembered as the owner of Singapore’s first motorcar, a 4.5-horsepower Benz Victoria that he nicknamed “The Coffee Machine”.9

Charitable work
Buckley was passionate about children’s charity, organising many events for them, such as plays. He was known for holding annual Christmas parties for children. Some of these parties were attended by as many as 1,000 children.10

Later years
Buckley officially stepped down as adviser to the Johor government in at the start of 1910, but continued to maintain close links with the Johor royal family. In March 1912, he travelled to England with Tunku Ismail, the eldest son of Sultan Ibrahim. During the trip, Buckley fell ill and shortly thereafter died on 22 May 1912 in London. Following his death, a memorial committee comprising the young people and others associated with Buckley’s annual children’s Christmas parties organised a portrait of Buckley to be commissioned, and this was hung at the Victoria Memorial Hall.11


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Turnbull, C. M. (1984). Introduction. In C. B. Buckley, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. v–x. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
2. Savage, R. V., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 48–49. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]) Singapore Land Authority. (n.d.). OneMap. Retrieved from OneMap website:
3. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2) Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 453–454. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Death of C. B. Buckley. (1912, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Turnbull, C. M. (1984). Introduction. In C. B. Buckley, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. vi–vii. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
5. Turnbull, C. M. (1984). In C. B. Buckley, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. v–x. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
6. Buckley, C. B. (1902). An anecdotal history of Singapore (Vol. 1). Singapore: Fraser & Neave, Ltd, p. i. Retrieved from BookSG.
7. Gibson-Hill, C. (1854, May). Review of ‘An anecdotal history of olden times in Singapore’. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 27(1)(165), 235–243. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website:

8. Turnbull, C. M. (1984). In C. B. Buckley, An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. vi. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
9 Chan, K. B., & Tong, C. K. (Eds.). (2003). Past times: A social history of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 115–116. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PAS-[HIS])
10. The late Mr Charles Burton Buckley. (1912, May 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 342. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Death of C. B. Buckley. (1912, May 23). The Straits Times, p. 7; The late Mr Buckley. (1912, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.


Community leaders
Buckley, Charles Burton, 1844-1912