Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Common Currency Zone

Recently I came across this photo of a Malaya and British Borneo $1000 banknote dated 1st March 1959. The design was never adopted but $1 and $10 denomination notes from the same series were issued and used in circulation in the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei.

The reverse of the note features a paddy field scene and displays the emblems, in left to right order, of Brunei, Sarawak, Malaya, Singapore and North Borneo.

Brumasi Dollar

This banknote got me to thinking how convenient it would be if the modern-day nations of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei could share a common currency in the same way that the 19 European nations in the eurozone created the euro.

Brunei and Singapore have a Currency Interchangeability Agreement whereby banks, businesses and the public can accept payments in each other’s currencies at par and without charge. Malaysia used to be part of this arrangement until 1973 when it went its own way. Since then, the Ringgit has depreciated from parity to roughly three Ringgit to the Singapore Dollar.

Could there be a way for Malaysia to rejoin the Agreement? Probably not, because it would involve delegating too much responsibility for monetary policy to the Monetary Authority of Singapore which may be politically unacceptable for Malaysia.

An alternative could be to create an entirely new currency to replace the MYR, SGD and BND – let’s call this new currency the Brumasi Dollar for the sake of argument. The Authority for this currency could be headquartered in Singapore, a global financial centre with a track record of maintaining a strong, stable currency, but with the participation of board directors from the Malaysian and Bruneian Central Banks as well as the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

What would be the benefits of having a Brumasi Dollar? A common currency would facilitate tourism, trade and investment between Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, with lower costs and price stability. Malaysians would enjoy the confidence of having a strong, stable currency which maintains its value against the US Dollar and other leading currencies.

Establishing a Brumasi Dollar would not be an easy task but, if there was political will on all sides to make it happen, it could definitely be achieved.

A common currency for all ten ASEAN member countries is not seen as likely in the foreseeable future since their economies are in different stages of development and their political systems are widely divergent.

Borderless Zone

Since we are talking about copying the eurozone why not also consider copying their Schengen Agreement and introduce free movement between Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei without internal border checks?

Picture: Shin Min Daily News

Millions of man-hours wasted queuing up at both ends of the Singapore/Malaysia causeway could be saved. Singaporeans would find it feasible to live in Johor where property prices are cheaper and Malaysians would find it easier to commute to work in Singapore. Removal of Brunei/Malaysia border posts would improve journey times between Sabah and Sarawak.

No doubt there would be a lot of objections to this idea on grounds of national security, sovereignty and so on but if the 26 countries in the Schengen Area can make it work it should surely be possible for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei to work together and come up with practical solutions.

Just an idea!

David Brown – From Longformacus to Penang

This painting (probably not the original) hangs in the Penang State Museum. It is entitled ‘Glugor House and Spice Plantation’ and was painted by Captain Robert Smith in 1818. The museum tells us that Glugor House and Estate was owned by David Brown (1778-1825) and that the plantation was ‘among the first in Penang to grow valuable spices like pepper, nutmeg and cloves as well as gambier.’
David Brown is remembered as the wealthiest landowner in Penang of his time and a generous philanthropist.

Longformacus

I read that David Brown was born in 1778 in Longformacus, a tiny village in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. Since this village is not far from where I am currently staying I thought I would go along and see if any trace of him remains there.

Longformacus is a pretty place with a river called Dye Water running through the village. It has a population of just 66 (as at the 2001 census). It was somewhat bigger back in David Brown’s time with 450 residents but life would have been harder. Rev. Mr Selby Ord, in the Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799, wrote ‘the farmers are prevented from great exertions by high rents, the great expense of manure, the badness of the roads, and the distance of markets. The air is dry, cold and piercing. The only diseases are rheumatisms and cutaneous disorders, which seem to be occasioned by poor food, damp houses and want of cleanliness …. The people, accustomed to the pastoral life in their early years, are rather inclined to indolence and ease.’

Clearly David Brown was not inclined to indolence but even so, it was quite a jump to progress from a fairly ordinary background to becoming one of the richest men in Penang in the space of just 25 years. How did he do it? He must have been from one of the more prosperous families in the village who could afford to pay for his schooling and law studies at Edinburgh University. Freshly graduated, he was sent out to Penang at the tender age of 22 to collect his family’s share of an inheritance left by his uncle, Laurence Stuart. Stuart had been in business with James Scott, who was a contemporary of Francis Light, and together they were considered as co-founders of Penang. James Scott was also from the Scottish Borders, born in Makerstoun, not far from Longformacus (and incidentally was a second cousin of the famous novelist Sir Walter Scott).

At the time Penang Island was under the control of the Honourable East India Company and young David Brown would have travelled out on one of their ships. James Scott was 32 years older than David Brown and probably took him under his wing and, impressed by his natural business acumen, employed him as an assistant. Brown may also have been related to Scott since many of Brown’s relatives used the name Scott as a middle or double-barrelled name. One theory, pure speculation on my part, is that Brown may have married one of Scott’s daughters. Brown was said to have had at least four local wives Barbara Lucy Melang, Nonia Ennui, Inghoo and Akeen and each of his sons had a different mother. Could one of those wives have been a daughter of James Scott? Researchers have suggested that Scott fathered more than a dozen children with four or five local women. If he married off one of his favourite daughters to Brown that might explain why Brown rapidly became a partner of Scott’s company and succeeded him after Scott’s death in 1808.

Brown went on to amass a fortune from trading, money lending and plantations and became the largest landowner in Penang and a pioneer cultivator of nutmeg, cloves and other spices. Since a nutmeg tree takes twenty years to reach full production it was his eldest son George who continued his efforts and he and his brothers reaped the financial benefits.

As a boy, David Brown would doubtless have attended this kirk, the Longformacus Church of Scotland which largely dates from 1730.

The church was closed down in 2013 and was set to be demolished. Thanks to local fund raising and private donations it was saved and converted to a heritage centre.

Tucked away down a long private drive, Longformacus House can only be glimpsed from the main road.

The grandest house by far in the village is Longformacus House, an early 18th century Category A listed mansion amid large wooded grounds. According to Historic Environment Scotland ‘both historically and architecturally, Longformacus House remains one of the most significant buildings in the parish and indeed, within Scotland as a whole.’ We know that the the Brown family owned Longformacus House and Estate for many generations but they were not the original owners. It seems likely that David Brown was not born in this house and his descendants probably purchased it after they had made their fortune in Penang. Sources on the internet tell us that the Brown family descendants now live mostly in Melbourne Australia.

The Brown family have their own exclusive burial ground in the corner of the Longformacus church graveyard. David Brown himself is not buried there (his grave is in Penang’s old Protestant Cemetery) but some of his descendants are buried at Longformacus. The central arch on this wall commemorates David Wardlaw Brown who was the second son of David Brown. The inscription reads: Sacred to the memory of David Wardlaw Brown of Longformacus and Glugar who died 26th September 1864 aged 52. Margaret Turnbull Tait widow of the above who died 9th May 1891 aged 73.

The other engraved arches commemorate J.J.E. Brown (David Brown’s 5th son) who died 22 March 1895 and his wife Wilhelmina Jane Tait, Major Alexander Brown of Trinity Lodge, Duns who died 10th April 1858 and his wife Margaret Murray, Elizabeth Waller, wife of The Honourable Forbes Scott Brown, the 3rd son of David Brown who died in Penang on 28 May 1874 and is buried there, and two of their sons.

Altogether there are 21 graves with the surname Brown in this cemetery according to the Borders Family History Society.

Penang

David Brown donated land at Jalan Dato Kramat to the local municipality for use as a sports field. The place is today known as Padang Brown or Padang Dato Kramat and a substantial monument to Brown stands in one corner of the padang, surrounded by cooked food stalls known as the Padang Brown Food Complex.The inscription on the memorial reads:

This monument was erected by public subscription by the European and native inhabitants of Pinang: To the memory of the late David Brown Esquire in testimony of their esteem and approbation of his character and for his unwearied zeal and usefulness as a member of the community during the long period of 25 years which he was a resident on the island. His death took place on the 12th September 1825 in the 49th year of his age on board the H.C.S. Windsor Castle on her passage to Malacca.

As for Glugor House, the stately mansion in the painting built by David Brown in 1812, his son George Wilson Brown lived there following David Brown’s death. The house is no longer there. The estate became Glugor Barracks, then was renamed Minden Barracks and now forms part of the Universiti Sains Malaysia campus in Gelugor.

Nutmeg is still popular in Penang today, particular as a drink, but the days when the spice was worth more than its weight in gold have long gone. In the 1500s it was said to have cured the common cold and could even prevent plague. Perhaps if it could be reinvented as a cure for Covid-19 it could once again become valuable and sought after.

You can find pictures of David Brown and his son David Wardlaw Brown and more family information on this blog.

Robert Morrison – Born in Morpeth, Made in China

In a corner of the tranquil Protestant Cemetery in Macau lies the grave of Robert Morrison, recognised as the first Protestant missionary to China. He translated the Bible into Chinese and compiled and published an Chinese/English dictionary.

I visited the graveyard in 2015 and took this photo of his tombstone. The lighting was poor but you might just be able to make out that he was born in Morpeth in Northumberland on January 5th 1782.

Since I am familiar with Northumberland, Macau and Malacca (all places connected to Morrison) I thought I would see if I could find out more about this devout and steadfast man.

He is generally thought to have been born on a street called Bullers Green on the outskirts of Morpeth (though some say he was born in the tiny hamlet of Wingates, about 11 miles from Morpeth and moved to Bullers Green in infancy). The house at Bullers Green no longer stands but this is the location:

The inscription above the archway reads Victoria Jubilee Year. This house replaced the one in which Robert Morrison D.D. was born. (DD means doctor of divinity).

When he was three the family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where his father established himself as a last and boot maker in Groat Market which might have looked like this at the time. The street has far less character today.

Dr Morrison translating the Bible into Chinese from the painting by George Chinnery.

Robert, the youngest of eight children was a serious and hard working boy and had a strict religious upbringing by his Presbyterian parents. At age 14 he left school and trained as an apprentice in his father’s cobbler business. As a teenager he went slightly off the rails, falling into bad company and, like many a Newcastle lad, was prone to excessive drinking on occasion. However, after having the fear of eternal damnation drummed into him by his pastor he reformed his ways, and eventually passed his examinations as a clergyman and applied to the London Missionary Society to serve abroad. He learned some Chinese in London and was selected to start a mission to China. Although his wish was convert ‘poor perishing heathens’ the objectives set were more practical; to compile a Chinese dictionary and translate the New Testament into Chinese. Any conversions he achieved along the way would be a bonus.

Another version of the same painting. Which one was the truer likeness I wonder?

It was no easy task and he was not made welcome. For a start Christian missionaries were banned in China, on pain of death for the preacher and the converts. That is why he only converted ten Chinese over a period of 27 years. Secondly Chinese were forbidden to teach their language to foreigners and anyone who has tried studying Chinese knows that it is one of the hardest languages in the world to master. Thirdly, the Roman Catholic priests in Macau did not want Protestant clergymen in their territory and pressed the Portuguese authorities to expel him. The East India Company, which controlled most of the British trade in Macau and Canton, did not allow missionaries to travel on their ships so Morrison was forced to arrive on an American ship disguised as an American. And the British and other foreign traders did not welcome criticism from a Bible-bashing Brit since they were nearly all involved, directly or indirectly, in the opium trade. Morrison described many of his countrymen as riff-raff, unjust, covetous, avaricious, lying, drunken and debauched. They in return regarded him as irritating, narrow-minded, scornful and completely humourless.

The Casa Garden, the former Macau residence of the East India Company’s senior supercargo. The Protestant Cemetery is adjacent to the house.

Somewhat ostracised he was left in lonely isolation he was able to devote himself to his dictionary and, only when this had been published and he had become fluent in Chinese, did he become useful to the East India Company who employed him as a translator. He married Mary Morton in 1809, the daughter of an East India Company surgeon, and they kept each other company in their seclusion. They had two surviving children but she died of cholera in 1821 and, since Morrison would not have his wife buried in a Catholic cemetery, the Protestant cemetery was established in Macau. He later remarried and had a further five children.

Morrison Protestant Chapel in Camōes Square, Macau (next to the cemetery).

Morrison died in Canton on 1 August 1834 and his body was brought to Macau and buried next to his first wife and child. By the time of his death the entire foreign community in Canton and Macau had come to admire his character, even if they didn’t much like him. A fellow missionary, an American Sinologist called Samuel Wells Williams, summed Morrison up as ‘not by nature calculated to win and interest the skeptical or the fastidious, for he had no sprightliness or pleasantry, no versatility or wide acquaintance with letters, and was respected rather than loved by those who cared little for the things nearest his heart’.

The Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca

Morrison’s name is also associated with Malacca (in Malaysia). Another missionary, William Milne, was sent out to assist Morrison, arriving in Macau in 1813 but he was not permitted to stay. After some time in Canton, he moved on to Malacca where, under Morrison’s guidance, he established a school called the Anglo-Chinese College in 1818. After Hong Kong became a British territory the school relocated there in 1843 under the name Ying Wa College. It is still going today. Milne died in Malacca and he is commemorated in Christ Church, Malacca.

Sin Hiap Hin Bar, Java Lane, Melaka

A rare example of living heritage can be found at Sin Hiap Hin, a drinking hole at No.5 Jalan Jawa (Java Lane) in the Kampung Jawa area of Melaka.

Doris the landlady.

I went there recently (Feb 2019) and had a couple of drinks served by the friendly and chatty landlady, Doris Lee, who told me a bit about its history.

Sin Hiap Hin – ‘100 years of the best tasting medicine in Malaysia’ according to a recent Australian customer.

This bar has been around for a century and is a hangover (excuse the pun!) from the days when this was a seedy part of town with opium dens, gambling joints and brothels. Indeed, Doris told me that this place used to be an opium den before it became a bar, pointing up the stairs where the opium smokers would puff their way to oblivion.

The area is much quieter now and the bar’s neighbours include an old fashioned barber shop, where you can have a cut-throat shave and your ear wax removed, and a pet shop selling songbirds in elaborate bamboo cages.

The antique license notice is hard to make out but probably says ‘ Licensed to sell intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises’.

This a bar for hardened drinkers. For a start it opens at 9 o’clock in the morning and is often closed by 6pm. The interior is rather Spartan. This is not the place to catch a Premier League match while munching grilled buffalo wings and surfing the web. All there are here are half a dozen wooden stools, an ashtray (remember those?) and a vintage wooden bar which has been polished by countless elbows and beer slops. The shelves you see in the photo are the originals from when the bar opened and contain Chinese herbal liquor, rice wine, Indian whisky, cheap hard spirits and beers.

No Wave & PIN Here – Cash Only Please

The bar used to be popular with boatmen working on the Melaka river which is just a stone’s throw away. During colonial times it had many British officials among its clientele. It’s the sort of place that you could imagine Nabby Adams, the boozy policeman in Anthony Burgess’ novel Time for a Tiger, would like to frequent for an early morning beer to quench his insatiable thirst.

Japanese soldiers frequented this bar too during their brief but brutal occupation of Melaka in the 1940s. Swigging rice wine in Sin Hiap Hin’s somewhat dingy atmosphere no doubt brought home nostalgic memories of those tiny bars in cities like Tokyo or Osaka

Since there are no boatmen anymore and the Brits and Japs have long gone, patrons are more likely to be those down on their luck or low income workers tanking up on strong drinks for just a few Ringgit per shot.

Business from local workers is not what it used to be but thanks to blogs like mine, a steady stream of tourists, both local and foreigners, have discovered this place and drop in to soak up the atmosphere of days gone by. A wall calendar serving as a visitors’ book records comments left by tourists from Australia, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Canada and Malaysia, all praising the atmosphere, the local rice wine and the ‘cute aunty’ (Doris).

Pandan-Flavoured Malacca Rice Wine

At Doris’s suggestion I tried a glass of Pandan flavoured Malacca rice wine which she sells for RM 7 per half-peg. It has been made by a local firm in Melaka since 1908 which must make it one of the longest established booze manufacturers in Malaysia, much older than Tiger or Anchor beer for example. The taste is powerful, like Korean soju, with a smoky pandan aroma. The alcohol content is 27%. Doris said you’ll only find this drink at her bar. Other flavours include lychee. You can buy a bottle for only RM 15 which is a nice souvenir to take home.

I’m sure Doris and her husband, who is the great grandson of the founder, would welcome your business if you are in the area.

Dindings – Britains’ Least Known Former Colony?

dindings-straits-settlements-map

Like many of my generation, I was an avid stamp collector as a boy and I specialised in Commonwealth and British Empire stamps. Through stamps I learned something of Britain’s former possessions and protectorates with exotic names like the Kathiri State of Seiyun, Mafia Island, Stellaland, Poonch and the Cocos Islands (the Cocos were for a time part of the Straits Settlements).

But until I moved to Malaysia I had never heard of Dindings, a strip of Perak territory which was ceded to Britain in 1826 and remained a colony as part of the Straits Settlements until it was returned to Perak in 1935. This may be because Dindings never issued its own stamps, using instead either Straits Settlements or Perak stamps. Stanley Gibbons’ specialised stamp catalogue for Malaysia doesn’t even mention Dindings, possibly an oversight on their part.

dindings-sitiawan-stamp

dindings-pangkor-stamp
Sitiawan and Pangkor Postmarks

Dindings (which was renamed Manjung on 1 January 1982) comprises the island of Pangkor and the towns of Lumut and Sitiawan on the mainland. The districts of Beruas and Pantai Remis also come under modern-day Manjung.

dindings-railway-map
Railway Map 1914 showing the Dindings, shaded in British pink.

Following the signing of the Anglo Dutch Treaty in 1824 the British stepped up their involvement on the Malay Peninsula and they took control of Pangkor Island in 1826 with the aim of suppressing piracy. They also probably wanted to prevent the Dutch from returning – the Dutch had had a minor presence on Pangkor since 1661 though they abandoned the island for good in 1748.

dindings-malayan-peninsula-map

In 1874 the Pangkor Treaty was signed with the Sultan of Perak under which Pangkor and the strip of mainland containing Lumut and Sitiawan was ceded to Britain and placed under the wing of the British Governor in Penang. Britain demanded this territory as reward for helping to bring peace to Perak between two rival Chinese clans who were feuding over tin mining.

dindings-pantai-remis
Pantai Remis has a number of well preserved wooden shophouses.

Having obtained the Dindings, Britain did very little with it. The original intention may have been to use it as a gateway to Perak’s booming tin ore trade but it was found more convenient to use Port Weld, which had a harbour and branch railway line, to export tin. No railways were ever built in Dindings and no port was developed. With Penang not far away the Dindings were probably seen as superfluous.

dindings-pillarbox-lumut
This old British made pillar box outside the post office at Lumut is still in use. It is inscribed ‘McDowall Steven & Co.Ltd, London & Glasgow’, a firm of iron founders in operation from 1862-1909.

Today there is little to show that Britain was ever there – just a couple of post offices and police stations, one or two schools and churches and a number of colonial-era bungalows and government offices.

dindings-lumut-naval-base
From the top of Lumut’s Bukit Engku Busu you can get a good view of the naval base and Pangkor Island behind left.

In recent years Malaysia has developed Manjung significantly. The Royal Malaysian Navy has its main base at Lumut and the bustling towns of Seri Manjung and Sitiawan sprawl over a wide area. Pangkor has become a major tourist destination but it still retains a relaxed and sleepy feel.

dindings-pangkor-today
Teluk Gedung on Pangkor Island

By the way, while revisiting Pangkor last week I made a discovery. The drawing on the famous rock on the island which people have for years been calling Tiger Rock is not a tiger at all. You can read about my revelation on my Malaysia Traveller website.

David, Edward, Eduardo & Nelly

boustead-and-co-poster

It’s strange how random facts and occurrences can sometimes link together in a string of weird coincidences.

Over Christmas my daughter was showing me a mobile app. called Twinning by Popsugar which compares your photo with famous celebrities and tells you which ones you most resemble. Apparently I bear a 35% similarity to David Niven. It’s obviously a rubbish app. since I don’t look anything like that suave and debonair British actor who died in 1983.

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David Niven in Paper Tiger

David Niven starred in a 1975 film called Paper Tiger which was partially filmed in Malaysia.

royale-chulan

While in Penang last month I stayed at the Royale Chulan Hotel at Weld Quay which occupies the beautifully refurbished former godown and Penang office of Boustead & Co, a trading, shipping and insurance business established by an Englishman, Edward Boustead, in 1828.

edward-boustead
Edward Boustead (1800-1888)

Edward Boustead’s great-grandson was David Niven, though there’s not much family resemblance judging by this photo.

David Niven starred in at least two films about the Philippines, The Real Glory and The Extraordinary Seamen. While filming he would no doubt have learnt about the national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal. During his travels in Europe, Rizal had a relationship with a woman called Nelly Boustead.

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Nelly Boustead, sweetheart of José Rizal

Nelly was the daughter of a wealthy Anglo-Filipino called Eduardo Boustead who was the son of the above mentioned Edward Boustead and his Filipina partner with whom he lived as a family when visiting his Manila office. Edward also had an English wife and children and when Edward died, Eduardo travelled to London to claim his considerable inheritance, much to the dismay of his English step-family who were unaware of his existence. Since Eduardo was unable to prove his legitimacy, most of the estate passed to the English family but Eduardo was still comfortably off and he moved to France.

twinning.popsugar

So it would seem that Nelly Boustead was a distant relation of David Niven. Using Nelly’s face on the Popsugar app might it show a resemblance to David Niven? Apparently not. It says she is a 76% match to Prince Edward! Does the British royal family have Filipino ancestors we don’t know about?

Before you rush to try out Twinning by Popsugar there have been reports that they have been leaking users’ photos without permission, so be warned.

Kuala Lumpur Cenotaph

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph

Following the recent Remembrance Day ceremonies marking 100 years since the end of World War One I thought I would relook at our own cenotaph here in Kuala Lumpur.

This simple granite monument was unveiled in 1924 as a memorial in tribute to those who lost their lives in that war. It was designed by the architectural firm Stark & McNeill with offices in Penang, Ipoh and Johor. It used to stand on Cenotaph Road (Jalan Tugu), off Victory Avenue (Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin) outside KL’s famous railway station but it had to be shifted in 1961 to make way for a flyover and the cenotaph now stands proudly at the Tugu Negara (National Monument) garden near Kl’s Botanical Gardens.

Each of the four sides of the monument displays a bronze tablet engraved with the names of the fallen from WW1 (mostly British and Indians fighting for the British).

Compared to World War Two, which affected Malaya severely, Malaya was not greatly impacted by the First World War. Apart from a German naval attack on Penang there was no fighting in the country. Indeed the economy of Malaya experienced a boom as its main exports, rubber and tin, were in great demand. The British working in Malaya at the time were playing an important role in the war effort by supplying the home country with vital commodities and there was no obligation for young British men to go home and fight. Even so, many felt the need to volunteer and play their part and a good number paid the ultimate price.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-wreath

Every year on Remembrance Sunday the British High Commission hosts a service of remembrance at Tugu Negara for those who served in both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency and other conflicts.  Representatives of various Commonwealth countries and other organisations leave poppy wreaths here.

Trawling though the internet I can find no list of the names inscribed on the KL cenotaph so I am including photos of each of the four plaques in case they are of use for people tracking down lost ancestors. I have also tried to find details of one name from each plaque, so that these souls at least know that they are not entirely forgotten.

We always say ‘We Will Remember’ and indeed we do remember the terrible cost paid by that generation but as the years have passed we are inevitably losing our collective memory of the individuals. There is probably nobody left alive today who personally knew anyone who died in that war.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-A-DMajor Tom Lowis Bourdillon M. C. 8th Batt. Kings Royal Rifle Corps 14th Division,. Killed in action at Ypres 24 August 1917. Aged 29. Son of Sir James and Lady Bourdillon of Liphook, Hampshire. He is buried at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-E-K

Lieutenant Frederick St John Ford North Echlin died of wounds on 27 September 1916, aged 27. He was from Echlinville in Northern Ireland which today is home to a whiskey distillery of the same name. He had not long been married, to Dorothy Blanche Echlin (nee Dobree) of Guernsey, and they had one child. Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Frederick Echlin had been working in the Federated Malay States. He volunteered for service and was commissioned on 6 March 1915 to the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. He joined the Royal Flying Corps on 27 October 1915 and became a pilot. He was buried in Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-N-REric Herbert Justus Maule-Ffinch was a Second Lieutenant killed in action near Bray, France on 27th August 2018 aged just 18. He served with the 7th (Res.) Batt of the London Regiment. He is buried at Bray Military Cemetery. Son of Knightley Heneage Mauleffinch and Evaleen Massie Maule-ffinch (nee O’Dowd), of Hendon, London. Joined the Malay State Volunteer Rifles at 17 years of age

Kuala-Lumpur-Cenotaph-R-Z

Uttam Singh. It is hard to be sure due to many soldiers with a similar name but the only Uttam Singh with a Malayan connection listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website is Sepoy Uttam Singh of the Malay States Guides who was killed on 9 December 1915. Son of Sher Singh of Tangri, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Punjab. His name is commemorated on the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial in Cairo. The Malay States Guides saw action in Aden in 1915 against Turkish soldiers threatening the British-controlled city.

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Malay States Guides

Melaka Tourism

 

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Melaka is one of my favourite places in Malaysia but whenever I visit I come away thinking that it could be better.

Melaka-Tourism-christ-churchAs a UNESCO World Heritage Site it attracts a lot of tourists; 16.7 million in 2017 according to press reports, with Chinese tourists taking the top spot.

Melaka-Tourism

They are not evenly distributed. On any day you can see coach loads of Chinese tourists milling around ‘Dutch Square’, taking selfies next to the Stadthuys, Christ Church, clock tower and the Hello Kitty trishaws. Then they are taken to selected souvenir and food shops in nearby Jonker Street, probably owned by associates of the tour operators, to buy chicken rice balls, durian products and pineapple tarts, before being bussed back to a hotel in KL. You have to wonder whether the ordinary small business owners in Melaka see much benefit from the daily invasion of tourists.

Melaka-Tourism-alley-mural
Deserted alleyway. Murals have been painted in many places in Melaka to brighten up the dreary and cover up the ugly.

By the time the sun sets, most shops in downtown Melaka are firmly shuttered and soon the streets take on a deserted look apart from a few eateries in Jalan Hang Jebat and side streets but even here they struggle to find customers on weekday nights.

Melaka-Tourism-Gateway

Melaka’s tourism chiefs and real estate developers have plans to vastly expand Melaka’s attractions with ambitious developments under way on land recently reclaimed from the Straits of Malacca. These projects were agreed prior to the Malaysian General Election and it remains to be seen whether they will all be completed given the new Government’s emphasis on saving money.

Even fewer tourists venture beyond Melaka City to visit other places in Melaka State. At Kampung Duyong few example just outside the city is a large tourism complex, built at considerable expense, celebrating Malaysia’s famous hero Hang Tuah.

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The Hang Tuah Centre includes a large museum, shops and a Malaysian martial arts arena. I was the only visitor there.

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Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

I was in Northern Ireland recently where we saw Dark Hedges, a tree-lined street which apparently featured in Game of Thrones. It doesn’t look anything special in my photo (probably need a zoom lens).

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Dark Hedges, Melaka

This is Malaysia’s version of Dark Hedges, a street near Kampung Duyong, Melaka. It looks much more impressive.

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The mausoleum of Sultan Ali of Johor near Merlimau, Melaka. He was in dispute with the Temenggong of Johor for his throne.

Perhaps Melaka needs to become the setting for a popular series like Game of Thrones with filming locations spread around the state in order to share the benefits to tourism more widely.

Malaysia’s Old Post Offices

Pos Malaysia has done a good job in preserving a number of Malaysia’s old post offices, some of which date back a hundred years or more. While most of the large cities in Malaysia now have large modern mail distribution centres and post offices there are still a number old post offices which can be considered heritage buildings.

OldPostOffices

In 2010 Pos Malaysia issued an attractive set of stamps featuring 28 post offices, mostly old ones.

Taiping

The oldest surviving post office building in Malaysia is probably in Taiping. It was finished in 1884 and has recently been converted into the Telegraph Museum. My picture was taken prior to its restoration.

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The old general post office in Kuala Lumpur (completed in 1907) still stands although it has not been used as a post office since 1984. Ipoh and Kota Kinabalu also have old post office buildings which are over a century old but they are now being used by other government departments.

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The grandest post office building which is still being used for its original purpose is, in my opinion,  Kuching’s General Post Office, completed in 1932. It proudly displays the Sarawak State motto, Dum Spiro Spero, meaning While I breathe, I hope.

Here are some arty images of more old post offices which I have snapped during my travels around the country.

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Flor De la Mar’s Colourful History

Flor-de-la-Mar-Melaka

In Melaka, on the quayside near the mouth of the Malacca River, stands a replica of a Portuguese galleon, or carrack, called the Flor de la Mar which sailed in these waters in the early 1500s.

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Afonso de Albuquerque

This vessel, which is often (mis?)spelt Frol de la Mar, was the flagship for the Portuguese fleet in the Indian Ocean under command of the famous conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque.

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Flor de la Mar was built in 1502 in Lisbon. Weighing in at 400 tons, with a length of 120 feet and a height of 110 feet she was the largest vessel of its kind at the time. She was armed with 40 cannons distributed over three decks with a high stern and forecastle from which the crew could rain down fire on her enemies but this top-heavy design also made for poor stability when fully laden.

Her maiden voyage to the Indian Ocean departed Lisbon in 1502 under command of Esterão da Gama, a cousin of the explorer Vasco da Gama, returning to Portugal in 1503. The next voyage left Lisbon in 1505 under the captaincy of João da Nova. On her way back she sprang a leak and had to spend the winter in Mozambique before being commandeered by Afonso de Albuquerque for further missions in the Indian Ocean. She never saw Portugal again.

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Al Jalali Fort, Muscat

Flor de la Mar plundered her way around the Indian Ocean taking part in various bloody sieges and brutal raids against unsuspecting towns and ports in Arabia and India. She took part in the conquest of Socatra (now part of Yemen), Kuryat (Quriyat), Muscat, Corfacão (Khorfakkan), Quelba (Kalba), Sohar (all in modern day Oman and UAE), Ormuz (Hormuz, Iran) and Diu, Calicut and Goa (India).

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Hormuz Fort 

By 1505 King Manuel of Portugal’s attention had turned towards Malacca. When Vasco da Gama returned from his first voyage round the Cape of Good Hope as far as Calicut he brought back tales of a fantastically wealthy distant city called Malacca where all the goods of Asia were traded – pearls from Arabia, porcelain from China, cloth from India and nutmeg, cloves and pepper from the Spice Islands. It was the most cosmopolitan city in the world where over eighty languages were heard, according to the account of Portuguese apothecary and traveller Tomé Pires. With over 100,000 inhabitants, Malacca was larger than Lisbon at the time and almost as big as Venice, and it was ruled over by a Muslim Sultan.

Plan of the Portuguese Fortress in 1512

Pires wrote in his book Suma Oriental in 1515  ‘whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice’ meaning that Malacca was the source of Venice’s spice monopoly wealth.

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Tomé Pires

Albuquerque was determined to throttle Venice by seizing or at least gaining access to Malacca’s lucrative spice trade. Although he only had a small force of 700 Portuguese and 300 Indian soldiers he set about defeating the Sultan’s army with his usual ruthless efficiency and Malacca was conquered in 1511.

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Battle of Diu

The city was plundered and Albuquerque, leaving a small force behind, set off with his loot for India aboard the Flor de la Mar accompanied by two other vessels the Trinidade and the Emxobregas. Some accounts, possibly exaggerated, say he had 60 tons of gold and 200 chests of precious gems with him intended as gifts for the Portuguese king and queen as well as a jewel encrusted table, a pair of bronze lions and a rare map drawn by a Javanese showing the routes to China and other lands.

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Replica of the old Sultan’s Palace in Malacca.

 

His crew were reluctant to sail on the Flor de la Mar which by now was nine years old and barely seaworthy. Normally the ships on the India run could only survive four years or so before shipworms, nicknamed termites of the sea, caused irreparable damage to their unprotected wooden hulls. Also the vibrations caused by continual cannon fire had caused the Flor’s timbers to shake apart and the ship leaked badly and required constant pumping. 

When  stormy weather struck off the coast of north Sumatra, Flor de la Mar anchored in four fathoms of water to ride out the storm. Heavy seas pushed her onto a reef where she ran aground and broke into two with only the superstructure visible above the waves. Albuquerque and a few other survivors managed to escape the wreck and they were taken aboard the Trinidade. Many of his crew and a number of slaves were not so lucky and were lost along with the treasure.

Flor-de-la-Mar-plaque
The Malacca Museums Corporation seems in no doubt that Flor de la Mar’s sinking was an act of divine retribution for the misdeeds of the Portuguese conquerors.

The Trinidade was overcrowded and they were desperately short of food and water.  Some captives were thrown overboard in their sleep to reduce the number of mouths to feed but the ship eventually made it back to Goa.

Numerous wreck divers and salvage companies have tried to find the location of the Flor de la Mar wreck in the hope of recovering some of the lost treasures but seemingly so far without success. With the ship sinking in shallow waters close to the shore you would have thought something would have been found by now.

Had this happened in our modern age of conspiracy theories and fake news people might have speculated that Albuquerque deliberately sank the ship and kept the loot concealed for himself rather than handing it over to the king. He wouldn’t be the last Portuguese colonial governor to enrich himself corruptly before proceeding on retirement. But that would be a terrible slur to make against a Portuguese national hero! Even if he did succeed in keeping some of the plunder for himself he would not have lived long to enjoy it as he died in Goa in 1515.

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