British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Mr John H Grieve, ISO CPM

Formative Years: 1786-1867

The Federation of Malaya Police was formed from a number of separate forces, each with its own traditions. After the settlement of Penang Island by Captain Light in 1786, the first full-time superintendent of police was appointed there in 1806, he being the first true forerunner of all the long line of British, Malay, Indian and Chinese police officers who served in Malaya.

A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Captain Light
The settlement of Malacca, which first fell into British hands in 1795, was formally ceded to Britain by the Dutch in 1824, in which year the first superintendent of police was appointed. The trade of the three British settlements in the Malacca Straits was at first badly hampered by the activities of hordes of Malay pirates who operated their war perahus against the coastwise traffic. In 1826 the Island of Panghor plus a mainland strip known as The Dindings (in Perak) was voluntarily ceded to the East India Company to be used as a base for policing the Straits. This territory remained the responsibility of the police in Penang until February 1935, when His Highness the Sultan of Perak, himself a retired officer of the police and at that time Hon Chief of Police, received it back from the Government of the Straits Settlements. In 1867 the Indian Government formally transferred the Government of the Straits Settlements from the East India Company to the British Crown.

The Perak Armed Police 1872

A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Perak Armed Police
In 1872, in response to an appeal from the Mantri of Larut, Perak, Captain Tristan Speedy, Superintendent of Police in Penang, raised and trained a body of Sikh police for service in Perak. This force was from the outset very much a military body and in 1884 the Sikh element constituted the Sultan's own bodyguard and was renamed The Perak Sikhs.

The Negri Sembilan and Sungei Ujong Police 1874

This force dates from 1874 and was originally two separate forces - one for the Sungei Ujong and Jelebu Districts and the second for the remaining portions of the state. Both forces were manned largely by Sikhs, since the Malays in Negri Sembilan, as elsewhere in the peninsula, were reluctant at that time to serve as policemen. In 1895 the two were combined under Captain H L Talbot, who set about organising a united police force.

The Selangor Police 1875

The Selangor Police was first organised in 1875. Captain H C Sayers was appointed Captain Superintendent. The Headquarters of the Selangor Police was initially at Klang but in 1882 was removed to Kuala Lumpur. The force consisted largely of Sikhs and Pathans and a very few Malays.

The Pahang Police 1888

The Pahang Police were constituted in 1888 with an establishment of 25 Sikhs and other recruits from Singapore. It is interesting that from inception the Pahang Police included a contingent of Dyaks recruited from Borneo.

The Federated Malay States Police 1896-1942

By 1896 it had become apparent that the progress and development of the individual States of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang had reached the stage which called for the creation of a central police authority and on 14 September 1896 Captain Sayers was appointed the first Chief of Police for the Eederated Malay States with headquarters at the old fort on Bluff Road, Kuala Lumpur.

A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Sikh Police Wrestling
In Perak the Commandant of the Perak Sikhs, Col R S F Walker, was essentially a military man with little interest in police work. In 1896 the para-military Perak Sikhs were re-constituted the 1st Battalion, Malay States Guides, whilst the remainder of the police in Perak were reformed as a contingent of the newly formed Malay States Police.

The police in Malaya from their inception were called upon to undertake military operations. The Perak Police were first employed in suppressing an outbreak of lawlessness that followed the murder of the British Resident on the Perak River in 1875.

In 1876 the local police dealt with a state of unrest in Selangor and Sungei Ujong, with assistance from Perak. Again in 1883 disorders occurred in Rembau, whilst in 1884 a contingent of 250 Sikh members of the Perak Armed Police were offered for service in the Sudan campaign.

In 1891 serious disturbances broke out in Pahang and a detachment from the Straits Settlements was despatched thither to assist the Pahang Police. Throughout the campaign the forces used were entirely police, no naval or military aid being invoked beyond sending HMS Hyacinth and HMS Rattler to Pahang waters. The campaign continued erratically until 1894, when a strong force of police under Col Walker finally put an end to the resistance.

A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Singapore Police
The period between the Pahang Rebellion and the outbreak of the First World War was one of steady progress and development. The large influx of Chinese into the country called for continued vigilance in keeping the peace between rival secret societies and factions, whilst armed gang robbers already began to constitute a menace to the mining population in the Kinta Valley in Perak. It was this same area between Gopeng and Tapah that still remained a stronghold of armed terrorists operating in the name of communism in the Emergency years of 1948-1960. On the outbreak of WWl The Malay States Guides were mobilised and served with distinction with the Aden Field Force. At the end of the war the Malay States Guides were disbanded.

A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Sikh Police Singapore
In the State of Perils the police remained under the command of the Chief of Police, Che Mat, until 1946, when Perils became a police circle under the Chief Police Officer, Kedah. After the end of the First World War attention was given to improving the police in the Unfederated States and it became the practice to second officers from the Malayan Police to the States of Kedah, Trengganu, Kelantan and Johore. In 1928 the police suppressed a rebellion in Trengganu with the assistance of a contingent of the Federal Malay States Police.

In the years between the wars there were great strides in police development. Three most distinguished Chiefs of Police were W L Conlay, CBE, C Hannigan, ISO, and C H Sansom, CMG, CBE, whilst three equally distinguished Inspector-Generals were P H Fairbaim, CMG, H de S Onreat, CMG and A H Dickinson, CMG, OBE. In this period the police forces in Malaya were reckoned among the most efficient of the British colonies.

With the outbreak of WWII and the invasion of Indo-China by the Japanese, it was obvious that Malaya would inevitably be involved. The police were held ready for active service with the armed forces and greater emphasis was placed on the creation of an efficient intelligence network. When on 8 December 1941 Japanese armies landed on the coasts of Kelantan and Pahang, police everywhere became engaged in the short and bitter struggle to withhold the enemy. With the withdrawal of British forces from the north of the country to Singapore it was decided that the police should be disbanded, contingent-by-contingent as the army retreated south. The majority of British officers were taken prisoner and interned in Changi Gaol and elsewhere.

Thus ended the first phase in the history of British achievement in policing the Malay Peninsula, so long the haunt of pirates, warring Malay chieftains and rival Chinese secret societies, Chinese gunmen and gang robbers.

The Japanese Occupation 1942-45

The Japanese used the police as an instrument of oppression during their occupation of Malaya. Small bands of police offers not caught by the Japanese, headed by Col J L H Davies, CBE, DSO, landed in Malaya by secret means and established contact with Colombo and leaders of communist guerrillas operating in the jungle. The deeds of these men are recounted in Colonel Spencer Chapman's book The Jungle is Neutral


A Sketch of the Origins and Development of the
Police in Malaya from 1786 - 1948
Mobile Police Station
With the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945 the first liberation forces included small groups of Malayan police officers who had not been interned and who set to work to re-establish the police throughout the country. For the first time a Federation Police Force covering the whole of the country was organised, responsibility for Malacca and Penang being taken over from the former Straits Settlements, whilst the police in the Unfederated States of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu and Johore were united under a single Commissioner of Police in Kuala Lumpur. The first Commissioner of Police was H B Langworthy, whilst Col J D Dailey took charge of all security intelligence throughout the Federation and Singapore.

The force was in the process of re-establishing and re-equipping itself and rapid strides had been taken in reorganising and merging the remains of what had once been several disparate commands into a single federation force, when in June 1948 with the murder of three European rubber planters in Perak, the communist insurrection labelled the Emergency began. This confronted the government and police with a formidable and deadly challenge. But that is another story.

British Colony Map
Map of Colonial Malaya
Colony Profile
Malaya Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 85: April 2003


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