The British Empire Library

British Rule in Malaya: The Malayan Civil Service and Its Predecessors, 1867-1942

by Professor Robert Heussler.

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by W.G.
This admirable history of the Malayan Civil Service is the eagerly awaited culmination of a project started more than ten years ago under the aegis of the British Association of Malaysia and Singapore by Hugh Bryson and Charles Corry. It will be read with keen interest and enjoyment by old members of the M.C.S. There is much in it to remind them of happy years spent in Malaya as well as much that may be new to them.

Professor Heussler has digested a mass of material, much of it supplied by members of the Service from their papers and diaries and in personal interviews. He has successfully produced a coherent and readable account from a myriad details.

There are absorbingly interesting chapters on the early days of the Service and the men such as Hugh Low and Frank Swettenham who introduced law and order into the Malay States. They established a personal prestige which enabled them to exercise an authority which was seldom questioned. Malaya and its peoples won their affection and loyalty and they in turn won respect and trust. And so it continued until the end.

Professor Heussler gives enough of the historical background with a shrewd appreciation of the issues dominating affairs from time to time. But the book is about the Malayan Civil Service: how it developed over the years, how the administration worked including the Chinese Protectorate and the Labour Department, what sort of men they were and the lives they led. There is a wealth of interesting detail from personal recollections and diaries.

It is refreshing to read such a cool, objective yet sympathetic appraisal of individual officers and of the Service as a whole.

The book will be nostalgic reading for many, for Professor Heussler has managed to convey something of the charm of the country and its people and of the satisfaction of a career in the M.C.S.

Sadly this volume ends with the humiliation of the surrender of Malaya to the Japanese to be followed by the dreary years of internment or P.O.W. camp for most of the Service. But we can look forward to a second volume to complete the story of the M.C.S. from the rehabilitation of the administration after the Japanese occupation to the independence of Malaya and Singapore.

British Empire Book
Professor Robert Heussler.


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