The British Empire Library

Sunset Of The Empire In Malaya: A New Zealander’s Life in the Colonial Education Service

by Thomas K Taylor

Courtesy of OSPA

John Gullick (Colonial Administrative Service, Uganda 1939-40 and Malaya 1945-57)
The appointment in 1880 of a former prime minister of New Zealand to the governorship of the Straits Settlements was the first event in an association which brought New Zealanders in increasing numbers to Malaya and Malayan students to the universities of New Zealand. The New Zealanders in the government services after the war were a valued addition of men and women of character and ability, with their own distinctive background. The author does well to describe in his opening chapters his upbringing and career in education, including service in the air force in war time, up to 1946 when, at the age of 32 he began his Malayan career.

After a short initiation into the education system as a senior master of one of the leading schools, he went on to headmasterships and finally to holding the post of chief education officer in two important Malay states. Taylor also had a spell of teaching the theory of his profession to Malay student teachers at the central training college, where he also helped the translation bureau in producing textbooks. He saw in the first years of independence and retired (to Western Australia) in I960.

Before the war Malaya had prospered sufficiently to develop a substantial network of schools (and a university college), with good buildings and staff, both Malayan and expatriate. As in other territories the Christian missions, of several nationalities, had founded and staffed many secondary schools, but throughout Malaya there were also government schools. The 1930’s had seen some necessary reforms - arithmetic questions in local currency and not sterling, and so on. The education of girls had made some progress, but lagged behind that of boys. A small student elite had pursued a university education overseas. Then the Japanese occupation deprived a teenage generation of four precious years of education, and Taylor arrived to join in the hard work of making good the lost ground. It is clear from the results achieved by his classes that he was a gifted teacher. There was also a basic change in the method of training Malayan teachers, replacing an apprenticeship in the classroom with some supplementary weekend tuition by full time study at teacher training colleges; initially two such colleges in the UK were taken over exclusively for Malayan students.

There were also major problems. The communist-led rising known as the Emergency made routine visits to outlying schools hazardous to the inspector on tour. Communal tensions, exacerbated by the Japanese, were only gradually relieved by political accommodation. The English language secondary schools, to which all communities sent their children if they could, were a significant factor, as the minority who shared the experience of education together at an impressionable age were the leaders of the future. The success of Malaya/Malaysia since independence owes much to the foundations laid in the schools by Taylor and his contemporaries.

The book is a valuable account, from inside the system, of how it worked in Taylor’s time. But he was also deeply interested in the people and the society among whom he lived, finding most Malayans in all walks of life courteous, sensible and friendly - as we all did. He has a lot to say of the colonial service record in governing, and promoting unity, in a country of differing cultural heritages. It is a thinking man’s book that offers food for thought.

British Empire Book
Thomas K Taylor
The Radcliffe Press
1 84511 111 7


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe