Worldwide shipping (Free in Singapore)

A Tribute to David Saul Marshall: Memorable Quotes

David Saul Marshall (1908-1995) was Singapore’s first Chief Minister, one of the best criminal defense lawyer in Singapore’s history, Singapore’s first ambassador to France, and above all, a great humanitarian with a strong sense of compassion and justice.

He has been glossed over by most historical accounts as having merely been Singapore’s first Chief Minster who stepped down after a year’s service because he was unable to obtain Internal Self Government for the nation. He remains, to the public, “that great man who represented his clients for only $1”, as he was wont to do with clients who needed help but were unable to afford his services.


An excellent biography of David Marshall, Marshall of Singapore by Kevin Y.L. Tan, was published in 2008 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. While GOHD Books does not currently carry this title, we’ll be happy to order it for anyone who wishes to purchase a copy.

In the meantime, however, it would be fitting to relay some wonderful quotes by David Marshall, taken from Marshall of Singapore, as a remembrance of the man and what he stood for – and also so that we Singaporeans may acquire a greater sense of our history and of the ideals that were once part of our collective spirit. This will, hopefully, be the first post of many to come on David Marshall’s sayings – and may it provide some information to those who are valiantly Googling “David Saul Marshall” on the internet and finding nothing of value except for this remarkable interview by Dharmendra Yadav.

David Marshall Quotes

On racism at school (p31-32):

“He said, ‘Marshall, would you marry a Malay or a Chinese or an Indian?’ I said ‘Oh why not Sir?’ He said ‘Bend down’ and I got six strokes…….I was angry, that this man of God, this man whose religion taught him that humanity are all brothers in the fatherhood of God, this man should say to me, the Chinese, the Malays and Indians are sub-humans whom I could not marry.”

From an article written in The Rafflesian, Raffles Institution’s magazine, when he was a student (p38):

“It is lack of self-confidence that almost always prevents one from climbing higher on the ladder of success, that chains one to an obscure seat in the back row in the Auditorium of life. For in this age of strife and energetic competition you will not get anywhere unless you whip the world into making a place for you and you cannot do that if you cannot whip your faculties into obeying your will.”

On his dream of becoming a psychiatrist (p61):

“I’m fascinated by human conduct. I want to understand the human mind and I wanted particularly to understand this phenomenon [the goodwill of the youth], which I though if I could only understand and break through, wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place?”

On rejecting an offer from a stranger to fund his education (p75):

“I though how happy she’d have been when she knew I was a successful lawyer and I paid back the money. And how proud she’d have been when she heard I was first Chief Minister. And I learned the real validity of the Chinese saying: ‘It is more generous to receive than to give.’ I’m afraid I was a small, mean man that day.”

On volunteering to fight during WW2 by joining the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (p102):

“When Czechoslovakia fell, 1938, I said to myself, ‘This is going to be the next great war. Germany on one side and Japan on the other. Japan is going to come here. This is my country’ (geographically). And I went to the Volunteers and said I wanted to join.”

On the British surrender of Singapore (p118):

“Such a shock for the first time in my life. The next morning as I was picking up bits of broken glass and bottles from my slit trench, I suddenly had a hysterical hiatus and began hiccupping tears. I cried. I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t control. It was a shock to me when I watched myself hiccupping and weeping…”

When he was captured as a Prisoner-of-War (p120):

“And those humble Chinese along Serangoon Road bringing out basins of water with tin cups for us to drink, and getting slapped for it. And the buckets…kicked and overturned. They showed a lot of courage. And during the time when I was in prison there in Singapore, little Chinese boys would slip through and hand us a loaf of bread…That touched me very deeply.”

On the colonial government (p156):

“I must be forgiven if I sometimes gather the impression that there is no government in this colony, only a bureaucracy of lazy clerks.”

On his first murder case (p168-169):

It’s not intellectual. There is deep in my belly an emotional reaction to the death sentence. It is beyond logic. The death sentence gets me, tortures me. My stomach is all churned up and twisted. It doesn’t matter whether he’s done it or not. I mean, that to me is such an irrelevance in view of the fact of taking his life in cold blood.”

On his apartment committee at Meyer Mansions, which issued a residents’ circular with instructions to prevent servants’ children from loitering. David Marshall used to invite these children to his home. (p202):

“The children of servants are as much human beings as you, and you have no right whatsoever to try to prevent your tenants from inviting them to their homes. I reject the suggestion that you are entitled to place my flat ‘out of bounds’ to anybody.”

On running for elections for the first time (p228):

“None of them understood. I wasn’t interested in getting into Parliament that was in any event going to be a castrated assembly. I was interested in awakening the people.”

On the press (p237):

“the press, the English press….started bashing me. And that gave me a wonderful idea. I make a speech everyday. I make it as provocative as possible and as full of quotable quotes as possible in order for the press to pick it up and to slash me with it and to make me wider known throughout the country.”

His electoral victory speech (p240):

“By electing a member of the smallest domiciled community [the Jewish community] here they have proved that Singapore can work, think and act non-communally. By electing a stranger to politics in preference to the founder President [CC Tan] of the longest established party in Singapore, the people have proved that Singapore has a spirit which can be touched by ideals.”

On inviting the UMNO-MCA Malay Alliance to join his coalition government (p242):

“I felt that the Malays have at all times been the Cinderella in Singapore…and that it was vital, absolutely, symbolically, vital that the Malay people should understand they are part and parcel of Singapore as much as the rest of us, and they should take their place now, in common with the others, as fellow citizens of Singapore and no longer as Cinderella, sweeping the cinders out of the fireplace – gardeners, drivers, small engine repairers – that they were an integral part of Singapore. Therefore I bashed into UMNO….not because I wanted the majority, but because I wanted the Malays in Government.”

On the Meet-the-People sessions (p295):

“I said to you if elected, I would dedicate a day in every week to receive the people of Singapore, whether voters or not, whether from Cairnhill [his constituency] or not. Rich or poor, in order to enable me to understand your problems, to receive your advice, and to assist where I can assist. I did not then realise; I did not anticipate, that I would shortly receive the privilege to the responsibility of dedicating 7 days a week to your welfare and probably many nights of the week. But I will still keep faith with you in spite of the onerous nature of the duties of the Chief Minister.”

On the racial policy (p309):

“I felt very strongly that a man who denies his roots is really a worthless human being. A man who denies his Chineseness is a superficial human being, basically weak. Whereas what I wanted to see was the strengthening of that ethnical roots through Chinese education, they feel the pride of race and I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to melt everybody into one..morass. I wanted four strong pillars, each standing straight – Chiense, Malay, Indian, English. And we would put the roof of Singapore on those four pillars, to be sustained of inter-racial cooperation and harmony. Just as four pillars of a wall, weld in the complete architecture.”

After starting the Workers Party (p. 406):

“a political opponent is not an enemy – an honest opponent should be treated with respect however bitter the opposition of his views. It is the essence of democratic progress to recognize that political opponents have material contribution to make to the thinking and efficiency of the government process and the education of the people. Abuse, ostracism, refusal to speak to one another, vicious slander; these are the symptoms of infantile arrogance enshrined in the traditions of rigid dictatorships. They have no place in the conduct of any one who believes in the democratic process.”

…to be continued!

Quotes taken from Marshall of Singapore by Kevin Y.L. Tan, ISEAS 2008. ISBN 9789812308771