The Real Malay – Frank Swettenham (1st ed, 1901)


The Real Malay – Frank Swettenham (1st ed, 1901)


Title: The Real Malay : Pen Pictures
Author: Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham
Publisher: John Lane,  1901. 1st edition, 2nd printing. Very rare.
Condition: Hardcover, cloth. Boards rather stained but sound, interior is foxed and with a shaken binding. Some worm damage not affecting readability, plenty of foxing, front blank endpaper absent. Hinges cracked with some webbing exposed.

This very rare printing of the first edition from the “John Lane Indian and Colonial Library” was offered for sale only in India and the Colonies of the time. It was printed one year after the first printing in London.

An invaluable resource on Singapore and Malaya from the late 1890s, with descriptions of trade, life on the street, society, culture, and people.


“To understand the mercantile importance of Singapore, one should consult Colonel Howard Vincent’s statistical map of the world. I will only say that ten million tons of shipping entered and left it in 1898, and the value of the trade of the port for that year was, approximately, three hundred and fifty millons of dollars, about equal to £35,000,000 sterling…

For fifty years after the founding of Singapore the Settlements were left very much to themselves, and, by reason of their convenient situation, the fact that they were free ports, and later, the construction of admirable docks and workshops in Singapore, they prospered amazingly. With insignificant internal resources, a small area, and no real customs duties, the three Settlements were, in 1874, in receipt of a revenue of $1,458,872, which was more than sufficient to defray all their expenses, and they had then, and have now, no public debt…

Raffles was a great man, and stronger in individuality than most, but neglect touched him, and embittered the closing years of his life. The founder of Singapore, could he have revisited that city in 1874, would have rejoiced to see to what trade-importance his almost uninhabited island had grown. Could he have returned again, a quarter of a century later, to find the place a great naval stronghold, one of the chain of fortresses, of coaling and refitting stations, between England and China, the centre of a vast circle
of trade and the market of the developed Malayan hinterland, he would have forgotten his personal slights in the knowledge of his country’s gain, the proof of his foresight, the justification of his policy, and the fulfilment of his dearest hopes.”

About Frank Swettenham (from Wikipedia):

Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham GCMG CH (28 March 1850 – 11 June 1946) was the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States (part of the then Royal Colonies, now independent Malaysia) which was formed by combining a number of sultanates. He served from 1 July 1896 to 1901. He was also an amateur photographer. He was born in Belper, Derbyshire,Britain.

He was one of close to forty former British empire officials to actually oppose the Malayan Union.

He created a dictionary “Vocabulary of the English and Malay languages”. He also published two books “Malay Sketches” and “Unaddressed Letters”.

Swettenham was a British colonial official in British Malaya, who was famous as highly influential in shaping British policy and the structure of British administration in the Malay Peninsula.

In 1871 Swettenham was first sent to Singapore as a cadet in the civil service of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca, and Penang Island). He learned the Malay language and played a major role as British-Malay intermediary in the events surrounding British intervention in the peninsular Malay states in the 1870s.

He was a member of the Commission for the Pacification of Larut set up following the signing of the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 and he served alongside John Frederick Adolphus McNair, and Chinese Kapitan Chung Keng Quee and Chin Seng Yam. The Commission was successful in freeing many women taken as captives during the Larut Wars (1862–73), getting stockades dismantled and getting the tin mining business going again.

More than a decade later, in 1882, he was appointed as resident (adviser) to the Malay state of Selangor. In Selangor office, the development of coffee and tobacco estates had successfully promoted by him, while in the meantime, helped boost tin earnings by constructing a railway from Kuala Lumpur (it was capital of Selangor at that time), to the port of Klang, which was later named Port Swettenham in his honour.

He attended the federation, along with the title of resident-general after he secured an agreement of federation from the states of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang in 1895, when he was a resident of Perak state. In 1897 he was knighted by Queen Victoria, and in October 1901, three years before his retirement, he was appointed Governor and Commader-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements.

Through Swettenham’s huge efforts to convince that the British Foreign Office reversed its policy of accepting Siamese control of the northern tier of Malay states. His portrayal of their maladministration under native rulers and his warnings of possible intervention by rival European powers led to British penetration of those states in the early 1900s.