Project Canterbury

In Rubber Lands
An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya

Edited by C.E. Ferguson-Davie, M.D., B.S.

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921.

Chapter IV.

(i) The Malay States and their Industries

THE circumstances which led up to British intervention in the Malay States cannot be detailed at length here. Feuds in Selangor and Sungei Ujong (one of the Negri Sembilan States), faction fights amongst the Chinese miners of Perak, and the increase of piracy consequent on these disturbances, combined to bring about a conference between the British Governor, Sir Andrew Clarke, the Malay chiefs, and the Chinese headmen in 1874. By the Treaty of Pangkor, then concluded with Perak and shortly afterwards extended to the other States of the Federation, a British Resident was accredited to each court, "whose advice must be asked and acted upon in all questions other than those touching Malay religion and custom." The murder of Mr. Birch, the first Resident of Perak, in the following year led to a military expedition to bring to justice those concerned in this crime, and "the lesson was thus taught that British authority could not be flouted with impunity. From this period may be said to date the introduction of the Pax Britannica into Malaya, and from this time onward the States have made rapid progress in development and prosperity." Twenty years later (1896) the scheme which had been drawn up by Sir Frank Swettenham for the Federation of the four States of Perak, Selangor, Pahang, and Negri Sembilan was approved by the Colonial Office, and came into force, Kuala Lumpur being selected for the capital. This town has since that time grown with marvellous rapidity and has now 47,000 inhabitants, fine buildings, and busy streets.

It is only right that it should also be a centre of Church life, and, until the diminution of staff consequent upon the war, it had two chaplains--one to work in the town itself and the other to be responsible for the surrounding district, which contains the three daughter churches of Klang, Kajang, and Kuala Kubu. There are also two priests--a Chinese and a Tamil--to minister to their respective countrymen, both in Kuala Lumpur itself and in the many out-stations scattered throughout Selangor. Within the last few years a large piece of ground has been acquired for Church purposes, and on this a parsonage and a girls' school have been built. This school is a growing institution and large schemes for its further development are projected. Another school, for boys, in Pudu, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, is also making satisfactory progress.

There are eight other churches in the Federated Malay States--at Ipoh, Gopeng, Batu Gajah, Teluk Anson, Parit Buntar, Taiping, and Kuala Kangsar, in Perak; and at Seremban, in Negri Sembilan. Pahang has not as yet a church within its borders, its population being very small compared with the other States.

These eight churches are in the charge of five priests, each of whom has a very large district allotted to him. The average length of a "parish" in the Federated Malay States is about forty miles, so that only a motor-car or motor-cycle makes it possible for the padre to visit the plantets scattered over so large an area.

It was not till 1909 that the Non-federated States of Kelantan, Trengganu, Kedah, and Perils were transferred from Siamese to British suzerainty in exchange for the renunciation by Great Britain of the right of extra territorial jurisdiction in Siam. A British Adviser is attached to the court of the Sultan of each of these States, and other British officials assist in the administration of the country. The majority of the inhabitants are Malays, who are here seen in their natural surroundings, engaged in their normal pursuits and enjoying their favourite sports of bull fighting, cock fighting, and boat racing. Kedah, owing to its proximity to Penang, has perhaps made the greatest advance, and there is now considerable rubber planting and mining, as well as padi cultivation within its area. Kelantan, however, exports rubber, copra (the product of the coconut), rice, fish, and cattle; while both it and Trengganu show the native arts of sarong-weaving and metal work in their greatest perfection. There is no church and no chaplain on the east coast of the Peninsula, but there are small colonies of Europeans scattered along it at various points--at Mersing, in Johore; at Kuantan, Pekan, and Sungei Lembing, in Pahang; at several places along the Kelantan River; and a few in Trengganu. To minister to such scattered communities will be the work of a travelling chaplain when one becomes available. In the meantime they can only be visited when it is possible for one of the stationary padres to leave his proper work for a time for this purpose. One such visit has been described in Chapter II.

Not only the English padres, but the Chinese and Tamil priests also have to do a considerable amount of travelling in order to seek out scattered members of their flocks. This is particularly the case with the Tamil priests, one of whom is stationed at Kuala Lumpur and another at Ipoh; both of these visit a large number of estates, on which small bodies of Christians are amongst the coolies working on the rubber. The following is a typical account of one such visit:--

"During the last quarter I visited the Cluny Estate Christians twice and held services for them. On November 13th I had the happiness of holding an opening service at the new chapel, which was tastefully decorated with palm leaves. The service commenced at 5 p.m. by the pastor leading the congregation in procession, with the singing of lyrics, beating of tom-toms, and firing of crackers, from the old place of worship (a room in the coolie lines) to the new chapel. The congregation counted eighty-three, mostly men. Next day at 9 a.m. I celebrated the Holy Eucharist. It is the desire of the people to dedicate the chapel to the Holy Trinity. Again on St. Stephen's Day I held Evensong for twenty-one people, and next morning (St. John's Day) celebrated at 4 o'clock, the congregation being ten. During the same quarter the following places were visited:--Tapah, Bidor, Bikam, Sungkai, as well as scattered Christians on other estates."


It is always interesting to know what are the chief products of a country about which we wish to learn, and as we are now concerned with the Diocese of Singapore, we shall wish to know something as to what world-needs the products of this country satisfy, and what occupations absorb the energies of the majority of its population. It is a diocese which contains a great amount of natural wealth, and its soil is so rich that it produces a variety of crops in abundance.

Tin and gold, timber and coal are some of its natural wealth; rubber, tea, sugar, tobacco, coffee, coconuts, and spices grow in abundance. The tea, sugar, coffee, and tobacco are chiefly cultivated in Java and Sumatra--Dutch islands which form part of the diocese. (In former days sugar and tapioca estates were common in the Malay Peninsula, but with the advent of rubber these have disappeared).

The most important sphere of diocesan work is the Malay Peninsula, and the main products of this area are rubber and tin--products of world-wide utility, which give to Malaya an importance far in excess of its actual size.

The story of the development of the rubber industry reads like a fairy tale. Until about 1908 the bulk of the world's rubber came from Brazil and the Congo, only 5 per cent, came from Malaya. But at that time the uses of rubber were not so numerous as they now are, and the world's output was small compared with what it is to-day. Then came the great demand for rubber which produced the boom of 1909. The soil of Malaya was found to be peculiarly suitable for the growth of the rubber tree, and at once vast areas were brought under cultivation.

This tropical country grows dense jungle, and it is, therefore, necessary to remove this virgin growth before a rubber plantation can be cultivated. Most of the early work of felling the forest is done by Chinese labourers. First of all the undergrowth has to be cut down, then the smaller trees are felled, and, lastly, the great giants of the forest. What had been thick tropical jungle is thus reduced to a close mass of wood some five feet high. This is allowed to dry during the two to three hot months, and when it has become dead and dry, fire is set to it and a mighty blaze results.

If the burn has been good the land is now more or less fit for planting; holes are dug at about twenty feet intervals, these are filled with refined soil, and thus a bed is formed for the young rubber sapling. These are raised from seeds in nurseries, and when about a year old they are fit to be planted out into the prepared holes. Under normal conditions the tree will take five years before it is large enough and sufficiently matured to allow of its being "tapped." This latter process means that an incision is made into the bark of the tree with a "tapping" knife, and from the cut flows the white fluid known as "latex," which is the raw rubber. The amount of bark excised is very thin and, with a well thought out system, a tree can be "tapped" daily for years. The bark requires about six years to renew before it can be tapped again.

Malaya now produces about 85 per cent, of the world's output of rubber.

The initial work of opening up new land is (as above explained) generally undertaken by Chinese, who are stronger and more fitted physically for heavy work; but later on, when the work becomes steady routine, the Tamil coolie--imported from South India--is found more suitable.

Before rubber took so important a place in the life of the country the chief export was tin. Rich alluvial deposits had been worked in different parts of the Peninsula from early times and, a long time before the arrival of the English, Chinese came down from their own country to search for this precious metal. Of what they found the Malays, who were then in control of the country, took heavy tolls.

Most of the land which is now being worked by big European companies (in some cases by underground shafts, in others on the surface by means of hydraulic monitors or of the dredge) has already been partly worked by the pioneer Chinaman with his pick and shovel.

The tax levied by Government on the export of tin has in great measure provided the railway and the excellent roads which run through the country.

Practically all the labour employed on tin mines is Chinese, and many of the largest and most valuable mines are owned by Chinamen. They are an extremely hardworking and enterprising' people, and many of the richest towkays (i.e., leading Chinamen) of to-day came to the country in the first place as unskilled coolies.

It will have been observed from what has been said that the labouring classes are comprised mainly of Chinese and Tamils. The natives of the country, the Malays, do little wage-earning work, as they have their own little plots of land, the produce from which provides them with a livelihood without much effort.

The conditions under which the coolies--Chinese and Tamils--live in Malaya are good. The Government of the country are solicitous for their welfare--and very rightly so.

The owners of estates and mines (rubber and tin) are obliged by law to provide suitable, ample, and sanitary housing accommodation. This generally takes the form of a building raised some five feet from the ground, partitioned into rooms of ten by twelve feet; one room being allowed for a married couple or for three bachelors. The walls are of planks and the roofing of either tiles or attaps (i.e., dried palm leaves). The manager of an estate or mine is held largely responsible for the adequate feeding of his labourers, and ample water supply, hospital accommodation, and medical attention are obligatory. As the supply of labour is very much below the demand, the first object of a manager is to make his labourers contented, and the rule is to do for them more rather than less than that required by law.

Some estates which employ a large Tamil labour force run schools for the children, and many have a system by which a bonus is paid to the parents for each child born and reared on the estate. This helps largely to reduce infantile mortality.

A request has lately been made to the Medical Mission to train and supply to the estate hospitals Eurasian and native midwives. This would be a most excellent plan and their work would be invaluable. The type of woman required is not easily found, however, in a country where the elder women either have their own homes or are not anxious at their age to learn a new profession and to work for others. Young women would not be suitable. At present the estate hospitals are practically without midwives, and it is most earnestly hoped that the Medical Mission will see its way to satisfy this need.

The average number of days in a month upon which a coolie works is about twenty-four, and the wages which he receives are sufficient to enable him to make big savings; so much so that, on an average, each coolie returns to India for a holiday at the end of every two years' work.

Reference has been made in this chapter to the managers of the mines and estates, and as they are for the most part of our own nationality, we shall wish to know something more about them and their organizations. First, there is the manager. Those directly under him are called divisional assistants. The number of the white staff of an estate depends upon the acreage--an average of one white man to every 400 acres is usual. Their bungalows are built in the middle of their estate or division. These bungalows are generally built on posts some four or five feet from the ground. They are naturally of an open design--plank walls and either attap or tile roofs. They are generally surrounded by a verandah, and the kitchen and servants' quarters are built away from the main building though connected with it by a covered way. Each bungalow would have three native servants--house boy, cook, and water carrier--all men.

The life is generally a lonely one, though of late years with car or motor-cycle it is in most cases possible to be in touch with some planters' club.

A large percentage of the planters are now married, a fact which makes ah! the difference in the world to the home life of our men in this distant portion of the Empire. It is, however, a very lonely life for the white woman, and she generally finds the climate more trying than the man, as most of her time is necessarily spent in the bungalow.

When the children are old enough to be educated in England there comes the inevitable break up of the home life; the children either having to forego the parental influence or the wife having to remain in England with them and thus be parted from her husband.

The daily life of the planter is spent chiefly out of doors, and the length of his day's work depends very largely upon the stage of development which the estate has reached. Usually his day begins before 6 o'clock, when he musters his labour force and, with breaks for breakfast and tiffin, he goes on until 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

The average Englishman in Malaya is a good Imperialist, and just and kind to his coolies.

The Church does its best to keep in touch with the white people, though the task is very difficult owing to the distances to be covered and the scattered nature of the congregation. The padre travels round and services are held from time to time in clubs or out-station bungalows, and these are well attended and much appreciated. As an many estates work is continued on Sundays as well as weekdays, it is often almost impossible for the planter to attend a service held in a church situated at a distance from his estate. Efforts to induce the companies to diminish Sunday labour are, how-> ever, being made, and it is hoped that an improvement in this direction may be looked for.

The life of the Malayan planter is a good and healthy one, but he needs to be the right type of man for the work and to take his calling in a big spirit.


By far the largest amount of missionary work among the Asiatics in the diocese is that carried on amongst the Tamils from South India. They come for the most part from the Diocese of Tinnevelly, where the Church of England has over 100,000 Tamils in her congregation and something like 100 ordained clergy of that race. The ordinary Singapore diocesan staff for ministering to them comprises five Tamil priests and six Tamil catechists, whilst there are a good many honorary lay readers who take services where there is no priest. The result is that, wherever there is any considerable congregation of Tamils, there is a service in that language every Sunday.

The coolies who work on the estates are almost all from South India, as also are the priests, though some of the best educated of the race are found among the Jaffna Tamils of Ceylon.

Indians have come to the Malay Peninsula for a very large number of years. In fact, the Malay language has in it many words derived from Sanskrit and from Persian, which indicate a connection with India going back for many centuries. At the present time Indians from North India are to be found everywhere as watchmen and in the police, while Bombay shopkeepers carry on their trade in the big towns. In the Government offices, and also in the offices of many business firms, there are clerks who come either from South India or from Ceylon, and on most rubber estates a proportion and sometimes the whole of the labour force is recruited from South India. Of these workers a certain number are Telugus, but the great majority are Tamils. It is South India that has the largest proportion of Christians. The result is that of the total Tamil population of the Malay Peninsula about 7 per cent, are Christian. The Church in South India has a good deal of vigorous Church life in it, as a visit to the Tinnevelly district would show. Nine-tenths of its clergy are Indian, and the whole of their salaries is provided by the Indian Christians of their congregations. One result of this is that when the Indian Christian goes to the Malay Peninsula he expects to find services and clergy, and he is ready to take his part in contributing to the necessary salaries. The amount of support which is given in this way differs considerably. Some congregations are backward, others prefer to send their contributions to their home Church in India, a feeling which is rather natural, as the Indian coolie only stays for a comparatively short time in the Malay Peninsula, and he is always thinking of the village where he was born and to which he hopes to return in order to settle down amongst his relations. In at least one congregation it is an understood thing that each member contributes 2 per cent, of his monthly salary. In one case three-fourths of the congregation give regularly 3 per cent, of their earnings--a system which if it obtained in England would solve the present financial difficulty of the Church there. In nearly every big town there is some Tamil--either priest, catechist, or lay reader--who takes services. Fortunately, there is no colour bar inside the Church building in the Malay Peninsula, so it is the ordinary thing for these services to be held in the church where English congregations worship. In this way Church life is kept up amongst the Tamil congregations.

But it must not be supposed that the Tamil Christian is any more free from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil than is the English settler. In any case, the Indian Christian lives amongst a population which is largely non-Christian, and he is in closer touch with it than is the case with the European. There is always, therefore, for him a very special danger of lowering his standard to that of the surrounding non-Christian ideals. And if he is living on an estate to which the visiting Tamil padre can only come once in two or perhaps four months his spiritual difficulties are obviously increased. Moreover, on account of the cost of living in British Malaya, the Tamil Christian often finds it convenient to leave his wife and children in India, and in that case he is brought into closer touch with the wrong side of heathen worship and life than would be the case at home. There are some cases where almost all the Tamil Christians on a rubber estate have left their families in India, and undoubtedly this adds to their spiritual difficulties. The Tamil clergy, of whom the ordinary staff for the diocese is five at present, travel about as much as many European planters' padres, and even so it is very difficult for them to keep in touch with all the members of their flock as they would like. In places like Penang, Nibong Tebal, in Province Wellesley, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Singapore there are fair size congregations of Tamils. Most of the members come from the Tinnevelly district, in South India, or from Jaffna, in Ceylon. In either case they have probably been connected with the Church Missionary Society in their own home. In many cases they have joined the Methodist. Mission in the Malay Peninsula at a time when the Church work was weak on the Tamil side, and this has led to certain obvious difficulties in the religious life of the Tamil Christian community.

At the present time there are no European clergy in the diocese who have a knowledge of Tamil, but the Tamil clergy and catechists have a knowledge of English, so the chaplain in any station is able to help the work and at times to superintend part of it. The lack of knowledge of Tamil on the part of the European clergy is a weakness, but it leads to one strong point--namely, that the Tamils themselves take a more definite part in Christian work than would possibly be the case if they felt that they had to depend upon these missionaries. Perhaps the weakness of the work is that the Tamil clergy and catechists are so taken up with pastoral work that insufficient time and trouble are given to evangelistic work amongst the non-Christians of their race. In the State of Selangor an evangelistic society was started amongst them a few years ago, and some very definite results were shown in the conversion of some non-Christian families to Christianity, completed in their baptism.

On the whole there is a good deal of hope for the Tami! work. An obvious weakness is that at the present time we have no ladies, either English or Indian, doing missionary work amongst the Tamils, but on the men's side a good deal is being done although there is room for a great deal more still. The special point in which we should like to see an advance is in the ordination of young Tamils brought up in British Malaya. Two out of the five Tamil priests were ordained in the diocese, but they both received their education in their native lands of India and Ceylon. It would be a great thing when young Indians, who have been born and brought up in the Peninsula, give up prospects of worldly advancement in order to evangelize their own fellow countrymen.

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