From Our Archives

The Capture of Malacca, A.D. 1511 (NEW!)

The Malacca Sultanate

Meteorological Report, 1885

Notes on Names of Places in Singapore and its Vicinity

History of the Translation of the Bible into Malay

The Philippine Claim to Sabah





"World City Routes: Liverpool and the Relational Remaking of Singapore"


Dr Tim Bunnell

Date: 28 September (Saturday) 2019

Time: 5-6.30 p.m.

Venue: AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04, National University of Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore

  Recounting his journey to the forests and swamps of Borneo in 1879, naturalist F.W. Burbidge described Singapore as ‘the Liverpool of the East’. It is likely that Burbidge’s comparison was based on little more than observation of the bustling harbour in Singapore at a time when Liverpool was also among the busiest ports in the world. Yet according to some economic historians, Liverpool – or, more precisely, some of that city’s most prominent firms such as the Ocean Steamship Company – had also played a significant role in the thriving colonial port of Singapore. I take this as a starting point for examination of historically shifting Liverpool-Singapore relations. Conceptually, my presentation is informed by a recent rise of interest in ‘relational’ forms of comparative urban studies. Empirically, I draw upon material collected as part of a wider research project on Malay seafaring connections between Liverpool and British Malaya. Malay men travelled from Singapore to Liverpool long before Burbidge made his comparative gesture – part of the colonial seafaring labour force that sustained the imperial economy – and they continued to do so until well into the second half of the twentieth century. Subsequent processes of decolonization contributed to both the birth of Singapore as a sovereign city-state and Liverpool’s economic demise as an imperial maritime centre. Across the lives of the Liverpool-based Malay men in my study, one time ‘world city’ Liverpool endured a demotion in its global commercial standing while Singapore was consolidated as a global city-state.

Tim Bunnell is professor in the Department of Geography and director of the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore. Tim’s research as a human geographer concerns issues of urban development in Southeast Asia, and that region’s global connections. His Liverpool-centred ‘Malay Routes’ project culminated in the publication of From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives (Wiley, 2016), a ground-breaking study on Liverpool Malay sailors which in turn inspired the much-acclaimed Malaysian film Pulang(2018). Tim’s latest book is Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity Past and Present (Jovis, 2018 – co-edited with Daniel P.S. Goh).

The talk, jointly organised by ARI and MBRAS, is open to the public free of charge. All MBRAS members, especially in Singapore, are warmly invited to attend.

Please confirm your attendance by telephone to MBRAS at +603-22835345 or by email at You may also register online by clicking on this link:




MBRAS Index 1878-2018

List of Articles

  The fully updated Index to the JMBRAS, covering the first issue of its precursor the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS) in 1878 until December 2018 can now be accessed on this site. The Index - virtually an extension of the Index Malaysiana and its Supplements, of which printed copies are still available - is offered completely free of charge in easily downloadable PDF format and will enable users to refer to all published JSBRAS/JMBRAS articles under the relevant heading and subject matter.

Also included here - as a separate file - is the entire List of Articles of the JSBRAS and the JMBRAS, from the earliest to the latest issue - a useful tool for quick reference, particularly for those seeking out relevant articles in chronological order.

Please click on the respective titles above to download.




Khoo Kay Kim (1937-2019)

  Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim - historian and former President of the Society - passed away on Tuesday, 28 May 2019 at 82. An authoritative figure on Malaysian history, Prof Khoo has served on the Council since 1974, elected in 1981 as its Vice President in which capacity he then served for 11 years before being elected as President in 1992, a post he held for two terms until 1995. Prof Khoo then served again as Vice President between 1995 and 1999 before leaving the Council permanently. Following the illness and subsequent death of Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard, Prof Khoo served as JMBRAS editor between 1994 and 1998, when Dr Cheah Boon Kheng took over. Prof Khoo's demise represents a significant loss to the Society and to Malaysian history in general. The Council notes his passing with the greatest sorrow and prays for the repose of his soul.


   Latest Journal Issue

JMBRAS December 2018


Members would have received their copies of the December 2018 issue by now. We would like to apologize humbly to everyone for the unfortunate delay which resulted in the late despatch of the December issue. Apart from the scholarly articles, a number of other captivating items of a lighter nature will promise to delight readers of the December 2018 issue.

Hsiao-Mei Goh and Mokhtar Saidin in their article highlight aspects of prehistoric human activity at Gua Kajang in the Lenggong Valley of Perak, one of the country's earliest archaelogical sites discovered as early as 1917 and, since 2012, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The article presents a comprehensive survey of excavation work undertaken so far, and then goes on to deal with the human burials that represents a distinctive feature of the site.

Razan Rosman and Sarena Abdullah reexamine issues of Malay identity(takrif Melayu) which once so preoccupied the pre-war Malay community by focusing on the social commentaries of Wak Ketok, a charming caricature of the man on the Clapham omnibus who flourished for about two years in a pre-war Malay periodical. The article inadvertently reveals how issues of socioeconomic inequalities and racial purity were being mobilized in British Malaya at a time when parallel concerns were being vented by the Nazi Party of Germany, and gives an idea of the ideological ferment that was to erupt in post-war Malayan politics leading up to Independence.

Continuing on the trajectory of Malay-Muslim identity, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid's essay analyzes the way in which the Islamic sharia has come to assume a more dominant role in the lives of Malaysian Muslims. Ahmad Fauzi begins by giving a valuable exposition of the institutionalization of Islam in Malaysia over the decades, providing examples from various political administrations and their interaction with Islam. He then goes on to discuss the impact this institutionalization has on the country's Malay-Muslim segment and then goes further to describe briefly contemporary developments in the Malay-Muslim religious landscape.

Lim Tin Seng turns to the environmental history of Singapore in his article which looks at efforts in making the city-state greener, specifically focusing on open spaces and roadside trees from colonial period to the present. His valuable essay summarizes the history of Singaporean parks and looks at the influence of the 'Garden City' movement on the urban landscape of the city state.

As Singapore celebrates the Bicentennial of the 1819 landing of Stamford Raffles, Huang Jianli turns his eye to the tensions and contradictions embedded in the celebration of such an event. The article revisits familiar territory for Huang as he examines the interplay between contesting narratives that affect the scripting of national history in a young nation-state like Singapore.

An Article I Never Published is an occasional space in the Journal devoted to drafts of articles that never made it into print. For this issue, our Hon. Editor has selected an article by Vivienne Wee, Jemberang and Alam Melayu: Crossing the Straits of Melaka, Singapore and Riau. Wee's article attempts to formulate a conceptual understanding of population movement across the waterways separating Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore from the perspective of the sedentary and nomadic communities inhabiting the Riau Archipelago.

Another unusual item in this issue is an excerpt of a longer article by Bob Forrest on the life and artistic work of William George Stirling, a former member of the Society when it was still known by its older appellation, the Straits Branch. Stirling, who formerly served with the Chinese Protectorate, was in addition a gifted artist and sculptor, whose works were immortalized in the illustrations accompanying the Malay translation of the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, a collaborative venture with another prominent member of the Society, A.W. Hamilton. A few examples of his illustrations included here - vaguely reminiscent of Heath Robinson, Beerbohm and Beardsley - would amply testify to his undoubted talent as one of pre-war Malaya's foremost illustrators.

Colin Dyer's series of translations of journals kept by French seamen in Southeast Asia continue in this installment with accounts of the rarely-visited Anambas Islands in the South China Sea by Hyacinthe de Bougainville and Cyrille Laplace. The Anambas Islands are located about 150 miles east of Pekan, Pahang and is part of the Indonesian province of Kepulauan Riau. Next comes a brief 1874 account of a journey to Johore and a description of its ruler, the (then) Maharajah Abu Bakar.

The illustration on the cover of the December 2018 issue depicts the Masjid Melayu at Acheen Street in George Town, Penang. One of the oldest mosques on the island, the existing building dates from 1808, and is located in what was once the Arab quarter of the port-city, though it was also alternatively known as the earliest Malay enclave in the George Town area. The entire enclave in which it is located has been gazetted as a national heritage area and it is now an integral part of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status granted in 2008 alongside Melaka.

CLICK HERE to view the list of contents of the June issue.




A Commemorative Tribute to the Life and Work of Dr Cheah Boon Kheng (1939-2015), Editor Emeritus, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and Historian

  Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, former Vice-President of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, passed away on 27 July 2015. He first joined the Society in 1976 and became its Vice-President in 1991, a post he relinquished in 2014 upon being diagnosed with cancer. Boon Kheng also served, with great distinction, as editor of the JMBRAS for nearly two decades, and handled the production of a large number of Monographs and Reprints.

In April 2017, the Society announced the creation of the Cheah Boon Kheng Memorial Fund, to be used to support MBRAS publications. The first volume to be financed by the Fund will be a selection of Boon Kheng’s articles - a prodigious intellectual output on Malaysian history over a period of more than 30 years - that will reflect his major scholarly concerns. The commemorative volume is being compiled and edited by our Hon. Editor Dr. Kratoska who is toiling ceaselessly to see the work through in its final stages. It is expected to be available to the public sometime in 2019.

In view of the impending publication of this handsome tribute to Boon Kheng, the Society is once again inviting contributions to this fund. Remittances can be sent through PayPal, or by a bank transfer or a cheque payable to the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Details for a bank transfer are as follows:

Name of Bank : Maybank
Address : 66, 68 & 70 Jalan Maarof, Bangsar Baru, 59000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Account number: 514123165660
Account name : Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
Swiftcode : MBBEMYKL

For payments made by bank transfer, we ask that donors send MBRAS a scanned copy of the receipt by e-mail at along with their postal mailing address in order that we may publicly acknowledge the donation and send a receipt.




Monograph 50 - Through Turbulent Terrain: Trade of the Straits Port of Penang

  Fresh off the press is Monograph No. 50 - Through Turbulent Terrain: Trade of the Straits Port of Penang, by Loh Wei Leng in collaboration with Jeffery Seow, the latest in our series of books focusing on Penang history. The volume presents a rich account of trade in the Straits of Melaka port of Penang from its beginnings as Prince of Wales of Island until the end of the Second World War in 1945, about a decade before Malaya was granted its independence.

An indispensable accompaniment to this invaluable account would be the Biographical Dictionary of Mercantile Personalities of Penang, offering fuller and exhaustively researched entries on key figures in the port city during its halcyon period as a leading Straits port. Copies of both books are still available at our office. As with the Biographical Dictionary, the publication of Monograph No. 50 has been made possible through the generous support extended by urban regeneration vehicle Think City Sdn Bhd.

CLICK HERE for more details.
RM45 paperback, RM120 hardcover, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only.
For other postage options, please contact us for details.




Reprint 34: A Journal in the Federal Capital

  After many years out of print, the Society's eagerly-awaited reissue, Reprint No. 34: 'A Journal in the Federal Capital' by the celebrated Straits Times journalist George L. Peet, is once again available for purchase. The Society's intention to republish Peet's sparkling gem has been made possible through the generous support extended by urban regeneration vehicle Think City.

First published in 1983, Peet's book proved to be a bestseller while the original print run has long since been exhausted. A Journal in the Federal Capital assembles a selection of articles - personally handpicked by Peet himself - written at a time when he was assigned as the Straits Times' Kuala Lumpur correspondent in the early 1930s. These articles originally appeared under an eponymous weekly column which Peet maintained throughout his four-year sojourn in Kuala Lumpur.

To savour Peet's authentic impressions of 1930s Malaya, the reader need look no further than this engaging and lyrical account of pre-war Malayan life in all its brilliant hues.

CLICK HERE for more details.
RM40, inclusive of postage, within Malaysia only
For other postage options, please contact us for details.



Mencari Malaysia Reading Group

On behalf of the Society, University of Malaya and our partners from the National University of Singapore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the inaugural "Mencari Malaysia: Readings in Historiography and Historical Sociology" event at the History Department, University of Malaya on Friday afternoon, 13 April 2018.

We had a very encouraging turnout of some 80 people, from diverse backgrounds and who participated very actively. We will be writing to those who were kind enough to leave their email addresses to thank each of you and also to update you about what is next in the project.

The late Dr Cheah Boon Kheng's paper was a good point of departure to better understand how the past was conceived, defined, taught and advocated. Whilst the objective was to explore together the process of "history-making", Dr Cheah's 1996 paper yielded a very lively debate. We particularly appreciated the thought provoking views from the audience pointing out the many hazards in trying to develop a historical narrative. Pitfalls involving inherent biases, particular perspectives and the writer's political agenda are what makes history so controversial, contested and interesting.

There were many issues and points of view on how future reading sessions should evolve. We would like to thank Professor Syed Farid Alatas for his commitment to a scholarly methodology. He assiduously kept to a logical framework sharing examples of the usefulness of theory, in this case, a sociology of history, when developing narratives.

This led to a lively discussion of what motivated Dr Cheah when he wrote the 1996 piece on Malaysian historiography. Can one be objective when recounting the past? Whilst many of us were impatient and "jumped the gun", these reading sessions are designed to help us address what motivates an historian and what influences him/her when developing histories.

We would also like to acknowledge the differing view points particularly from Professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and others. We will try to accommodate all suggestions as Mencari Malaysia is definitely a multi-faceted project requiring different modes of enquiry.

For the historiography reading sessions, the focus area will be on the issue of "Euro-centricity" for only by understanding what this means and why Cheah Boon Kheng highlighted the concept, can we arrive at a point of departure offering alternative narratives to "find" Malaysia. We expect the next session to be after Hari Raya on 22 June 2018.

Please also follow us on Facebook and watch this space as there are plans to do a live stream feed of the sessions to allow our members to follow the discussions.

Neil Khor
Hon. Secretary, MBRAS



MBRAS Obituaries

The obituaries of former Society members which used to appear on the homepage may now be found under the heading About Us . Readers looking for the obituaries should scroll down the page until they come to a section called In Memoriam, which appears just before a section featuring Past Illustrious Members. The obituaries may be accessed simply by clicking on the images of the individuals appearing in that section.
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