IN MEMORIAM

KG Tregonning MBE (1923-2015)

  Dr Kennedy Gordon Phillip Tregonning MBE, historian, educationist and the oldest Life Member of of the Society, passed away peacefully on Monday, 20 July 2015 at the age of 92. Dr Tregonning's memorial service was held on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 at The Memorial Hall, Hale School, Wembley Downs, West Australia.

Born in 1923, Dr Tregonning attended first Christ Church Primary School and later Hale School, then located at West Perth. At Hale he proved an ardent sportsman, excelling among others in swimming, cricket and athletics. Upon leaving school in 1941 - a period which coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War - Dr Tregonning joined the Army to serve in the 109th Tank Regiment briefly before being transferred to the RAAF where he was commissioned and eventually sent to the UK via the USA.

Dr Tregonning resumed his studies after the war at Adelaide University on the Tinline Scholarship, graduating with highest honours in Political Science and History. His athletic prowess shone equally as in Hale when he was made captain of the varsity rugby team. Dr Tregonning lectured for a time at the university and was even employed briefly as a reporter with the West Australian but by this time it was evident that Dr Tregonning's scholastic attainments would mark him out for greater things in future. In 1950, Dr Tregonning went up to New College, Oxford as a Gowrie Scholar where he earned a Bachelor of Literature. He married his wife Judy Manford that same year and was blessed with five daughters.

Upon coming down from Oxford, Dr Tregonning found himself in Singapore where, after joining the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) as lecturer in 1953, he succeeded C.N. Parkinson as Raffles Professor in History in July 1959 following the latter's resignation. Dr Tregonning's PhD - on the first forty years of British occupation in Malaya - had the singular honour of being the first degree awarded at the first convocation ceremony of the university in Kuala Lumpur in 1958. His Singapore spell - a tenure lasting some 14 years - counted among the happiest periods of his life, according to his daughter. Away in a foreign land for 14 years and with five growing daughters, Dr Tregonning soon decided to return to Australia. He was fortunate as it was during this time that the headmastership of Hale became vacant. Dr Tregonning, at a friend's suggestion, decided to apply for the position despite having no previous experience managing a school. Nevertheless, the school's Board of Governors to their eternal credit, decided to appoint Dr Tregonning - an Old Haleian - to the post, marking an exceptionally brilliant 22-year period when Hale flourished under Dr Tregonning's able stewardship.

Dr Tregonning's direct involvement with the Society went as far back as 1954 when he was made its Life Member. At the time of his demise, Dr Tregonning, at 92, was its oldest Life Member. However, Dr Russell Jones of Cornwall - the eminent Orientalist - has the honour of being Life Member for even longer than even Dr Tregonning, as the former was elected in 1949. Dr Tregonning's scholastic contributions to the Society's Journal amounted to no less than eleven significant articles over a period of 47 years on subjects as diverse as the elimination of slavery in North Borneo, a historical account of the Straits Trading Company and a bird's eye view of tertiary education in Malaya during the colonial period. In these terms, few can match Dr Tregonning's brilliant output with the exception of earlier scholars associated with the Society such as R.O. Winstedt or R.J. Wilkinson.

In a 1988 interview, Dr Tregonning admitted to having vague notions of being a writer when young. In fact, he was a gifted writer armed with a razor-sharp intellect as evinced by his prodigious literary output, all of which were characterised by a distinctive style in which clarity, brevity and smooth flow of narrative were paramount. Among them we may especially mention North Borneo Under Chartered Company Rule, A History of Modern Sabah 1881-1963 and Home Port Singapore, a history of the Straits Steamship Company, all of which were written during his years as Raffles Professor of History. Much less known were Dr Tregonning's output after his retirement years, namely The Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club 1896-1996, a centennial account of the local yacht club; Young Hearts Run Free, a history of his alma mater Hale School and also Merdeka and Much More, a brief memoir of his years in Singapore as Raffles Professor of History between 1953 and 1967, which was probably among his last works to be published.

In private life, Dr Tregonning was known as a quiet, unassuming gentleman with a sense of humour coupled with a modest demeanour. He was a dedicated yachstman all his life, having joined the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in 1938 and at his demise, also its longest serving member. He continued to retain a lifelong affection for Hale by being an active member of the Old Haleians and was frequently invited to its annual functions.

The Council extends its sincere condolences to his family members and notes with gratitude and humility his immeasurable contributions to the Society in particular, and to the discipline of History, in general. May his soul rest in peace.

The Council also notes with sorrow the tragic passing of three very eminent historians, all torchbearers of the Society, in quick succession one after the other, in the month of July 2015. The death of Dr Badriyah Haji Salleh on 2 July 2015 was followed by that of Dr KGP Tregonning on 20 July 2015 and Dr Cheah Boon Kheng on 27 July 2015, a week after Dr Tregonning's death. May their deeds and thoughts live on eternally to shine a beacon on Malaysian history and guide future historians to tread in their illustrious footsteps.

An obituary notice on Dr Tregonning may be published in the upcoming JMBRAS issue. Meanwhile the Society welcomes any of its members, or indeed anybody at all, who have had the good fortune to be acquainted with the late Dr Tregonning to write in and supply us with anecdotes or recollections that will help celebrate his memory and his outstanding scholarship as historian.

 
 
 
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