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The Straits Settlements were a group of British territories located in Southeast Asia.

Originally established in 1826 as part of the territories controlled by the British East India Company, the Straits Settlements came under direct British control as a crown colony on 1 April 1867. The colony was dissolved as part of the British reorganisation of its South-East Asian dependencies following the end of the Second World War.

The Straits Settlements consisted of the individual settlements of Malaccamarker, Penangmarker (also known as Prince of Wales Island), and Singaporemarker, as well as (from 1907) Labuanmarker off the coast of Borneo. With the exception of Singapore, these territories now form a part of Malaysiamarker.

History and government

The establishment of the Straits Settlements followed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 between the United Kingdommarker and the Netherlandsmarker, by which the Malay archipelago was divided into a British zone in the north and a Dutch zone in the south. This resulted the exchange of the British settlement of Bencoolenmarker (on Sumatra) for the Dutch colony of Malacca and undisputed control of Singapore. Its capital was moved from Penang to Singapore in 1832.

In 1867, the Settlements became a British crown colony, making the Settlements answerable directly to the Colonial Office in Londonmarker instead of the Calcuttamarker government based in Indiamarker on April 1. Earlier on February 4, a "Letters Patent" granted the Settlements a colonial constitution. This allocated much power to the Settlements' Governor, who administered the colony of the Straits Settlements with the aid of an Executive Council, composed wholly of official (i.e. ex-officio) members, and a Legislative Council, composed partly of official and partly of nominated members, of which the former had a narrow permanent majority. The work of administration, both in the colony and in the Federated Malay Statesmarker, was carried on by means of a civil service whose members were recruited by competitive examination held annually in London.

Penangmarker and Malaccamarker were administered, directly under the governor, by resident councillors.

The Dindings and Province Wellesley

The Dindings, consisting of some islands near the mouth of the Perak River and a small piece of territory on the adjoining mainland, were ceded by Perak to the British government under the Pangkor Treaty of 1874. Hopes that its excellent natural harbour would prove to be valuable have been doomed to disappointment, and the islands, which are sparsely inhabited and altogether unimportant both politically and financially, were administered by the government of Perak.

Province Wellesley, situated on the mainland opposite to the island of Penang, was ceded to Great Britain in 1798 by the Sultan of Kedahmarker, its northern and eastern border; Perak lies to the south. The boundary with Kedah was rectified by treaty with Siam in 1867. It was administered by a district officer, with some assistants, answering to the resident councillor of Penang.The country consists, for the most part, of fertile plain, thickly populated by Malays, and occupied in some parts by sugar-planters and others engaged in similar agricultural industries and employing Chinese and Tamil labor. About a tenth of the whole area was covered by low hills with thick jungle. Large quantities of rice are grown by the Malay inhabitants, and between October and February there is excellent snipe-shooting to be had in the paddy fields. A railway from Batu Kawan, opposite to Penang, runs through Province Wellesley into Perak, and thence via Selangor and the Negri Sembilan to Malacca, with an extension via Muar under the rule of the sultan of Johor, and through the last-named state to Johor Bharu, opposite the island of Singapore.

The governor's wider role

The Cocos Islandsmarker (which were settled and once owned by a Scottish family named Clunies-Ross) and Christmas Islandmarker, formerly attached to Ceylonmarker, were in 1886 transferred to the care the government of the Straits Settlements in Singapore along with the addition of Labuanmarker in 1906.

The governor of the Straits Settlements was also High Commissioner for the Federated Malay Statesmarker on the peninsula, for British North Borneo, the sultanate of Brunei and Sarawak in Borneo, and since the administration of the colony of Labuan, which for a period was vested in the British North Borneo Company, was resumed by the British government he was also governor of Labuan. British resident controlled the native states of Perak, Selangormarker, Negri Sembilanmarker and Pahangmarker, but since 1 July 1896, when the federation of these states was effected, a resident-general, responsible to the (governor as) high commissioner, has been placed in supreme charge of all the British protectorates in the peninsula.


The colony was dissolved with effect from April 1, 1946, with Singaporemarker becoming a separate crown colony (and ultimately an independent republic), while Penangmarker and Malaccamarker joined the new Malayan Unionmarker (a predecessor of modern-day Malaysiamarker). Labuanmarker was briefly annexed to Singapore, before being attached to the new colony of British North Borneo.

The Cocos or Keeling Islandsmarker and Christmas Islandmarker, originally made part of the crown colony of Singapore in 1946, were transferred to Australian administration in 1955 and 1957 respectively.


The following are the area and population, with details of race distribution, of the colony of the Straits Settlements, the figures being those of the census of 1901:

Area in square miles Population in 1891 Population in 1901
Total Europeans Eurasians Chinese Malays Indians Other nationalities
Singapore 206 184,554 228,555 3,824 4,120 164,041 36,080 17,823 2,667
Penang, Province Wellesley and Dindings 381 235,618 248,207 1,160 1,945 98,424 106,000 38,051 2,627
Malacca 659 92,170 95,487 74 1,598 19,468 72,978 1,276 93
Total 1,246 512,342 572,249 5,058 7,663 281,933 215,058 57,150 5,387
The population, which was 306,775 in 1871 and 423,384 in 1881, had in 1901 reached a total of 572,249. As in former years, the increase is solely due to immigration, more especially of Chinese, though a considerable number of Tamils and other natives of-India annually settle in the Straits Settlements. The total number of births registered in the colony during the year 1900 was I4,814, and the ratio per 1000 of the population during 1896, 1897 and 1898 respectively was 22-18, 20-82 and 21-57; while the number of registered deaths for the years 1896-1900 gave a ratio per 1000 of 42-21, 36-90, 30-43, 31-66 and 36-25 respectively, the number of deaths registered during 1900 being 23,385. The cause to which the excess of deaths over births is to be attributed is to be found in the fact that the Chinese and Indian population, which numbers 339,083, or over 59% of the whole, is composed of 261,412 males and only 77,671 females, and a comparatively small number of the latter are married women and mothers of families. The male Europeans also outnumber the females by about two to one; and among the Malays and Eurasians, who alone have a fair proportion of both sexes, the infant mortality is always excessive, this being due to early marriages and other well-known causes. The number of immigrants landing in the various settlements during 1906 was:

Singapore 176,587 Chinese; Penang 56,333 Chinese and 52,041 natives of India; and Malacca 598 Chinese. The total number of immigrants for 1906 was therefore 285,560, as against 39,136 emigrants, mostly Chinese returning to China. In 1867, the date of the transfer of the colony from the East India Company to the Crown, the total population was estimated at 283,384.


The revenue of the colony in 1868, only amounted to $1,301,843. That for 1906 was $9,512,132, exclusive of $106,180 received on account of land sales. Of this sum $6,650,558 was derived from import duties on opium, wines and spirits, and licences to deal in these articles, $377,972 from land revenue, $592,962 from postal and telegraphic revenue, and $276,019 from port and harbour dues. The expenditure, which in 1868 amounted to $1,197,177, had risen in 1906 to $8,747,819. The total cost of the administrative establishments amounted to $4,450,791, of which $2,586,195 were personal emoluments and $1,864,596 other charges. The military expenditure (the colony pays on this account 20% of its gross revenue to the Imperial government by way of military contribution) amounted in 1906 to $1,762,438; $578,025 was expended on upkeep and maintenance of existing public works, and $1,209,291 on new roads, streets; bridges and buildings.

See also


References and external links

  • Straits Settlements Blue Book, rpo (Singapore, 1907)
  • Straits Directory, 1908 (Singapore, 1908)
  • Journal of the Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Singapore)
  • Sir Frederick Weld and Sir William Maxwell, severally, on the Straits Settlements in the Journal of the Royal Colonial Institute (London, 1884 and 1892)
  • Henry Norman, The Far East (London, 1894)
  • Alleyne Ireland, The Far Eastern Tropics (London, 1904); Sir Frank Swettenham, British Malaya (London, 1906)
  • The Life of Sir Stamford Raffles (London, 1856, 1898). (H. Cl,.)

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