Frank Swettenham

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham
Sir Frank Swettenham by John Singer Sargent 1904.jpg
Oil painting of Swettenham by John Singer Sargent
King of Arms of the Order of St Michael and St George
In office
Preceded by Sir Montagu Ommanney
Succeeded by Sir William Weigall
Majority British
Resident-General of the Federated Malay States
In office
Succeeded by William Hood Treacher
Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements
In office
2nd British Resident of Perak
In office
November 1875 – March 1876
Preceded by James W.W. Birch
Succeeded by James G. Davidson
5th British Resident of Perak
In office
Preceded by Hugh Low
Succeeded by William Hood Treacher
3rd British Resident of Selangor
In office
September 1882 – March 1884
Preceded by Bloomfield Douglas
Succeeded by John Pickersgill Rodger
Personal details
Born (1850-03-28)28 March 1850
Belper, Derbyshire, England
Died 11 June 1946(1946-06-11) (aged 96)
London, England
Spouse(s) Sydney Swettenham
Residence King's House, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Occupation British colonial official
Religion Anglo Catholic

Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham GCMG CH (28 March 1850 – 11 June 1946) was the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States, a British protectorate that is now part of 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,[1] 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 four books "Malay Sketches", "Unaddressed Letters", "Also & Perhaps" and "Arabella in Africa", the latter being illustrated by the famous mural painter and illustrator, Rex Whistler. The book was Whistler's first official commission.

Career between 1871 and 1901[edit]

Sir Frank Swettenham

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.[2]

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.


Perak Cricket Team in 1895 including Swettenham (middle row, 2nd left) and Col. Robert Sandilands Frowd Walker (Middle row, centre)
A statue of Swettenham within the compound of Muzium Negara at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • He was Deputy Commissioner with the Perak Expedition from 1875–1876.
  • British Resident of Selangor in 1882, of Perak from 1889–1895.
  • Resident-General of the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia) in 1896–1901.
  • Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlements 1901–1904.
  • Chaired the royal commission to enquire into the affairs of Mauritius in 1909.
  • He was also joint director of the Official Press Bureau from 1915–1919.


A number of places and roads in Malaysia and Singapore were named after Swettenham, including Swettenham Pier in George Town, Penang Island[3][4] and Swettenham Road (near the Botanic Gardens) in Singapore.

Before 1972, Port Klang in Selangor was known as Port Swettenham.


  • Burns, P.L., and Cowan, C.D. ed. (1975), 'Sir Frank Swettenham's Malayan journals 1874-1876', Kuala Lumpur, London: Oxford University Press.
  • Clifford, Hugh Charles, and Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1894), 'A dictionary of the Malay language', Taiping, Perak: Printed for the author's at the Government's printing office.
  • Cowan, C.D. ed. (1952), 'Sir Frank Swettenham's Perak journals 1874-1876', 'Journal of the Malayan branch of the Royal Asiatic Society', vol.24, part 4. Singapore: Malaya Publishing House.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1881), 'Vocabulary of the English and Malay languages'. Singapore: printed at the Government Printing Office.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1893), 'About Perak'. Singapore: Straits Times Press.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1895), 'Malay sketches'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1898), 'Unaddressed letters'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1899), 'The real Malay'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1907), 'British Malaya'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1910), 'Report of the Mauritius royal commission, 1909'. HMSO.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1912), 'Also and perhaps'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1925), 'Arabella in Africa'. London: John Lane.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1942), 'Footprints in Malaya'. London: Hutchinson.
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1946 ?), 'The future of Malaya'. [S.l.]: [s.n.]
  • Swettenham, Frank Athelstane (1967), 'Stories and sketches'. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.[5]

See also[edit]

Corresp: Actions of Perak Expeditionary Force post-murder of Birch


  1. ^ Frank Swettenham at
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27360. p. 6395. 1 October 1901.
  3. ^ Wright, Arnold; Cartwright, H. A. (1908). Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources. Lloyd Greater Britain Publishing. p. 730. 
  4. ^ "Swettenham Pier". Penang Global Tourism. 
  5. ^ Cambridge University Library 2003: from [1], dated 10 May 2004.

External links[edit]

Heraldic offices
Preceded by
Sir Montagu Ommanney
King of Arms of the
Order of St Michael and St George

1925 – 1938
Succeeded by
Sir William Weigall
Political offices
Preceded by
James W. W. Birch
British Resident of Perak
1875 – 1876
Succeeded by
James G. Davidson
Preceded by
Hugh Low
British Resident of Perak
1889 – 1896
Succeeded by
William H. Treacher
Preceded by
William Bloomfield Douglas
British Resident of Selangor
1882 – 1884
Succeeded by
John Pickersgill Rodger