Tuesday, August 28, 2007

William A. Pickering


William A. Pickering was the first Protector (one who protects) appointed by the British government to administer the Chinese Protectorate (an administrative body responsible for the well-being of the Chinese residents during the territory's British colonial period.) in colonial Singapore.

He was the first European official in Singapore who could speak fluent Mandarin and Hokkien. He had gained the trust of many Singapore Chinese. His efforts went a long way towards controlling the problems posed by the secret societies then. Pickering Street in Singapore's Chinatown is named after him.

Before being appointed as the Chinese Protector, he had served a 10-year term in Hong Kong's Chinese Maritime Customs Service. Therefore, he could speak many Chinese dialects such as Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, Foochew, Teochew and Mandarin itself.

Singapore's Governor, Sir Harry Ord, came across William Pickering in 1871 when he was back in London on leave. Ord was taken aback by Pickering's fluency in Chinese dialects. At the same time, the British Government in Singapore had difficulties communicating with the Chinese as most officials were ignorant of Chinese culture and language. This had caused many Chinese to join secret societies resulting in turf wars and other disturbances that threatened the stability of the settlement. With all these, Ord hired Pickering on the spot. Thus, Pickering departed for Singapore in January 1872.

When he had arrive in Singapore, he was shocked by how the Chinese there refered the British judges as 'devils', police as 'big dogs' and Eurapeans in general as 'red-haired barbarians'. Also, there was a 'post-office riots' between the Hokkiens and Teochews over who had the right to send money and letters back to China. He used an unusual technique to quell the riots, which was to walk up and down the streets playing his bagpipes. This often attract the Chinese onlookers attention, causing the riots to subside. He would then help to sort out the differences with his command of dialects.

He also played a part in putting an end to the incessant troubles between the Ghee Hin and Hai San who had engaged in open warfare over the tin fields at Larut since 1861. When Sir Andrew Clarke (a governor of Straits Settlement) wished to gather the two heads of both societies for a peace conference, he first sent Pickering to Penang. The seeds of peace thus informally sowed.

However, his dealings in quelling the riots upset some of the secret societies. In 1887, he was attacked by a Teochew carpenter, Chua Ah Siok, who was sent by one of the secret societies, the Ghee Hok Society, to kill him in retaliation for Pickering's constant meddling in business. The end of the axe blade struck Pickering on the forehead, causing serious injury. However, Pickering survived.

He also wrote an account of his time in Taiwan called the Pioneering in Formosa. He was also sent to Sungai Ujong, Negeri Sembilan by the British in Malacca to aid a British ally. He successfully commanded 160 troops in 1874 to remove possible resistance leader in Sungai Ujong.

In 1889, Pickering retired as Protector in 1889 due to complications from the attack by Chua. He died on 26 January 1907.

Done by: Shaliza, Seri and Fatinah 2D



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