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William Pickering, The First ‘Protector Of The Chinese’.

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Subject :William Pickering, the First ‘Protector of the Chinese’.
Published By : None 
Location : Singapore
Estimated Year : 1883
Media Type : Photograph
Source : Royal Commonwealth Society
Remark : William Pickering was born into a church-going family from Nottingham, England. He was the only boy among seven sisters. At 16 he became a seagoing apprentice plying the routes around South East Asia, before becoming a third mate on a tea clipper running from Liverpool to China. Around 1860 he started to work on-shore in China, taking the opportunity to learn the Hokkien dialect which led (in 1862) to a position with the Chinese Maritime Customs. Moved to the Taiwan office in 1865, he left the service to work with McPhail and Co. dealing in Camphor, learning Mandarin at the same time, while taking a great interest in the local cultures.

Moving to Malaya he became an interpreter with the British Government and took a leading part in solving the Selangor Civil War and the Larut wars in Perak. Next he assisted Colonel Samuel Dunlop, Inspector General of Police, in overcoming the problems of Sungei Ujong, actually storming the stockades with the police and troops in order to speak to the rebel commanders. After seeing more action at Rasa, he was recommended for the award of the Victoria Cross.

By the end of 1874 he had worked with all levels of both the Colonial administration and the Chinese immigrants, from Governor to Coolie and had a reputation as the expert on Chinese affairs whose advice should always be listened to. However although listened to it was not always followed until the 1876 Chinese riots of Singapore led to the appointment of a Commission to look into matters related to Chinese immigration to Malaya. The Commission proposed almost exactly what Pickering had been putting forward - a government organisation be created to look after newly arrived coolies that would prevent exploitation and abuse by their own kind. On formation it was called the ‘Chinese Protectorate’. William Pickering was appointed the first Protector and set up his office in Canal Road, Singapore on 3 May 1877. Ernest Karl was appointed Deputy and soon after moved to Penang to set up office there.

Pickering was successful – almost too successful in this role, but two men trying to control and assist the thousands of immigrants was an impossible task. Nonetheless he stayed in post for 10 years, a respected member of Society, and during which time, after much persuasion, the Colonial Office did provide more Chinese speakers. His tenure really came to an end when he was attacked by a mentally disturbed Teochiew carpenter who threw an axe-head at him in his office, lodging it in his head. After medical treatment, a short leave and a written dispute with the Governor, he was retired in 1890 on medical grounds; a sad end to a distinguished career of a unique administrator, who stamped his style on the Protectorate Department, and which followed his example for many years.

To read about the Chinese Protectorate Building, Ipoh, click here.

To read about William Cowan, ‘Protector of the Chinese’ Ipoh, click here.

Filename : 20090125-004