For the descendents of Richard Dearie and his son John Russell

John Drysdale had joined the company in 1930. J.A. Russell and Co. was built on borrowed money, the financial position was desperate in the early 1930s J.D. later told Tristan that when he joined the Company he was shocked to find it owed about 9 million dollars. J.D., an engineer, managed Malayan Collieries, the Borneo Colliery, Sungei Tua Rubber, the Kedah Tungsten Mine and the Celebes Panielota Goldmine. He had been instrumental in developing the plywood works , distillation plant and brick works at the Colliery. He and Robbie were also to develop the contacts needed for the Cement Factory. When Archie died J.D. moved from being assistant manager to manager, and Robbie's No. 2. When Robbie was away J.D. acted as his alternate.

J. H. Clarkson joined the Company in 1932. Clarkson, a tea planter, had joined a boat at Ceylon bound for the U.K. and Archie had engaged him then. He worked on Boh but was stationed at Sungei Tua. After Archie's death Clarkson became estate manager.

Alun Llewellyn joined the Company in June 1934 as mine manager. When John Drysdale took over from Robbie, Alun became his No. 2 and when William Gemmell died Alun became Chairman. Tristan Russell would eventually take over from him.



J. A. Russell and Co. Ltd. 1933 - 1942. Who was in charge after Archie died?

Archie had wanted his businesses to continue. He said to his executors : "I express the hope that they will continue the said businesses as going concerns in the same manner as I have done in my lifetime and I declare that in continuing the said businesses my Trustees may generally act in relation thereto as if they were the absolute owners thereof without being liable or responsible for any loss arising thereby and in case such businesses shall at any time be carried on at a loss my Trustees shall be reimbursed out of my estate to the extent of any loss incurred by them in so carrying on the same."

Kathleen returned to the U.K. with Tristan. Money was very short and she had to live on a very small allowance. But she was determined to keep the business going and enrolled on a business course. Her lecturer advised her that when J.A.R. & Co. was converted from a partnership to a limited liability company, she must obtain a governing share. This was written into the articles of J. A. Russell & Co. Ltd. and in subsequent years proved vital in ensuring control of the Company. In mid December 1934 J. A. Russell and Co. became a limited company, holding their first meeting on 18 December.

On 28 March 1935 the company's debt to the bank was $5,679, 108.63. H.H. Robbins was keen to sell assets and many were sold including the house at 2 Syers Road, (24, Jalan Tunku). Kathleen stopped him selling Boh and when she later married William Gemmill he lent a strong hand to control the policy making in J. A. Russell & Co. Ltd. Gemmill eventually became chairman of the Company and remained so until the time of his death. He played a decisive role in rehabilitation of the business after the Japanese occupation.




Don Russell managed the merchant businesses in Hong Kong, Canton Shanghai and Tientsin,(now Tianjin.) As the remaining partner he found that J. A. Russell & Co. was indebted to the bank for very large amounts of stock and property. As his son Mike Russell explained:" J.A.’s executors set up a Trust for the benefit of his wife Kathleen and very young son Tristan, and Archie's brother Don was a Trustee of this for many years. However in his will J.A. had not actually stated that his assets could be kept in non-trustee stock. With Malaya being a British colony then, British Trust laws had to be followed and these were very strict as to what constituted trustee and non-trustee stock in those days. The Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that only the business of J.A.R. & Co. could be put in Trust and that all J.A.’s holdings in the other businesses had to be sold off."

Don wrote: " At that time any such sale was quite impossible since owing to the world-wide slump it was almost impossible to give the businesses away. A forced sale would have meant having to meet a huge deficit, which, if transferred to J.A.R. & Co. K.L. would have crippled, if not bankrupted them. It was therefore arranged after much discussion that I would take over the merchant businesses". The Shanghai office was closed in 1933 and using a loan Don took over Loxleys in London, Loxleys in China and Perrin Cooper in Tienstin, keeping control of all the shares. The records for Perrin Cooper show that it was incorporated on 30 November 1934, while Loxleys, London was floated as a private company in 1935. He was able to pay the interest on the loans and reduce them, using the profits of these businesses and from dividends in his 25% share in J. A. Russell & Co. Ltd.

J. A. Russell and Co. had been a partnership. In his will Archie had written:" Whereas I carry on business in partnership with my brother the said Donald Oscar Russell in London and Kuala Lumpur and other places abroad under the styles or firm names of J. A. Russell and Company, W. R. Loxley and Company and Perrin Cooper and Company or one or more of them and our respective interests in the said business are seventy five (75) per cent. and twenty five (25) per cent."

His four executors were his wife Kathleen, H.H. Robbins, his brother Don and Andrew Beattie who were instructed to put his assets into a trust fund.

The trust was to be divided into ten equal parts, one for his brother Bob, two for H.H. Robbins the remaining seven for Kathleen.

Archie's known business interests at the time of his death.

Mining: Malayan Collieries, and the closed Borneo Colliery with the subsidiary industries of plywood, wood distillation, manufacture of bricks and tiles, and the well developed plans for cement manufacture. The wolfram mine: Sintok Mines at Kedah, Bakau Tin in Pahang and The Netherlands Indies Commercial Agricultural & Mining Co. Ltd., ( which may have been the company that explored the Gold mine at Panielota in the Celebes,) and The Taik Hing Kongsi near Rawang with Ho Man.

Real Estate: His own house: 24, Jalan Tunku, the bungalow at 147, Ampang Road lived in by Mr. Robbins, and at least 12 plots of land in K. L. which included an area called Kampong Malacca and a vacant lot at Batu Road. In Ipoh an estate of 260 shop houses, the Isis and Choong Wah Cinemas, and five pieces of vacant land, one of which was used for an amusement park. Houses in Seremban.

Planting: Boh Plantations. Rubber estates: These were Sungei Tua Estate at Batu Caves; The Russell Estate at Tenang; Bukit Bisa Estate in Kajang.

Investments: Shares in Malayan Collieries, tin and rubber estates including Kamasan Estate, Amalgamated Malay, New Serandah, and Utan Simpan. Also considerable shares in Selangor Coconuts.

Insurance Agencies: for Royal Exchange Assurance Corp and Queensland Insurance

Associated Firms: W. R. Loxley & Co. in Singapore, Hongkong, Shanghai, Canton and London. Perrin Cooper & Co. in Shanghai and Tientsin, (Tianjin), the financial control of the North China Wool Co., of Tientsin and the Loxley Wool Co., (Pty). Ltd., of Cape Province, South Africa.

Don Russell, Archie's brother and partner in Russell and Co.
Above: H.H. Robbins ( Robbie)
Above: John Drysdale (J.D.)
Bob Russell. Archie's youngest brother.
Bob was not a partner in J. A. Russell and Co. but he had taken on many of Archie's directorships. He had first worked as Archie's assistant, and was often used as a substitute in times of emergency. He had taken on the agency work for the Collieries in London in 1918, and worked on rubber companies. These were Jerantut and Kamasan in 1920, Utan Simpan from 1924, and was appointed a director of New Serendah Rubber in 1927, and chair of Amalgamated Malay Rubber in the same year. He was in charge of the ill fated Malayan Matches from 1920-26. He was Archie's alternate for Bakau Tin in 1923, and was used as a temporary director to regain control of Malayan Collieries in 1924. He was a substitute for Archie on the board of the Eastern Mining and Rubber Co in 1924, and co-opted onto the board of Selangor Coconuts in 1927 in Archie's place. After Archie died he took on more of Archie's roles including becoming a director of Bakau Tin and in March 1934 a director of Malayan Collieries. The 1934 directory has him as equal to H.H. Robbins in their both being the general managers of J. A. Russell and Co. although the company understood him to be manager of land and estate.
Kathleen Russell, Archie's wife.
H.H. Robbins an Australian, had joined the Company in about 1920 and after managing the Company’s Wolfram mine in Kedah as well as the Sungei Tua Rubber Estate in Selangor, joined the staff in K.L. He had also managed Loxley & Co. in Singapore in 1924. He had become Archie's right hand man and a very close confidant, and took over as Managing Director of J. A. Russell and as the Chairman of Malayan Collieries Ltd. Clever, hardworking and intelligent, he shared Archie's enthusiasm for expanding the Colliery and developing Boh Plantations tea estate.


Robbie attended Archie's funeral at Bidari cemetery on the morning of 8 April. The Collieries issued a circular about his death to shareholders on 18 April assuring them that " It was Mr. Russell’s invariable practice to discuss very fully all matters of current and future policy with his colleagues. This, and the long association which all members of the board have had with him, will be of great help to us in continuing the guidance of the destinies of your company"

On 15 May Kathleen and Tristan left for the U. K., and on 25 May H. H. Robbins and his wife went home, leaving John Drysdale in charge. In September at Bakau Tin's A.G.M. Bob was co-opted to replace Archie on the board. On 26 October at United Engineers A.G.M. Robbie agreed to fill the vacancy on the Board which had been given to Archie. In December Malayan Collieries, in a deal with F.M.S. Railways, secured the contract to supply Batu Arang coal to the St. James’ Power station, Singapore, for the year 1934.

A Visit to Boh

In May the Straits Times Planting Correspondent described a visit to Boh writing " Proceeding down the Boh valley one is surprised to find oneself walking on a 12-foot motor road and to learn that between four and five miles of this road have been finished for some months and that only conversion of the bridle path through the intervening jungle is necessary to connect this road with the main Government Road from Tapah. In fact one sees here five miles of a well-graded road over which no car or lorry has ever travelled. After walking one mile one reaches the estate office, ... Here my host, Mr. J. H. Clarkson, met me and we went to his bungalow, built originally by Mr. A. B. Milne with timber felled on the estate. " The site for the tea factory had been cleared and levelled.


1934. J.A. Russell and Co. became a limited Company.
Back to the history of J. A. Russell and Co. 1922-1933 here

Malayan Collieries

In 1934 there were signs of recovery from the slump. The Colliery advertised their MalAply plywood chests heavily all year and the factory making them was featured in a whole page photographic spread in the Straits Times in February. In June the Malay Mail covered a visit to the collieries as part of their “Exhibition Supplement” and it may be at this time that the Collieries produced their detailed "Guide for Visitors", which can be read here.


"PLYWOOD A FACTORY WORKING 24 HOURS A DAY.. A rapidly growing proportion of Malaya’s rubber is being packed in Malayan-made plywood chests, and so many are wanted just now that a 24 hour day is not long enough, and I was told that orders are being reluctantly refused where immediate delivery is required. Here I saw the most fascinating of machines in operation. A five-foot length of timber fresh from the jungle and straight from the pit where it is steamed to soften it, was clamped in position on a ponderous lathe. Upon revolving against a keen stationary knife a layer of wood about a sixteenth of an inch in thickness was peeled from the log. It came off in a continuous unbroken piece and a workman taking hold of the end carried it along a table as though it were a length of linoleum. At the limit of the table’s length the piece was broken, and the workman again took hold until layer was piled upon layer and the log, which was originally over three feet in diameter, was reduced to a core of only 7” across. The rest of the log had been resolved into scores of feet of plywood. Further down the long building the plywood was being stacked on wheeled racks ready for the big heating chamber, where it is thoroughly dried. In another spot the sheets were being run through the rolls of a machine which glues the three portions together. They are then piled up and subjected to the clenching embrace of a powerful hydraulic press. Two guillotines were busy cutting the sheets to the required sizes, the keen blades sheering through a score of sheets at a time. In another portion of the building, other machines deal cunningly with strips of metal for the binding strips, bending the edges and punching and cutting them into the required shapes. At the further end of the factory the finished sheets are graded, packed in shooks and loaded straight on to the waiting covered goods wagons to be distributed to all corners of Malaya.

ACID FROM WOOD EXAMPLE OF SILENT EFFICIENCY One might arrive at the Wood Distillation Plant just across the way from Plywood with a brain that had about reached the saturation stage. But interest receives a fillip, for here is a marvel of a different order entirely. When the Plant is in full operation there is no clank of machinery, grinding of cogs, or whirr of wheels. It is a complete change from the restless pulsation of a busy manufactory for here the end is accomplished silently. Perched on a 15-foot foundation of masonry underneath which the retorts and furnaces are housed is a veritable maze of piping and tanks. Boiler shaped tanks, square tanks, round tanks, vertical tanks and dome shaped tanks—at least they were all tanks to me until I learned that some of them were stills and some condensers, some of steel, some of copper and some of iron. Then there was metal piping of all diameters running in all directions, twisted into all sorts of shapes and convolutions. The whole was dominated by a lofty metal stack from which the smoke poured. The functions of each part of the plant were patiently and courteously explained—but I was content to marvel without really understanding step by step just how the wonders were achieved. For a miracle it was to me. I had seen 50 tons of hardwood billets piled high in 16 trucks. Four just filled a giant 50- foot retort and there were four of these huge chambers. They were closed with heavy iron doors which were further hermetically sealed with fireclay. Next the furnaces were stoked up and the heat, which is carefully controlled and circulates around the retorts, does the rest. From those solid blocks of timber, there is distilled wood alcohol, disinfectants, wood preservatives of different grades and grey acetate of lime. This last provides the raw material from which acetic acid is made. What is left when the retort is opened is a splendid quality of charcoal which finds a ready market. In the adjacent laboratory an enthusiastic chemist further enlightened one or two of us. Patent investigation and many trials had shown that a combination of tar oils distilled half from Malayan wood and half from Malayan coal made a wood preservative of superlative grade, the toxic or fungicidal qualities of which at least equalled the best imported article. “MALASOL” KEY TO THE WHITE ANT PROBLEM. Right here in Malayan coal and timber is the key to the prevention of the ravages of Malayan white ants and the disintegrating influence on its timbers of damp ground and dry rot. And that is not all, for further experiments have proved that here were the raw materials for the main ingredients of a disinfectant of the creosote class proved to be many times more powerful than pure carbolic acid. In fact those responsible for the immense amount of patient research which has obviously been devoted to the evolution of “Malasol” which this new product has been named, claim that it can be produced in a more highly concentrated form than any disinfectant currently on the market. I have at the back of my mind a statement to the effect that one part of “Malasol” to 800 parts of water would kill typhoid germs in a few seconds. Just imagine a mixture of one in 800 being capable of killing anything with even unlimited time at its disposal for the purpose."

Straits Times 22 June 1934
Straits Times 9 Feb. 1934
The Plywood factory from John Drysdale's album.
The Plywood lathe from John Drysdale's Album
The wood distillation plant was completed in 1934 and had a trial run of a month to test the manufacture of wood preservative. Photo. from John Drysdale's album.

The Collieries Directors' Twentieth annual report contained an aerial photograph of Batu Arang. (Seen left with added labels. The view looks south, the plywood works were north of the area shown.)


The locomotive has been identified as an ex-F.M.S.R. Class B locomotive - built by Hunslet in England. The railways sold 3 to Malayan Collieries - the first went as its No. 1 in May of 1923. The other two started their career with F.M.S.R. in 1906, before being sold off to M.C. as Nos. 3 and 4 in May of 1925.  

The Collieries report recorded that trade was still depressed and sales of coal had decreased further. The East mine and Open Cast 7 were being used. The Borneo colliery continued to be closed. It indicated surplus supplies of coal which, due to its tendency for spontaneous combustion, were being stored underwater in Opencast 8 until it could be sold to the Singapore Power station. The brickworks were idle, the continuous kiln was closed down and the intermittent one used instead for special bricks and tiles. As well as the completion of the distillation works, the tile plant had been erected and trials had taken place. The new pilot sawmill was being completed, and the coal washery worked all year. The plywood works operated full time.

John Drysdale had acted as H.H. Robbins alternate from May 1933, but by the time of the A.G.M. in March 1934 H.H. Robbins had returned. H.H. Robbins addressed the 20th A.G.M. beginning by referring to Archie’s untimely death in the worst month of the slump. In the second half of the year prices for tin and rubber had improved. But tin was still restricted with mines producing 25% of their possible production. He discussed the introduction of oil engines and electric motors replacing steam boilers. Coal sales had exceeded production and stocks were being kept under water. The contract for Singapore power station, which required 3,000 tons a month, would use these stocks up. He covered the subsidiary undertakings, explaining the need for bricks, timber, the sawmill, and the waste used in the distillation plant, and the possible use of land where timber had been felled for agriculture. The proposed cement works would use very large quantities of coal and shale, which was a by product of stripping of coal. Cement was being exported very cheaply by Japan. The Collieries were considering taking a British cement plant built not far away and transferring the plant to Malaya. They had decided not to rebuild alone but to discuss co-operating in arranging to transfer the plant to Malaya.

The labour position was causing anxiety with supply in the balance. He criticised the new Workman’s Compensation Enactment for not covering the dependants of Chinese workman killed in accidents if they were resident in China. The officials at the colliery wished for dependants living in China to be included in the act and Mr. Shearn had been to the Federal Council to make their case. The act had come into operation on October 1st 1933. A case at the collieries was used to illustrate the effect of the act on the labour force. " After an accident occurred a notice was posted up in Chinese, at the instance of the miners employees, which clearly showed that the work people were extremely dissatisfied with that kind of legislation. A free translation was as follows: “We work under dangerous conditions. There are always fatal accidents occurring. For instance, one man met with a fatal accident at the East Mine and three others were injured. The relatives of the deceased claimed compensation and at last received $30 for funeral expenses. This man’s death received no more attention than the death of a cow or a horse. That makes us very grievous.” It may the first time the views of the workforce at Batu Arang had been reproduced in an English language newspaper.

At the end of the year when Batu Arang held its third sports day, the Malay mail printed the names of the Chinese competitors at the colliery, possibly also a first for their names to be in print. Mrs. Llewellyn presented the prizes on this occasion.

The Coal Washery. This may be the washery that was bought for the Borneo Colliery and re-erected at Batu Arang. Photo from J. Drysdale's album.
Interior of the Coal washery. Photo from J. Drysdale's album.
"The Locomotive rolling stock comprises:— 4-18 ton Hunslet, side tank locomotives 12" x 18", four wheels coupled. 2-28 ton Manning Wardle side tank locomotives, six wheels coupled, 13" x 20", superheated and fitted with lighting turbo generator. 1-28 ton Manning Wardle, side tank locomotive, six wheels coupled, 13" x 20", without superheater and lighting unit. Waggon Rolling Stock totals about 275, made up of Low and High-sides, Covered Waggons and Timber bogies." From a Guide to Visitors.1933/34
Rail Sidings. By 1934 three more miles of railway had been built into the Rantau Forest reserve for timber supplies. Photo from J. Drysdale's album.


Kathleen who was with Tristan in London was reported to be suffering from flu and a poisoned hand in March. She and the other executors of Archie’s Estate appealed in the Ipoh Supreme Court against the Sanitary Board’s valuation of his property there for the year 1933. They argued that the slump was at its worst in the early part of 1933, and large number of Chinese and Indian labourers had been repatriated, houses stood empty and it was impossible to collect rents, 50% were unoccupied and rents had fallen by 50% on those that were. The valuation was kept at only a 20% reduction.


The Singapore Free Press was critical of the Government for their lack of road building in the Cameron Highlands, pointing out that the pioneers had constructed their own roads and remarking: “The general public of Malaya does not yet appreciate the sacrifices which are being made by the pioneers … or the progress which is being made in the face of considerable difficulties. Like all pioneers they will be appreciated too late”. There was also discussion in the press as to whether the Government would bring in a restriction scheme on tea. At Boh there were anxieties that tea would be restricted and J. A. Russell and Co. wrote to the Secretary to the Resident at Pahang asking for an assurance that no restriction would be placed on their planting their reserve lands with tea. They wanted to plant up all 4,000 acres. The Resident asked them to wait. A Government report on the Highlands included a summary of the developments there. The first manufacture of tea in Boh’s new factory began on 28th July and the first consignment was sold in London during November. It considered that two years would be necessary before the planted areas matured sufficiently to give high quality tea.

In April Bob Russell was re elected onto the board of New Serendah Rubber. He left for Home in May and J. H. Clarkson replaced him on the board of Amalgamated Malay Rubber.

J.A. Russell and Co. became a Limited Company

" J. A. Russell and Co." appear on their notice of the Collieries Dividend No. 55 in September and on their correspondence in that month but by December, on the declaration of the Collieries dividend No. 56 their name had been changed to "J. A. Russell and Co. Limited."

The agreement for Don to take over the merchant businesses of Loxleys and Perrin Cooper was made on 12 December. As the new Company of J. A. Russell and Co. Ltd. they held their first meeting on 18 December. H.H. Robbins went on leave until the following March.

Malayan Collieries 21st Year.
Plywood was heavily advertised throughout the year, and by the autumn advertising for the new disinfectant appeared in the Straits Times. Above from Straits Times 18 November 1935

The directors’ report showed an increase in sales of coal. The Borneo Colliery remained closed. The Plywood factory operated all year, making plywood chests and plywood sheets, but the brick works remained closed. The distillation plant operated on and off. Negotiations for the additional timber area continued. The sawmill was erected and wood preservative and disinfectant mixers were installed. The club and sports ground were used and the open-air cinema. In March the 21st meeting was presided over by H.H. Robbins, who began by giving an outline of the history of the company, and of the signs of recovery in the economy. The Workman’s Compensation Act had been amended to include dependants resident in China. The brickworks had been idle due to lack of demand by the building trade. The pilot tile making plant did not obtain consistent results and the superintendent had consulted with experts in the U.K. The plywood department had heavy orders, which were not always possible to meet. The wood distillation plant’s products sold well. The timber business had involved a further extension of the railway and more negotiations on the timber area applied for. Plans for cement works were on hold.

In May H.H. Robbins returned from home leave and Mr. Spall Superintendent of the Plywood Factory and Sawmills was engaged. In July a fire in one of the underground mines killed one of the Chinese workmen and H.H. Robbins, Mr. S. Graydon and Mr. W. Prentice were all asphyxiated. “Mr. Scott, under manager of the mine, made himself sick and warned the others who, equipped with respirators, found and rescued Robbins, Graydon and Prentice who were lying unconscious.” They were taken to hospital in K. L. where they recovered.

In August the Collieries stand at the Agri-Horti show was commented on by the Straits Times. “What a great business has been built up, mainly by the brilliant brain and unflagging energy of the late Mr. “Archie” Russell!” exclaims the writer. The article was accompanied by the aerial picture from the 1934 report and a photograph of Archie. The collieries had won the gold medal for the best display.

Straits Times 25 November 1935

Boh Plantations.

J. A. Russell and Co. Ltd. minutes record that the local market was researched and suitable trade names and designs for tea packaging were discussed. Arrangements for labels, trade names, slogans and advertisements “ of a conspicuous and impressive nature in Singapore and London”, were made. In October Masters Ltd. in Singapore were working on suitable designs. The main engine at Boh broke down in August and was replaced by December. The Tiger Tea trademark was registered in August and advertised in September. By the end of the year tea sent to London realised prices which compared favourably with Ceylon Tea. Boh was becoming recognised on the market. Harper Gilfilan and Co. were appointed distributors for Malaya.

In June Boh’s manager Mr. Robert Brown was married in the Cameron Highlands. His was the first European wedding to held there; celebrated with kilts, tartan and bagpipes, it was attended by the “entire local populace” including Mr. A. B. Milne.

In September Mr. C.C. Footner gave a talk on the history of the Cameron Highlands, while various newspaper articles promoted it as a holiday area. A writer who had visited Boh in 1932 said: “I had to tramp a weary five miles over a jungle path to reach Boh Plantations three years ago. Last week I made the journey comfortably in a motor-car.”

In November A.B. Milne was reported to be leaving for Ceylon with his brother. Before he left he said “He saw some areas at Boh Plantations containing better grown tea for its age than anything grown in Ceylon of similar age.”

There was further dissatisfaction with the Government over the lack of extra roads in the Highlands and their failure to promote of the area for agriculture. One letter writer considered the money spent on their experimental station at Tanah Rata was a waste . “There is already a full-sized tea plantation with a large modern factory at Boh, and a properly experienced tea planter is in charge, so why go on throwing public money away.. on an agricultural white elephant?”



In September Bob Russell was married to Lola McCall from Kansas City. A surprise ceremony by special license, with H.H. Robbins as one of only two witnesses. The newspapers reported that besides being Managing Director of Malayan Collieries, Ltd., Bob was a director of J. A. Russell and Co. Ltd, of Amalgamated Malay Estates Ltd., and several other companies. During the year Bob continued to be on the board of Kamasan Rubber, and Utan Simpan Rubber. He became a member of the council of the Estate Owners Association. He was also re-elected on the board of Selangor Coconuts and was Vice President of Selangor Club.
Above: Bob and Lola's wedding reported in The Straits Times, 15 September 1935, Page 24

The Straits Times 21 May 1936, p9

1936 The First Sales of Boh Tea and the First Strike at Batu Arang.
Straits Times 11 May 1936 MalAsol was advertised from January to June.
Straits Times 18 May 1936. Plywood was advertised from January to May.
Straits Times 25 May 1936. MalAsote was advertised in May and June
Straits Times 15 June 1936. This is the first advert to depict non European facial characteristics. J.A.R. & Co. Ltd engaged a Mr. Mearns on 15 July 1936 to "duties on sales side of Malayan Collieries subsidiary products".
Straits Times 26 July 1936 p. 10
Straits Times 26 June 1936, p. 18
Straits Times 26 June 1936, p.19

Selling Tea. The printed labels for Tiger and Boh arrived from the U.K. in March so local sales went ahead. The first adverts appeared in April and May

The tea was distributed by Harper Gilfillan. On 26 June the Straits Times reported on Boh, after 8 years. “This company, thanks in the beginning to the courage and vision of the late “Archie” Russell (the ablest businessman the F.M.S. has ever known) has made a contribution of very real importance to the economic history of this country.” The article gave a history of the Boh Plantations, from 1929 and a description of the estate. A panoramic photograph was printed on the back page.

Arrangements were made with Little's and Robinsons to sell chests of tea in England with the companies paying for the advertising.


A second article a week later described the factory, also accompanied by a photograph. The writer detailing its construction and observing “The foresight of the late Mr. Russell had again led to the establishment of a new industry for Malaya, the firm bearing his name being closely connected with Boh Plantations Ltd. Not the least of this firm’s achievement in this enterprise was the carrying on with this Boh development when midway though its earlier stages the world slump came.” Below The factory from The Straits Times 3 July 1936 , p18.

Malayan Collieries.

The Collieries report showed a 23% increase in sales of coal, partly due to improvements in the tin mining industry, because increasing quotas had been allowed under the restriction act. Most of the coal came from the East Mine. Work in Opencast 7 stopped and began between opencasts 5 and 7. Opencast 8 became the main one being used. The Collieries had acquired from Messrs. Sir John Jackson Ltd.: 4 x 30 ton steam locomotives, 30 x 12 cubic yard air tipping waggons, 60 x 6 cubic yard gravity tipping waggons and a 2 1/4 cubic yard electric shovel-dragline combination, which had arrived at Batu Arang early in the year. This appears to have been connected with “the Singapore Naval base contract.” The agreements with the Government over access to timber were concluded successfully. The railway line extension continued into the forest to reach the timber. The Borneo colliery remained closed. The brickworks had remained closed with sales being made from stocks but was being prepared to be restarted. John Drysdale acted for time as alternate for H.H. Robbins. 5 ½ millions square feet of plywood had been made in the plywood factory. The sawmill had prepared some timber, which had been sold in London. Distillation had stopped due to accumulating stocks and progress had been slow in establishing a market. Both the disinfectant was advertised from January to June and the new wood preservative in May and June.

H.H. Robbins presided over the A.G.M. Bob was absent due to illness. He was pleased to be able to report improving conditions. They had lost the contract to supply coal to the Singapore Power station to the Japanese. A small experimental unit had been ordered to utilise local clays. There was a fall in demand for plywood chests due to the baling of rubber for export. But he was pleased to say that they had were of a very good standard, they had had no complaints. The plywood was advertised from January to June. He didn’t predict the outcome of the current year due to the “ International situation… that is obscure and threatening” The Johore Coal syndicate had been formed to see if there was any coal there and boring had taken place since. It seemed unlikely that there would be a workable deposit. The papers later reported that the Collieries had negotiated rights to investigate coal at the Allington Hill Estate, Tapah.

In April John Drysdale read a paper about the Collieries to the Selangor branch of the Engineering Association of Malaya. Seven million tons of coal had been produced from Batu Arang in the last 23 years. He gave a detailed description of how the deep mine was worked and its ventilation system. The colliery was dispatching about 40,000 tons of coal per month. He outlined the many possible uses for coal including: “The use of pulverised fuel for such purposes as cement making has been fully investigated and it has been ascertained that Malayan coal is well suited for the purpose.”

Mr. Spall came back from leave at the start of the year. On 7 June H.H. Robbins visited England on a short trip via aeroplane. On 3 August he returned. It took 11 days to return by air, a journey that had previously taken a month by ship and was so remarkable that it was covered in the news. “A KUALA LUMPUR business man, H.H. Robbins, sits at his desk today hardly able to realise that since June 7, less than two months ago, he has been to England, executed a business deal and come back again. ... Now he may look out of his office window at the muddy river in the sleepy Federal Capital, and try to reconcile the scene with the London memories less than two weeks old. MR. ROBBINS, who is a director of Malayan Collieries Ltd., left Malaya for Europe on K.L.M. on June 7, and was away for 6 weeks. Eleven days were spent on the return air journey, so that he had a full month in England. His verdict is that the expense was repaid from every point of view.” In December he flew on a Quantas plane to Queensland.

In August a severe fire destroyed a large part of Batu Arang included 49 shop houses, and many homes belonging to the Chinese and Tamil workforce. No lives were lost. “ Company representatives, consisting of Messrs. H. H. Robbins, chairman of directors, E. Bellamy, colliery superintendent, H. H. Marnie, civil engineer, and J. H. Tubb, works accountant, inspected the ruins of the village this morning. Mr. Robbins declined to make a statement when approached by Free Press representatives, but a Chinese shopkeeper, when interviewed, said the fire began in the roof of his house. A new mine railway passed close to his kitchen and yesterday afternoon at four o’clock he saw a mine train approaching. The engine was going slowly and smoke was belching from the funnel but he did not see any sparks. Ten minutes after the train passed the roof went up in flames. His kitchen fire was out at the time. He and his friends tried to pull off the burning attap but failed. The next-door shops caught fire and the alarm was raised. No official explanation of the outbreak of the fire has yet been given. This morning an aeroplane zoomed over the razed village taking photographs.” A study of the traffic log later eliminated the possibility of a spark from a locomotive.

Industrial trouble in Singapore in November was followed on 16 November by the colliery workers going on strike, the first strike of several. About 300 underground workers from the East Mine had downed tools on at 8 o’clock lock on Saturday night. The Opencast miners then also stopped working. About 400 marched past the General Office to the power station and turned off the power supply. They then went to the police station carrying axes and sticks and were faced by 5 policemen, who fired directly at the miner’s heads. One was wounded. European employees who attempted to pacify them were met with “aggressive gestures” according to the press, and returned to their bungalows. The local police called for reinforcements from Rawang nine miles away. 150 police arrived an hour later, in cars and lorries, although the lights were back on by the time they arrived. After three arrests were made the police found out that the miners were striking about their terms of employment. During the following day there were no disturbances but groups of strikers assembled by the office and police station. The wounded man was taken to K.L. hospital. The Chinese Consul, Tzu Lin Chu, and the Asst. Protector of Chinese, Mr. Norman Grice visited the mine on Sunday and consulted the labour force to ascertain their grievances. A guard of 100 police stayed at the colliery during negotiations. Like the strikers in Singapore, the miners were discontented with the system of labour contracting. Only 50 returned to work in Opencast 8 by 18 November, and 4,200, virtually the whole labour force, were still on strike. John Drysdale promised an increase in wages and adjustment to working conditions, which the miners refused. They had 14 demands, which included a 50 % increase in wages and the withdrawal of the police, which the company refused. About 170 police were on guard. On the afternoon of the 18th the labour contractors attended the negotiations for the first time, with two representatives from each mining gang. The Singapore Free Press interviewed a representative of the miners who explained that they had had some grievances, which they wanted to present to the management, but had had no opportunity to do so. During a meeting to prepare their appeal two miners had been arrested by the police and the miners, being annoyed, had gone to the power station and switched off the lights. A crowd had followed the police to the station and rescued their two colleagues. When the police came the next day and arrested two men, including the one from the night before all the underground miners stopped work. The Chinese Consul helped the strikers to reduce their demands to 6. These were:” Firstly, an increase of 50 per cent. in wages for all. Secondly eight hours work in open cast mines instead of nine. Thirdly, the abolition of excessive fines for breaking rules and cutting tops. Fourthly the provision of clear underground passages for emergencies. Fifthly, no banishment of workmen because of the strike and a guarantee that no discrimination be made against the strikers’ representatives. Sixthly, the arrested men be freed and the wounded man compensated.” This was rejected by the Collieries. After a long discussion the company said they were prepared to hear the grievances if the men returned to work at 7 a.m. tomorrow and would accept an increase of ten per cent. in wages for coal hewers and five per cent. for all others. “The miners were told that if they did not wish to work on the collieries they could leave. The company might take its own measures otherwise. The papers reported: “This ultimatum was strangely received by the miners, the majority of whom broke out into cheering and jubilation and fired crackers as the Consul drove off at 5 p.m.” Some miners held out for 50%, but the majority had returned to work by 20 November and the police guard was withdrawn. The number who refused to return to work were dismissed but the Colliery, who refused to tell the press how many this was. They rejected the report that they had failed to give the miners a chance to present their grievances, mentioning the previous harmonious record of relations between the company and its workforce. They added that it was fair to say that the workforce and the population had been thoroughly orderly and no property had been damaged. They increased their police force to 10 permanent police and two senior officers. It was at the time illegal to be a member of the General Labour Union, and two Chinese colliery workers, Foo Sin Ling and Yap Yin, were later charged in the K.L. police court as a result of the strike, one for being a member and the other for threatening Mr. Porteous although this second charge was withdrawn.



The Pavilion Cinema

On 26 July the Straits Times contained a detailed description of K.L. ‘s new cinema The Pavilion that would premiere with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Top Hat." It was built using 600,000 MalAcol bricks. An advertisement for the bricks with a picture of the cinema was on the same page. On 6 August the opening night was fully booked, with the police band playing in the orchestra pit beforehand. A distinguished audience included Bob Russell and Lola.

In late July Bob Russell was the plaintiff in a case in the Supreme Court over the will of Mr. Khoo Khye Cheah, whose estate valued at a quarter of a million dollars had been had been handled since 1907 by J. A. Russell and Co. Bob gave evidence producing the original will of 1897, and stated that he had been looking after the deceased’s estate for the past 28 years.” In December the judge agreed with Bob’s version of events. In August he was back in court at an inquest after the staff quarters of the Selangor Club, of which he was Vice President had collapsed and killed a child. The inquest investigated who was responsible. The buildings inspector for K.L. gave evidence that the building was dangerous and should be demolished. The Sanitary Board had claimed it just needed repairing. The Resident gave evidence that he had no idea of the danger, while Bob when examined said, “ The Sanitary Board authorities often do not really mean what they say. I thought they were being alarmists”. In October Bob was busy as stage manager of a revue called “Up she Goes”, a production of the “Midnight Follies” put on in December with the profits going to charity.
In October the usual Christmas hampers made to be sent to the UK, included Boh Tea and as an alternative a 5lb chest of Boh tea could be sent. “Stocks of ‘Boh’ tea are held in London and supplies of this pure Malayan product, packed in moisture proof 5-lb chests, may be obtained on prepayment of 13s. 9d. which includes duty of 4d. per lb. and costs of delivery to any address in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Orders and remittances should be addressed to W. R. Loxley and Co. (London) Ltd., 106, Fenchurch Street, London E.C.3.”

The Straits Times 26 June 1936, p. 20.
Straits Times 3 July 1936, p.18
Left: Straits Times 3 July 1936, p19
The Straits Times 27 November 1936, p.18
The Straits Times 7 April 1936 p. 19
"GOLD SEAL BOH TEA . BOH TEA CAREFULLY MATURED PURE UNBLENDED. BOH TEA has Excellent Body, Flavour and Aroma. The ladies declare it to be the finest and most refreshing tea they have ever tasted."


Rubber companies showed a substantial rise in profits during the year. Bob Russell continued as director of Utan Simpan, New Serendah, Kamasan and Amalgamated Malay, until his resignation in November. Their company reports do not contain any description of labour troubles, although the smoke houses at New Serendah and Utan Simpan had been destroyed by fire. The intention of J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. was to sell all three of their rubber estates during the year, but there were initially no buyers. At Sungei Tua they built a new factory and smoke house and tapping recommenced in August. A new superintendant , Mr. A. H. Frugtniet from Ceylon was appointed, at a salary of $350 per month, and the labour force increased from 33 to 193. The tappers went on strike at the Bukit Bisa Estate although the Company felt they had been intimidated and were glad to back to work on 1 April. There were low crops due to the unsettled labour. The contract system was reverted to in August, with the rate raised to 80 cents a day in October, but production remained low and by the end of the year they decided to close the estate for 6 months. At the Russell estate concrete houses for 70 tappers were built by July, and the jungle on the reserve was felled for new planting. The estate was sold in August.

The headquarters of the new Rubber Research Institute built out of Malayan Collieries' MalAcol bricks. From the Straits Times 11 September 1936 p.19.

Malayan Collieries' Report

The Collieries Report showed that sales had increased by 34%, due to the higher tin quota that had been allowed. Production continued at Batu Arang, while the Borneo colliery was still closed. Coal production had been from the East mine, and from the gap between opencasts 5 and 7. A block in open cast 5 was being developed. Opencast 3 and 8 were the main ones producing coal. Opencast 9 was opened up. More capital had been spent on plant equipment. Electric shovel dragline machines and locomotives were being used to strip the shale. The construction of the railway line into the timber area had continued. More capital was needed and the company were going to issue more ten dollar shares. Temporary buildings and shops had been replaced with permanent ones, after fire had destroyed 36 shop houses and the Tamil’s housing. A new pressure boiler plant was proposed. During the year John Drysdale had again acted as H.H. Robbins alternate. There was a shortage of skilled underground labour. The strike, which had lasted 3 days, caused wages to be increased. The coal prospecting in Johore had stopped as they found that the deposit was not a commercial proposition. More prospecting was being done in the Batang Padang area. There was an improvement in the markets for their subsidiary products. The brickworks resumed production in January and there had been some large contracts including the building of the Rubber Research Institute. The plywood factory had produced 5 million square feet of plywood, and demand had increased. The sawmill had produced lumber which had been sent to London. The distillation plant worked all year. Apart from the strike the morale of the labour force had been good. The A.G.M. was to be held on 30 March.

Industrial Unrest

For many months there had been strikes all over Malaya. 44 estates were idle and roads had been barricaded. By 25 March the Malay Mail reported 30,000 labourers on strike, about 25,000 employed on rubber estates. There were other disturbances at Seremban. Arrests had been made on rubber estates and a meeting of UPAM had discussed the situation. The High Commissioner had arrived in K.L. and was meeting with the Federal Secretary. There had been roadways blocked but generally the position was quiet. The leader in the Singapore Free Press of 26 March pointed out that labour was not allowed to organise in Malaya and that they may have a genuine grievance. “It is, of course, as a result of the suppression of any organisation of labour that what, under normal circumstances, would be perfectly respectable labour leaders, are now designated agitators or communists.” The article suggested that the Government needed to find a balance to reach a peaceful and equitable settlement. A report of the Selangor Miners Association meeting in K.L. on 25th, recorded that the president Mr. Choo Kia Peng suggested that “employers must put their house in order.” He said labourers expected a share of the prosperity of their employers and that in Malaya there was no conciliation board. He traced most of the trouble back to the system of sub contracting labour, which resulted in there being little contact between employers and employees

Second Strike

At Batu Arang the miners held a mass meeting on 10pm on Tuesday 23 March and stopped work from 24th to 27th. The officials at the collieries believed that agitators from Kajang induced the strike, which was the centre of the rubber strikes. Those arrested at Kajang were in court on morning of the 25 March and were remanded till 30th, charged with” trespass with an intent to commit an offence”

Wednesday 24 March. Groups of pickets carrying sticks and iron bars were seen at the colliery. The colliery Superintendent F. Bellamy phoned the police at intervals during the morning. At about 8 am H.H. Robbins reported that most of the workforce were on strike. Even the plywood factory had closed. The water supply was cut off. Robbins arranged a meeting with the strikers at 1 pm with the Chinese Consul. The Assistant Protector of Chinese Mr. Broome left for the mine in the morning. The police turned him back feeling that with so few police and thousands of workers the negotiations should not begin until the authorities had time to send enough men to control what might happen. Strikers barricaded the road near the railway crossing with huge timbers. 50 police from K.L. and Rawang were sent to support the local force and mounted a guard on the power station. Two companies of the Malay Regiment, about 200 men, with 6 European officers and 4 warrant officers, were ordered to the Collieries from Port Dickson to guard the power house and machinery and assist 100 police already there. They were due to arrive at about 6 pm. At the one o'clock meeting Robbins was presented with a list of 23 demands. At 3pm the strikers marched round the colliery with their 23 demands written on a banner. In line with other strikers elsewhere they asked the officials of the company to use their influence to secure the release of 38 strikers held in custody in K.L. who had been arrested on the 13 March on the Kajang Road, and for an increase in wages. The Europeans managers spot 3 or 4 employees who were prominent in the November strike. At 5pm it was discovered that the strikers had captured a mine employee who they suspected of being a detective. The police tried to release him. The crowd demanded to talk to Mr. Robbins. Robbie and Bob Russell went with the police to find out if he was all right. They told the police not to take any action.

Thursday 25 March. Picketing continued. By the afternoon F. Bellamy told the police he was worried about safety. A minimum of 50 men were essential to man the pumps and inspect the mine for fire and gas but the strikers would not permit those men to work despite a request from the managers. European staff had gone underground to stop a fire spreading. The company offered an increase in wages of 10% subject to the safetymen returning to work. In K.L. the police briefed the newly arrived High Commissioner and the Protector of the Chinese. The strikers picketed parts of the workforce still working and offered them free food to keep them on strike. They were well organised and had control of the situation, the arrival of the Malay regiment had no effect. The road to K.L. was barricaded so that the reporter for the Free Press had to spend the night at the power station.

Friday 26 March. The fire was out but the lower levels had flooded. Two Europeans had been pulled out of car and insulted but had been ordered not to retaliate. H.H. Robbins told the police there was a plan to attack the power station. Barbed wire fence was erected around it. At 2.30 pm the strikers rejected the company’s terms. They wanted those arrested at Kajang released and a 50 % rise in pay. “ Mr. Robbins and Mr. Russell are bitterly disappointed at the complete breakdown of negotiations”. There were attacks on the Sikhs working the pumps, and the army protecting the fan. Bellamy thought that the miners would return to work if about 20 agitators were arrested. By the evening the police felt there was no hope of a settlement. Two companies of the Punjabi Regiment: 280 soldiers, with 8 machine guns were sent to Batu Arang from the barracks at Taiping. It was decided to make a raid on the striker’s headquarters. A further meeting with the High Commissioner was held at 8pm in the evening, He agreed to the police using whatever force was necessary to break the strike.

Saturday 27 March. With the backing of the High Commissioner and the Resident 200 Police made a surprise raid on a kongsi, which housed the strike committee, their prison and their weapons. The Malay Regiment was not used. As they arrived at 5 am in semi darkness they were met with a group of strikers holding crowbars, axes and poles who on the signal of a gong being struck and two whistles blown rushed the police. Under attack by the men, the police fired 9 shots from revolvers, killing one striker, and wounding 4 others. 116 arrests were made. The police seized documents and released three prisoners who had been held there for some days. The documents, according to the police, showed the close connection of the strikers with the Communist Party of Malaya. Although the police also added that the use of firearms had come as a shock to the strikers who believed that the British Labour Party was so powerful that the Malayan Government would not allow the police to use weapons. The prisoners gave statements to the police naming those in charge of the strike. After this the safetymen went back to work along with some of the miners. At 8.00am the company issued an ultimatum that the workforce could return to work or leave the property. At 9.15 am the company announced they expected normal working to resume. H.H. Robbins said he hoped production would commence the next day.

By 28 March it was reported that the strike was settled, and that wages at the mine had been increased by 10 % and work had resumed. By Monday 29 March the Malay Regiment were withdrawn. The police continued to make raids on the kongis which the strikers had used as headquarters, and made more arrests. Officials at the Collieries told the papers that they hoped to abolish the contracting system and establish a labour department where every employee was registered. They reduced the number of their contractors from 14 to 5. An editorial in the Straits Times on 30 March about the strikes had sympathy for the tappers but not for the strikers at the Collieries. It was their opinion that the tappers had genuine grievances and that planters had overlooked their wages. Tappers had no labour department to champion their cause. There should be a committee to watch the relation between profits and wages, the tappers had made sacrifices during the depression and a larger share of the current prosperity should be passed onto them.

The Collieries A.G.M. was held on 30 March with H.H. Robbins presiding. His speech included some solutions for the labour unrest. There was a shortage of underground labourers caused by the refusing of permits to Chinese recruiters of labour. There was profiteering by the steamships companies engaged in the transportation of immigrants, which the Chinese and Malayan Government’s should eliminate. The Indian Immigration system was much better. He felt that the attitude of the miners was of a growing unreasonable attitude in the two strikes within 4 months, the first in November and the second last week. The first had been settled without any action taken against what he called “professional agitators”. He felt that this had given them confidence, over an action that, in bringing a key industry in the country to a standstill, was aimed at forcing the Government to release the strikers arrested at Kajang. He said that the age-old custom of sub-contracting must be gradually eliminated. He suggested the setting up of some form of industrial arbitration and a wages board for the whole country.

The Company’s position had improved over the year. Having failed to find a workable coal deposit in Johore they were now looking in the Batang Padang district of Perak. They were still negotiating with “British Interests in cement manufacturing throughout the Empire” he noted the ominous international situation saying that paradoxically it was largely responsible for the company’s present prosperity. The board had decided to dispose of the Borneo Colliery. H.H. Robbins and Bob Russell were re-elected as directors. Mr. Lim Cheng Law was cheered when he said “ May I rise again to support that Mr. R. C. Russell be re-elected as a director of the company? I think Mr. Russell’s services are very well known to us all, and the resolution needs no words of recommendation from me. He is a worthy successor to a worthy and celebrated brother, the late Mr. J. A. Russell, whose memory is still cherished by the shareholders of the Malayan Collieries.” He was also applauded when he said, “I would like to see the inauguration of a department equivalent to a Ministry of Labour or the introduction of some efficient machinery sponsored and directed by the Malayan Government for the ascertainment, adjudication and settlement of industrial disputes between labour and capital. Had such machinery been in existence in Kuala Lumpur to-day, this strike would not have been thus unduly prolonged.”

The agency agreement between J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. and Malayan Collieries was due to expire 31 Dec 1937. It was to be renewed for 8/10 years. If the profits of M.C. were insufficient to pay a dividend of 10% there would be reduction in the agency fee.

Inquest and Enquiry

An inquest was held in Rawang from 6 May over the death of the dead striker. 22 witnesses gave evidence. It was heard by the magistrate of Ulu Selangor who found on 20 May that it was death through misadventure. The extensive witness statements by police, army and others to the inquest can be read here. The police were unable to discoverer the identity of the dead man whose photograph was shown to over 100 of the workforce.

"Malayan Collieries No. 4 Opencast."A very thick seam of coal is seen underlying shale" printed in 1937 in "Handbook to British Malaya. One of a set of 113 loaded onto flickr.com here.
Singapore Free Press 30 March 1937, p3


When Archie died Andrew Beattie was one of his executors. He managed W. R. Loxley & Co. (London) Ltd. Although results for previous years had been bad, Don Russell had bought it, being assured by Mr. Beattie. Don described him as a "Plymouth Brethren with a bible on his desk who was as straight as a corkscrew." Despite Beattie’s promises, the business made losses and in 1937 Don's patience became exhausted and Mr. Beattie was asked to resign. H.H. Robbins, held Mr. Beattie in high esteem, but had no illusions as to his business qualifications and it is likely that he advised Don to visit London and look into the affairs of the Company. Mr. Beattie wrote to Mr. Robbins asking for help. Robbins, arranged that he should attend to Malayan Collieries’ matters in a letter dated 27/5/37, in connection with the engagement of staff with a retaining fee of £500 per year. In a letter dated 26/10/37 it was decided that as Mr. Beattie’s work had increased, and the whole of the agency fee was to be paid to him as from the 1st December, 1937.

Despite Bob Russell's high profile and his reception and re-election at the Collieries March A.G.M. at the end of 1937 he and H.H. Robbins had a disagreement and Bob was asked to resign from J. A. Russell and Co.Ltd. 
The Straits Times recorded Bob and Lola's presence with John Drysdale at a Durbar at the King's House on 12 November 1937. Bob had had 6 months leave from J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. from May to October. The meeting of 10 November reported his resignation being "accepted with regret”. At a later date Bob and Lola left for Canada. He was given an annual sum of £4,500 and the whole affair was kept quiet. Kathleen's notes refer to this here. Bob's letters to Kathleen record that Robbin's had told him: “Either you go or I go", and Bob's opinion was that Robbins wanted to " have me away and silenced". But as the minutes recorded the following year " Bob had taken " little interest in the business when he was paid to do so.”

In January in the New Year’s Honours list the Selangor Police Chief Mr. A. H. Dickinson received an O.B.E. He had arranged the dawn raid on the striker’s headquarters in the previous year’s strike at Batu Arang. He was praised for his tact and restraint.

The company had made repeated requests in the past year to the Government for permits for underground miners from China. They were not issued until June, by which time the selected men had been enlisted for military service in the war against Japan. Instead they had decided to mechanise their underground mining, and train their own labour force. He repeated his desire for co-operation between the Chinese and Malayan Governments over immigration on the same lines as that used in Southern India. He felt that the Chinese immigrant was exposed to exploitation, and the fact that India was part of the Empire and China was not had intensified the anomaly. Although it had been suggested that the Government should be responsible for the care of people who lost their employment during the slumps, he felt that employers of labour would be prepared to contribute to building up a settled reserve of labour. He welcomed the influx of female labour, which would create a locally born resident labour force who would stay in the country and keep their savings here, becoming self reliant, educated and being able to grow their own rice rather then rely on its being imported. At Batu Arang they had revised labour conditions. Workmen were being paid individually three times a month. Only one contractor remained and they now knew what each workman earned, what the deductions were, and the net amount received by each. A member of staff was responsible for all labour matters, and the collieries cashiers office was equipped to pay 1,000 individuals an hour on pay days. He was unable to predict the future due to the worsening international situation; although rearmament had increased trade there was still uncertainty. John Drysdale was invited to join the board, replacing Bob Russell to whom Robbins wished a long and happy retirement.

John Drysdale was a visitor at The Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in May, which had a “Malayan Court” in the Colonial Pavilion. The article does not report if any Collieries products were displayed there.
The Free Press reported in July that “Very few mines 
indeed have abolished the contracting system, though the Malayan Collieries, with one of the largest labour forces in the country, reorganised their coal mines on a non-contractor basis and report excellent results.”
Two locomotives with steam up with their crews. A photograph displayed at Batu Arang's 100th anniversary festival and filmed as part of Merah Silu's blogspot.

Malayan Collieries

The annual general meeting of the Collieries in March was presided over by H.H. Robbins. The issue of new shares had increased the capital. Capital expenditure on buildings and plant had been considerable. The village had been reconstructed with 56 shops, a market, and 15 of the permanent buildings of the old village were being converted into quarters for artisans. The new mechanisation was aimed at making the company less dependant on an unskilled workforce. The boiler plant had not been ordered in the hope of prices going down. Large sums were tied up in equipment waiting for installation, explosives or stocks for the subsidiary industries. There had been a high demand for coal during the year, and also a sharp increase in labour costs. The demand for coal was closely linked with the per centage of tin allowed under the restriction act, the year had ended with a fall in demand. They were restoring their stripped reserves of coal, and would reserve them as a standby for peak demand and emergencies. They had once again gained the contract to supply St. James Power Station in Singapore. Supplies of bricks and plywood had been good. The plywood chests represented 20% of all chests sold in Malaya. They were proud of supplying the bricks to build the Rubber Research Institute. The new railway to reach the timber area north of the Selangor River had now extended to the 10th mile and there were earthworks in advance of this. The line would be commissioned that year. (See map right.) The cement plans had made little progress and the Government ‘s attitude was ambivalent, and Robbins stressed the gain to the local people and industry if the plans went ahead.

Right: A Farewell Tribute to William Prentice reproduced in S.R.J.K. (C) CHAP KHUAN 90th Anniversary Book. Mr. Prentice had been in the news in July 1935 when he was rescued from the mine with H.H. Robbins, after being asphyxiated.

BATU ARANG 16th AUGUST, 1938. TO William Prentice, Esquire. UNDERGROUND AND OPENCAST UNDERMANAGER. MALAYAN COLLIERIES LTD., BATU ARANG, SELANGOR. DEAR SIR, WE the undersigned Contractors and staff of the Malayan Collieries’ Mines at Batu Arang in the State of Selangor, beg leave to approach you to-day on the eve of your departure to your homeland on furlough after a faithful and skilful service in the abovenamed Company, to express to you are sincere respects and to wish you a hearty farewell and a speedy return to our midst. DURING the tenure of your office when we have had the good fortune of working under your able guidance, we have found you to be sympathetic, just and kind to all of us irrespective of race, class and creed, and it is an immense pleasure we are now afforded the opportunity of acknowledging the straight forwardness we have received at your hands. WE sincerely wish you and Mrs. Prentice “Bon Voyage” home and pray that you may both live a long, happy and prosperous life, and all your future undertakings may be crowned with success. WE beg to remain, Sir, Your well-wishers, CONTRACTORS AND STAFF. CHU CHIU, LEE YUN, LEE LOONG, MAI TECK, SOO CHIN, CHU KHEE, CHIN WONG, CHEONG WAI, HIEW YEW, CHU YIN, LEE CHOY, YAP POW, CHU HIN, WONG LUM, WONG KOW, YONG SAIK, PANG KIT, TAI WONG, TOH FOOK CHYE, CHEONG AH KOW, YAP KIM FOH, WONG SIEW HUNG, NG PENG SUM.

1939 WW2

Malayan Collieries The Collieries Report recorded that 1938 was a difficult year, they had earned more than half a million dollars, good results but less than the year before. There was a decrease in sales of coal and in their subsidiary businesses caused by the restriction in trade. Labour had been paid by the tri monthly system, which had been extended to all employees. H.H. Robbins chaired the 25th AGM held in March. In 1937 world trade had improved but the improvement had not lasted. There had been a surplus of labour, and while they had reduced the numbers, they had wanted to keep on a maximum labour force. So they had restricted the number of days worked by each person. They had continued to revise employment conditions until the last of the large contractors had gone. They now paid their workforce directly. Offers by the company to create individual, savings accounts had not been received with enthusiasm More women were employed, families were being encouraged to grow their own food and the company had stockpiled several months worth of rice in case the international situation interrupted supplies. With falling prosperity in tin mining that had been a corresponding decline in demand for coal. High wages and piecework introduced during the short-lived prosperity of 1937 could not be maintained. The Company wanted ways of adjusting these without depriving the labour force of the gains they had made. They had decided to make a sliding scale of coal sales with wages and piecework rates based on the prosperous year of 1937. All the workforce earnings were calculated and subject to increase or decrease based on whether the tonnage of coal sold in the preceding month was higher or lower than the peak month of 1937. They felt this eliminated the personal factor in adjustment to rates and conditions, especially over the time lag in the restoration of cuts, a factor that had caused much industrial unrest the world over. It incurred a heavy cost to the company in administering it. They were concentrating now on the amount of work done by each person per day and the introduction of mechanical aids to increase productivity to counteract the increased costs of labour. But with the falling off of demand it was becoming difficult to keep surplus labour employed. Some of the Colliery contracts had been very keenly priced and they were working within fine margins.

The plywood cases were selling well and a local product was useful in wartime. The wood preservative was still not selling well. The cement manufacturing plant was not finalised, although once again Robbins stressed the usefulness of having Malaya self sufficient in cement. He hoped that the best they could hope for was that rearmament would increase the demand for coal.

Kathleen's Marriage.

At the end of January Kathleen Russell married William Gemmill in Durban Natal, South Africa. A 53 old Scotsman he was recently divorced. He had trained as an actuary and was a tough and able administrator. He sat on the Transvaal Chamber of Mines and influenced the labour policies used in mines from the 1920s to 50s. He was General Manager of the Tropical Areas Administration of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association Ltd, in Salisbury. It is thought that he may have been advising Kathleen on J.A.R. & Co.'s businesses before their marriage.

Straits Times 2 October 1939.

Bob's concerns. At the trustees meeting in April Kathleen raised the issue of her letters from Bob. She said that Archie had talked of $1,000 per year for Bob to be retired on. It was agreed to increase the amount from January 1939. The allowance could not be borne by the trust and would have to be paid by the Company. It was agreed to send Bob the minutes, which he felt, were being withheld unreasonably.

In July Kathleen sent a confidential cable to Bob in Canada with copies of the J.A. Russell and Co. Ltd. minutes. H.H. Robbins was partially retiring. Bob gave Kathleen details of Robbin’s income. Bob was pleased about her marriage to William Gemmill; he assumed that William would look after Russell interests.

Bob wrote a letter to the board dated 12 July 1939 disagreeing with transferring three of Mr. Robbins shares to Delamore, Drysdale and Clarkson to provide them with voting power.

Bob told Kathleen he felt that there ought always to be a Russell on J.A. Russell and Co., Ltd and that “strangers” should not conduct its affairs.

War Time Collieries Strike

In December there was a third strike at the Collieries. Once again the strikers demanded a 50% raise in wages, with 18 demands in total. The wanted the abolition of the sliding scale of wages, and a reply to their demands in 24 hours. There was no picketing. The company pointed out that the sliding scale had been accepted for the past year. They said a 50% increase was unreasonable but they were willing to grant an allowance for increased cost of living due to the war. The men did not return to work and 150 police were sent to the mine. The men were told through loud speakers that the Government would not allow a stoppage of work of essential services in wartime. Delegates met the Protector of Chinese Dr. Purcell who told them that their action was unlawful as it might interfere with the conduct of the war. The Company met the representatives and offered an increase of $1.50 a month to cover the increased cost of living, and pointed out that the sliding scale system had led to an increase in 8% over the last few months. Only 300 Indians and Malays were working. The Indians were also striking for higher pay. The Chinese were reluctant to discuss the strike with the correspondent of the Straits Times. They believed they could find work on other mines if their demands were not met. Under the Emergency Regulations action could be taken against the strikers, although it had been stressed when they were passed that they should not be used to deal with industrial disputes.

After a series of meetings a settlement was reached very quickly. The Chinese Consul had meetings with H.H. Robbins, and later meetings with the men. The Company presented a budget for a workman for a month of $14. The Consul investigated this budget and made it $17. The Company said this was too high. The Consul then had a meeting with the delegates and H.H. Robbins, which lasted form 10.30am to 4pm without a break. The Company agreed not to dismiss any employees and to abolish its sliding scale system of wages. A definite percentage increase was what the workforce preferred. The company stressed that they were always ready to listen to grievances and had a labour department especially for that purpose. “Indeed, an outstanding feature of most recent strikes has been the tolerant attitude of both sides, and a desire to reach a mutually satisfactory settlement as soon as possible. This is well illustrated by the fact that at the end of the Malayan Collieries dispute, Mr. H. H. Robbins, the managing director of the company, shook hands with the workers’ leaders, a little incident which is far too rare in Malayan industrial negotiations….The chief lesson for employers is, so far as possible, to anticipate the workers’ needs, and for employees to refrain from unreasonable demands and to have patience in negotiating” reported the Singapore Free Press.

A serious fire which closed the East mine in 1939 was not reported in the Singapore papers.

As used by H.M. Naval Base, Singapore & Malayan Collieries at Batu Arang. From The Straits Times 8 February 1940, p.9.
Straits Times 2 April 1941 p. 14. From January to mid July adverts for Boh tea emphasised its cheapness due to the lack of overseas freight charges and that drinking Boh made space in ships for more vital goods.
Staff: The bank approved Mr. Robbins salary to be returned to the pre 1932 amount of $2,000 per month from 1st January. Kathleen’s annual payment was now $3,000. Bob Russell wrote about the terms of his retirement. Mr. Ford suggested a reversal of a previous decision not to send him minutes of meetings. Mr. Robbins and Mr. Chisholm were against this: “especially in view of the attitude since adopted by Mr. Russell, the full annual accounts and the proposed half yearly interim and Trading and Profit and Loss account being considered ample for one who took so little interest in the business when he was paid to do so.” Bob wrote another letter and Mr. Ford suggested that after Kathleen arrived in Malaya at the next full meeting the board should consider sending him copies of the monthly minutes.

Malayan Collieries

The report of the Collieries showed a sharp rise in profit with a dividend of 16 % for the year. H.H. Robbins presided over the A.G.M. Money had been spent on new buildings and more plant including a large electric dragline for the open casts. There were additions to railway rolling stock and to the plywood plant. Expenditure was down due to the temporary loss of underground production because of a fire in the East Mine, and the increased use of the opencasts. Income on coal was less due to low priced long-term contracts and a drop in rail freights. The year was dominated by the effects of the war, with reduced production of tin and rubber. The violent fluctuations in these two industries were in the hands of committees and the Collieries wanted to avoid their effects. They had hoped that their sliding scale of wages would help but had been told they were not in the best interests of labour. He discussed the transition of labour from Guilds to Contracts to its organisation into trade unions. He would like a clearer distinction to be made between reform and subversion and a procedure for rooting out those responsible for subversion or trouble would continue. He looked to the Government for a policy.

The fire in the East Mine had been severe and damaged plant, no lives had been lost. There had been a great demand for Plywood chests and they had bought plant to increase production by 50%. It was almost erected by the start of the war. They were able to supply the demand which had previously been met by the Baltic countries but was now lost through the war. They were selling a million chests each year. The saw milling plant had been re-housed and re-equipped. The demand for brick had fallen due to the shortage of cement for construction. The existence of a cement plant now would have been a great advantage to the country. Because of the war they were unlikely to commit any capital to it but limestone deposits were being drilled to test them.

The Colliery had bought a staff bungalow at Fraser’s Hill; since leave had been postponed due to the war he hoped it would be a pleasure to all concerned.

By September imports from Australia had ceased. Many estates had started to bale rubber in Hessian cloth but some had used the MalAply cases. By November the Collieries had achieved record production for the nine months up to September.

John Drysdale had to miss the monthly meetings of J.A.R. and Co. in June and October because of colliery business. In July it was found that since the previous August one of the clerks at J.A.R. & Co’s head office had manipulated the sales records of the Collieries Plywood department to defraud company of $1,200 to $1,500. The police were called, but the investigation was held up due to staff being mobilised with the local volunteers and in the end no action was taken. The accountancy system was overhauled.

Family Correspondence. Bob Russell was sent the minutes at Kathleen's request including all the back copies.

Correspondence from Bob, who was still living in Canada, to Kathleen in January showed was that he worried about H. H. Robbins continuing to sell income-bearing properties. An “orgy of selling” he says. His own income was dependant on the fortunes of the Company. He noted Robbins has not yet sold any K.L. undeveloped land. In March Bob wrote to Kathleen again commenting on the J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. minutes he had been sent, and H. H. Robbins salary of $2,000 a month. With other assets Robbins was receiving the same as a Governor’s salary of about $30,000 wrote Bob, who was still concerned with the selling off of assets. He talked about attempts to oppose H.H. Robbins by William, which seems to suggest that William is now a trustee.

Kathleen sent Bob a copy of a letter written by William to his co trustees. In Bob's reply he seems relieved to find that his worries over H.H. Robbins have been confirmed. He wants to give William his support & feels that H.H. Robbins should be removed as a trustee. Robbins was saying that the trust and the firm are two separate entities and Bob was arguing that the firm was the lifeblood of the trust, and that for Robbins as one trustee to have sole control of the firm was to have too much power. Bob was upset that the war had restricted travelling; he would like to meet Kathleen and William in England. In a second letter he was critical of Delamore who held the power of attorney and felt it should be someone else.

William Gemmill
1941 Archie's debts and legacies are finally paid off.

Malayan Collieries

The Collieries reported a production record for 1940, the highest in the history of the company. The demand was double that of 1939. Demand exceeded supply because of the loss of the East Mine in September 1939. H.H. Robbins presided over the A.G.M. in March. They had decided to set up an insurance for the underground plant against fire or flood after their experience with the East Mine in 1939. Working costs were up due to the increased costs of labour and materials. There was unprecedented demand for coal, which had to be supplied by the open casts. It meant stripping at greater depths, and they were unable to meet all demands. Contract consumers were being supplied at pre war rates; with these coming to an end revenue should improve. Costs were increased due to carrying large stocks against delayed arrivals from overseas. There was a war tax, their first experience of taxation. There was no increase in dividend since they felt they must conserve all resources to meet demand as a duty to the Government and the Empire. Plywood chests were meeting almost the full demand of the Malayan Rubber industry since no products from the Baltic were available. The emergency timber requirements of the Government had set up competition for forest labour, but timber supplies were now on the up. The brick works operated part time but they had now developed a new roofing tile, which was in commercial production. There were no serious labour troubles during the year. They were pleased to be able to deal with the local labour association which had grown in strength. The Company supplied rice to all its workforce at pre war prices and agreed to meet rises in cost of living based on a typical budget.

The Fourth Strike at the Collieries.

The whole labour force of 5,000 Chinese and Indians went on strike just before noon on 7 April. The Company had announced an increase of 7½% on basic wages on 1 April. On 7 April they offered 12 ½%. While the staff labour association was considering the offer a number of men stopped working. The committee agreed the offer in the afternoon by a vote of 31 to 35 and told the company that the men would resume work at 7am. But they refused and production of everything including the plywood factory was at a standstill. The Chinese Consul Mr. Tsze Zau Tsung was called in to help with negotiations between the labour association and the Company, which continued on 8 April. The Opencast men agreed to 15 % but the underground labourers asked for 20%. They blamed the cost of living particularly the rise in cigarettes. The Company then issued an ultimatum, which expired on 11 April. They were to return to work or be paid off and leave the property. The majority 3,200 were agreeable to 12 ½% but the Indian labourers would not return to work. After more negotiations on the 10 April some of the more technical workshop departments returned to work. Late on the night of the 10 April the Company issued a statement, which said that they would give the workforce another chance to return to work and those who did not would be paid off and expected to leave. Any people preventing men from going to work would be arrested. The workforce did not return to work. By 14 April the company withdraw their offer of the extra 5%. On 15 April 1,400 labourers were paid off and 500 told to leave Batu Arang. There had been a surprise raid by the police and large numbers had returned to work.

A letter to the Straits Times notes that workers at Home are “really under control” and pay tax while workers here are paid slightly more (49 shillings a week) and pay no tax and should be firmly dealt with.

In July Major G. St. John Orde Browne labour advisor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies arrived in K.L. and visited several large employers of labour including the Collieries. He met officials before going on to Perak.


Boh Plantations

In February the Accounts for the year showed a profit of $73,175.83. Boh was affected by the labour shortage. In March 50 Javanese recruits arrived, but labour was still short, it was planned to recruit 40 more.

Rates were increased and after a meeting with other estate owners in Highlands it was agreed to grant cost of living allowance of 10 cents, per day worked by both men and women from 1 May as against the previous bonus of $1 and 50 cents per month respectively. It was agreed to increase all retail prices by 5 cents per pound, which would cover the increased cost of production.

Sales: There wa a 8,960 pounds shipment to London in January to complete 1940 contract. There were local sales during January of 40,560 pounds, local demand was increasing, so it not necessary to make more shipments to London.

In March the crop was a record 58,000 pounds. Local sales were also a record of 43,780 pounds. The Ministry of Food had offered Company a contract for 1941 at same price as 1940. The contract was agreed covering 150,000 pounds up to February 1942, but in some months it couldn’t be sent due to the lack of steamer space. 6,000 pounds per month were sent to Australia (Melbourne) and by September local demand was in excess of supply.

They were still waiting for the Government’s agreement on exchange of lands in January. It had made a demand of quit rent on surrendered land of $3,400. This was disputed but in the end the Company agreed.

Boh Plantations Ltd. declared a maiden dividend of 5% on 11th August 1941.

In September Mr. Fairlie, the Superintendent, had joined the Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve full time. The minutes comment: “Mr Fairlie’s lack of consideration of the Company’s interests was explained to Board”


The age limit for Military training as part of the Volunteer force was set at 35, but staff at the Collieries like Thiel Marstrand cut 7 years off their age. However the Government decreed that those at Batu Arang were key people who had to keep working. Thiel recounts how John Draper a fiery Irishman and Major from W.W.1 “ turned up at Batu Arang and formed the Selangor Local Defence Force, with Draper as their captain, and Joe Geddes as platoon commander. Colonel Fletcher was head of the L.D.C. All possible time was used for military training. Their main job would be helping the police maintain law and order, but if the country were attacked they would fight with regular soldiers. Turning up for training on the Batu Arang Sports ground on 8 December they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The response from the Corps was a mixture of surprise, sadness and relief. Singapore was considered an impregnable fortress; there were reports that the air force had dozens of planes in crates. Military training was intensified, and included exercises with the A.R.P. The workforce in the mills and plantations became restless and lost interest in their work. Every day brought bad news. On 10 December the Japanese landed at Kota Baru and on the 12th Penang was bombed. Soon Penang and Ipoh were captured. After Penang John Drysdale sent his family to Singapore. They had brought their children to K.L. for safety from the war at home, only the year before. Thiel was playing tennis when the radio announced the loss of the two battleships Repulse and The Prince of Wales by two kamikaze pilots on 10 December. Increasing numbers of Japanese planes appeared overhead. Air raid shelters were provided and warnings sounded but no bombs were dropped on the village. Christmas was a subdued celebration. K.L. sent orders for all women and children to leave Batu Arang to go to Singapore by car or train. Thiel’s wife and children were some of the last to leave on the 27 December. Thiel guarded the power station doing night duty in pitch darkness due to the blackout. Drysdale's family left Singapore on the SS Orion on Wednesday 31 December to stay with H. H. Robbins family in Australia. They would not be reunited until 1946.
Straits Times 21 May 1941 p12.

1942 Retreat to Singapore
Straits Times 6 and 8 January 1942. The Japanese reached Kuala Lumpur on 11 January 1942
Straits Times 15 & 17 Jan 1942. Don recorded that the last communication was a cable dated 19 January 1942 from H. H. Robbins at Singapore stating that all Malayan Collieries property and Russell Company assets lost to enemy. The British retreated to Singapore on 31 January. Civilians were evacuated from Singapore in February, while suffering bombing from the air. Singapore fell by 15 February.

The Company withdraw from Batu Arang on 5 January 1942. " Mr. Hinchcliffe recalled that sometime before the Company evacuated wages were computed every three days and during the last few days wages were computed every day. When it was finally decided to evacuate the property, wages for all labourers were computed. Pay chits were available to all labourers who presented themselves at the office. The majority of labourers collected their pay chits and money due to them while others , being frightened of Japanese bombing, had run away to the jungle. Mr. Hinchcliffe said he was present when an amount of unclaimed wages was paid over by the Company to two officials of the labour organization at the Batu Arang Police Station. The names of these officials were Mr. Yap Saik and Mr Woo Pin, and when the money was paid, the labourers were duly notified. Those who demanded their dues on the spot were immediately paid. European and clerical staffs were also paid off when the company ceased to operate."Mr. G. Hinchcliffe, a mining engineer at Batu Arang reported in The Straits Times, 19 February 1947, Page 5.

"With the advance of the Japanese late in 1941 the Company's stock of explosives and most of the mobile equipment, including tractors and bulldozers, were taken over by the Military. Principal items of plant were immobilized and the Power Station, sub-stations and main pumping units were destroyed to deny them to the enemy. Most of the European staff were members of one or other of the Defence services." Booklet on the Collieries dated 1950.

When the British Military arrived at Batu Arang they blew up the power station and looting began. The L.D.C. were ordered to take no action. Carrying his rifle Thiel Marstrand went back to the plywood factory to find it being looted and his own bungalow completely stripped. On his way back to the power station the village was buzzed by a Japanese plane dropping strips of paper. The following day the L.D.C. left with the few possessions they had managed to save. They travelled through destroyed estates with rubber on fire, part of the scorched policy of the army. In K.L. they were ordered to destroy as much wine and spirits as possible. The K.L. streets were full of rubble, broken glass and looted possessions. The L.D.C. drove south seeing wrecked cars and trucks all along the road, surrounded by columns of black smoke from the burning rubber estates.

The L.D.C. with Thiel Marstrand marched over the causeway to Singapore with the Argyles playing bagpipes and singing “Scotland the Brave.” In Singapore he met his wife and children again but learned that all their possessions had been lost. He was especially sorry to lose his stamp album. He met with H.H. Robbins who was trying to save what he could of the Company’s assets. Robbins provided the family with some cash. By the morning of 16 January his family left on a ship to Australia.


Don Russell and the Merchant Businesses. The interest from Loxleys London was received a month late. The dividends from Don’s shareholdings were set against his loan account. He requested that half the dividends were paid in cash so that he could pay the interest on the Tienstin and London portion of his loan, the balance going to the reduction of it. Hongkong continued to pay for its own portion. The bank agreed this after the deduction of interest. The Hongkong Peak property was sold for $18,000, but the title deeds had been handed to the bank as security for the overdraft, which had not been repaid, and the bank was entitled to the proceeds of the sale. The Company had a legal claim but decided not to pursue it. In August Don asked for power of attorney over Perrin Cooper to be left with lawyers so that he could sell Tientsin if the opportunity came up.

"John Drysdale was involved in the “scorched earth policy” of the Administration helping to blow up bridges and dredges around Kuala Lumpur, before making his way to Singapore. There he helped to repair the engine of the SS Mata Hari at the request of a “Doc West” and as a result both men were offered passage on the ship and escaped together. They were later also imprisoned together. The Mata Hari left the harbour of Singapore at night on 13-14 February 1942 with 483 men, women and children aboard, hiding among the islands during the day. The refugees wanted to reach the west coast of Sumatra or the island of Java. Unfortunately, Japanese warships arrived off the coast of Banka Island during 14 February. Next day the Japanese landed and captured Banka and the city of Palembang (on Sumatra). Thereby the escape route of the refugees from Singapore was cut off. Japanese destroyers discovered the Mata Hari, allowed the ship to surrender and escorted her into the harbour of Muntok on the island of Banka off the coast of Sumatra. The Mata Hari’s passengers were jammed into the old Muntok Prison and an adjoining building which had been used as a quarantine depot for coolie labour. In March 1942 the prisoners in Muntok were divided into groups. On 15 March 1942 a group of about 65 able-bodied civilian men were sent to the Shell Refinery at Pladjoe (east of Palembang on the River Musi) and put to work loading ships. One of these men was John Drysdale. One month later, on 15 April, they were transferred to Palembang Jail where another 420 men (Dutch and British) were already interned."

Extract from a book of Drysdale Family History by Marjorie Heggen

John Drysdale's notes of his internment can be read on this page.

The trustees of Archie's will continued legal action in the Kuala Lumpur Court. In January it was agreed that the trustees could pay $4,600.00 to the public trustee which was to kept in a common fund for the minor beneficiaries until they attained their majority. These 11 children were Archie's 3 godsons, Phil and Hilda's three children and the five children of Don and Ethel. Kathleen Russell arrived in March with Tristan and stayed at the Majestic Hotel. In April there was special meeting of the executors of Archie’s estate. There was discussion over whether the payments were liable to the Estate or to the Company. Lawyers had taken Kathleen’s marriage settlement and the Swettenham settlement out of the old J.A.R. and Co. partnership accounts and regarded them as an estate matter. In Kathleen’s opinion they should be included in the liabilities of the old partnership. Kathleen asked for more in her allowance and $1,5000 per year was agreed. She later told her son that she received less from Archie’s estate than Pud Swettenham.
The bridle path to Boh through the jungle
Constructing the access road to Boh
Above and below: Excavating the hillside to make level ground for the factory .
Young tea in field 12 south. Photo not dated.

Boh Plantations.

Bill Fairlie arrived as estate manager of Boh in February 1938. His reminiscences can be read here. "When I arrived on Boh there were 700 acres of tea, 100 acres of coffee, but I am not sure of this acreage. There was also a small planting of cardamoms in the ravine by Boh and Central Divisions, a patch of Tung Oil at the top of Field 6 and a few Hemp in Field 5....Shortly before my arrival the original grant of land to the East of the present planted area was surrendered for an equivalent area taking in the whole of Gunong Chantek on the North and West sides. Felling was started at the West end but the terrain was so precipitous that I inspected the whole area - a most exhausting task as it was all ridges and ravines. Apart from the dubious prospect of better quality at a high elevation it was quite obvious that the land was totally unsuitable for any type of agriculture being too steep, poor jungle growth indicating poor soil, wrong aspect and presenting considerable transport difficulties. Fortunately the Board agreed and the estate reverted to the original boundaries."


Throughout the year crops and local sales increased. The coffee area was replanted with tea due to coffee’s low yields and poor prices. J.A.R. & Co. planned to float the estate, they wanted to continue to manage it but not be liable for development costs. They asked A.S. Milne for advice and also asked the bank. Mr. Milne held out little hope of any interest in it. Draft prospectuses were written in August to be shown to the bank and share brokers before they went to the lawyers. The bank and brokers advised against floatation. By November the decision was postponed, and expenditure restricted to a minimum.



Mac and John Drysdale photographed in 1931. Fairlie attributed the survival of Boh estate to McKay who had been A.A. Milne's assistant. He appears to have been known as "Mac". This photograph labelled Mac and dated 1931 appears in John Drysdale's photograph album , but it is not known if this is him.

A colliery booklet dated October 1950 said of the European staff: "Eventually twelve were interned and three lost their lives in attempting to escape. Of the Head Office staff of nine, eight were interned or became prisoners of war four of whom died— including the Chairman of Directors." There is no record of names but the list included H. H. Robbins who died of heart failure in Palembang camp in 20 April 1942. John Drysdale captured with Robbie survived. Don Russell imprisoned in Stanley camp survived. Mr. Hinchcliff, mining engineer at Batu Arang, survived. Mr. James King employed at Batu Arang, was in Changi and Sime Road as was Thiel Marstrand from the plywood factory, neither returned to Malaya after being repatriated. Also at Changi was Jim Darlow from the mines department at Batu Arang and Alun Llewellyn, who survived and returned to work for J. A Russell and Co. Clarkson survived imprisonment in Siam. From Boh the former superintendent Robert Brown died on the Burma Railway. Bill Fairlie's chinese cook was beheaded on the Padang at Tanah Rata, and thousands of Tamil labourers were sent to the Burma railway where hundreds died from fever and starvation.

For history of J. A. Russell after WW2 click here.

Extract from an undated letter from Kathleen to her son Tristan during the war: “Luthje’s Langham Hotel Johannesburg. Saturday

"…I also met a man from Singapore who knew your Daddy- His name is Sir John Bagnall and he is head of the Straits Trading Company. When you Daddy was a very young man probably only about eighteen years old he got his first job in this company & he had to spend all day watching the Chinese coolies wash the ore that carried tin, it looks like black gravel and it is thrown down on a stone floor and water poured over it then it is swirled round into mounds with big rakes by coolies and the tin comes to the top and is taken off like cream. Your Daddy realised that this job would not take him very far so he studied Chinese far into the night with an old Chinaman and learnt the chinese manners and customs and made many friends amongst them. The Chinese are a very clever hard working race and they had made a tremendous lot of money in Malaya so they had influence and power and knew things about the country which was then undeveloped and unexplored- An enterprising young man like your Daddy might find a patch of jungle with tin in the ground but how could he pay coolies to clear the ground and pay for shovels to dig with and then pay for a dredge- The banks wont lend money unless they have security, that is something like house property or shares in a company that you can take, if a man does not pay back in a certain time, or if he fails to pay interest. Your Daddy’s head was full of dreams about taking the tin that he found out of the ground and making enough money to drain the swamps and plant rubber & put in big machines to coagulate it and roll it into sheets. Then he wanted to be able to get the coal that he knew was in the heart of the jungle at a place called Batu Arang, he wanted to be able to get the Wolfram from a hill amongst the mountains on the Siamese border, he wanted to go up into the misty high lands of Malaya where the jungle was almost impenetrable and full of tigers and little bush men called Siamung, which means monkey- These people killed their food with poisoned darts which they blew through a reed. Up here he wanted to clear the jungle and make a tea estate. He wanted to make Malaya independent of other countries, grow her own sugar, make her own matches and he wanted even to go to other islands like Celebes & get gold. Then he wanted to trade with China, carry shiploads of silk & cotton backwards and forwards, trade with Siam in rice, carry tons of frozen eggs, ginger and tea to London. Well your Daddy made friends amongst the Chinese and they with their shrewd judgment thought he was going to be a great man and they could trust him with their money so they lent him all the money he wanted to make start and he worked so hard that he was able to pay them interest and fulfil his dreams one by one- He was not always successful, the match factory came to nothing because the great Swedish match factories who sold matches in Malaya reduced their prices so much that he couldn’t produce them at so low a price, the Government wouldn’t allow him to plant sugar because they wanted to sell their tin to Java & if Java was going to buy their tin Java wanted Malaya to buy her sugar. The man he sent to Celebes pretended there was more gold there than there was to keep himself in a job for two years & that had to be given up. War conditions in the end ruined the trade with China but other things boomed especially the Collieries Your Daddy was able to keep his old father in the greatest comfort and he was able to help all his brothers and lots of other people & he was able to leave enough money for you to go to school and have everything necessary. He was often terribly ill and he often had disappointments but he was ready for it all. If he was alive now he would be planning to start all over again from the beginning, but he would first think how he could give back homes and salaries to the men who had worked for him- he always thought of other people first & tried to imagine what it would be like if he was in their place and because of that people were very glad to know him and to work for him. You are his only son and when you are 21 you will have a quarter share of the business, this will not mean taking a quarter of the profits only, it will mean looking after the lands and the mines and seeing that all the employees are fairly treated and the right men are in the right job, it will mean developing the estates spending profits on new enterprises to take the place of those coming to an end. Of course you cannot start doing all this when you are 21, but you can make a beginning… I have written you all this because seeing a man yesterday made me think of your Daddy & how you would like to be like him if you had known him. This man escaped from Singapore the day before the Japanese entered, there were fires everywhere & the ship he was on was blown up & he was able to swim to an island from which he was rescued later. He says the British Government gave up Malaya because they felt they had to concentrate on beating Germany first & then Japan but he is sure we will get it back before long.”

J. H. Clarkson with his wife.


From 1935 to 1942 the minutes of J. A. Russell and Co Ltd. survive. The directors in 1935 were H.H. Robbins, and Bob Russell, with P. B. Ford for the Company’s solicitors Ford and Delamore. Later Mr. C. J. Chisolm became a director to help float and dispose of the rubber estates and Boh Plantations. Although the Company had had trading profits of $40,000 for 1934, they were at the mercy of the bank that now had control of most of their assets as security for the $6 million debt. H.H. Robbins and Bob Russell had agreed to pay all the legacies under Archie’s will as well as agreeing to reduce the debt to the bank. During this year they dealt with the security for the loan of $525.000 to Don Russell for the merchant businesses, Don having reneged on the agreement he made when taking these on.

Property: The two cinemas in Ipoh previously leased to Runme Shaw in 1932 were renewed from 1936 for 4 years. The lease on the amusement park was for 5 years from 30 April. In June Mr. Shaw was unwilling to pay for repairs to the ceiling of the Isis. Repairs to the Ipoh shop houses were begun prior to selling them off. Repairs to 34 to 52 Theatre Street began in November, and in December planning for repairs to 52-70 Yau Tet Shin Street. The land owned in K.L. known as Kampong Malacca was to have a road built through it. Mining: The wolfram mine at Sintok was developed with new machinery and development work underground. Production was increased; monthly shipments of about 20 tons were sent to London. A failed engine was replaced in October. The tin mine at Setapak had been leased to Yap Tai Ching who had gone bankrupt. Mr. Ho Man taking it over was discussed, as he was working the land next to it. Rubber: Of the three rubber estates, Sungei Tua discontinued tapping in July. The smoke House at Bukit Bisa was destroyed by fire on 4 July, the estate was shut down and the labour force disbanded. Two smokehouses at Sungei Tua were destroyed by fire on 13 August. Mr. Clarkson was not happy with the performance of its manager. Investments: By December the market had improved enough for the company to sell 8,000 shares in Selangor Coconuts.
Above: The Straits Times, 30 August 1935, Page 2
Malayan Collieries' Subsidiary Products.
Boh Plantations. In May a draft prospectus was prepared in order to float the company. In June discussions covered he possibilities of floating it , or borrowing money or selling it outright. Robbins was unable to interest anyone in London in buying it in June, and by July there were discussions to see if the Government would finance it. It was felt that the current figures would not make it attractive to the public. A report was commissioned in September and recommended in October not floating at the present time since in 2 or 3 years it would be more attractive. A further loan from the Government was investigated, and a decision made to privately raise funds to round off the present area and provide for more factory space and accommodation for the workforce. In December the bank agreed to a $350,000 loan at 5% interest on the titles.

Other J.A. Russell and Co. Ltd. Business.

Don Russell's Loan: Discussions continued all year about security to Don Russell for his loan. His house at Mount Gogh had been transferred into the Company’s name. The loan would be split between Hongkong and Tientsin and if one defaulted the other would pay the full amount. The bank wanted a written undertaking that Loxley’s in London would be prepared to pay the full amount. The agreement was held up in May due to legal difficulties, but approved in July.

Rubber: A large order for rubber was received in February. A decision was made to replant 60 acres at Sungei Tua. Bad weather caused low crops in November.

Property: The agent in Ipoh impressed Robbins with his ability to collect rents. Appeals were made against high rates but were unsuccessful. By December it was agreed to ask new tenants for a month’s deposit in advance. The Government offered to buy the vacant land at Cowan Street in Ipoh in July. In September there was an enquiry to buy the Brewster land leased to the Shaw brothers as an amusement park. In K.L. the development of Kampong Malacca was held up by the Government’s lack of interest in the scheme and by the need for bridges over the rivers, which would cost $30,000 each. In August J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. were discussing forming a syndicate to develop the area. The idea of selling the land at Batu Road to pay for development at Kampong Malacca was discussed. The swamp might be sold to the Government as recreation land.

Mining: The engine at Sintok broke down in June and the mine needed a new assistant. It was flooded in August, which reduced production. A Mr. Barraclough was engaged and due to arrive in September. The mine was running at a loss by September due to the low value of wolfram. The sub lease for the Setapak mine was transferred to Ho Man and renewed for 10 years, in January but in May Ho Man died and the whole process was held up. By November they had decided to try and sell J.A.R. & Co.'s Ltd. 's half share and the sub lease outright.

Selling Assets to reduce the debt: In March 4,000 more shares in Utan Simpan were sold, and in April another 2,000. In August there were inquiries for the shares in Klang River Tin Dredging and Kamunting Tin Dredging, and in September 1,650 Shares in Murai Tin were sold. In November they sold 283 Malayan Colliery shares. In December they sold 2,484 Batu Selangor Tin, 8,000 Klang River Tin Dredging, and another 250 Malayan Collieries.

Clarkson and Drysdale were given power of attorney for J. A. Russell and Co. Ltd. in November 1935.
Property in Ipoh rented to the Shaw Brothers: Runme Shaw had acquired a permanent licence for the amusement park, but was not interested in buying the land. The licence for the Chung Wah cinema would not be renewed after June as it had wooden walls and did not confirm to London County Council regulations. The Sanitary Board wanted it demolished and reconstructed but Mr. Shaw submitted alternate cheaper plans for its reconstruction. Designs and tenders were called for. The lease was to be offered for a further 8 years to the Shaw brothers at a monthly rental of $475-$650 in July. In October the proposed alterations cost more than the estimates. Mr. Shaw catered to a “popular price” audience, and the costs were too high. Economies were made but the Sanitary Board would not issue the licence unless the plans were approved. J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. considered that it might be worth building an entirely new cinema. Built in Chinese style, it would command higher rents and deter others from starting another theatre in vicinity. The Isis cinema could be improved by building a new projector room, on a small balcony on the front, to blend with the architecture on the existing façade. Subject to Mr. Shaw’s views increased space should justify increased rent and create return on capital outlay. By November renovation of the Chong Wah plan was passed by the Sanitary Board, the contract entered, and the Company agreed the $18,000, balance was to be paid by Mr Shaw. It would not be completed and occupied till 1938. Mr. Shaw was not interested in buying it.
Property in Seremban: In March number 17 Murray Street in Seremban had to be demolished because it was unsafe. Repairs for other Seremban properties were started in April. J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. estimated in November that the rest of the Seremban property was worth $145,500; they had an asking price of $160,000.
Mining: At the Sintok Wolfram mine another 270 acres of adjoining land was bought. The new mine manager, a Mr. Morel was due to take over at the end of March, but on arrival he found it so isolated that he refused to take up his post. There was a shortage of engineers who were experienced in lode mining. The Wolfram price increased and the mine was making a profit in April, but it was down again in June, and by July and August the situation was described as precarious. $2,000 needed for drilling equipment. In September prospecting and development work was in hand in the hope of finding new reserves. Efforts were speeded up in October as the price rose. But in November the price fallen, and two shipments to London were not sold. Development was speeded up and the main adits were extended but without results. In December there was a large fall in price. 15 tons were to be shipped at end of month. The Company sold its half share in the Setapak mine in March.
Tea: Boh tea was selling at 1 /3 ½p per pound in London in March and the product was becoming better known. It was still economical to ship to London and shipments increased as the London price was better than the local one. Local sales increased throughout the year, even without the expensive advertising campaign. 25 rooms were erected at cost of $5,000 as labour force expanded. The erection of the factory extension was nearing completion. The Kepong (Malay) Rubber Estates Ltd. showed an interest in buying the estate. Mr. Beith, the local manager for group, had asked for a basic price on it for submission to his board. Robbins had suggested $1,000,000 as an indication.
Kathleen’s marriage Settlement. The company assumed the liability for the marriage settlement of £10,000, by June. In July Dolly Godwin asked for a life pension of a larger sum than her $2,000 per annum, saying she had been promised more and asking for £100 to clear her debts. The board refused this request. In November Kathleen wrote suggesting the Company declare a substantial dividend. Mr. Robbins was not in agreement. He had written back saying the situation did not permit it, but had agreed to submit the suggestion to the bankers. The Board agreed with him in refusing, as did the bank. Kathleen was allowed to increase her drawings at a further $500 per year as from 1 January 1937.
Shares were sold throughout the year to reduce the debt: 900 shares in Malayan Collieries, at $32.61 each, 300 shares in Utan Simpan, 1,950 shares in Batu Selangor Tin Dredging in March. 1,400 shares in Malayan Collieries at 43.4 per share and 1,000 shares in Kamasan Rubber in April. 100 shares in Malayan Collieries in May. 4,000 shares in Batu Selangor Tin Dredging Ltd. in June. 1,300 shares in Malayan Collieries in July and another 5, 500 in August and another 400 in September. Along with 4,000 shares in Kepong (Malay) Rubber Estates. There was a return of capital from 100 shares in Empire Hotel Ltd. in November. (Don Russell had once been a director.)

The four day strike at the colliery was considered one of the successes of the Communist Movement. For those four days the colonial authority at the mine was replaced by a "Soviet" established by the workforce. The concessions that were won enhanced communist prestige. In "From PKI to the Comintern, 1924-1941: The Apprenticeship of the Malayan Communist Party" by Cheah Boon Keng, he quotes Dr. Yeo Kim Wah, saying the MCP collected contributions for China's war against Japan, using this to organise Chinese Trade Unions and eventually fusing the ideas of labour organisation with their revolutionary aims.

Shophouse property In Ipoh: By July the Company considered disposal of all the land and properties in Ipoh, K.L. and Seremban for $3,000.000, but no enquiries were received. In August 48 Yau Tet Shin Street was destroyed by fire. The amount of insurance was insufficient and all the shophouses were revalued. A contract for refurbishing 29 houses for $10,000 was made. A plan of the Ipoh property with selling prices was prepared in November. The block containing 50/72 Clare Street was sold for $72,000. In December the capital receipts showed the sale of houses 50/72 Clare Street and the insurance claim for 46 and 48 Yau Tet Shin Street. Theatre and Clare Streets attracted a poorer class of tenants and were slower to reduce rents arrears. They asked their Ipoh agent to replace them with better tenants as soon as the arrears were collected.
Property in Kuala Lumpur: The government’s plan for development of Kampong Malacca did not include a road. A bridge over the Klang was needed. Any development of the area had to private and by April J.A.R. & Co. was approaching other owners to subdivide the area and develop a scheme to the town planning committee. The other principal owners were Loke Wan Yat, San Ah Wing, and the Palaniappa Chetty. The Batu Road area was initially required as a flood area, but by April the Government’s 4-year plan recommended a road through the swamp. In November J.A.R. & Co. set an asking price of $160,000 for their K.L. property: No 12 Batu Road was sold for $12,000. Cecil Street, Pudu Street, and Pudu Road were assessed as worth about $315,000, and Kampong Malacca and Batu Road land at about $500,000. In December they had sold No. 50 Batu Road. In December they decided to buy a half acre block of land adjacent to Company’s area, which would give 7 shop lots, making an unbroken frontage along the entire north side of the proposed new road.
Above: Map showing Malayan Collieries' own railway line through the Rantu Panjang forest reserve. From "The Geology and Mineral Resources of the Neighbourhood of Kuala Selangor and Rasa, Selangor, Federation of Malaya, with an account of the geology of Batu Arang Coalfield" by F. W. Roe. Published in 1953 but based on surveys made in 1941 and 1942.

Property in Ipoh: Blocks of shophouses in Ipoh were sold off during the year, and others were reconditioned prior to their sale. 1/23 Yau Tet Shin Street for $93,000, 2/24 Yau Tet Shin Street for $97,500, and 25/47 Yau Tet Shin Street for $71,900. 25/47 Theatre Street, for $70,200, and 2/24 Theatre Street. 67/71 Hugh Low street, for $39,000, The sales were handled by their Ipoh agent Mr Chong Fatt who asked to be allowed to buy a small vacant lot on behalf of his brother to build a motor service station. Refacing blocks of houses in Theatre Street with a granolithic finish. (“Which after some 10 years have not been able to live down their past “) Minimum prices were set for 95/103, 110/114, 105/127 Hugh Low Street, and for 3/13 Cowan Street, Jalan Masjid Lot 16772, Osborne Road, Russell Street and Chamberlain Road. Six blocks of the back terraces had not been done and had suffered serious deterioration due to heavy traffic in Hugh Low Street.

Several thousand dollars were spent on the reconditioning of Chong Wah cinema which was renamed the Capitol. In June a fatal accident was reported. The fall of the roof delayed completion. 2 or 3 other cinemas were being constructed in Ipoh, “but as long as Shaw brothers continued in control of good class pictures, business would continue to be drawn to Isis and the Capitol.” It was Shaw brothers’ policy to rent cinema halls rather than purchase outright, and they had already entered into long term leases for both Ipoh cinemas at adequate rentals and were considered as men of substance. Construction was completed in July and a new lease signed for eight years. In December Mr. Clarkson complained to the architects about the poor finish to the outside pillars and walls and the balance of retention money was withheld from the contractor until it was completed satisfactorily. Mr. Clarkson met with the chair of the Ipoh sanitary board and agreed a permanent licence for the amusement park.

Rubber: Bukit Bisa remained closed all year but Sungei Tua was developed. There was an outbreak of malaria and some shortage of labour. A number of smallholdings adjoining the estate were bought, and application made to the government to plant 60 acres of forest reserve land. They put out tenders for a new smoke house. By November they built up stock, there was room to store 80-90,000 lbs. They planned a motor road over a 12 mile route to give rapid access to all divisions, and facilitate latex collection, or possibly a wider road to allow for motor cycles and bullock latex carts. New permanent buildings for the workforce were also planned. A provident fund and pay leave and passage for “subordinate Asiatic staff” was started.
Mining: Early in the year it was felt that the future of Sintok was uncertain. Prospecting for new seams had been unsuccessful. Mr. Pascoe was engaged. Shipments of about 10 to 13 tons were sent to London each month. There were no buyers of wolfram in London in April, and they had 50 tons unsold. All development work was cut and production costs reduced. By August they had all sold, the overdraft in London had been paid off, and prospecting and development could resume. The prospecting licence that was due to expire on 11 December 1938 was extended for 6 months.

K.L. property: In Kuala Lumpur they succeeded in selling Archie’s house at Syers/Maxwell Road for $42,000 in August, and the furniture in November for $654.30. Kathleen was not informed about this. 40, Batu Lane was also sold. There was an inquiry for No 28 Cecil Street, the corner house of a block of seven in Cecil Street. They asked for a minimum of $16,000 for each house and $84,000 for the block. There were enquiries for 38 and 40 Pudu Street. The Kampong Malacca area needed access with new bridges. It was hoped that the government might employ people to build roads, but as this appeared unlikely a modified scheme was put forward with access which would not interfere with the traffic in Malay Street and Batu road, but access from Batu Road was unlikely to be agreed by the Sanitary Board.

In Seremban they planned to sell 8-12 Carew Street. 17 Murray Street had been demolished.

The Capitol Cinema in Anderson Road, completed in 1938, photographed in 1949. Thanks to Ipohworld for the picture and the information that the architect was B. M. Iversen and that it was a "comparatively small cinema, showing mainly Chinese films."
Reducing the overdraft: Further shares were sold during the year. This included 9,143 Malayan Collieries, 3,700 Klang River Tin Dredging shares, 46 shares in Southern Kinta Consolidated and 150 Batu Selangor. The Company had a large holding of 421,000 shares in Kepang (Malay) Rubber and decided they could sell about 25,000. The overdraft was reduced by $76,392.41 in November alone.
Mr. Runme Shaw. Thanks to the Ipohworld website for this photograph.
Map of the land owned by Archie Russell in Ipoh in 1925. From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1925. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.
The Isis Cinema , Anderson Road, Ipoh, built in 1932. Photograph 1939. Thanks to the Ipohworld website for this photograph
Map of the centre of K.L. showing Pudoh and Cecil Streets. From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1922. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.

Trustees. Over the year Robbins was arguing that the trustees requests had to be balanced against the financial health of the Company. The Company had made a profit and paid a dividend of 10%. To build up reserves it was planned to reduce the debt to a million dollars. They were prepared to sell all of the houses and land, and mines and rubber estates, and most of the rubber and tin shares. Investments would be made in the development of Kampong Malacca, new rubber if the rubber estates were sold, and new prospecting if the mines were sold.

William Gemmell wrote in May and October about trust interests and how decisions were being taken. Mr. Robbins sounds exasperated in the minutes, which record that he felt that Mr. Gemmill had lost sight of the realities of situation. No decision of the trustees could be made without the agreement of the bank. It was not possible to risk the interests of every shareholder in the Company. Robbins would write to Mr. Gemmill to clarify situation. The interests of the Trust was a majority interest, but not paramount. The Company’s dividend would be in line with sound business principals as the company was so indebted, until the debt was eliminated. Individual trustees could not modify the instructions of the trustees as a body. Trustees in trying to ensure their interests, must not unduly hamper the business of Company. Robbins was coming up to his retirement and wanted six months leave before that, but he delayed his leave because the outbreak of war had made things difficult.

Shares: During the year 13, 000 Colliery shares were sold, 412 shares in Murai Tin Dredging, 700 Jelebus and 25 Kampong Kamunting Tins.
Don's concerns: An extension was agreed for Don ’s loan because of the political conditions in China. Don worried that the China businesses might fail and his income not be sufficient for his needs. He asked for a job with J.A.R. & Co. should that happen. By September due to a large fall in China currency, the interest payable on the Tientsin part of loan was increased. In view of the difficult situation in Tientsin and exchange regulations Robbins suggested that the interest payment be postponed until conditions improved. Don reported that Dolly Godwin could not live on $2,000 per year provided under Archie’s will and asked whether her debt of £100 be taken over by company. Don had personally agreed to help her. £100 paid was paid to him for transfer to Dolly.
Rubber: Development continued at Sungei Tua. The new tunnel type smoke house was completed and replanting continued. In November the decision was made to replant 100 acres in 1940 and the balance of 75/86 acres in 1941 at an estimated cost of $43,750. Malaria on the estate caused problems. In December there were negotiations for a new brick built smoke house, with capacity of 40,000-60,000 lbs per month, at cost of $3,800.
Ipoh The Licence for the Amusement Park being permanent was subject to Mr. Runme Shaw installing sanitary works. He was not prepared to pay $600 a month if he had to pay for their installation. The licence expired on 30 April 1940. In April the 10 year lease was agreed with both the Shaw brothers as joint tenants. They paid a deposit $10,000, rent of $475 per month for the first year rising to $700 in 10th year, and were expected to pay half the rates. They could extend the lease for 5 years at $900 per month and further 5 years at $1,100 per month and had the option to buy the area on or before 30 April 1940 for $110,000. The Isis lease was due to expire on 28 February 1940, Mr. Shaw agreed a new lease for 7 years. Due to a decrease allowed in initial rental he verbally agreed that he contribute towards improvements and alterations “ to maintain this theatre in first class condition and in the forefront of the theatres in the town”. By December the lease had been revised to allow for increase in rental linked to amount that might be spent on structural repairs: $10 per month for every $1,000 expended.
Boh. Attempts to float the Company were abandoned. In April Mr. Milne’s shares were acquired for $10,000, and J.A.R. and Co. had the whole of the share capital. Crops were short of the estimate due to weather and the helopeltis insect. The Boh overdraft of $420,000 was transferred to the Company. In July a bright student from the Government Agricultural School started work at Boh with the job of studying the habits of the Helopeltis bug, so that precautions could be taken with the females at early stages. London continued with good prices and in November sales were made in Australia with better prices than London. By December they had a contract with the Singapore Military authorities for supply of 10,000lbs of tea. Mr Mckay from Boh was lent to Utan Simpan Rubber for about 6 weeks for sum of $400 per month.
Ipoh Houses: During the year houses in Theatre Street were re conditioned and numbers 1-23 Theatre Street sold in August for $80,000. There were enquiries to buy numbers 32-54 and 49 to 71 and a further for 24 houses, and for numbers 26 to 48 Yau Tet Shin Sheet. In April the contract for reconditioning 22 shop houses in Hugh Low Street was agreed for numbers 153-173 and 164-184 at $260 per house. In June and July a contract was agreed and there was an enquiry to buy 12 houses there with a book value $162,000. Three shop lots were sold and Lot No. 16772 in Jalan Masjid. Their Ipoh agent agreed to buy a vacant lot for $5,000 after plans for a service station were passed. By November reconditioning was proceeding slowly due to the shortage of cement, and by December there were no further sales.
K.L. property: 1, 3, 5, 38 and 40 Pudu Street and 16/28 Cecil Street, were sold. They continued to negotiate with the Government over the development of the Kampong Malacca and Batu Road land. Robbins met with the acting British Resident, the Sanitary Board Chairman and the town planner to explain the proposals. If the Government built a road the company might contribute to the building of the bridge to connect to the Ampang Road. By April J.A.R. & Co. were paying for the filling of the low-lying area at the cost of $500 per month. In December the rates on the Ampang Road house were increased. New tenders were sort for filling Kampong Malacca. They considered that $6,000-$7,000 reasonable.

Sintok: Shipments to London were sold allowing development work to continue, especially on a new area on Hill 5, where ore obtained contained a high per centage of Scheelite. Leases were applied for covering a new area. Development continued all year but in October the market for wolfram was pegged by the Home Authorities. In December production was reduced due to a shortage of explosives and it was decided to approach the authorities about the pegged prices.

Other Mining interests: Mining land at Ulu Khol was sold, Chin Chong leases were sold and the Bukit Putch mining land for $1,000. The leases of Bakau Tin Ltd. were sold for $100,000. At Kanching Robbins tried to sell the land while protecting Malayan Collieries rights to prospect for limestone.

Kampong Malacca was the triangle of land between Campbell Road to the north, Batu Road in the west and Ampang Road to the east. The Batu Road swamp area may have been north of it. The map shows the problems of access due to the lack of bridges over the river. Above: From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1922. Right top: 1940, lower: 1937. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.

Rubber: The crop at Sungei Tua increased and 30 tons were sold through Harper Gilfillan in January. Sales were above normal in August. Attempts to make the Government carry out anti malaria works on adjoining state land made little progress, but health on the estate improved. The smoke house was completed in February and was in operation by April, but it was impossible to test it since they could not buy thermometers from England. A new building programme, which would cost $9,000, was needed to erect buildings, which had been put up hurriedly with round jungle timbers in boom years of 1925. The factory was painted, replanting continued, and estimates made for a new shop and crèche. A violent storm in August damaged over 700 trees. In November replanting was held up due to a shortage of labour. The Company made an offer for 300 acres of the adjoining Sione estate. Bukit Bisa was offered for sale.

At New Serendah Clarkson had replaced Bob as a director. They were planning to replant 100 acres since the original trees planted in 1906 were old and had been heavily tapped.

Sintok Wolfram Mine: In January the rate for Wolfram had increased, but the London control Authorities only permitted sales at 50 shillings per unit. The last two shipments had sold at 51/6d, but 1s 6d was insufficient to meet the extra cost of freight and insurance due to the war. A letter was written to London. Robbins said the price should take into account the previous year’s prices and the increased costs due to the war. The November shipment sold for 50 shilling per unit plus 2s 10d to cover the increased costs. The Company bought a Magnetic Separator for the mine, with a view to shipping ore concentrates that would not require separation in England; it would deal with the complex ores now being mined which metallurgists in England showed no desire to handle. Half a ton of ore was kept at K.L for experimental treatment when equipment became available. Samples of red and yellow tab ore were sent to London for a report from the Denver Equipment Co. in connection with ore floatation proposals. The mine was in profit in May but had to bear the costs of driving a new adit, which was connected to the main workings of Hill No. 2 by means of a raise of 100 feet. This would facilitate further development of 25 and 39 fathom levels, without the expense and trouble of pumping. Development was to be resumed on Hill 5 in near future and a new bungalow was built for the mine superintendent. By the autumn there was no longer any steamer space to send the wolfram shipments to London. In December Mr. R. J. Pascoe asked to return to Australia on urgent private affairs. Malayan Collieries had provided Mr. Sinclair to act for him. Mr. Pascoe could return in 2 to 3 months. The board allowed this but were unhappy: “The conditions upon which he would return to the Company’s employment should be made dependent upon his ability to satisfy the Company that it’s interests and convenience would receive more consideration from him in future”
The Isis Ipoh: The new lease for the Isis was signed in January but in August the Ipoh Sanitary Board would not renew its licence unless the building complied with London County Council requirements for cinemas. This included replacing the wooden balcony with reinforced concrete. Mr. Clarkson met officials but could not get the ruling waived until normal conditions returned. He spoke to Mr. Shaw who was in favour of reconstruction even though a clause in the lease increased the monthly rental by $10 for every $1,000 incurred by J.A.R. & Co. Ltd. Plans were drawn up and tenders called for. Reconstruction was estimated to cost $15,000. Mr Shaw would pay half rent during the work. The Shaw brothers occasionally showed an interest in buying the two cinemas and the amusement park. Robbins said the latest price was $300,000 for all three. Rental returns were good, but several new cinemas had been erected during the past few years. Robbins felt they could now accept $270,000, or even $250,000 and avoid further expenditure of $15/20,000 for the renovations. By December the architect was being pressed for final plans. The Ipoh sanitary Board confirmed it would not insist on private parking arrangements for the Isis and Capitol, although these were insisted on for all new cinema buildings of which there were now four recently opened or under construction.
Other Mining Interests: There were attempts to collect income from sub lessees. Nam Pa Yong, was not producing until April, and still maintained the Company had no legal right to claim a portion. Kanching needed a new sub lease, which involved a 3rd party agreement with Malayan Collieries, who wanted the land for the new cement works, and there were extensive negotiations with the administrator of the late Ho Man’s will. (Kanching may be the Taik Hing Kongsi located near Rawang, which was jointly leased by Archie and Ho Man.)

Boh continued to suffer from the Helopeltis pest. Control by biological methods was the real solution but no effective parasites had been found. By July hand collection had the desired results. Demand from Australia and locally absorbed the full production. There were negotiations in London in connection with a forward contract with the Ministry of Food for any excess after local and Australian demand had been met. The terms of the contract were still under discussion in September. 105,000 pounds were offered for delivery up to 13 Feb. 1941, of which 32,000 was already shipped and 8,000 ready to go in September. In July the first shipment of 1,275 pounds was sent to Thailand, 850 pounds to Bangkok in August and another 850 pounds in October. In November, with the permission of the Ministry of Food the Home delivery service was resumed. There was a good response. 8,700 pounds was ordered by local residents for delivery in the U. K. in 5 or 10 pound chests as gifts. It was considered a good time to issue a new prospectus for public flotation but by May the news of the war made it inadvisable and floatation was postponed. The alternative was that the present private company could be converted to a public one. In June the gross profit for the year was $52,462,86. Labour became a problem and European staff were mobilised with the local volunteers for 2 months training. Mr. McKay’s return from England was delayed due to wartime shipping difficulties, and Mr. Fairlie was called up for 2 months training with the volunteers in September. There had been negotiations with the government for 2 years over the rearrangement of Boh’s boundaries. They wanted 600 acres on the eastern boundary in exchange for the surrender of a similar area of undeveloped jungle in more elevated positions, where development was too expensive. It was proposed to surrender another 1,000 acres reducing the property to 3,000, of which 2, 500 acres would be plantable and 1,800 would be planted by end of year.

Ipoh property: The vacant land at Japan Misjid was sold and the commission earned by the Ipoh agent set against the vacant land he wanted for his brother’s garage. It was decided not to sell the two shop houses next to the Capitol in case the cinema needed to expand. Although all the shop houses were occupied it was a concern that better tenants would be more likely to rent more modern and convenient premises elsewhere. The last 3 blocks in Yau Tet Shin Street were sold individually for $224,250: 26-48 in June and numbers 50/ 72 and 49/71 in August. Blocks in Hugh Low Street were sold, Nos. 105/127, (12 shophouses), & Nos. 95 /103 (5 shophouses) 110/114, 95/103, and 129/151. Numbers 140/162 &164/184 at the unfrequented end of the street were sold for $209.500. Numbers 5,7 and 9 Anderson Rd. and the vacant land title no 13286 were sold and a block in Cowan Street. In October tenders went out for the reconstruction of the front and back terraces of 116/138 Hugh Low Street, but the Sanitary Board turned down the plans and there had to be amendments and new tenders. These were passed in November but work had not commenced by December. The Ipoh office was rented out from 1 October and arrangements made to occupy part of the Ipoh agent’s own premises at a nominal charge, thus reducing monthly expenses. Mr. Ng Chong Fatt, the Ipoh agent ,contracted TB and was given 2-3 months leave to go to Brastagi for treatment. His brother took over in his absence.
K.L. Property: Number 42 Pudu Street was sold in January for $24,500 and 12 & 14 Pudu Street in November. In Kampong Malacca arrangements were made with the town engineer to drain the springs and J.A.R. & Co. began to fill the land. Filling work was underway by April with 65% completed by June but was very slow. They applied to the government to subdivide the area into shop lots under the town planner’s plan so that it could be sold in blocks. The Batu Road vacant area looked like it might be sold as one lot.
Seremban property: One shophouse was leased to the Government as a post office. Rents were increased in Carew Street. Numbers 2, 4 & 28 Paul Street, and 7, 7A and 7B Carew Street were sold for $21,000 in a relatively poor position in the town. 3 shophouses in Singapore Street, No. 30 Paul Street and No. 8 Murray Street were sold for $14,014.

Finances In February the profits were $197,608. The bank agreed to a dividend of 12 ½% for year, although Robbins thought it politic to stick to 10% From January to September debts to bank had been reduced by over a million dollars. At the end of the year there was discussion about the bank being asked to withdraw their veto on dividends and the appointment of directors. The bank returned the Trust's shares in the names of all four trustees. Financial arrangements for Robbins leave of absence were agreed and Mr. Drysdale and Mr. Clarkson were appointed as directors.

Shares sold: 140,000 Malayan Collieries, 5x Thabawlick Tin Dredging Ltd. and 1,300 shares in Ulu Piah Ltd.

In October J.A.R. & Co.Ltd. listed all the shares that could be disposed of if the prices were right including: 50,000 Malayan Collieries, Austral Amalgamated Tins Ltd, Batu Selangor Tin Dredging, Barut Tin Field Ltd. and Pajam Ltd, 5,000 Klang River Tin Dredging Co Ltd, Kamunting Tin Dredging Ltd, Kamasan Rubber Co Ltd. Amalgamated Malay estates Ltd. and New Serendah Rubber Co. and 421,000 Kempong (Malay) Rubber Estate Ltd.

Conditions were poor in November, but by December they had sold 352 shares in Larut Tin Fields. 400,000 shares in Kepong sold for $500,221.23, another 20,000 in Malayan Collieries, and the Austral Amalgamated Tin Ltd and Larut Tin Fields Ltd. shares.

Office Lease from the Bank: the current office lease expired on 1st Nov 1940, and they had the option to extend it for 2 years. The new lease was to be prepared allowed for tenancy to continue at the current rent indefinitely after the expiry of two years, subject to one year’s notice either side.

Netherlands East Indies: In June an agreement between Company and a Dr. Jasma in connection with Directorship of the N.E.I. Subsidiary Companies is mentioned but no other minutes describe what this was.

Above: Map of Seremban showing Murray, Carew and Paul Streets. From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1922. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.

J .A. Russell & Co. Ltd made new arrangements to deal with the Collieries.

In January Robbins talked about “ staff matters at Batu Arang and the suspension for the time being at least of the post of Colliery Superintendent. It had been arranged that the Company, as General Managers, would have a representative of their staff in residence at Batu Arang, and he would be responsible for coordinating the efforts of the various Section Heads and ensuring that the policy laid down by the general managers was put into proper effect, this latter having been proved impossible of attainment under the trying conditions of the last year. Mr. Llewellyn had taken up residence at Batu Arang and Mr. Drysdale expressed the view that the closer contact thus achieved had already shown signs of improving execution at Batu Arang and that, with Mr. Clarkson now responsible for general Head Office routine, Colliery, or otherwise, and give the additional assistance required on purely collieries work in this office, he felt confident of his ability to carry on and produce the results at Batu Arang if, unforeseen events between this and then excepted, the Chairman should proceed on his already much deferred long leave about the end of March. Meanwhile staff duties in this office had been re- arranged for the most effective distribution of the work pending a new appointment, which was in every sense urgent. As regards expense, Robbins said that arrangements should be made with Malayan Collieries Ltd. for an additional allowance to cover the cost to this Company of the member of staff detailed for service at Batu Arang as the resident representative of the general managers” In February it was agreed that Robbins would take his deferred leave after the Collieries AGM in March. Robbins said he would go to Australia on 31st March and would vacate 212 Ampang Road. Mr. Drysdale would occupy it from 1st May. But by Nov he still hadn’t gone and was intending to go in December. Mr. Carr from Sime Darby and Co. Ltd. joined the staff in April. There was General mobilisation of Volunteers to deal with Rubber estates strikes.

Rubber: The market fluctuated during the year and gradually rose. At Sungei Tua, they had planted 120 acres. The Government banned all but essential building so work on rooms for the workforce was suspended indefinitely. Instead they purchased building materials for 20 coolie line rooms from Sione Tin Ltd. The lines could be erected on Sungei Tua for $6,500 including latrines and a bathhouse. They would have brick walls, a tiled roof, and reinforced concrete structure and be as good as new. They had been completed by September although delayed by lack of cement. Clarkson wanted more but the board disagreed. There was a high rate of malaria in November. There was a shortage of labour but they were not affected by the widespread strikes on other on Rubber Estates in May.

The Bukit Bisa estate was sold for $104,252.40 to Lim Kim Chuan in October .

Rubber Companies were doing well. New Serendah had a dividend of 10%. Utan Simpan raised its dividend to 15 %. J .H. Clarkson was on the board of both companies.

Wolfram: The Sintok mine was selling approximately 12 tons per month to London although some months there was no space on the steamers. The minutes observe: “ The difference between the controlled price and that obtainable in the USA represented a substantial contribution by the Company to the War effort” The Ministry of Supply had refused to consider a higher control price or an increased allowance as other suppliers (Burma) had renewed contracts at present controlled price. In June, a request was made to the local authority to ship to U.S.A. but this was refused. Representatives of American Tungsten interests associated with the USA government had indicated they would buy the mine output at 70 shillings per unit against the U.K.'s 50 shillings. The Control price was one shilling below the price secured in the year before the war. Robbins found it difficult to “understand the niggardly policy of Government especially when if the Wolfram was not particularly wanted in the UK, the US was anxious to buy it at a price 20 shillings per unit higher than the Empire price pegged by Ministry of Supply by its advisor Mr Isaacs. “If it became the implied policy of Government neither to pay us an economic price nor to allow us to ship to the “Arsenal of Democracy” where an entirely satisfactory price is offered, it would obviously be unwise from a financial point of view and quite unjustified as a patriotic gesture to incur a heavy loss on production and it is difficult, on the basis of the present price, to see how, without incurring such, we can arrest the drift of labour to Government Contract work where rates fantastic by comparison can be earned” Development work was expensive but had uncovered good values. They tried to keep expenditure below $2,000 per month. This would keep development ahead of production requirements. There were increased costs as a result of war and the increasing depth of current workings with heavier expenditure on timbering. After a trial with the Magnetic Separator half a ton of separated ore was shipped to London. Experiments continued in the treatment of the non-magnetic residue.

Tin Mines: The arrangements at Kanching were held up by difficulties over the transfer of a half share in the sub lease. They needed a court order due to it affecting the estate of Ho Man. They finally signed an agreement in October between the Company, Malayan Collieries and the estate of Ho Man to facilitate road and rail access to the Bukit Takun limestone cliff over Kanching mining lands with a 6% tribute to company on the Kanching mining leases, a 50% increase in the tribute rate, and “capable of giving fair returns for some years to come.”

The quota rights for expired mining leases at Peretak, Nos. 2704 and 3634, were sold for $1,000. At Sione a prospecting permit was granted to the company to carry out necessary boring. At Selayang a joint application for an adjoining area was approved to be worked by sub lessees, with a tribute of 5% agreed for ore won on the sub lessee own land and sold under Company’s certificate of production. At Sungei Kerayong the sub lessees obtained a mining certificate covering a new area. Development was progressing at Nam Pah Tong, considered one of company’s two main properties along with Kanching. At Sungei Besi the owners were not optimistic about values, a Small tribute was received.

Don and Bob Russell. In April the debenture bond for Perrin Cooper & Co., Tientsin was placed in excrow with HSBC at Tientsin, so that the sale of property could be arranged in absence of Mr. Russell from Tientsin. In July Bob requested that the script covering his shareholding in the Company should be deposited with his bankers in K.L. Mr. Robbins explained that when he and Mr. Russell had executed a Deed of Trust in favour of the Executors covering their respective shareholdings in the Company which was to be effective “ Until such time as the Executors shall have provided for the payments of the debts due by the late Mr. Russell and of the legacies payable in pursuance of the terms of the said Will” Such provision having been made, the Deed of Trust should now be cancelled and Mr. Russell’s request met.
K.L. Property: In January the K.L. filling contract for Kampong Malacca was cancelled due to shortage of labour. Two blocks at Batu Road were sold in February: Lot No 291 grant 4744, for $62,500. The Government amended the sub divisional plan for the Batu Road vacant lot. Under the new plan the Company retained the equivalent of 126 shop lots. The Shaw brothers, asked for an option on an adjoining block. The Government was still considering the sub division of Kampong Malacca. At Batu Road they had to pay a fee to the Government for sub division, but there were no surveys yet. Mr. Shaw was told the Company would take $50,000 for the adjoining block. But it could not be sold until the revised sub divisional plan was received from the Government. In November the area allocated to Company was 4,400 square feet more than in the previous scheme. Two lots near Malay Street had been removed, which the Company considered unfair , as these were more readily saleable. They tried to regain the two lots at expense of three lots to the North East. The other interested owners could be approached with view to facilitating the general acceptance of the scheme in principal. The Batu Road vacant lot was unlikely to have subdivided titles available this year, due to the pressure of work on Government survey department doing mining surveys. In September they sold 5 Pudu Lane K. L. for $16,000, which was the last of their shophouse properties leaving them with only 2 dwelling houses in Kampong Malacca and the Ampang Road Bungalow.

Ipoh Property: Reconditioning progressed slowly due to the shortage of materials. It was unlikely to be stopped by a ban on private building work in view of the stage the work had reached. Enquiries for sales had fallen off due to air raid precaution activity in the town. In May there was difficulty in obtaining permits for cement. In September Nos. 116/138 Hugh Low Street were sold for $137,000 to Street to Messrs Foong Soong and Sons. The title to Grant No. 17119 was transferred to Ipoh agent and the only remaining block in Hugh Low Street 153/173 was sold to Mahamud bin Wahib for $89,500. In November an amusement Park lot was sold to Foo Yin Fong and Foo Yin Chiew. 3/13 Cowan Street, one vacant lot and 81/91 & 80/96 Hume Street was sold to Messrs Foong Seong & Sons and the sale of the remaining blocks of house property for $182,813.

The Company’s interests in Ipoh now consisted of two Cinemas with two shop house adjoining each, the amusement park lands and one vacant lot, which was in the process of being sub, divided. Mr Runme Shaw had offered $105,000 for the Amusement Park. The Board confirmed acceptance of the offer if the sale was completed by December. It wasn't completed until after the war.

Cinemas: In February the Isis reconstruction was postponed indefinitely due to the shortage of building materials. The Sanitary Board had insisted on the balcony being closed. The licence was issued on this condition. The Shaw brothers tried to get the decision overruled. By July the Sanitary Board agreed to re opening the balcony when the woodwork had been treated with fire resisting compound. In January the Company’s Agent Mr Ng Chong Fatt had resumed duties. By November he qualified for a bonus of $4,000 for arranging the house property sales. His salary and commission would cease from 1 October 1941 since all the house property had been sold.

Seremban Property: In June there was an enquiry for 15, 17 and 19 Singapore Street . They eventually sold No. 17 in July and No. 15 in August. In November there was an enquiry for No. 41 Locke Road for $2,000. This was below book value but in view of the condition of property the board agreed to accept offer.
Finances: By the start of 1941 Robbins could report that JAR & Co.'s debt to the bank had been reduced by two million dollars in the previous year. The bank agreed to waive their power of veto over directors’ appointments and the payment of dividends, on the understanding that they continued to sell assets including up to 100,000 Malayan Collieries shares. In January Mr. Gemmell disapproved of further sale of Colliery shares, but Robbins pointed out that demand for property and all other assets would be slight this year. The Company held M.C. shares to the value of $2,000,000, which Robbins considered, could be sold now and bought back later when they fell in value. William eventually agreed. Robbins had to act for Mr. Beattie to provide a quorum at meetings and William wrote to say that the Articles of Association said Article No 36 must be followed in respect of transfer of shares, he also wanted a provision of 6 months notice to be given by the bank before they called in any debts. By November the bank agreed as the Company had succeeded in reducing the debt to less than one million dollars and their remaining assets represented security of 4 million. Shares were sold, 30,000 Malayan Collieries and 4,000 shares in Klang River Tin Dredging.

The War

The papers noted contributions to the war fund. Mr. and Mrs. Drysdale contributed $20 a month. The Malayan Collieries Club held a Churchill Tank Fund Night and raise $182.

The authorities decided that production figures of any mineral could no longer be published. An editorial in the Straits Times said this was unlikely to damage the war effort but would affect share holders.

In the last set of minutes for 11 November 1941, the work of running the Company took up more discussion. They needed a "special man" at Batu Arang. Mr. Llewellyn’s services might be required there for the whole of war. The office staff position was discussed. There was greatly increased work on the Colliery account. They decided to eliminate all work not absolutely essential. When the war was over and a special man for Batu Arang was found Mr. Llewellyn could return to head office. The range of choices after the war would be wider. A better distribution of work among Europeans could be arranged, Mr. Carr could relieve Mr. Clarkson of secretarial and other routine JAR & Co work, so that Mr. Clarkson had more time for supervision of Colliery routine work at Head office and leave Mr Drysdale more time for Colliery policy matters. Various suggestions were made and would be tried out. Rules for the staff provident fund were agreed. There was European staff fund and an Asiatic staff fund. The next A.G.M. was to be held on 16 March 1942. The date of the next meeting was Tuesday 16th Dec 1941. It is unlikely that it ever took place.

Fall of Singapore. Thiel Marstrand who had worked in the plywood factory at Batu Arang was Norwegian, officially an enemy subject. After making sure that his family was safe he returned to L.D.C. guard duty. He joined a queue of 60 people at the post office to send his savings to his wife via the Norwegian consulate in Melbourne. There was also a Government office, which sent weekly allowances to evacuees that functioned throughout the war. Singapore suffered from Japanese air raids and Thiel narrowly escaped being killed in several of them. Looting began and the L.D.C. were instructed not to be too aggressive. On 9 February the Japanese advanced across the causeway and on the 12th the L.D.C. was told to hand in their rifles, hide their uniforms and become part of the civil defence force. He received a telegram from his wife to say she and the children were safe. He then spent time helping carry wounded soldiers up the stairs at the Alexandra hospital. On the 14th everything went quiet as the surrender was negotiated and Thiel watched Sir Shenton Thomas the Governor of Singapore inform the crowd and overheard him telling an Australia soldier that that nothing bad would happen to him as the Japanese had signed the Geneva convention. The next day the Japanese tanks rolled past the hospital and took it over. At a warehouse the next day he saw Chinese being flogged by Japanese soldiers for looting. The Chinese population suffered the most. The Swiss and Danish being subject of a neutral countries were not interned but no one could leave the city. He was invited to stay at the Danish consulate, where the Japanese did not trouble them. They hoped to be evacuated, but General Yamashito said no Europeans could leave. He said goodbye to his British friends and was not to meet them again for a year and half until reunited in Changi jail. The Danes were encouraged to work on Danish rubber estates under the supervision of the Japanese. He and two other Danes moved to an abandoned house, which his Danish companions filled with local women. He then moved for two months to a single room in Grange Road run by a Eurasian couple, which had a cheap rent. By May Thiel's money was running out, then four of his former workmen at Batu Arang turned up and asked him to return. They had no work and would soon starve. They had the agreement of the new General Superintendent in Batu Arang, Mr. Kuda, a Japanese from the Mitsubishi Company. Since his choice was work or the internment camp he agreed to go back. At an interview the Japanese asked him a few questions about the plywood factory. When he went to say goodbye to the Danes he was told to be careful, as the Japanese had executed two Danes recently.

Return to Batu Arang Late in June Mr. Chichio, a Japanese engineer working for Mitsubishi in Batu Arang, met him at the train station. He told Thiel to be careful because of the garrison stationed at the mine. Thiel and young Japanese, called Marasto travelled in an empty goods wagon sleeping on the steel floor. The train was carrying explosives for use in the open cast mines. He was welcomed at Batu Arang station by a crowd who shook hands and welcomed him back. He was the only European there. His old bungalow was completely empty and dirty. He cleaned the two rooms he wanted to use. The next day he went back to the plywood mill and found nearly all his old office staff waiting for him. They told him to be wary of the garrison but that Mr. Kuda was a nice person. Thiel went over to meet Mr. Kuda, who wanted to help the workforce earn a living. Thiel proposed cleaning all the logs in the yard that could be used for veneer, and Kuda asked that the fitters clean and repair the machinery demolished or destroyed before the British evacuation. The next two weeks were spent cleaning and stacking logs. His previous staff returned including his cook, and Ah Chang the carpenter, who made him a bed, and a clerk brought him a cane chair. After the two weeks of stacking Thiel proposed to Mr. Kuda that the logs be sorted for the next two weeks. Mr. Yoda, Mitsubishi's No. 1 in Malaya, told Thiel he would receive a salary equivalent to half his pre war earnings. Both Yoda and Kuda treated him correctly but the supervisor of the engineering department and the power station, (called Mr. N. in Thiel’s account), was an unpleasant man who slapped the ears of his subordinates both Japanese and local. He also hit Thiel, who reported him immediately to Mr. Kuda, who would not tolerate any beating going on. Thiel would take strolls after work along the Malayan Collieries railway line into the jungle looking for hiding places in case he had to make run for it. Dr. Dasen had stayed behind and lived in a bungalow next to the hospital. The Japanese occupied the European bungalows, but if he was caught visiting Thiel could pretend that he was sick. Some of the Chinese workforce were mediators with the jungle guerillas, and Thiel would hand over cash to support them. The machinery was repaired, and before Christmas Mr. Ukawa, a Japanese plywood expert arrived. A couple of months later he was joined by his assistant, Mr. Kishi. Some time in February - March the mill started peeling veneers and making some plywood, but on a very small scale. Thiel was no longer able to delay the proceedings. They were asked to make roofing tiles to be used for barracks and buildings. Wooden shooks were dipped in latex and covered in concrete. When they were not watched Thiel deliberately allowed a lot of materials to be washed down the drain. At the distillation plant Mr. Hari Harahn produced petrol from rubber that gradually clogged up the cars cylinders. Mr. Ukawa regularly inspected. During his stay at Batu Arang like other civilian Japanese he put on a lot weight because he could enjoy sweet food. He occasionally hit the employees.

Leaving Batu Arang Thiel was eventually told he was an enemy subject and that he would be taken to K.L. Thiel didn’t know what this meant and thought perhaps he would be killed. The workforce came to say goodbye. If he ran then his workforce would be punished. He gave his diary and letters to various clerks in case he didn’t make it, but it was all lost. Ukawa took him to Pudu Road jail, where he told the superintendent that Thiel was a dangerous man who should be punished, but the superintendent let him go as long as he reported to the nearest police station. He wondered if Mr. Kuda, and Mr. Chichio, had pulled some strings? For the next few months he stayed with the neutral Danes in K.L., before moving to the Cameron Highlands to stay with a friend there who had a farm where he supervised the Tamil workforce. He had to report to a Japanese officer who had collected lots of possessions from the European bungalows in the district. As part of his time there he visited Boh that was under Japanese occupation but not being worked. He met a Malay man, who had previously worked the machinery for the Collieries, who had been given the job to look after the machinery plant. When he heard that Thiel was an ex-employee of the Company he was very thrilled and said he would do his very best to keep the machinery in good order till his old masters returned. While at the farm he kept a bag packed for when he should be interned. It included tinned food and a bottle of iodine. Internment. The Japanese when they came gave him ten minutes to pack, but would not allow him to bring the bag. When he arrived at the jail in Ipoh his wristwatch money and toothbrush were confiscated. He was put in a small cell and held there for four days, then sent by train in an 18 hour journey to Singapore. He expected to be taken to Changi but was instead put in Singapore jail in a room with 25 other prisoners for 4 days until he was taken to Changi. He was put into a room with 50 others and met many of his friends from Batu Arang. They looked in quite good health and luckily did not know that the war would drag on for another two very hard years. “The portion of the jail now occupied by the European male prisoners had been designed for housing four hundred Asiatic prisoners. Now the number of European inmates was steadily growing till finally before the transfer to Sime Road Camp in May 1944 the number had grown to 2,884 male internees “ .He was in Changi for nine months. After two weeks at Changi the bag he had packed in the Cameron Highlands arrived passed by the Japanese authorities, with money hidden in the pillow from his Danish friends. On 10 October 1943 the Japanese (Gestapo) military police took over and the camp was searched and some people taken away for interrogation or torture and starvation. Once the Gestapo had taken control of the camp rations were reduced, privileges taken away and belongings confiscated. Their rule lasted till 21 January 1944, when there was more freedom and meetings were allowed again. On 1st may 1944 they were transferred to Sime camp and put in huts with leaking attap roofs. There was regular work hoeing the land for cultivation and more space but starvation rations. By late 1944 the shortage of food had led to swollen legs, the first signs of beriberi. Thiel took up smoking, which stopped the pain of hunger. On 10th May 1945 he heard that Germany had surrendered. But by this time they were all very weak and nearly every day somebody in the camp died.

Japanese Surrender. “And so one day while our little garden gang was working on top of a hill, probably the highest point in the Camp, we heard a distant humming, which rapidly grew in strength, and then high up in the clear sky we saw a big formation of bomber planes approaching. Wave after wave of bombers were heading toward the Singapore Navy Docks. - Oh, how we enjoyed it! We waved and shouted and laughed from pure joy.” Thiel was ten to fifteen years older than others in his gang and was moved to easier work cutting Lalang grass. It contained the typhus carrying lice so they had to submerge themselves in diluted Lysol every day after work. On 13 August he learned of the huge bomb dropped on Japan and two days later the Japanese surrendered. They were told not to leave the camp but people from Singapore were allowed to visit. Thiel bought two eggs for $10 each. They kept working, a plane dropped leaflets with instructions. Gradually people left the camp. On the 12 September Thiel's old company commander invited him to watch the Japanese surrender at the municipality building. Allied troops were lined up on the Padang and Louis Mountbatten received the surrender in front of a large crowd. The national anthem was played, the union jack hoisted and bombers flew over. Back at the camp Thiel found time for pity for the good Japanese he had met like Mr. Kuda, and Mr. Chichio. By 15 September he was on board a ship for Sydney where he met John Drysdale and was sad to learn that Mr. Robbins had died. After three weeks he reached Australia where he was reunited with his wife and children. John Drysdale was also reunited with his family who were distressed to see that his hands were covered in sores. Thiel didn’t return to Malayan Collieries but Drysdale did and later sent Thiel a cheque to pay for the travel from Melbourne to Oslo. Later Thiel received another cheque from Malayan Collieries covering 18 months salary as back pay, and another cheque from the pension scheme set up by the Company in 1940 that had worked right through the war. He kept in touch with Drysdale and sent him a copy of his Malaysian memoirs written for his son.

From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1937. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.
From the Singapore and Malayan Directory, Fraser and Neave, 1940. Thanks to SOAS archives for permission for use.