The Towns of Malaya provides an overview of Malaya’s progress and development, as seen from the perspective of its towns and with a focus on the period beginning in the later part of the 19th century and ending with Independence in 1957.
The starting point for this time period was selected based on the fact that the covered towns were only photographed starting from the late 19th century. Although photography was introduced in the 1850s, it was not widely practised for some decades, until the development of less cumbersome photographic equipment and improvements in photographic chemistry made photography a less onerous and more Widespread undertaking.
The period covered coincides with the time when most Malayan towns developed under the ‘trusteeship’ of the United Kingdom. The British had established George Town, in Penang in 1786, assumed control of Malacca from 1789 to 1818 and again from 1824, and founded Singapore in 1819.
From 1874 they gradually extended their control over the states of the peninsula via the residential system, beginning with Perak and Selangor that year. Though Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Trengganu were under the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Siam until the Anglo-Siamese Treaty was signed in 1909, Siam mostly left town-development affairs to the states themselves.
For many decades, British Malaya was administratively fragmented. Even as late as 1941, Malaya was composed of three coastal crown colonies (the Straits Settlements, made up of Malacca, Penang and Singapore), a federation of four Malay states (the Federated Malay States or FMS, made up of Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Selangor) and ﬁve protected Malay sultanates (Unfederated Malay States or UMS, made up of johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Trengganu). Administrative union was effected only after the major social upheavals of World War 11, and even then, amid protests from many quarters.
The towns selected for coverage in the book number 35 in total and represent three main categories: royal, port and mining; with a ﬁnal category of other towns comprising administrative towns, hill stations and railway or garrison towns. The book employs the names of the towns that were in use during the period under discussion. Several towns‘ names were changed after Independence. In some cases it was a minor spelling change (e.g. Kuala Trengganu to Kuala Terengganu); in other cases, the towns received entirely new names (e.g. Port Swettenham became Port Klang).