Sng Choon Yee – the young translator

Sng Choon Yee (孙崇瑜) was 20 years old when he was sent to Christmas Island as a translator to replace William Ryan who had died suddenly. The year was 1917.

In this fascinating recollection, which is part of a transcription from an interview, Mr Sng covers different aspects of his time on the Island. He speaks of his duties, unexpectedly being given the responsibility of acting as the District Officer, the White House Brothel, Ong Sam Leong’s contracting business, an outbreak of Spanish Influenza; to name just a few.

Mr Sng went on to have an illustrious career and received a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1949.

There were tiny little treasures of information missing from the official transcription that I picked up listening to the original tapes. For example, one of the coolie gambling games was fan tan and that Mr Sng drank goats milk each day! Also, he mentioned trachoma caused by the phosphate dust. I added these to the transcription below. Text in square brackets [ ] are my own explanatory words.

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ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW

Interviewee: Mr Sng Choon Yee
Date and place of interview: 5 March 1981, residence
Interviewer: Mr Lim How Seng
Transcriber: Miss Yinly Ko

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION OF INTERVIEWEE

Date and place of birth: 1897 Foochow, Fujian, China
Education: Private tuition in native school, Anglo-Chinese Free School, Raffles Institution
Career:
1909       Came to Singapore
1915-16  Interpreter in Chinese Protectorate, Singapore
1917-19  Interpreter in District Office, Christmas Island
1919-26  Interpreter in Chinese Protectorate, Penang
1926-31  Chief translator in Chinese Protectorate, Singapore
1932-42  Chinese Assistant to Secretary for Chinese Affairs
1946-68  Registrar of Trade Union

LHS: Mr Sng, in 1917, you became a Certificated Interpreter and was sent to Christmas Island, can you recall what was the life like in Christmas Island?

SCY: Before I go to Christmas Island, I was given to understand I’ll get $25 further increase. That made me $100, that is very big sum in those days, you know. And I am allowed to take a Hainan boy along.

Alright, then… I… hardly become an Interpreter in the court for one year before I was sent there. So I never asked people about life of Christmas Island, about former Interpreters gone – each of them had gone there for one year. So then only I asked my cousin, I said, “Hey, hey, do you know who?!! “Oh, yes, yes, yes, just now a Hainan boy, they know that you are to be transferred to Christmas Island.”

LHS: Why you were sent there?

SCY: Because there was an Interpreter. A man that called … Ryan, a European. He used to be an Interpreter. But then for certain reason, European was in charge of Women and Girls Protection Department in the Chinese Protectorate. Each of them had to learn Chinese … they passed Chinese and then sent there. Ryan was Interpreter for years and he died there.

SS Islander
23rd September 1911
National Archives of Australia NAA: R32, CIPC 7/55A

So… they need Interpreter very badly. I was to go, very urgently, you must pack up at once. This Hainan boy has come, he knew. He learned from the SS ISLANDER. The SS ISLANDER is Boustead Company, is the… agent of the Phosphate Company there. So, oh, alright… I… the Hainan boy came and told me, Hainan boy said, “I am supposed to be with you, you registered my name in the Boustead Company then his steamer would allow me to be a deck passenger. But when I go there, I need only $5 from you because other clerks would need my service. Because no other can go there. When Interpreter comes, bring his own servant along, they would come to me and I become serving them. And they together with… only $25 from them. You will pay only $5, I can take on five and they all can live in your neighbourhood.” Alright, this Hainan boy went with me. He is an expert in Christmas Island. So I went by the SS ISLANDER. Boustead Company was the agent. And Boustead Company was the agent of the Phosphate Company. Phosphate Company was developing the phosphate in Christmas Island, the only product there. And… by this SS ISLANDER, it went beyond Sunda Strait, and into Indian Ocean, was a very rough sea.

I arrived there, then was North-east monsoon, so where they had the skeleton … pier, climb up like this  … iron pillars you know … and built on the corals, climbed up. And walked along the … District Officer, a European, met me. I looked up the place, mountain one side, sea on the other. Sea – horizon only, nothing, nothing. And then you see the birds flying, sea-gulls, dell, dell, dell. This isolated place. The Hainan boy told me, “Oh, there are already 2,000 over labourers and Europeans about a dozen and Phosphate Company has a few clerks and they are the supplier of food. And they are the recruiter of labourers. They have their Deputy who becomes manager of the provision stall, the monopoly in the selling of food. You get your food from him, don’t go and buy yourself because once a week you only get meat. You get only $5. That is the food supplied to labourers.”
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LHS: Nr Sng, we come back to your journey to Christmas Island, anything happened?

SCY: During my Christmas Island time?

LHS: No, during your journey from Singapore to Christmas Island?

SCY: From Singapore to Christmas Island, within the Sunda Strait, there was nothing. The sea was very high. We all know that beyond the Sunda Strait, 24 hours, the sea will be topsy, especially it is the South-east, South-west monsoon. North-east is protected by this island and blow against the ISLANDER. Most of the passengers vomitted. Arriving there … I must have covered that but did I say about the outbreak of the Spanish influenza?

LHS: No.

CYS: After some time, a man called J. D. Neils, later became a judge. He was originally (I discovered) a Chinese cadet. He must have studied Chinese in the Chinese Secretariat during Siak Kuan’s time. But he has a wife there and stayed in a place, district office plank bungalow with upstairs … [not clear] South Point, we all stayed here. We have hospital here, we have the European quarters here, the clerks. But when the North … South-west monsoon come, the steamer can not be here, have to go to the other side. So we all had to go up, climb over the mountain to carry the mail. And that was not considered to be a very [not clear] I never go because the district officer would bring his men, that means the guard, the boatmen and the police, and bring the mail here. But the district officer is on this part of the island. So we climbed up here. Prior to my arrival there, there was a European who was formerly the Inspector of Women and Girls in Chinese Protectorate, Singapore. Something gone wrong with him, as a punishment government sent him to Christmas Island to become an interpreter because he speaks good Chinese dialects. And he died there, the grave there. So whenever I go to the district office, when I arrived there, I had to walk along the mountain to the district office. District officer also had to climb, so the district officer, Mr Neils who arrived a couple of years before my arrival there, he started to build a sea-wall here – you can get plenty of rocks there but the only thing, the labour or get the Sikh police to do that. And… I climbed over this. I would pass Mr Ryan’s grave. But I wasn’t so frightened then; it would be terrible for me now. I noticed that the district officer very strict. I have nothing to do, he said, “You come… half past 10 and you go home.”

LHS: What was your main duties?

SCY: As a clerk and interpreter to the district officer. A district officer is magistrate, post-master general, police officer, anything. So he had to supply all the returns when the steamer arrived. Formerly used to be once a month, with the German submarines there so it becomes three months once when ISLANDER brings food. Due to the war, there was shortage of food. They had to burn the jungle and try to attract their attention of Australian boats.

After some months of my arrival, the district officer one day told me, “ISLANDER is arriving. At this mail, I shall be going away, not Mr Sng.” But that day he called me Mr Sng. “Mr Sng, I should be going away for some other duty.” I was shocked but I was not surprised, because I have seen in the library there (for Europeans only, but I was allowed to go in) and found magazines illustrated so many Europeans died. He wouldn’t tell me anything. So he spoke to the European officers of the Phosphate Company (the head of it is a man called old Marie [Murray]), “You take over, take charge of the district office, carry on as usual,” There were hardly time for me to ask him to explain further because in those days, Europeans ‘lawa’ (proud). I dare not, I was so junior. Another thing was that I was so busy with the mails coming in for distribution and going out to collect this people’s remittance to China. This is the most difficult thing – I got to add up, add up. Some Sikh police due every one year they due, half a dozen at one time and then this has to report to the IGP. So I could hardly breathe during my work and … I see his face was very stern, I thought it would be a very sad thing for him so I didn’t ask.

John Davis Murray (1865-1930)
Island Manager 1906-1921
with wife Ellen M. “Dolly” and son J. Grant.
11th August 1911
National Archives of Australia NAA: N29, 1

I didn’t send him off and I don’t know how he got into the boat. European officer sent him, about half a dozen Europeans, engineers. As I was coming back from the pier, this old Marie [Murray] came along. He was an old man with walking stick. He poked my stomach and said, “Mr Sng, young man, you have any difficulty you can ask me.” So I had already some idea because that district officer was always trying to please the Phosphate Company’s manager. And I know we have to report. The report is this that Phosphate steamer coming here taking phosphate and loaded into … by some wooden thing, run down from the mountain into … and then they worked out how many tons. The Phosphate Company has to report this and to pay royalty to London. So we being the reporter of the weight in tons and the royalty is $8.10. We have to work out in pound, shilling and pence which must agree with his (he has his own clerk). That report also has to go into the despatch box sent to Colonial Secretary, Singapore and London will receive his report. The district officers used to play tennis, the only recreation, with Phosphate Conpany’s engineers, the manager, assistant manager and chief clerk – also a European. So when Marie [Murray] told me like that, I said, “‘Yes sir.” I thought they must have reached certain understanding.

And the next boat when the steamer arrived took two or three months. But then how I deal with this, there was rarely any case. If there is anything I settled it in my quarters, plank quarters. I want to live with the… Phosphate Company clerks. All plank quarters in the room. So instead of being isolated at the back of the police barrack I made friends with the Phosphate Company clerks. Phosphate Company clerks, all Babas [Peranakans], either smokers, old people or… drinkers. Drinkers not of brandy, they can’t afford, they only drink samsu [moonshine made from rice mash]. So I made friends with them and they go to the Japanese brothel (there is a Japanese brothel there, they called white-house because it was very white). The Japanese brothel keeper who is a Japanese man never speaks to any of us except he goes to fish himself. A few, I don’t know how many, I think about half a dozen – Japanese, the Europeans go there and the coolies go there, the kepala [mandor], clerks also go there. They find the beer to drink. So I settled any dispute among the labourers. They come before me, I said, “Alright, you are wrong. Can you say you are not wrong? Alright. One bottle of samsu.” Only about 50 cents. The man cannot pay. It’s usually quarrel over gambling den, so cannot pay. I would say, “Alright, I pay.”

LHS: Who were these labourers? Were they Chinese?

SCY: Chinese, all from Guangdong and Guangxi.

LHS: How big was the population like?

SCY: Two thousand odd.

LHS: How many labourers?

SCY: Two thousand odd. European only a handful and a handful of clerks and there are other artisans. Artisans, mechanics and they are not indentured labourers. And carpenters, they belonged to the artisan class. This artisan class, some of them can play very well music. I learned from them there. When the district officer left, the selling of the opium was passed on to the Phosphate Company and Phosphate Company must have passed to Ong Sam Leong.

LHS: This Phosphate Company was owned by whom?

SCY: Christmas Island Phosphate Company.

LHS: Who was the owner?

SCY: They have a Board of Directors of which Sir John Marie [Murray], first Sir John Marie [Murray] was the Chairman, died and then this John Marie [John D. Murray] (another John Marie [Murray]) took over.

LHS: Was this the only industry in Christmas Island? No other industry?

SCY: The only industry is dig up the earth, stir it on the top and by trolley, it goes into the wooden tunnel and goes into the steamer hatch, the boat that carries it. I carried on as usual. Opium has already passed on to Ong Sam … either Phosphate Company or Phosphate Company passed on to Ong Sam Leong and there was no malpractice because we sell opium, $5 per tahil [approx 37.7 grams] whereas by that time I know Singapore, $12 per tahil because the government said the labourers have no other relaxation, we give them opium cheap. No revenue after them. Then allow them once a week to gamble. Gambling farm, I called it. But gambling farm is no other but benches, table, open air with kerosene light and coolies who have some money collected together, five or six, $50 banker and others just stand there and played fan tan. And they had to pay $5 per table or something like that. And that is also called gambling farm. Money paid to Phosphate Company, Phosphate Company passed to Sam Leong, I am quite sure. So I have nothing to do with these two businesses. So I deal with post office, treasury, that is the most important.

LHS: Mr Sng, what was the nature of Ong Sam Leong’s business in Christmas Island?

SCY: He is the supplier of labourers. He must have some contact with the Pagoda Street (coolie) houses and bring the labourers in. The labourers who were fairly … I don’t know how, they must have paid the passage. Let say Phosphate Company don’t charge anything, nobody can go to Christmas Island without ISLANDER. And nobody would be allowed to go there no matter how much you pay except Ong Sam Leong Company men, government men and Phosphate Company clerks. So these coolies don’t pay money for going there.

On arriving there they have the pretty good quarters, corrugated iron plank along the sea beach, very good sea breeze. And the food, very cheap supply – $5 a month. I paid for that, eat that kind of food. Three meals except they go and take themselves. And in the case of they are working in the quarry, they were carried by the trolley up and distributed. In my case, my servant go and carry … my servant is shared among all clerks, each paid $5. So I paid $5 for my servant, I paid $5 a month but I get extra from my servant. My servant said, “Don’t make me cook for you, you pay for that. You get the rice, you get the meat, vegetables, salted fish, but I supply you the eggs and sometimes I took chicken, charged you very cheap.” I get what they call Christmas Island allowance $25 a month, cannot finish. I cannot finish. I save a lot. I get about $70 pay, altogether about $100. I save about $60-70 a month. So all go to the post office saving box.

When the district officer went away, my trouble is when the boat arrived, every report is due. And if the boat do not go to Cocos Island and within three days it must go, then, it’s very troublesome. Police would rush in all the remittance, I must close up bank and report to General Post Office. All the money must go into my treasury. I need not have to send money to … the government can recover this from the royalty there. My money is to pay for the Sikh policemen, 13 altogether, one corporal, and two boatmen and me, mostly officers, salaries and the repair and the maintenance of the building. So it’s a cash vote something of a few thousand dollars in the big safe. It goes to Singapore so that is the most busy day. If it goes to Cocos Island, then that is another week’s time, I have plenty of time. But no, during my time they rarely go to Cocos Island. So it’s always work very hard. But I don’t feel so bad because I was so young. And when I … the steamer comes – ISLANDER, the clerks on board – my friends … and that is the time that I … sink down you know, I get the flying fish to eat the ‘yui chok’ (fish porridge). And the … then only come one day, a steamer passed by along the horizon. Then I called out the chemist, Mr Anderson. The chemist is also a marine man before, he knows the signal. He said, “Mr Sng, there is a signal in the boat there, there must be mail, you must go on board.”
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Arriving on along side the boat, he said they were trying to hang down the mail the rope was down with parcel of news papers. We picked that up into our boat and waved for us to go. We brought back and found this address, Phosphate Company. So I brought to Marie [Murray]. Then I go back to my quarters. I don’t worry. But very soon you see Marie [Murray] sent his men and told me the war is over. Only by this kind that the news come. Oh, there were several copies. The peon passed to me and I read it. I found several copies, all English. I passed it on to the Ong Sam Leong’s clerk. I found he already received from the Phosphate Company; he had passed on to his clerk and the coolie also, kepala coolie. And they all kissed, little did we know they had contracted influenza by then you know. But no report of fever. Very happy. The coolies all came to me instead of to the Phosphate Company chief clerk. They had great respect for me. The coolies liked me very much.

LHS: Why?

I don’t know … because when they had quarrel I settled for them and I fined them by imposing this samsu. And they cannot pay samsu, I pay for them … I only want them to admit. “Do you admit your salah? You shouldn’t have done that. I pay for you, you have no money. I know you all don’t have any money, you lost your gambling last night.” So you see, the coolies liked me very much.

LHS: Was there any incident that the coolies was ill-treated by the kepala?

SCY: No, cannot. The coolies there had open access to Ong Sam Leong Company’s superintendents, they have several superintendents – Baba, who speaks Hokkien.

Ong Sam Leong
1857-1918
Key labour supply contractor to Christmas Island

LHS: How did Ong Sam Leong Company operate the labour trade?

SCY: He supplies the labourer and is given monopoly of the sundry goods shop.

LHS: So when the coolie landed in Christmas Island, the Ong Sam Leong Company still in charge of them? Or they sold … Ong Sam Leong Company sold the coolie …

SCY: No, no, no. No selling. Ong Sam Leong Company just housed them into their respective room. Within two days, this all settled. They soon know each other and … the coolies were told what time you go up by the railway – pumping railway. And there is a trolley to pull you up and a trolley to let you down. And the trolley is operated by wheels. There is an engineer there, let it down. Once it broke, the several coolies were injured. Hospital is near at the bottom of the mountain. There is a doctor there, LMS.

LHS: Employed by Ong Sam Leong Company?

SCY: No, the Phosphate Company paid. And there is a dresser fully qualified, Ceylonese. So several coolies worked as attendants. They have full access to complain for unreasonable treatment of their kepalas. And their kepalas are nominated by Ong Sam Leong. Ong Sam Leong has its own supervisors.

LHS: Ong Sam Leong has an office in…?

SCY: Yes, not only office, a shop. A shop monopolized all the provisions. All buy from him. All the wines and all the cigarettes, Europeans also buy from him. So … there was no unfair, unreasonable treatment. The coolies had never come to me to complain about unreasonable treatment.

LHS: Was there a small town in Christmas Island?

SCY: It’s a small town, you see, it’s just a land along the beach there, flattened out. You have a lot of trees by the side and … the trolley trucks running along the rails. And you go up into the trolley which loads the phosphate or any other goods, you go into the iron … and then there is the signal ‘UP’. Like what you go up to Penang Hill.

LHS: How much were the workers paid?

SCY: I don’t know. Ong Sam Leong certainly made a lot of money out of the … his provision stalls, his supplies at market price, a little bit lower even, controlled by Phosphate Company. Coolies had never … and he sells once a week he slaughtered pigs and coolies can apply a week earlier; I also. But you are lucky you get some meat and a bone; if you unlucky you get only the bones. But there is all … I sometimes get the bones only. So no complaint from the coolies as far as that is concerned.

And the coolies have every month gambling fan tan … Sometimes one fellow will win the whole lot, if he is lucky. And the kongsi, the several coolies got to pay $10 each and that night to be the banker. But this lucky man, he threw two, three tables, he go round two, three tables. We have 10 tables. Lot of merry making, drinking among themselves, loser also enjoyed the drink. There was no … in the case to remit the money to China through me, so quite freedom of sending letters here and there. So the coolie get on very well with me.

Next few days this steamer came, arrived so bring the provision, rice, newspaper, the mail as well as medical supply. We never know that there is already Spanish Influenza (caused) by that bag thrown into the sea, I picked up. That already caused some labourers who catch hold of newspapers; they don’t read English, kissed it. And they all go to Sir John Marie’s [Murray’s] house to congratulate the British victory. They want me to be the head. I took all of them, fired crackers, they all drink, like that, I do not know some of them had already contracted fever, but must be very mild.

This steamer came with the food, with provision thing they buy and eat. And what a hell, you know, as a mail day, closed up, the mail and remittance. I opened up the mail to see – my mail must be the first. All government mails, the first one is from the Colonial Secretary, I quickly opened it. It says, “Now you are in charge of the district office and the treasury and there is money in the treasury. You must provide one, two sureties to guarantee $10,000, made by this boat return.

Number two, failing that, government (he knows how I am going to get anybody to be sureties for me), failing that we will supply you with government trust fund, the guarantee for which you have to pay $12 a month, I get $25 allowance there but I made, .. $10 out of that. But at that time, I couldn’t think because I’d more urgent matter to attend to mails, arriving and all that. So I said, “Do as you like.” I cannot. “Your paragraph, your letter noted. Paragraph one – impossible. I have no friends here. Paragraph two – do as you like.” I finished, signed, sent off. So meaning that I have to pay $12 for the government guarantee. That safe is kept in the district office downstairs all packed like this. No theft at that place. Night time, there is a sentry and who must have returned home after 11 I think, so hitherto there is no theft. And to break up that thing – iron safe, is quite substantial one, is not easy and they cannot carry so easily into the jungle. So I wasn’t worried at all.

Next steamer came, no, before the next steamer came, just two days after the steamer left, my policeman came and said, “Mr Sng, death has occurred.” It is very rare you know, I arrived there, some two, three years, I’ve not seen death yet. Oh, death of four coolies taking bath and died in the bathroom. So as a district officer, I quickly rushed to the doctor. Doctor is at another quarter, I found the doctor was sick.

He said, “I have high fever now. It’s Spanish Influenza; these fellows must have pneumonia and go and take the bath.”

“Oh, then what to do, your medicine?”

“I cannot go.” he said.

“Alright, I ask the dresser [Walter Oorloff] to bring the medicine here, you prepare it and I distribute.”

“We haven’t got medicine for Spanish Influenza. They don’t have it in Europe too.”

“Oh, what kind of medicine do you have?”

“[Medicine for] Trachoma because phosphate dust goes into their eyes. We have got only for ordinary fever.”

I said “Ordinary fever will do”. I go and get the medicine. I get policeman and help to go … basket and … Arriving there I found the … only dispenser, he too also feels bad; his wife also sick. I said “What about the goat, your goat?” He has three goats you know. Supply me the goats milk everyday. But I said I’ve told the doctor, doctor said bring the fever medicine and whatever you have, quinine or what – that time have no aspro and all that, it’s quinine you know. He said, “I’m sick.” So carried him in a stretcher which is meant to carry coolies in accident by my six policemen and the medicine in the basket. They carried to the other end of the island, to the doctor’s house. When I was out distributing, I saw two coolies died further. Before I went, doctor informed me they must have a bronchitis and catch cold because of influenza and they take the bath (they would get) high fever. So I said, “Don’t take bath, you have high fever. Don’t take bath.” This fellow go and carry the basin and carry the water into the coolie’s quarter and put his face with soap. This fellow must have a heart disease and he is so choked, no breathing and died. At that time, I don’t quite understand. “Such a disease, very serious, what kind of sickness is this? Man can die in the basin.” So I just leave that alone and distribute medicine to others.

After distribution I arrived in my house. I found old Sir John Marie [Murray] – he wasn’t Sir yet then, waiting at the house. It was pretty late already, this old man walked from his quarter to my house. He rarely would come to the clerk’s quarter. “Young man, it is very good of you.”

I said, “I just come distributing the medicine and what the hell you’re doing?”

He says, “Very serious, we are all afraid and you will get it yourself, you know.”

But I said, “I cannot do nothing, I am a district officer here. How can I leave like this?”

He said, “I cannot tell you not to do anything. Take care, don’t get it yourself.” That time I was bachelor. I take it very lightly, if I must get it and must die, I certainly not going to have basin, go and take my bath.

Next morning I had very high fever. My servant bring the konji (porridge) to me, I gave him a blow. But the servant seemed to understand. He quickly locked from outside – that time I locked from outside. So I was locked inside my own bedroom. So Sir John Marie [Murray] sent his chief clerk, European, Jackson, he stands far away. “Young man, no, no, no, I come and distribute medicine to you. You take this.” So I took this, quinine and some cough mixture; I took it. Surprisingly overnight my fever gone down, so simple with me. Then next morning I thought I must go out again but the policemen won’t go with me. So I talked to Sir John Marie [Murray], I said, “Now, what are we going to do?”

“Well, we can do nothing, we have no medicine. We have no communication, no wireless in Singapore. We must wait for the next steamer.”

I go and see the doctor; he is a little bit better and dresser has gone back to his room preparing several bottles; I’ve got several empty bottles for distribution among the labourers. I said “You got very, very sick. Don’t come near me. I’m better now you know. You gave me some medicine and some broth into me. I’m alright now”. That was my service to them, impressed upon the European population and the people and they liked me very much.

The next boat when the steamer come, I quickly opened the government mail, and Colonial Secretary’s reply was like that: “Referring to your letter, Attorney-General says you are still underage. Government cannot make use of the public trust fund. So the gazette will be Mr Marie [Murray], Honorary District Officer and you are to serve under him.” I was so happy because it’s not profitable to be appointed district officer of that place. I don’t get anything, less $12. I have to pay, isn’t it? Mr Marie [Murray] says, “I also received the same letter. I don’t know anything. You do all the writing, come here, I’ll sign.” Just carry on. So about that time, I quickly sent the letter, “Usually, a man sent here is for one year and I have already been here one and a half years. Now, would you please send me away because influenza and all the trouble.” And … in came a boat, the next one, a man. Malacca. He came, I thought he must have heard of all the troubles about this Christmas Island. With the glass – monoglass? With a stick, with a walking stick and the law book. “Huh? Is he the district officer?”

I said, “I’m Sng Choon Yee.”

“Ah, you the interpreter here? Mr Sng, I’m the fellow of arts.”
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LHS: Mr Sng, last time you were talking about your request for transfer. Can you continue from there?

SCY:  This man was eventually sent back at the request of the Phosphate Company. And it was lucky enough for me because the boat ISLANDER happened to go to Cocos Islands, And to and from Cocos Islands it takes a couple of weeks or so. So there was sufficient time for us to make adjustments and let him go. And at once I sent the letter out to the Colonial Secretary and asked for another suitable man the man he sent in doesn’t want this place and Phosphate Company objected.

So I have to wait for another several months for another man to arrive. The man arrived but the Phosphate Company won’t allow me to go, held me back in another boat, another trip which means sometimes it is two or three months. And then, eventually I was allowed to go. From there I came and to report myself to the Colonial Secretary’s office.

LHS: Before you left for Singapore, can you describe the scene during the departure?

SCY: That is a bit compliment on my own part, is it necessary?

LHS: Yes, it’s alright.

SCY: When I left that place, not only the Europeans from the Phosphate Company, all gathered at the pier to send me off. Not only the clerks of the Phosphate Company, not only my own policemen, but also the labourers, all gathered there. They fired crackers, I see the hats had been thrown up.

Republished with the kind permission of the Oral History Centre, National Archives of Singapore
Oral history interview of Mr Sng Choon Yee
Accn no.000064
Reel numbers 8, 12, 13 and 14.