A Personal Tribute

Although a chapter or two in several books were written about my Father Dato Sir Clough Thuraisingham and his friend Dato Sir Onn bin Jaafar and their roles in the Malayan independence movement, most of them were published around the late 1970s. Little has been written about the long and enduring friendship of these two men, one a Ceylon Tamil and the other a Malay, both born in British Malaya and how this friendship shaped their vision of independence for Malaya.

So why this website? I want to keep alive the contributions of Dato Onn and my Father to early Malayan politics as it seems an unfortunate habit of so many newly developed nations to erase or to ignore some prominent figures of their past or even misquote them now. I hope this website keeps alive the personalities of these two men. Maybe I am exaggerating their contributions to the early independence movement, but I leave the readers to decide this for themselves. We were present during those important times and learnt from first hand the very real problems the two men faced.

I also believe that the information here could show the human side of these two people, long forgotten, with a desire for self-determination for the people in a country made up of different races. They shared a vision to craft a dynamic democratic nation of equals to be held together in multiracial harmony that reflected their own friendship. It could also show the fierce challenges they faced and the hopelessness of their admirable cause. As I knew my Father more than I did Dato Onn, this website obviously describes more about my Father than of Dato Onn.

In this website are my personal recollections of their friendship whenever I was with my Father and Dato Onn. It also includes information from discussions I had with my Father. I have also gathered information from: (1) my siblings about what they knew, (2) news clippings I have kept, and (3) information from discussions I had with my relatives and friends who were privy to this friendship. Whenever possible I have tried to provide references to research I have carried out on the Malayan independence movement.

Dato Onn and my Father were very kind men and loved children. On one occasion when Dato Onn visited my Father at Treacher Road, I was cheeky enough to ask him who he was. Without warning he scooped me up and sat me on his lap refusing to let me go. After a while he asked me who he was. By then I had relented and said "Uncle Onn" and he let me go with a grin on his face. I mention this incident because it showed that my Father and Dato Onn had a wonderful and casual friendship which included having their children all around them while they discussed politics and social matters. They used to visit each other, unannounced, typical of the casual Malaysian style of life. More often than not they wore sarongs which reflected the ease and informality of their friendship. Dato Onn always drank tea from the saucer. Whether this was a political statement against the British I do not know.

There seemed to be an inner circle of political friends from Johore that met for dinner at my Father's house from time to time. They included Dato Onn, Tengku Yaacob (later to be High Commissioner to Britain), Tun Dr Ismail, Dato Nik Kamil, and Datin Puteh Mariah. They all came with their spouses and thoroughly enjoyed the dinners hosted by Datin Thuraisingham. They often requested that we, Thurai's children, play the piano for them (no TV then you see). And so each of us trotted out and played a piece of music previously practised with our music teacher Miss Wyman. Such was the friendship of these men that my Father entrusted the guardianship of my sister, Patmalar then 13 years old at boarding school in England, to Tengku Yaacob and Tengku Maimunah when he was the High Commissioner in London. It was within this small select group of close friends and political allies, my Father told me later, that their strategy for UMNO (and then the IMP) was developed and debated at length.

What is less known is the friendship that my Father and Dato Onn had with Sir Gerald Templar and Mr Malcolm MacDonald which shaped their appreciation and understanding of each others' values, cultures and attitudes. How this affected the outcome I do not know. My older Brother, Balendra, and older sister, Patmalar, were friends with Dato Onn's children (who were older than us). Balendra was also a horse-riding companion to Miles Templar (who was about his age) meeting some evenings at the Selangor Turf Club nearby in Jalan Ampang.

What must also be said is the gentlemanly camaraderie in private that Dato Onn, Tengku Abdul Rahman and my Father enjoyed amongst themselves despite their disparate political views. Tengku and my Father were at Cambridge around the same time and had shared experiences they sometimes reminisced about. When needed Tengku and Dato Onn met at my Father's house which seemed a natural and casual place for them to meet. The three men also had great respect for each other and each other's views, each passionately believing that they were doing the right thing for the nation as a whole. Whether this reflected their shared experiences of having studied in England absorbing the parliamentary democracy practised there or whether this was the norm for men of their generation I cannot say. Tengku was kind enough to order a state funeral for Dato Onn which did not surprise me.

Why were the political views of Tengku and Dato Onn so passionately different? My Father believed that it had its origins in their upbringing. Tengku was born of Malay royalty where "adat" or a custom of patronage required that a man be a kind and responsive host to visitors. Tengku felt that Malay interests had to be preserved in an independent Malaya but the Malays (the host) had the responsibility to be gracious and helpful to the non-Malays (the visitors) to ensure that they were fairly treated [This is probably why Tun Tan Cheng Lok commented that Tengku was a fair man and would look after the interests of the Chinese and that is why he felt comfortable switching the MCA to the Alliance Party]. On the other hand Dato Onn was not born of royal blood and was probably accustomed to the notion that patronage only flowed from the royals. My Father believed that Dato Onn empathised more with the commoner where democracy required such actions to be codified. Dr J.M. Fernando's research on Dato Onn seems to support this belief (see "Useful Bibliography" Reference 13 below).

Thurai's chief law clerk, Mr Devagani, told me about Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman's kind gesture in a fine display of the "adat" tradition  - that Tengku had asked Thurai to deliver the first eulogy at Dato Onn's state funeral in Batu Pahat on 18 January 1962 as "Dato Onn and Dato Thuraisingham were the best of friends".  Dato Onn was born on 12 February 18
95 in Bukit Gambir, Johore Bahru and Dato Thuraisingham was born on 28 August 1898 in Taiping, Perak, both born in the heyday of the British Colonial era.

I have tried to avoid embedding my political views in this narrative but if it does show it would more than likely be a reflection of what I grew up with and what I absorbed from having been privy to this enduring and easy-going friendship.

Dr Thevendra Thuraisingham.

Member (Minister) for Education
Sir Ernest Emmanuel Clough Thuraisingham was a Malaysian of Jaffna Tamil origin. He was born on the 28th of August 1898 in Taiping, Malaya. He was the second son of Clara Meenachi and Kasinathar Clough, a licensed surveyor in the British Colonial Civil Service. As it was the tradition of the Jaffna Tamils of that time, he was sent by his parents to schools in their native Ceylon (now Sri-Lanka). He first attended a primary school in Karai Nagar, Jaffna in Northern Ceylon and then at two secondary schools: first St John’s College, Jaffna and then St Thomas College, Colombo. At St Thomas College Thurai befriended Solomon Dias Bandaranaike and their friendship lasted many years. The class of 1914 at St Thomas College, which both were in, was considered the most successful as many of their students went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England. Mr Bandaranaike went to Christ Church College, Oxford while Thurai went to Selwyn College, Cambridge, both to study law. As good friends they intended to practice law together when they graduated and returned to Colombo. This was not to be as Thurai preferred to set up a law practice in Singapore despite his father buying a building in Colombo for their law practice. Mr Bandaranaike subsequently became the fourth Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri-Lanka).

Sir Thuraisingham went to Selwyn College, Cambridge University in 1919 to study Law and Political Economy and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1922. His interest in practising law took him to Middle Temple at the Inns of Court, London. He was called to the Bar in 1924 and became a Barrister-at-Law.

Thurai, as he was known to his friends, was an avid sportman. While at Cambridge Thurai played Tennis, Soccer and Hockey for Selwyn College. While in London, he played soccer semi-professionally for the Tylehurst-on-Thames Soccer Club in the Berkshire League. Thurai's interest in politics began at Cambridge University when he attended meetings of the Cambridge Union and the Fabian Society. This was an exciting time to be in Cambridge. The golden age of Nuclear Physics and Quantum Mechanics was taking root. And a new economic theory of John Maynard Keynes was to change the politics and economics of much of the world. It is possible that Thurai attended the economics lectures of Professor Keynes as his Bachelor of Arts degree was in Law and Political Economy.

Selwyn Tennis
Selwyn Soccer
Thurai returned to the Malay Peninsular in 1925 and began practising law at Thuraisingham, Pillai & Wong in Singapore. Being close to Johore meant that Thurai could also supervise his parent's substantial rubber estate in Scudai at their request as his parents and his siblings had returned to Jaffna in northern Ceylon. It was during this period that his interest in local politics began to grow. These were interesting times in Singapore with the burgeoning independence movement headed by a local lawyer, David Marshall. It was also during this period that Thurai met and befriended a local Malay journalist, Onn bin Jaafar who had been exiled from the State of Johore for criticising the Sultan. They shared in the excitement of local politics and the politics of self-determination.

Thurai moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1942 to be among his relatives in the face of the advancing Imperial Japanese Army. In Kuala Lumpur, spurning lucrative offers from leading law firms, he set up a law practice in Ampang Street, the local commercial centre of the Indian and Jaffna Tamils, often providing pro-bono (free) legal services for the poorer Tamils. In 1946 Thurai was nominated to the Federal Legislative Council to begin several decades in politics and community affairs.

Thurai's great-grandfather, Supramaniam, was a farmer in Jaffna who enrolled his son, Kanthasamy at Batticota Seminary (which later became Jaffna College). Reverend Kanthasamy had two sons, Kasinathar Albert Edward and William Adam. His sons subsequently became licenced surveyors and went to British Malaya to work (ref 15). Kasinathar's hard work and enterprise, typical of immigrants, was rewarded by a rapid rise in the ranks of the Colonial Civil Service. It also enabled Kasinathar to accumulate sufficient wealth, purchase two rubber estates of about 2000 acres each (one in Batu Gajah, Perak and the other in Scudai, Johore) and be able to afford an excellent education for his children back home in Ceylon, ultimately sending Thurai and his elder brother Balasingham to Cambridge University in England.
Thurai thus came from a wealthy family but, in his own right, was also a very successful and high-earning lawyer in Singapore and Malaya/Malaysia. Thurai did not have to enter politics. He did so because he believed that everybody should have the opportunities he had, and he passionately believed that a good education in a democratic country was a prerequisite for a good start in life. This attitude clearly came from his upbringing as well as from his experiences in England and his exposure to the principles of the Fabian Society at Cambridge.

A E Clough Family Portrait
Balasingham & Thuraisingham
Thurai in the 1930s
Thurai's very long friendship with Onn bin Jaafar began in the 1920s in Singapore, rooted in a common desire for self-determination for all Malayans. They would become not only very good friends but also firm political allies for many years to come [ref 10]. In fact at an UMNO meeting in August 1949 Thurai was the only non-Malay present, standing with Dato Onn [The Straits Times, 29 August 1949  -  see ref 1 below].

Dato Onn and Thurai enjoyed discussing politics and social matters and were often seen together with their families at their respective homes over the years (see photos on right). They both believed in the value and sanctity of the human spirit. To be part of a free nation, to unleash the enterprise of the individual and to create wealth for the common good they believed that all Malayans needed to have a vested interest in their country through a common identity and citizenship.

Although Dato Onn was one of several figures involved in the Malayan independence movement, his role was clearly crucial and undoubtedly dominant. Adhering to the highest standards of journalism, Dato Onn was a journalist of courage, writing and speaking out without fear. He was an ardent critic of excess and was a champion of the underdog. Commanding a great deal of respect among the ordinary Malays, he galvanised them into opposing the Colonial rulers and got them to speak with one voice.

Driving the independence movement, Dato Onn,
 in 1946, became the first leader of the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO). Dato Onn and Dato Thuraisingham together with Tun Dr Ismail bin Rahman, Datin Puteh Mariah (first head of the women's section of UMNO), Dato Nik Ahmad Kamil, Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lok, Mr K.L. Devaser and Dato V.M.N. Menon were among the well-known people in the early Malayan independence movement. Details can be found in Malaysian historical records.

Onn, Nixon & Thurai
Onn & Thurai in the Piano Room
Onn & Thurai in the Piano Room
Dato Sir Onn bin Jaafar and Dato Sir Clough Thuraisingham were together a breed apart, men of principle, humbly believing that they were put in this world to serve others. They were professional men, a journalist and a lawyer, and lived within their means, never to use their political positions to accumulate wealth.
During a period of self-government which preceded full independence from Britain in 1957 and under the multiracial-minded British High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templar, Onn became the first Member (Minister) for Home Affairs while Thurai became the first Member (Minister) for Education, two important portfolios from which they began shaping the future of Malaya.

However their dealings with the British Colonial Administration were complicated. The newly-created United Nations (UN) mandated that colonial powers divest their colonial posessions (i.e. decolonialise) into independent nation states which was in conflict with Britain's vast economic interests in Malaya. The post-war British Labour Government wanted a face-saving way to decolonialise Malaya as their own economy was tilting towards bankrupcy after the ruinous Second World War. A communist insurgency movement was wreaking havoc on the fragile Malayan Federation. A countervailing political movement to represent the interest of each race with its own party within an alliance further complicated the political situation.

Tengku Abdul Rahman, who entered the  national political arena long after Dato Onn did, led this race-based approach and probably inadvertently unleashed the forces of an age-old movement for absolute Malay rights and Malay supremacy that  rapidly gathered momentum eclipsing the moderate voice of Dato Onn among the Malays. Given these circumstances, the wind of change was to set Malaya on a path towards an uneasy cohabitation between the three racial groups. The multiracial dialogue that Onn and Thurai were hoping to take root among the population and expand was becoming an increasingly fruitless one. These events were to contribute to Dato Onn's departure from UMNO in August 1951, deeply disappointed in his fellow members' intransigence on and opposition to non-Malay participation in UMNO. Incidentally the same forces of absolute Malay rights were probably involved in the undoing of Tengku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister in 1970 as he himself was considered too moderate. Tengku's deputy, Tun Abdul Razak, was then chosen as Prime Minister.

Onn & Thurai at IMP Meeting
Onn & Thurai - Member System FOM
Galeri Dato Onn in Batu Pahat
Onn's and Thurai's vision of a multiracial Malaya was predicated on a unified comprehensive educational system. As Member for Education, Thurai presented the Barnes and Fenn Reports on educational reform to the Federal Legislative Council on 19th September 1951 stating [ref 3]: "The Barnes and Fenn Reports are before you and I trust that all of you have read them. The one single factor that emerges from these two reports is the urgency with which all our education must be modelled to create a singleness in our plural society and build on it a powerful Malayan nation". He then implored: "The comradeship among children of all races from a multi-racial school which ripens into friendship in adult years is of inestimable value for knitting together the different races".
 With a mandate from the Federal Legislature, Thurai then created a universal comprehensive system of education at the primary and secondary levels which enabled all school-aged children born since 1952 to receive a free education.

To fund education Thurai proposed that a modest cess or tax on exports be levied, a relatively novel way of funding government programmes. So, as export volumes grow the tax collected would grow in line with economic growth. 

In his capacity as Member for Education, Thurai urged lots of young men and women of all races, including many Tamils, to train as teachers at Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge Teachers Training Colleges in Britain, leased from the British by his Ministry of Education. In his determination to see his educational reforms succeed, Thurai flew planeloads of eager Malayan students to England in then-massive Avro York Transport aircrafts which he leased from the British Royal Air Force in order to fill all the available places at Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge Colleges. These students were to become the vanguard of new teachers within a comprehensive educational system in a newly independent Malaya.

Former students fondly remember their days at Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge.

In the photos opposite are Malayan students at Kirkby Teachers' Training College in the 1950s with their lecturer. Photos courtesy of Professor Godfrey Walters whose father was a lecturer at the College. Click on the thumbnail photos to view the full-size photo.

Kirkby TT College
Kirkby TT College
Kirkby TT College

While recognising the need for social progress, Thurai also recognised that there was a general reluctance to publicly fund social welfare programmes. This led him to become one of the main authors of the Social Welfare Lotteries Bill. Referring to the Lotteries Bill, Thurai stated [ref 3] "Lotteries are here with us and they are being abused, and it is the concern of the Government that it should regularise these things that do exist around us whether it is moral or otherwise, and we have the assurance of the Honourable Chief Secretary that the Government is considering tightening up Lotteries so that every lottery that is run in this country will be used for the benefit of this country and for the country's poor". Despite vehement opposition, Thurai shepherded the bill skillfully through the Federal Legislature. It became law in 1952 and since then it has enabled funding of many social welfare programmes for the poor of all races in Malaysia.

Thurai was also for many years Chairman of the Rhodes Scholarship Board (UK) and Chairman of the Fulbright Commission (USA) in Malaysia, providing scholarships to highly capable students for postgraduate study in the UK and the USA. As the Tamils are a small minority in Malaysia and recognising that the Tamils had little political clout, Thurai unashamedly used these positions to send many Indian and Jaffna Tamil students to study abroad thus ensuring "their piece of the Malaysian pie". This enabled many Indian and Jaffna Tamils to graduate as teachers, economists, physicians, surgeons, engineers, scientists and university lecturers.

Thurai was also Chairman of the scholarship board of the Shell Oil Company during the 1960s and he was instrumental in selecting many highly capable Tamil students for graduate studies in the UK.

Thurai had an interesting quality. He never surrounded himself with sycophants and instead he was very accessible to everybody (many at his home and his office) which enabled Thurai to gauge the pulse of the nation directly. However, Thurai did have a close knit group of friends who were never short of opinions which he respected. They included the kind and gentle physician, Dr Duraisamy (Thurai's best friend), the ebullient Mr Loh Pak Soon (a frequent visitor), affable and benevolent Mr Hichkok-Sayampanathan (his Father-in-Law), Justice Victor Winslow (Sister-in-Law's husband), Eminent Ceylonese Lawyer & Queen's Counsel Mr GG Ponnambalam (his sister's husband), Justice Chelvasingam MacIntyre (wife's cousin), Justice Kulasegeram (his cousin), Professor Jeyaratnam Eliezer (wife's cousin), Mr Shanmuganathan (a frequent visitor and diligent Ceylon-Federation of Malaysia supporter), Illustrious Journalist Mr Manicam Saravanamuttu, Mr Murugesu (his cousin's husband), Mr Chelliah (his cousin's husband), Mr Arunasalem (his cousin's husband), Dr Mylvaganam, Dr Alfred, Dr Jumabhoy, Dr Vythalingam, Mr Viswalingam, Mr Rajasooria, Mr Henry Lee, Mr Lee Kok Chee and Mr Jeyarajah. Thurai's group of Malay friends, Dato Onn, Tun Dr Ismail, Tengku Yaacob and Dato Nik Kamil, were political allies as well.

Some of Thurai's card-playing billiard-playing friends founded the Selangor Recreation Club on one side of the Padang near Federal House in defiance of the Selangor Club which was only for the local British Upper Class and which was on the other side of the Padang. The Selangor Recreation Club (known as the "Club") was managed by Gopal and Wahab for many years. This group of friends did not include Thurai's close Malay friends because the Club was licensed to sell alcohol and cigars. Though only a casual drinker, Thurai was often seen smoking a pipe (a collection of which he kept).

Thurai also maintained a long friendship with Malcolm MacDonald who was the British Governor-General in Malaya from 1946 to 1948 who then became Commissioner-General for the United Kingdom in South East Asia. They seemed to have had a mutual respect for each other's capabilities. In recommending Thurai to be Chairman of the Communities Liason Committee Malcolm MacDonald described Thurai as a modest and affable man, a wholly impartial and sagacious presider over heated debates who eased tension with a spark of humour [ref 10]. Also, Sir Gerald Templar, through his friendship with Thurai, maintained a lifelong interest in Malaysia. Ironically Sir Gerald and Thurai were born in the same year (1898) and died in the same year (1979).

Typical of his egalitarian style, Thurai also had very long-time and very loyal employees. Kind and ever-faithful Mr S. Nachiappan (Butler), industrious Enche Rasi bin Musa (Driver), enterprising Mr A. Devagani (Chief  Law Clerk), Mrs Mary (a superb cook), hard-working Mr Yap Tham Fatt (Chief Clerk) and tireless Thamby (his office "peon"). Mr Ah Seng who provided excellent food services at the Selangor Turf Club for the duration of Thurai's Chairmanship was not an employee but was ever-present and helpful whenever Thurai was at the Turf Club.


Malaya as a melting pot of races.
  While travelling across South East Asia on a fact-finding mission the American Author and US Supreme Court Justice William Orville Douglas met Thurai in Kuala Lumpur circa 1951 to discuss the notion of Malaya as a melting pot of races [ref 2]. He described Thurai as a "heavy-set Indian with gentle manners and a brain of fine texture". Thurai, Justice Douglas said, spoke with feeling about the broad social program the British have for Malaya and the necessity for giving political equality to each race. Thurai then said that great advances could be made if everyone had the right to vote, if all discriminations in the laws were eliminated. But more than that was needed, Thurai maintained. If the school system of Malaya were not reorganized, the races would never be united in one national cause. In hindsight it was unlikely that the movement to ensure Malay dominance would accomodate such an egalitarian point of view.

Vain efforts.  The efforts of Onn and Thurai, to sustain multiracial politics through the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) were in vain. Even their efforts with Parti Negara (National Party), which had placed restrictions on non-Malay membership to attract Malays but retained some semblance of a multiracial movement, were stymied by the ever-strengthening race-based movement led by Tengku Abdul Rahman. Onn and Thurai found themselves increasingly isolated as their fellow party members, such as Tan Cheng Lok and K.L. Devaser, switched to the Alliance Party. 

A meeting Thurai arranged between Dato Onn and Tengku Abdul Rahman at his home in Treacher Road (circa 1953) did not result in an accommodation or reconciliation of the disparate political views of the two Malay leaders. After Tengku left the Treacher Road house, Dato Onn was heard to whisper to Thurai in despair words to this effect: that this moment heralds the end of a multiracial Malaya movement. Prophetic words indeed.

Treacher Road Home
Thurai & Tengku

In 1955, Thurai resigned as Member (Minister) for Education to protest at the ever-increasing racial schisms that were occurring in Malayan politics at that time. Though they remained close friends, Onn and Thurai went their separate ways in politics. Dato Onn continued to carry the multiracial banner through Parti Negara soldiering on against a stiff political wind of race-based politics.

Thurai returned to his legal practice in Ampang Street. With the demise of multiracial politics, he knew that his political career was effectively over. A man of principle Thurai would not join the Alliance Party staying true to Dato Onn. Thurai also objected to the race-based policies of the Alliance Party. Thurai clearly understood that the political role of a Ceylon Tamil was becoming irrelevant and redundant within a Malay-Chinese axis in an increasingly Malay-dominated political arena. In time Thurai found himself inadvertantly cast as an elder statesman because he was often seen as non-partisan and also because he had earlier tried to bridge the differences between Dato Onn and Tengku Abdul Rahman. Thurai's energies, however, were being directed at the many organisations that he was part of or founded.

Thurai was given a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom on 12 July 1955 for his services to Malayan education and country and bestowed the title of Knight Bachelor. Previously, in 1950, he was given a Dato (DPMJ) by Sultan Ibrahim of Johore in recognition for his services to Johore and Malaya. And before that in 1948 he was given the CBE by King George VI of the United Kingdom.

Portrait of Thurai
Thurai's Knighthood

Even though his political clout had diminished after the defeat of Dato Onn's Parti Negara by Tengku Abdul Rahman's Alliance Party, Thurai's role in politics, education and social causes continued. Recognising that economic opportunities for Indian and Jaffna Tamils were limited and their participation in politics were at the sufferance and patronage of the other races, Thurai sought other ways to better the lot of the Tamils. Being Chairman of the Rhodes Scholarship Board and Chairman of the Fulbright Commission enabled him to help capable students, including many Tamils, to study abroad. Also, as a Senator in the Parliament of Malaya/Malaysia from 1957 to 1974, Thurai used his wit and powers of persuasion to provide opportunities for many Tamils. For instance, as Chairman of the Malayan Railways Commission, set up around 1960 to respond to union unrest, he implemented wage increases and recommended changes in safety practices for the better. This action benefitted the employees of Malayan Railways many of whom were Indian and Jaffna Tamils.

He was also chairman and committee member of many other organisations. They include being a committee member of the Malayan Rubber Fund Board, founding member and committee member of the Malayan Rubber Estate Owners Association, founding member and first Chairman of the Totalisator Board, President of the Ceylon Federation of Malaysia, President of the Karai Union, founding member and Chairman of the MAPTB, member and Treasurer of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Chairman of the De LaSalle Schools Governing Board and committee member of the Governing Council of the University of Malaya. He again used these positions to provide employment for many Malayans, including Tamils, and also promote the well-being and welfare of Tamils in Malaysia.

Though a loyal Malaysian, Sir Thuraisingham was proud of his Tamil ancestry. Many Tamils in Malaysia of that era owed their start in life to him. He thus serves for the Tamil youth of today all over the world as one model of service to the Tamils.

In 1959, Dato Onn became a Member of Parliament in the lower house of the Parliament of Malaya, the only representative of Parti Negara until his death on 18 January 1962. Although there have been some belated attempts to honour Dato Onn's considerable role in the Malayan independence movement, many Malaysians still know little about him. Lest there be any doubt about Dato Onn's post-independence political views, in his last years he continued to express to Thurai his desire to see multiracial politics return to Malaya.

Thurai became a Senator in the upper house in 1957 representing the Ceylonese minority and continued in politics and community affairs and in legal and professional matters until the mid 1970s. Whenever he could Thurai used to enjoy spending time in his rubber small-holding in Kuala Kubu Bahru (see photo opposite). In the late 1970s Thurai was still active in and Chairman (28 years) of the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB) until his death on 30 March 1979. Present at Thurai's funeral was the son of Dato Onn, Tun Hussein Onn - the then Prime Minister of Malaysia. Surely a strange twist of fate.

Thurai - MAPTB Chairman
Thurai at KKB Estate 1971
Thurai's interest in horse-racing began in England when he attended the Newmarket races near Cambridge. Upon establishing himself as a successful lawyer in Singapore, Thurai began owning and racing thoroughbred horses there including owning the local champion, Heroden, with Sultan Ibrahim of Johore. So began his lifelong love for horse racing.

In 1953 Thurai became the first Malayan Chairman of the Royal Selangor Turf Club retiring only in 1972 due to his failing health. Thurai was instrumental in the Malayanisation of the labour force which included employing many poor Malays, poor Chinese and poor Indian Tamils as Jockeys and "Syces" with decent incomes and in-house lodgings ("quarters") for the first time in their lives. In addition, having a friendship with the first Malayan Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, and with their common interest in horse racing, enabled Thurai to have some political clout behind the scenes to help many Tamils.

Thurai and Tengku Abdul Rahman jointly owned a horse named Blue Venus. On 7 October 1967 Blue Venus ridden by Jockey Soaidi was placed first in the Six Furlong Class 4 Division 2 race at the Singapore Turf Club in Bukit Timah (see lower picture opposite).

Known as "The Dato", Dato Thuraisingham was popular with the racing public. He enjoyed horse-racing and owned several horses over the years. Many of the racing public followed his jockeys' racing colours of a red cross over a yellow shirt. His horses included Sporting Gesture who won the 1952 Class One, Division One Gold Vase. The reason why Thurai named this horse Sporting Gesture was because the previous horse he purchased from a stable in Andover, England lost every race it ran in Malaya. The stable owner/breeder, when told about this, then sent Thurai another horse as a "sporting gesture". Winning many races to the delight of the racing public Sporting Gesture often became the evens favourite. Despite being heavily laden with a hefty handicap, Sporting Gesture continued his winning spree until another horse, Rubber Planter I, accidently struck its hoof which abruptly ended Sporting Gesture's racing career.

Among the various horses Thurai owned, he was especially fond of two, the six-furlong sprinting champion Bowdler and a champion long distance runner Commotion aptly named because it always created a commotion at the starting gates eager to leap out and often winning by several lengths to the delight of the racing public. Thurai and PM Tengku Abdul Rahman owned two horses together, the champions Blue Venus and Sporting Gesture II.

Thurai receiving Selangor Gold Cup
Thurai at Selangor Turf Club
Tengku & Thurai's Horse Blue Venus Wins at Bukit Timah Racecourse in Singapore
Thurai married Ethel Mary Huggins in 1920 while at Cambridge. Together Thurai and Ethel had two children: twins Rani and Joan. Sadly their married life was complicated by social issues in England and Malaya at that time. Reluctantly they parted and Thurai returned to the Malay Peninsula in 1925 to begin a career as a Barrister. Rani's son Nigel, like his grandfather, is also a lawyer in England.

Thurai spent much of the late 1920s and the 1930s in Singapore building his legal practice. It was during this time that he met Pearl Sayampanathan, a teacher at St Mary's School (Kuala Lumpur), when visiting her uncle (Dr Crosette-Thambiah) in 1929. Thurai also immersed himself in his passion for horse racing, managed his parent's rubber estate, and participated in local clubs and societies.

Thurai moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1942 with his wife Pearl and set up home first in Ceylon Road and then at a house they built at 7B Treacher Road (next to St Mary's School which was at 7 Treacher Road). Together Thurai and Pearl had three children: BalendraPatmalar and Thevendra. Unfortunately Pearl died of a medical mishap in 1947 which devastated him. Thurai bravely took it upon himself to bring up his three children by himself with the help of his father-in-law, Mr Hichkok Sayampanathan, his brothers-in-law, Mr Sathiapal Sayampanathan and Dr Sathiamoorthy Sayampanathan, and his butler, Mr Nachiappan. Balendra and Patmalar are both lawyers and were called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn London. Patmalar's children, Jennan and Jesmini, are both lawyers. Patmalar also did a Masters of Criminology degree at Lucy-Cavendish College Cambridge graduating in 1990 and her daughter Jesmini did a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology at Darwin College Cambridge graduating in 2002. Also Patmalar was the first Children's Commissioner of Tasmania, Australia. Thevendra did his PhD in Fluid Physics at Darwin College Cambridge, graduating in 1976. Thevendra's son Breman was a Mathematics undergraduate at Selwyn College Cambridge graduating with a BA in the Mathematical Tripos in July 2000, which is 78 years after his grandfather's graduation from Selwyn College.

In 1949 Thurai married Thayamani Muthuvelu, a widow with a daughter Gowri (whom Thurai then legally adopted as his child). Together Thurai and Thayamani had three children: RajaChandramani and Meenachi. Thayamani was Thurai's constant companion and in his ailing years she devoted herself to his well-being and care. Gowri was a Banker at Standard Chartered Bank and her daughter Vasodha is a Physician and her son Rudhiran is a Marketing Executive. Raja is a Physicist and was Senior Partner at Accenture AsiaPac region. Raja nows runs Blue Toffee. Chandramani is a Physician and her daughter Nisha is a Physician and her son Arvinesh is a Marketing Executive. Meenachi is a Psychologist and a Human Resources Professional and her son Suraindra is a Physician and her daughter Renuka is a Marketing Executive.

Some of Thurai's children continue his tradition of service to the community while some are in commerce and business.

Useful Bibliography

(1) E.E.C. Thuraisingham: A Malaysian Patriot,  by Professors Joseph M. Fernando, Zulkanain Abdul Rahman and Abdullah Zakaria Ghazali, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 2013, 90 pages.

(2) The Straits Times, 29 August 1949, Page 1  -  Non-Malay At UMNO Meeting. From Our Staff Correspondent PENANG. Sun. ONLY one non-Malay, apart from members of ihe Press, was present at the 12th General Assembly of the United Malays National Organisation which ended today at Buiterworth. He was Mr. E. E. C. Thuraisingham. a member of the* Federal Legislative...
(3) North from Malaya  -  Adventure on Five Fronts  by William O.Douglas;  Pages 97-99  [Publ: Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York] First Edition 1952, 1953.

(4) "Selected Speeches
- a Golden Treasury of Asian Thought and Wisdom; Pages 167 - 182;  Edited and Published by J.V.Morais (circa 1967).

(5) "Viewpoints" by Tengku Abdul Rahman, Heineman (Asia), 1978.

(6)  Sejarah Baru Negara Malaysia (untuk Tingkatan Tiga) by Asraf Awang Sariyan, Dahlan Mansur, Fawzi Basri & Yusoff Iskandar; Pg 13 - 15 [Publ: Analekta, Kuala Lumpur] 1979.

(7)  Malaysia (Dalam Sejarah 3) by M.Thambirajah; Page 9 [Federal Publications, Kuala Lumpur] 1979.

(8)  Kursus Sejarah (Untuk Tingkatan 3) by Professor Zainal Abidin bin Abdul Wahid, Professor Khoo Kay Kim & Encik Muhd Yusof bin Ibrahim; Pages 17-18 [Publ: Heinemann Educational Books Asia Ltd, Kuala Lumpur] 1979.

(9)  Bukuteks Sejarah (untuk sekolah menengah, tingkatan 3) by Abdul Rahman Yeop & Nordin Awal; Page 22 [Publisher: Textbooks Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur] 1979.

(10) Malcolm MacDonald - Bringing an End to Empire  by Clyde Sanger; Pages 278, 306, 309 [Publ: McGill-Queen's University Press]  1995.

(11)  Tawarikh Dunia Baru (Buku Tiga) by Abdul Rahman Ali, N.Rajendra, & V.Rajendra; Pages 10-11 [Publ: Longman Malaysia] 1979.

(12) The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya  by T.N.Harper;  Pages 259, 327-8 [Publ: Cambridge University Press] 1999.

(13)  Malaysia - Making of a Nation by Boon Kheng Cheah [Publisher: Institute of South-East Asian Studies] 2002.

(14)  The Founding Fathers Series - coordinated by Professor Dr Joseph M. Fernando, Department of History, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  2007.

(15)  Cited article by Professor S Ratnajeevan H Hoole under “Clough History” in The Sunday Leader (Sri-Lanka) 

Some Newspaper Articles (to view please click on links below)

Thurai Suggests Faculty of Natural SciencesThurai Suggests Better Deal for Rubber Smallholders
Thurai Against Devaluation of Old Malayan CurrencyThurai on Legality of Claim to Sabah
Thurai's Education Bill in Straits Times 20 September 1951Thurai - President Malayan Estate Owners Association, Straits Times Article 13 August 1960
Thurai's Early Legal Cases1Thurai's Early Legal Cases2
Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn pays respect at Thurai's funeralObituary 1
Obituary 2
Lawyer Charlie Rasaratnam's Tribute in Times of Ceylon
The Thuraisingham Shield - VI vs MBS

(1) The Thuraisingham Shield is presented to the winning team in the Annual Debating Competition between Victoria Institution (VI) and Methodist Boys School (MBS) in Kuala Lumpur.

Other Trophies

(2) The Thuraisingham Cup is presented to the winner of the Annual Public Speaking Contest at St.John's Institution (of the De LaSalle Schools system) in Kuala Lumpur.

(3) The Dato Sir Clough Thuraisingham Memorial Trophy is presented to the winner at a premier horse racing event (in Division 1) at the Royal Selangor Turf Club where Thurai was Chairman from 1953 to 1974 when he retired due to failing health.


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