Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow


Today’s famous person was also known as the ‘Protector of Chinese’. One of his main duties was to monitor the Chinese Secret Societies. The Protector also held the responsibility for the registration of Chinese brothels, the owner, the Mamasan and the working girls, and inspecting the premises to maintain laid down standards of hygiene and accommodation. Still wondering who this gentleman is? Let me put you out of your ‘misery’…he’s none other than Mr William Cowan!

  1. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Today’s famous person was also known as the ‘Protector of Chinese’

    One detail not visible in that job title: it was the impoverished Chinese folk who had to be protected, from the depredations of the wealthier Chinese — and the British administration.

    No one explained this better than William Cowan himself in a blistering and sustained attack on the government policy of seeking revenue from “gambling farms.” Of course, by the time that sort of gambling was more or less declared illegal in 1912, the government was collecting far more in revenue from its new opium monopoly than it was giving up by abolishing the gambling farms — and lamentably, most of this opium revenue was coming from the poorer segment of the Chinese population.

    Another campaign driven by Cowan was for the introduction and enforcement of the “bucket system” of domestic latrines in Ipoh. Believe it or not, there were locals who opposed him …

    Anyway, Cowan was genuinely dedicated to the cause of the working class. He was not Perak’s first Protector of Chinese but he was certainly the best. Historians have been able to show that due to his efforts in Ipoh, Chinese workers in Perak, both male and female, were safer, healthier, and less poor than their counterparts elsewhere in the FMS. Perhaps Cowan’s upbringing had something to do with it, but that alone may not explain his talent and his commitment. The man learned and spoke five Chinese dialects and truly seemed to love his work. It was surely no mistake that when Ipoh’s poorer residents needed to address him or speak of him, they called him “Kawan.”

    • NCK says:

      I won’t worry myself about the credibility of your account of Cowan, but please explain why you think not taxing gambling dens would protect the lower class populace, instead of the profits of den owners?

  2. ika says:

    Thank you for your interesting account of Cowan. Would you be so kind as to give me a reference for his blistering attack. on government policy as I would love to use it for mt Public Speaking h tuition classes. Thanks in anticipation.

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      Dear ika … Cowan’s sustained attack on the government’s policy re gambling farms was delivered in the form of reports, memoranda, and correspondence he wrote over a number of years. Some examples among the Selangor Secretariat files in the National Archives: 3292 (1909), 3802 (1910), 3997 (1910), 1973 (1911), 3231 (1911). These documents did have their intended effect at the time but I’m not sure how instructive they’d be today in a class on public speaking.

      • NCK says:

        I will let other people, if any of them would be interested, to bother themselves with verifying your claims, but please explain, why do you think that by not taxing gambling dens, the lower class populace will be protected?

  3. Ipoh Remembered says:

    By the way, ika, I should perhaps mention here that the Williams Cowan and Horley were close allies — in the anti-gambling cause, in the advancement of Ipoh’s Anglo-Chinese School, and in other matters.

  4. ika says:

    Thank you for the two replies. That is a pity as I always looking for interesting speeches that my students can deliver to me as part of their education. Yes I am aware of the relationship between Cowan and Horly and the good that came out of it.

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      I always looking for interesting speeches that my students can deliver to me as part of their education.

      I wonder if there are Times of Malaya editorials that you might use. They are not speeches as such, but they are a way to teach history and public policy as well as elocution; and Jack Jennings certainly was eloquent in his defense of Ipoh and its people, especially the less fortunate among them.

      One specific item that immediately comes to mind (and, as far as I know, has not been much remarked upon) is what the Times published about the decision to re-locate Ipoh’s hospital further away from where the poorer classes lived. This would have appeared in April or May, 1914. I’m sorry to say I do not have a copy at hand, but I do remember that the Malayan Tribune described the idea as “a monstrous proposition,” “one of the most heartless — not to say actually wanton — acts of oppression of the poor it has ever been our lot to deal with.”

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