Adventure was his Vocation
Frederick Kersey Jennings
1855 – 1915
Militia man, police inspector, private detective, travel guide author, fire brigade superintendent, opium agent, father of six. Frederick Kersey Jennings packed an awful lot into his extraordinarily colorful life.
F.K. was the younger of two sons born in Norfolk, England to William Howes Dundas Jennings, a customs officer for Inland Revenue, and his wife, Anna-Maria Pitts. At a very early age, he joined the Merchant Navy and began a life of adventure on the high seas. It is not known for certain whether his travels with the navy took him to the Far East, but when he was still in his teens he settled in Singapore.
His wife, Mary Stuart, insisted that he quit the Merchant Navy as a condition of marriage. According to family legend, she said with Scottish bluntness:
“Fred, I’ll no marry you unless you leave the sea!”
At the age of 19, F.K. became a member of the Singapore Volunteer Rifles. The Rifles that had been launched 10 years earlier, in 1864, with the support of the Governor, Colonel J. Butterworth, when the outbreak of riots between Chinese secret societies required the formation of a volunteer force to booster internal security.
When Jennings joined the Singapore police, criminal gangs within the secret societies were still rampant and their activities kept the force busy. By 1875, he was promoted to corporal and dispatched a battalion of the East Kent Regiment (the Buffs) to fight in the Perak War while he stayed behind to continue serving in Singapore with four artillery men.
F.K. soon saw action himself the following year, when he was part of the force that quelled the so-called Chinese Post Office Riots of 1876. The colonial government had established a new post office to handle letters and remittances to China. But the local Chinese community, preferring the letter-forwarding business of the towkays (businessmen), rejected this. Incited by the Ghee Hin secret society, the community launched a violent protest and attempted to demolish the new post office. While police battled rioters on New Market Road, Jennings had charge of the Cavanagh Bridge, preventing other protesters from joining the riots.
During his time with the police force, F.K. received a number of promotions and served in other parts of Malaya, including Penang and Malacca, off and on for a number of years. Following his transfer to Penang as sub-inspector, the Penang Daily Times in 1880 commended his “zeal and efficiency” in the capture of a local murderer. Always publicly minded, during his time in Penang he produced a pamphlet containing distances and fares within the town as a service to residents in dealing with hack gharry (taxi) drivers. He also served as warden master elect of the Royal Prince of Wales Lodge (freemasons).
By 1890, Jennings was back in Singapore as Inspector. That year, he also had personal charge of Russian Prince Nicholas, the Czarevitch, during his visit to the region. The prince later sent him a diamond ring as thanks for his service.
But F.K.’s work continued to involve him in high-profile crimes. One such case found him investigating the grisly murder of a Burmese man, who had been stabbed repeatedly in the heart after a disturbance at a local shop-house. He also led a major raid on a large gambling club and arrested 18 inhabitants who the press described as towkays, clerks and bill collectors.
Jennings didn’t play favorites in the line of duty. A report in 1896 tells of how the Inspector took even a man as powerful as Arnot Reid, a prominent Singapore newspaper journalist, to task, charging him with assault…