Tuesday, August 17, 2010

McNair Street

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MacNair Street is located between Magazine Road and Sandilands Street. The thoroughfare in the 7 Street Precinct , it run parallel to Jalan CY Choy and Jalan Gurdruwara, running vertically from north to south, crossing the 2nd street to 7th street, namely Noordin Street(2nd), Presgrave Street(3rd), Tye Sin Street(4th), Macalum Street(5th), Katz Street(6th), Cecil Street(7th).

The Chinese called it " thaû-tiaû-lor- hoai-kei(頭條路橫街)". Hoai-kei means side road or side street, thau-tiau-lor means 1st street, thao-tiaû-lor- hoai-kei means the side road of 1st street or the side road of Magazine Road.

Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair, RA, CMG, FRGS, AMICE(b 1828 – d 1910)

McNair Street of Penang was named after Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair, the acting Lieutenant-Governor of Penang between 1881 and 1884. He was in Penang from 1881 to 1884.

After Archibald Anson retired as Lieutenant Governor in 1881, Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair became Acting Lieutenant Governor from 1881 to 1884 and was also the Resident Councillor of Penang in 1884. He retired the same year, in 1884. When urban renewal took place in the Seven Streets Precinct, one of the streets was named McNair Street, named after him.

He was the first Comptroller of Indian Convicts from 1857 to 1873.


1828 - McNair, who was born at Bath, England on 23 October 1828. He was the eldest son of Major Robert MacNair, Staff Officer, London.

McNair was educated at King's College London and at the School of Mines. McNair's childhood was filled with the study of geology. Over time he amassed a large collection of metals. He later had this transported to Madras where he was to begin his first job.

India: 1845-1850

1845- became an employee of the British East India Company at the age of 17, Madras(Royal) Artillery on 8th June 1845(source: Allen's Indian Mail, 1846 pg 156); and on 13th Dec 1845 he was Second Lieutenant, (source: The India office and Burma office list, 1851, Great Britain. India Office. Pg 36).

1846 - He was posted to Madras, India, where he became fluent in Hindustani.

1850 - He was employed with his battery in India until 1850. Sent to Europe on medical leave(ref source: Allen's Indian mail, and register of intelligence for British and foreign India, China, and all parts of the East, Volume 8, 1850, pg 422)

Malacca: 1853-1854

1853 - In 1853, McNair was posted to Malacca, Malaya working for the Madras Native Artillery under J.B. Westerhout, who was then the adviser to the government of the Straits Settlement.

2nd Lieutenant McNair was granted extension of leave on 2nd March 1853 for 3 months(source: Allen's Indian mail, and register of intelligence for British and foreign India, china, and all parts of the east. vol. xi.(1853) pg 148)

He was First lieutenant on 13-8-1853(source: The India office and Burma office list, by Great Britain. India Office, pg 48).

August 17th & 24th 1853, East India House, reported that he was permitted to return to their duty(allen's Indian mail, and register of intelligence for British and foreign India, china, and all parts of the east. vol. xi., 1953 pg 530)

1854 - Lt JFA McNair returned to duty(ALLEN'S INDIAN MAIL(1854), by H. ALLEN AND CO., pg 69)

Labuan: 1855-1856

In the 1840s the previously-uninhabited island was proposed as a base for British operations against piracy in the South China Sea. The Sultan of Brunei ceded Labuan to Britain in 1846, and the island became a Crown Colony in 1848. In 1849 the Eastern Archipelago Company became the first of many companies trying to exploit its coal deposits and establish it as a coaling station for the China trade. James Brooke was appointed first commander-in-chief and Governor of the territory. When Lt. McNair posted to Labuan, Hugh Low(b 1824-d 1905)was there, he was first Colonial Secretary (1848-1850), Police Magistrate (1850-1877)of Labuan(some reported he also become the Governor of Labuan from 1866 to 1867). Hugh Low was a keen botanist, and Lt. Mc Nair was a keen geologist, together they collect valuable information for their respective scientific interest.

1854 – The Strait Time announced the departure from Singapore date 26-12-1854, Mc Nair and Mrs Mac Nair, and family were the passengers from Sydney to Labuan(The Straits Times, 2 January 1855, Page 4). When he was posted to Labuan to take charge of the Artillery, he traveled all over Borneo and collected valuable shells which are now in the British Museum.

1855 - Arrived at Labuan

Singapore 1857 - 1861

1856 - Allen's Indian Mail dated 20th March 1856, Lt. McNair qualified as surveyor and civil engineer on Jan 26th, 1856(source: Allen's Indian Mail, and Register of Intelligence for British and Foreign India, China, and All Parts of the East(1856),by wm. h. allen and co., pg 167). He was member of Institute of Civil Engineers, UK(AMICE).

He was appointed as staff officer, and subsequently adjutant of artillery for Strait district

1857 –
He was transferred to Singapore, to be the private secretary and aide-de-camp to the Governor of the Straits Settlements, who at that time would be Edmund Augustus Blundell.

When the Indian Mutiny started in India in 1857, McNair was appointed Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore). He was also in charge of Public Works and the Oriental Soul.

McNair studied Hindustani and was fluent in it. This was indeed advantageous as he could converse with the Indian convicts. There were a large number of convicts who were housed in the grounds opposite the present Asian Arts Museum (the former St Joseph's Institution) at Bras Basah Road. He had only one Assistant, a European warden because the petty officers were selected amongst the convicts themselves.
The convicts made tools for use in different trades. The Indian convicts constructed the long roads across Singapore. They helped to build the St Andrews Cathedral and the Government House (the Istana).

In Dec, 1857 he became the Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in the Straits Settlements, with responsibilities over Penang, Malacca and Singapore. He was also in charged of Public Works and the Jail in Singapore. He succeed Colonel McPherson. His fluency in Hindustani enabled him to converse well with the Indian convicts, some of whom was given charge over the other prisoners as only McNair and his assistant were officers. He documented his experiences in managing prisons in Malaya in the book Prisoners Their Own Warders. as the Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in the Straits Settlements. He was also in charge of Public Works and the Oriental Goal in Singapore.
He has also a place in our his as the engineer who was in charge for the construction of the Government House (now the Istana) and St Andrew's Cathedral – one of present – day Singapore's landmarks.

1858 - He was promoted to the rank of Second Captain on 27th August 1858(source: Bulletins and other state intelligence, Part 1(1862), complied from London Gazette, pg 839)

1861 - In 1861, McNair went to England and learn photography to take pictures of Indian convicts.

1863 - The Army Gazette dated 17th Nov 1863 from War Office , Pall Mall reported that Second Captain was promoted to the rank of Captain on 1st Sept 1863(source: The United service magazine, Part 3(1864),by H. Colburn, pg 625). He was also with Department of Public Work

1865-1867 England

1865 - He returned to England, and was the deputy governor in charge of public work at working prison. The Army Gazette, War office, Pall Mall dated 10-4-1866 reported Captain JFA McNair was promoted to local rank of Brevet Major in India, on 13-12-1865(The United service magazine,by H. Colburn, 1866; pg 149-150).

Singapore 1867 -1881

1867 - When the control of the Straits Settlements was transferred from the India Office to the Colonial Office, London in 1867. He returned from England to Singapore again in 1867 and accompanied the new Governor, Harry Ord.

He was appointed as the Colonial Engineer on 14-2-1867, his main task was to build the Water Works. There were several failures in this project and finally through his efforts, water ran through the pipes. He was also the Controller of Convicts, and appointed as member of Legislative Council of the Colony. The Legislative Council consist of 10 members plus the Governor of Strait Settlement. The official members included Chief Engineer/Colonial Engineer, The Auditor- General, Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary, Treasurer, & Auditor General. Unofficial Members are Two Members for Singapore, One for Penang, One for Malacca and Clerk of the Council. The Chief Engineer of Strait Settlement was in charge of Public Work in Singapore. Surveyor General and Colonial Engineer was separate appointments until 1870.

1868 - Still a Colonial Engineer and Comptroller of Convicts(source: The Handbook of the year, by G.H. Townsend. 1st year, 1869, Pg 445).

But some source said he was also Colonial Secretary(need confirmation, only clue is that he was also mentioned as member of Executive Council, where one of the official member is Colonial Secretary, and not Colonial Engineer)(source: Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 17(2001), by Sir Leslie Stephen, published by Adegi Graphics LLC, Pg544-545)

1869 - McNair was in 1869 the colonial engineer involved in the construction of Government House in Singapore, which is now called the Istana. Designed and built by the Colonial Engineer, Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair, it was completed in 1869? He was also involved in the reconstruction of St Andrew's Cathedral.

He was a member of Executive Council since 1869( Need confirmation, source: Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 17(2001), by Sir Leslie Stephen, published by Adegi Graphics LLC, Pg544-545). Executive Council consists of 6 official members, which included The Governor, Colonial Secretary, Attorney General,Commanding officer of the Troops, Lt Governor of Penang and Malacca.

The Istana is the official residence and office of the President of Singapore. Meaning "palace" in Malay, it is where the president receives and entertains state guests. The Istana is also the working office of the Prime Minister of Singapore. It is located within a large open compound in the otherwise urbanised setting of the Orchard Road area. It was part of the extensive nutmeg plantation of Mount Sophia.
The Istana was built in 1867-1869 on the instructions of Sir Harry Saint George Ord, Singapore's first colonial governor. It was formerly known as Government House. Located within the same compound is Sri Temasek, one of several senior colonial officers' residences in the Istana previously assigned to the Colonial Secretary. Initially it was faced with opposition. Land was acquired 106 acres (0.43 km2) of land from C.R. Prinsep's nutmeg estate in 1867. Construction began later in the year after the design was finalised on March 1867. Government House was completed in 1869, as attested to in a report in The Straits Times on 24 April of that year, "Far better to have a handsome memorial of extravagance to stare us in the face, than a memory of folly, in a half finished, or even badly finished work. Laying all prejudices aside moreover...it must be admitted that the building is a handsome one — the handsomest in a long way in the Settlement and one which will be an ornament to the place long after those who fought for and against it have passed away". The entire Government House, its grounds and auxiliary residences were built by convict labour — J.F.A. McNair supervisor for the construction of Government House, was also, conveniently, Superintendent of convicts.

St Andrew’s Cathedral(圣安德烈座堂)

Designed by George Drumgoole Coleman, the original Saint Andrew's Church was built from 1835 to 1836. The second Church of Saint Andrew was designed by John Turnbull Thomson and built in circa 1842. Rumours of unhappy spirits and damage caused by two lightning strikes in 1845 and 1849 resulted in its closure in 1852 and subsequent demolition in 1855.

Colonel Ronald MacPherson, the Executive Engineer and Superintendent of convicts, designed the new church. To cut costs, construction was carried out by industrially-trained Indian convict labourers and supervised by Major J. F. A. McNair, while W. D. Bayliss was the superintendent. The Right Reverend Daniel Wilson, Lord Bishop of Calcutta, laid the foundation stone on 4 March 1856, and the first service was held on 1 October 1861. The Right Reverend G.E.L. Cotton, who succeeded Daniel Wilson, had the honour of consecrating the cathedral on 25 January 1862. In 1869, it was transferred from the jurisdiction of Calcutta to the Diocese of Labuan and Sarawak and, in 1870, Archdeacon John Alleyne Beckles consecrated it as the Cathedral Church of the United Diocese.

1870 - He was promoted to Major(retired)

1872 - He was appointed as the first head of PWD(Public Work Department) or JKR(Jabatan Kerja Raya)of the Strait Settlement, with office at Singapore (ref: source:www.jkr.gov.my). The control is now cover the three states of Strait Settlement.

In the Memorandum on the Union of Labuan to Strait Settlement dated 1872, specially mentioned that "an officer as Major McNair would be of great assistance to the surveyor in Labuan" by the Governor of Labuan, Pope Hennessy

The Straits Times, 27 April 1872, Page 4, it was reported that "the absence of Major McNair, the Colonial Engineer, There were no lack of engineering talents, Assistant Engineer Capt Innes now acting in MacNair's place.."

1873 - He was both Colonial Engineer and Surveyor General. Note: From "about 1870" to 1920, there was no separate Survey Department in the Straits Settlement.

1874 - The Pangkor Treaty was signed on 20th Jan 1874.It was signed on board the steamer H. M. S. Pluto, of Sir Andrew Clarke (Governor of the Straits Settlements) just off the island of Pangkor, Perak. It recognized Raja Abdullah as the Sultan of Perak, confirmed Ngah Ibrahim as the 'Mentri' of Larut in his district, provided for a British officer (The Resident) to reside at the Sultan's headquarters (at The State's expense), bound the Sultan to follow the officer's advice and stipulated that an assistant Resident would be posted to Larut with authority over the Mentri. J W W Birch was the first Resident and Captain Speedy was appointed as Deputy Resident at Larut. Major Mcnair was also appointed Chief Commissioner for the Pacification of Larut. The parties representing the British at the signing were Major-General Sir Andrew Clarke, the Governor of the Straits Settlements; Mr. Bradell, the Attorney-General; Colonel Samuel Dunlop, the Inspector-General of Police;Mr. A.M. Skinner of the Secretariat;William A. Pickering, officer in charge of Chinese affairs, Frank A. Swettenham, interpreter of Malay from the Land Revenue Office and Major J.F.A. McNair, the Colonial Engineer. Raja Abdullah, Ngah Ibrahim, Capitan Cina Chung Keng Quee were also there.

1875 - McNair was appointed as Chief Commissioner for the Pacification of Larut in Perak. One of his fellow commissioners was Capitan Cina Chung Keng Quee, Swettenham, Pickering, Colonel Samuel Dunlop and Chin Seng Yam..

1877 - pg 36 of Singapore Directory 1877, reported as Colonial Engineer, and member of Executive Council of Strait Settlement & Legislative Council. He was also Surveyor General( pg 41). His office was at North Bridge Road, Singapore.

1879 - he was made a CMG on 24-5-1879 by the British monarchy(The India list and India Office list(1819), by Harrison, published by India Office , Great Britain.

1880(June) - Straits Times Overland Journal, 28 June 1880, Page 6 reported at the meeting of Municipal Council in Singapore, Major McNair was elected as chairman, he was still a Municipal Commissioner in his position as Colonial Engineer. with Major S Dunlop, RA; EJ Wells.


1881 - he was appointed Acting Resident Councillor to the Governor of Penang.

1881(Dec) - Straits Times Overland Journal, 26 December 1881, Page 7 mentioned of abolition of Asst Colonial Engineer in Province Wellesley by Major McNair.

1884 – He was officially appointed as Resident of Penang, an appointment he relinquished on medical grounds in the same year 1884 after having served with distinction in the Straits Settlements especially in Singapore. He had also served in several learned societies and at one time even acted as Colonial Secretary in Singapore. He retired on pension on 10-8-1884.

After retirement, he was principally in writing

1903 - His wife Sarah(Lillie) Des Grangos(d 1903), died on 31st November 1903 at Scotia, Preston Park, Brighton(source: The Straits Times, 19 December 1903, Page 4)

1910 - He died on 17th May 1910 in Brighton, UK. He was buried in the town cemetery.

Special Missions

McNair had also undertaken several missions to Siam(Thailand). He visited Siam in 1868, 1874, 1875 and 1878. The King of Siam gave him the title – Order of the White Elephant.

In 1875-1876, he was the officiating Chief Commissioner in Perak, during the disturbance in the state. He also took part in the affairs of Kotah Lamah, on the Perak River, for which he received the medal and clasp. He was also involved in Pangkor Treaty in 1874.

He was special Commissioner to Selangor, to inquary into piracy

Author of books

He was the author of four books, the most famous was(i)Prisoners of their own Warders(1899), the book itself is the history book not only for prison but also the Indian convict history in Singapore and Penang. It is a must read book for colonial history lovers. The other books are: Perak & the Malays(1878) written when he was appointed in 1875, as Chief Commissioner for the Pacification of Larut in Perak, another valuable book for history of Perak; Sarong & Kris(1878); Oral tradition from the Indus(1977), first published in 1977 after he had died. He also wrote articles for Asiatic Quarterly.

John Frederick Adolphus MCNAIR (1828-1910); entered Madras Artillery 1845; Private Secretary to Governor of the Straits Settlements 1857; Comptroller of Indian convicts in the Straits Settlements 1857-1873; as Colonial Engineer superintended the building of Government House, Singapore; officiated as Lieutenant Governor of Penang 1880-1884; author: Perak and the Malays: Sarong and Kris (1878), Prisoners their own warders (1899).

McNair Street in Penang, and McNair Road in Singapore were named after Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair of the Royal Artillery.

McNair Road, Singapore, is a short stretch of road that lies adjacent to Towner Road, and is accessible via Balestier Road and Serangoon Road. It was named after Major J.F.A. McNair who served as Colonial Engineer and Comptroller of Convicts in the Straits Settlement during the period 1857 - 77. He was responsible for designing the Istana, the oldest part of the Empress Place building, St. Andrews Cathedral, Sri Temasek, The Empress Place Building(皇后坊大厦), and Tao Nan School.

His family

Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair,Actg.Lieutenant-Governor of Penang,Malaysia from(Feb.1881-Aug.1884)& Resident Councillor of Penang from(1884)only.He was born at Bath in 1828.Eldest son of Major Robert McNair,staff officer,London.Educated at King's College and School of Mines.Entered Madras Royal Artillery in 1845.In 1857,A.D.C. to Governor Blundell in Singapore.From 1865-1867 he was in England as deputy governor in charge of public works at Woking Prison.He retired in 1884.He died in 1910.He married 1st to Sarah des Granges Paine and 2nd to Madalena Vallence Williamson.

Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair was twice married, first to Sarah Des Grangos(d 1903) in 1849, daughter of Rev J.Painc, MA. Second time to Madalena, daughter of E.Vallence of Brighton, and widow of Surgeon Major G Williamson, R.A.M.C.

Their issues are:- He had 2 sons and 3 daughters??:

(i)Elizabeth McNair?

Mc Nair's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Alcock McNair(1851-1921)married to Thomas Scott on 5th June 1869 by Rev J.A.Beckles, M.A. at St Andrew Church, Singapore(The Straits Times, 12 June 1869, Page 1). Thomas Scott was the Legislative Council member, he attended the meeting on 31-5-1869. He did not attend the meeting on 7-6-1869.

Elizabeth Alcock McNair(1851-1921)married to Thomas Scott.Their issue:- ai)Robert Frederick McNair-Scott(1870-1957)married to Alice Eliza Nystrom.His issue:- bi)Thomas Frederick McNair-Scott(1901-2001)married to Mary Dwight Baker.His issue:- ci)Robert McNair Scott. cii)Carolyn McNair Scott. bii)Alice Irene McNair-Scott(1903-?)married to Rudolph Camerer. biii)Ronald Guthrie McNair-Scott(1906-1995)married to Mary Cecilia Berry.His issue:- ci)Gillian Mary McNair Scott born in 1931.She married to Charles Ivor Mervyn Williams.Their issue:- di)Oliver Mervyn Williams born in 1953. dii)Richard Charles Williams born in 1955. diii)Lucinda Mary Williams born in 1956.She married to Philip Carspecken. div)Samuel Thomas Morgan Williams born in 1959.He married to Isabel Tara Mary Macauley. cii)Thomas Michael McNair Scott(1935-2002) married to Susannah Hodges.His issue:- di)Simon Guthrie McNair Scott born in 1960. dii)Sarah McNair Scott born in 1966. ciii)Alison Linda McNair Scott born in 1936.She married to Laurence Charles Kevin Kelly.Their issue:- di)Rosanna Mary Kelly born in 1964. dii)Rachel Sophia Kelly born in 1965. civ)Valerie Susan McNair Scott born in 1939.She married to Thomas Frank Dermot Pakenham.Their issue:- di)Anna Maria Pakenham born in 1965. dii)Eliza Pakenham born in 1966. diii)Edward Melchior Pakenham born in 1970. div)Frederick Augustus Pakenham born in 1971. cv)Nigel Guthrie McNair Scott born in 1945.He married to Anna Margaret Colquhoun.His issue:- di)Robert William McNair Scott born in 1970. dii)Alastair Nigel McNair Scott born in 1972. diii)David Ronald McNair Scott born in 1973. div)Benjamin Guthrie McNair Scott born in 1976. biv)Beatrice McNair-Scott(1909-?). bv)? McNair-Scott married Patrick Wyndham Murray-Thriepland. aii)Lilian Susan Scott(1871-1887). aiii)Amy Elizabeth Scott(1873-1948)married to Hobart John William Barlee.

iii)Robert Frederick McNair(1851-1857).

iv) ? McNair(1853-?).

v)George McNair(1857).

vi)Grace McNair(1859-?).

vii)Annie Frederica McNair(1863-1913) married to Charles Stringer.His issue:- ai)Alice Mary Stringer(1885-?). aii)Charles John McNair Stringer(1893-?) married ?.His issue - bi) ? Stringer(1926-?). bii)Cedric McNair Stringer married?.

viii)Arthur Wyndham McNair(1872-? )or AW McNair; educated at St Paul School and Balliol College, Oxford, appointed after exam of 1891; arrived 8th Nov 1893 and served in the NW Prov and Oudh as Asst magistrate and collector; Deputy Commissioner, Sept 1898; Joint Magistrate & Asst Commissioner(2nd Grade),May 1902, United Province of Agra and Oudh, Bengal India civil service; married ?.His issue - ai)Jean McNair married to Neville David Watts-Russell.Their issue - bi)Jane Watts-Russell(1936-?). aii)Ian J.G.McNair married to Daphne Margaret Whitworth. His issue - bi ? McNair(1946-?). aiii)Douglas Fenn Wyndham McNair married to Rosemary Dew Monro. aiii)Captain David McNair married to Cyane Hawksley.His issue - bi)Robert Sheridan McNair(1946-?). bii)Marilyn McNair(1947 -?).

References & Related articles

1. 过港仔横街,惠安小菜, 杜忠全,http://penangmedia.com/html/88/325.html
2. My earlier blog article: Penang Police, 12-2-2010
3. Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 17(2001), by Sir Leslie Stephen, published by Adegi Graphics LLC,UK Pg 544-545
4. http://www.livingstreams.org.sg/sac/index.html
5. St. Andrew's Cathedral, http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_25_2_2008-12-01.html
6. Istana Singapore, http://www.istana.gov.sg/
7. The India list and India Office list,India Office(1819), by Great Britain.Published by Harrison
8. Major JFA McNair, The Straits Times, 4 October 1884, Page 11;http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Page/straitstimes18841004.1.11.aspx
9. Sri Temasek, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Temasek

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