Whereas most of the literature dealing with the subject of colonialism generally explores only the themes of indigenous, immigrant, urban and rural underdevelopment, this book throws light on the general functioning of British colonial-economic administration in Malaya. It advances the proposition that excessive colonial bureaucracy impeded capital investment in the agricultural and mining sectors of the Federated Malay States (fms) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.1 Its contribution consists of detailed cases showing conflicts extending from the top hierarchical position to the local and parochial levels of British administration. More broadly, this book also offers a re-evaluation of Cain and Hopkins’ theory of “gentlemanly capitalism,” a new theory of imperialism proposing that British imperialism was driven by the business interests of the city of London.2

Raja’s methodology includes qualitative historical analysis and a case-study approach. Through extensive archival research, Raja has ransacked individual states’ Sessional Papers, Parliamentary Papers, Colonial Office records—particularly the Straits Settlements: Register Correspondence (CO 426) and Original Correspondence (CO 273)—State Secretariat files, fms Government gazettes, proceedings of the Residents Conference (1907–1911), and Federal Conference and numerous miscellaneous colonial records. The Secretariat papers are particularly rewarding, allowing Raja to trace the idiosyncratic attitude of state officials toward individual investors, as well as policy conflicts between state residencies and the Colonial Office. The case studies afford Raja the opportunity to explore multifaceted, complex hierarchical problems in their actual settings. His microscopic examination of colonial case records discovers that the bureaucratic problems from 1896 to 1909 were twofold—conflicts between fms administrators and investors and between the administrators themselves.

Raja’s forensic analysis of the various cases concludes that the actual picture of the early politico-business history of the fms does not support the theory of gentlemanly capitalism. Cain and Hopkins’, as well as Webster’s, implication that relations between London-based capitalists and British colonial officials were harmonious is highly unlikely in Raja’s view, given the complexity of the bureaucratic situation.3 He advances two arguments in support. The first concerns the “impractical degree of metropolitan control over the expansion of capital” (7), as exemplified in the policy conflict between the Colonial Office and the High Commissioner in Malaya (136–137). The second maintains that London business interests did not always drive British imperialism; “local administrators [sometimes] expressed disinterest towards investors who had connection with the ‘metropole’” (7). Witness the case of bureaucratic red tape imposed on John Turner, the managing director of the London-based Straits Sugar Company Limited (47–50).

The geographical spread comprises the four fms protectorates from 1896 to 1909. The arrangement of the chapters follows “the order in which the states were annexed” by the British (10).4 Administrative conflict was indeed commonplace in the protectorates during the period. Although the Colonial Office was supportive of capitalistic ventures, the decision-making process regarding capital investment was mired in ambiguity. In the absence of a proper “distribution of responsibilities,” “dissenting opinions amongst officials at various levels” were rife (2–3). Cases in point were the troubles that the colonial bureaucracy caused for the commercial pursuits of Charles Alma Baker and the hierarchical confusion that confounded the Straits and General Development Company. Another problem involved Britain’s attempt to impede American investment in Malaya’s tin-smelting industry.5 The study concludes in 1909 with the “growing awareness of the problems,” eventually leading to the establishment of the Federal Council (2).

Overall, the book caters to those working on business–government relations in the British Empire and those seeking to test the suitability of the theory of gentlemanly capitalism in the context of Malaya.



This issue was originally studied by Keith Sinclair—“Hobson and Lenin in Johore: Colonial Office Policy towards British Concessionaires and Investors 1878–1907,” Modern Asian Studies, I (1967), 335–352—but he examines only the role of Colonial Office staff and the Governor of the Straits Settlements in the export of capital to Johore, an unfederated Malay state. Sundara Raja’s work is also the first well-elaborated response to a historical gap identified by Peter J. Drake, “The Economic Development of British Malaya to 1914: An Essay in Historiography with Some Questions for Historians,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, X (1979), 262–290, that little was known about the relationship between foreign developers and landowners, and the colonial and metropolitan governments.


Peter J. Cain and Antony G. Hopkins developed the theory through a series of works: “The Political Economy of British Expansion Overseas, 1750–1914,” Economic History Review, XXXIII (1980), 463–490; “Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Expansion Overseas I: The Old Colonial System, 1688–1850,” ibid., XXXIX (1986), 501–525; “Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Expansion Overseas II: New Imperialism, 1850–1945,” ibid., XL (1987), 1–26; British Imperialism, 1688–2000 (London, 2002). “Gentlemanly capitalism”—as opposed to, say, industrial capitalism—refers to the primacy of the landed elite’s commercial interests, as well as those of the growing service sector and the financial professions, in driving Britain’s economy.


See Anthony Webster, Gentleman Capitalists: British Imperialism in South East Asia, 1770–1890 (London, 1998).


The west coast Malay states of Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan, and the east coast state of Pahang, were all brought into the ambit of colonial protection in successive stages between 1874 and 1888. Perak was annexed in 1874, Selangor in 1874, Negeri Sembilan in 1895, and Pahang in 1888. See Emily Sadka, The Protected Malay States, 1874–1895 (Kuala Lumpur, 1968), 37–118.


Shakila Yacob, The United States and the Malaysian Economy (New York, 2008), 63.