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Turnbull, Constance Mary, Professor (b. 1927, February 9, England d. 2008, September 5, England), aka C. M. Turnbull, was most recognised for her publication - A history of Singapore, first published in 1977 - which is today an authoritative reference on Singapore's modern history.

Early YearsEdit

The only child of the Turnbulls grew up during the Great Depression in Coventry. She was often sent away to relatives as the family faced financial difficulties and partly because Coventry was targeted by the Germans during World War II. Young Turnbull was evacuated at least three times. She obtained straight As for her School Leaving Certificate and gained entry into London University.

Working in MalayaEdit

Turnbull first came to Malaya in 1952 to serve as an administrative officer in the Malayan Civil Service in Kuala Lumpur. As Malaya faced the threat of communism during this period of Emergency, British male officers in the Civil Service were required to operate as district officers and female officers were required to replace them in the cities. It was not common then for British women to receive foreign postings and Turnbull was probably the first woman to have served in the overseas colonial service. In fact, only two were sent out during the time she was recruited and David Watherston, the Chief Secretary of the Federation of Malaya, cancelled the scheme when he realised that British female officers were recruited to supervise the local male staff as this was not acceptable culturally.

Finishing her duties in 1955, she turned to teaching history at the University of Malaya in Singapore. At that time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson was heading the newly established Department of History. He had set the ambitious goal of capturing local perspectives of the history of Peninsular Malaya and encouraged the brightest students to articulate their understanding of being Malayan as the country moved toward independence. Turnbull entered her teaching stint during this time of vibrant exchange and her classes were amongst the largest for the Department. Many of her students continued to excel after graduation, holding high positions in the civil service and academia. She continued teaching at the University of Malaya, in both Singapore and Malaysia before moving to the University of Hong Kong in 1971 where she headed the Department of History and was made Professor.

Published WorksEdit

Turnbull is well known for her work, which encapsulates Singapore's history in a readable yet concise style. Many of them have become key references for the study of Singapores history. For example, her publication on the Straits Settlements (1972) was cited at the hearing on the sovereignty over Pedra Branca that took place at the International Court of Justice.

Most of her works were written during her time in Hong Kong although she continued revising the key ones even into her retirement, often returning to the region for this purpose. One such work is The Straits Times, Dateline Singapore (1995). It was commissioned by the Singapore Press Holdings and launched on the occasion of the paper's 150th anniversary. Writing the history of Singapore's main daily was daunting even for experienced writers and journalists as there was no single repository that held all the editions of The Straits Times. Shrewd detective work and perseverance even in the face of her husband's death to leukemia led to this invaluable work.

Turnbull is however most noted for A history of Singapore 1819 1975, a work that was produced with encouragement from Oxford University Press to write a comprehensive history of Singapore. Turnbull herself lived in Malaya and experienced the milestones leading to Singapore's independence. For example, she was the presiding officer at Tumpat, Kelantan during the Federal Elections in 1955, and witnessed the victory of the Alliance Party. Her book was the first such title and has become the key reference on Singapore's modern history. It is revised regularly and used as the definitive guide for the National Education programme in Singapore.

In 2008, Turnbull passed away suddenly after doctors detected a tear in her aorta during a routine check-up. She was then working on the latest revision of A history of Singapore. The Oxford University is establishing a fund in her name to benefit Southeast Asian studies.

PublicationsEdit

Mills, L. A. (1961). British Malaya, 1824-67. Singapore: Malayan Branch Royal Asiatic Society. (Call no. : RCLOS 959.5 MIL)

Turnbull, C. M. (1969). Modern Singapore a commemorative for Singapores 150th anniversary. (Not in NLBs holdings)

Turnbull, C. M. (1972). The Straits Settlements, 1826 - 67: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony. London: Athlone Press. (Call no. : RSING 959.5 TUR)

Turnbull, C. M. (1977). A history of Singapore, 1819 - 1975. Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no. : RSING 959.57 TUR)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819 - 1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no. : RSING 959.57 TUR)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819 - 1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no. : RSING 959.57 TUR)

Turnbull, C. M. (1980, 1981, 1989). A history of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. (Call no. : RSING 959.5 TUR)

Turnbull, C. M. (1995). Dateline Singapore: 150 years of the Straits Times. Singapore: Times Editions (Call no. : RSING 079.5957 TUR) (Microfilm no. : NL27989)

CareerEdit

1952 - 1955 : Served as an administrative officer in the Malayan Civil Service, one of the first women appointed to the overseas colonial service 1955 - 1960 : Lecturer, University of Singapore 1960 - 1963 : Lecturer, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 1964 - 1971: Lecturer, University of Singapore 1971 - 1988: Lecturer, University of Hong Kong teaching regional history and later made Head of the History Department. 1990: Retired from University of Hong Kong to Northamptonshire before moving to Oxford.

FamilyEdit

Husband: Leonard Rayner, area representative (Singapore and Malaysia) of the Confederation of British Industry. He served as director of three other local companies. He was also a member of the Singapore West Rotary Club and a trustee of the South East Asian Studies Institute. Children: Two daughters, Penny Rayner and Susannah Rayner. Quote: "People don't want to be reminded of the past, but the snag is you'd forget how far you've come". - In Byramji, Nancy. (1978, March 19). Remember the past so you'll know just how far you have come. The Straits Times, p. 16

AcknowledgementsEdit

This article was written by Bonny Tan.

ReferencesEdit

  • Bonny Tan, "Constance Mary Turnbull (C. M. Turnbull)", Singapore Infopedia[1].
  • Byramji, Nancy. (1978, March 19). Remember the past so you'll know just how far you have come. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 25, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
  • Liaw, Wy-Cin. (2008, September 11). Expert on S'pore history dies at 81. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 30 2008 from Factiva.
  • Thum, P. J. (2008, October 6). A key role in telling the S'pore story. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 30 2008 from Factiva.
  • Too little, yet too much information. (1994, February 27). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 25, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
  • Veloo, Ravi. (1995, July 8). Attempting a record in a race against time. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 25, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Further ReadingEdit

  • Gullick, John. (2008). Obituary: Professor Mary Turnbull. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 81(2), 99-101.

(Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)

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