Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Anthony John Noel Richards: 1914-2000

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Anthony John Noel Richards: 1914-2000

Article excerpt

Anthony Richards was born at Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire, on 3 December 1914 and later moved to France Lynch, where his father, Kenneth Keble Evan Richards, was Vicar. After "Prep" school near Chepstow he attended King's (Cathedral) School, Worcester, between 1929 and 1934 where he studied Classics and earned the sobriquet "Tex" after an American boxer he was thought to resemble. He then went up to Oxford University on a minor scholarship to read History at Hertford College, graduating in 1937. He was a keen amateur photographer and sportsman.

Anticipating a career in the colonial service, he went on to complete the First Devonshire Course at Oxford in 1937-38 under the tutelage of the redoubtable Margery Perham. Together with W.G. (Bill) Morison, another Hertford student, he was encouraged to apply for the Sarawak service while awaiting the outcome of his examination for the Malayan Civil Service. Perhaps his interest was longstanding, as suggested by a childhood game in which "Sarawak" was the exotic name he gave to a favorite wild part of the garden. He and Morison were both accepted after their interviews with the Rajah's brother, Bertram Brooke (better known as the Tuan Muda), and went out together to Singapore on a Blue Funnel Line ship, arriving in Kuching on the Vyner Brooke on 9 September, 1938.

Anthony Richards' first lesson in Sarawak politics came from Captain Benfield of the Vyner Brooke, a veteran observer who had been plying between Singapore and Kuching for almost twenty years. To his Oxford friend, Brian Walsh Atkins, he wrote:

   He [Benfield] is of the opinion that the present government is
   selfish--and each man for himself--and has not the confidence and
   wholehearted backing of the people. They refer to 'The Rajah' and
   mean the former one, who was a martinet, but knew his business: he
   was a ruler whom these folk could appreciate.

Anthony was fortunate enough to spend his first year in the Government Secretariat in Kuching under the tutelage of the new Secretary for Native Affairs, Andrew MacPherson, who had an original and inquiring mind as well as a good knowledge of the Iban and other interior peoples. A vigorous but humorless Scot, he spoke fluent Malay and Iban. At that time, the Sarawak administration was going through something of a crisis. The third Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke, had lost all interest in government (if, indeed, he had ever possessed any) but was unwilling to give a larger role to his younger and much more able brother, Bertram, despite the provisions made by their father, the second Rajah, in his political will for what amounted to a shared responsibility for governing.

In this power and policy vacuum the senior bureaucrats of the Secretariat, constituted as a Committee of Administration, became the effective executive and began to tighten the strings of centralized control in what had traditionally been a loose and decentralized system. Rebelling against this, the outstation officers, the District Officers and Residents who had always been the core of Brooke government (Vyner unkindly called them "little tin gods"), made their views known in no uncertain terms. Amidst this bitter rivalry, the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, Cyril Le Gros Clark, was one of the few men capable of independent and lucid thought. Commissioned by the Committee of Administration, he produced a report which made recommendations on every aspect of government, notably education and the need to strengthen the Native Officer and Junior Administrative Services with a view to their taking over more responsibility. Not surprisingly, the report was left to gather dust.

One of Anthony Richards' first tasks (no doubt on MacPherson's orders) was to write a memorandum on policy in which he revived many of Le Gros Clark's ideas. This was a thoughtful and sophisticated (if somewhat sharply expressed) document in which his study of history shines through. …

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