Kedah hoped for the return of Province Wellesley in 1957

Documents kept by the Colonial Office in London and released aft er a mandatory 30 years of secrecy are a source of exciting details. The signifi cance of this source of historical material is raised all the more by the fact that governments of new countries formed from former colonies, like Malaysia, tend to treat information as a threat to their power and legitimacy.

How the independent Federation of Malaysia would incorporate its various parts was not a given thing, and the issues up for negotiation in 1956–1957 were many.

Here, we draw att ention to a despatch sent by Sir David Watherston, the Chief Secretary for the Federated Malay States, on October 6, 1956 to Alan Lennox- Boyd, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, informing the latter that a letter had been received from the Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Sir Badlishah ibni al-Marhum. The Sultan was suggesting that the British government consider the possibility of a “reversion” of at least Province Wellesley – if not Penang Island – to Kedah within the independent federation that was about to be born.

Lennox-Boyd’s response, found in a letter sent on October 25 that year to Sir Donald MacGillivray, the British High Commissioner of Malaya, was in accordance with Watherston’s suggestion. It stated: “For your information, my preliminary view is that her Majesty’s Government could not contemplate making territorial changes of this kind in the period before, or on the attainment of independence, and that, subject to any safeguards which it may be agreed to insert in the new Constitution, such matters would have to be left for consideration by the Government of the Federation after independence.” (CO 1030/135: 22, 25–26).

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