A poster titled ‘Speakers and Members of the First Legislative Assembly, Singapore’. David Marshall can be seen on top row, third from left. (c.1955)David Saul Marshall
David Saul Marshall (b. 12 March 1908, Singapore – d. 12 December 1995, Singapore
) was a top-notch criminal lawyer, best remembered for his strong oratorical skills and dedicated service to his country. His passion and talent led him to be elected the first Chief Minister of Singapore (6 April 1955 to 7 June 1956) and founder of the Worker’s Party in 1957, amongst many other notable appointments.Early Years
The eldest son of seven children of Saul Nassim Mashal, David Marshall (whose name was Anglicised in 1920) was brought up in a strict Jewish orthodox upbringing. He started kindergarten at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus
before heading to Raffles institution where he made friends with the likes of Benjamin Sheares and George Oehlers. Founded by Father Jean-Marie Beurel in 1854, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) - otherwise known as Town Convent - was a Catholic girls' school that also took in boys, including Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall, for a period of time from the 1900s till the Japanese Occupation. (Early-mid 20th century)
Prior to his pursuit of a law career in his late twenties, Marshall instead studied textile manufacturing in Belgium before becoming a salesman and language teacher upon his return to Singapore.
While his family opted to leave Singapore upon hearing about the impending Japanese invasion, Marshall opted to stay on and joined the Singapore Volunteers Corps (SVC) "B" company. He was eventually captured and detained as a Prisoner-of-War (POW) for three-and-a-half years, during which he was moved between 26 different camps where his popularity as a chief spokesperson for fellow inmates gained him popularity.This Prisoner-of-War (POW) camp in Innoshima, Hiroshima was probably one of the 26 POW camps that David Marshall was sent to during the Japanese occupation. (c.1940s)Career & Accomplishments
Marshall began his legal career at Aitken and Ong Siang, and later Allen and Gledhill, which he resigned from in 1950. Yet as soon as 1949, he was already a member of the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP), a move that resulted from his long unwavering sense of injustice on ‘racial superiority’ and the need to ‘break through sonic barriers against Asians and especially Jews.’
In 1954, together with Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas, Marshall led the coalition Labour Front to victory in the 1955 Legislative Assembly election, garnering 158,075 out of 300,199 eligible votes which led to him becoming Singapore’s first Chief Minister.The Labour Front contested in the 1955 Legislative Assembly Election and secured the most votes. As it did not win by a majority, it formed a coalition government with the Singapore Alliance Party and Marshall became Singapore’s first Chief Minister (c.1957)
During his short 14 month tenure as Chief Minister, Marshall worked from his office at The Old Parliament House (today’s Arts House), and was a strong advocate against colonialism which led to his constant purist of attaining self-governance for Singapore from the British. During his time, Marshall also had to deal with major events such as the Hock Lee Bus Riots, as well as other communist threats that threatened to tarnish his reputation. He resigned on 7 June 1956 after a breakdown in talks with the British led to the failure of attaining self-governance.Chief Minister David Marshall at a meet-the-people session, meeting 40 busmen regarding the arrest of their leader, secretary of the Singapore Bus Workers Union, Fong Swee Suan, who was under emergency detention. (c.1955. Image from National Archives of Singapore)
Despite this, Marshall’s time as Chief Minister would lay the foundation for many future policies, including the white paper on education policy that championed the concepts of multilingualism and emphasis on learning English, ideas that would go on to form the core fundamentals of Singapore’s present educational system.Chief Minister David Marshall on a goodwill visit to Jakarta in 1955. (c. 1955)
Marshall was also heavily involved in passing the Labour Ordinance towards the end of 1955, bringing an end to long work shifts, and also had a hand in matters regarding the Central Provident Fund (CPF), together with schemes that looked into getting locals employed in the civil service.Marshall’s style of governance rested on a high degree of accountability to the people. This booklet provides a detailed report of what his Labour Front government had done in its first six months (c.1955)
Marshall founded the Workers Party in 1957, and eventually won a seat in parliament after his victory at the Anson by-election on 15 July 1961. However come 1963, he would leave the Workers Party due to numerous disagreements, and returned to his job as a criminal lawyer.This was the campaign card used by David Marshall during the Anson by-election of 1961, in which he contested – and won – as President of the Worker’s Party that he founded in 1957 (c.1961)
As a lawyer, Marshall was a strong abdicator for trial by jury and frequently opposed capital punishment. His 41 years as a lawyer saw him attain acquitals for most of his cases, and he even laid numerous milestones that included serving as the defence counsel in the first no-jury trial case in Singapore.
From 1978 to 1993, Marshall also served as Singapore’s first foreign ambassador to France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland on the invitation for former Foreign Minister, S. Rajaratnam.Leader of Workers’ Party David Marshall speaking at a rally on Referendum Bill at Shenton Way. (c.1962. Image from National Archives of Singapore)Later Years
Marshall passed away at the age of 87, on 12 December 1995 after a year-long battle with cancer. His legacy still very much remains in numerous scholarships and fellowships that includes the David Marshall Professorship in Law setup in 1995, and the David Marshall Prize for top student in criminal law at the Singapore Management University, established through donations by several members of the Singapore’s Jewish community.Chief Minister David Marshall visits Singapore Military Forces’ Camp at Tanah Merah (c.1955. Image from National Archives of Singapore)Marshall is best remembered during his Chief Minister days for his bush jacket, which created a stir in Parliament for its unconventionality, and the signature pipe that was a trademark on his office desk, which he was always puffing up to his last days. (c.1970s. Gift of Mrs. Jean Marshall)