Written by Dennis De Witt
It doesn’t have four legs, it doesn’t have spots, and it almost certainly never barks. So without any of the defining characteristics of a Dalmation, how did the Royal Selangor Club come to be known as the Spotted Dog? Malaysian historian Dennis De Witt has the fascinating story.
The British gained control of Malaya in 1825 and though they stepped aside for the country’s independence in 1957, they have left a lasting impression on Malaysians in the nation’s political, judicial, and education systems. They also left a legacy in the language and the architecture of the land from the time when they were here. There are many buildings from the Malayan British era, but one building in Kuala Lumpur – fondly referred to as “The Dog” – still carries on the traditions of its British heritage to this very day.
Founded in 1884 by the British in Malaya, the Selangor Club is situated next to the padang (field) which is now Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square. The club was started in a little plank building with an attap roof located near the northeastern corner of the padang. It was a meeting point for the educated and high-ranking members of privileged British colonial society.
In 1890, the club’s building was replaced by a two-storey structure on the west side of the padang, the present site of the club. The original building was designed by A.C.A. Norman, a government architect. In the 1890s, amateur theatricals and travelling professional performers performed at the club, but women were not admitted.
Cricket, rugby, hockey, and football matches were often played at the club’s padang. Sporting events at the club were best viewed from the Long Bar, a portion of the club which was also off limits to women. It seems that, even today, though they may enter the club itself, women are still prohibited from the bar area.
The building was later redesigned by architect Arthur Benison Hubback, also known for his design of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, and rebuilt in 1910 in a Mock Tudor styling, with two additional wings on either side of the main building.
The Club’s first members were H.F. Bellamy, D.G. Campbell, S.E. Harper, D.G. Gordon, A.C. Norman, S.B.R. Reyne, H.C. Syers, K. Tambusamy Pillai, and A.R. Venning. The first Secretary was a German named Count Benistorff. The British Residents of Selangor – William Edward Maxwell, John Pickersgill Rodger, and Frank Athelstane Swettenham – were the club’s first three Presidents.
The Dog is Born
In later years, the club became popularly known as “The Spotted Dog” because two Dalmatian dogs belonging to the wife of one of the club founders were left to guard the entrance of the club whenever the founders visited the club. In time, the club was simply referred to as “The Dog.”
In 1893, “The Dog” had about 150 members. By 1922, membership rolls had swelled to nearly 2,000, including highranking Malaysian civil servants, judges, lawyers, and important people in society. Despite the prominence of many of its members, however, the club encountered difficulties and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy, largely due to the credit system used – and apparently abused – by its members.
Matters went before the Colonial Government, who supported it with a small yearly contribution of about 250 dollars, but in time, those in authority were not sympathetic and recommended liquidation. However, on the assurances of E.W. Birch and A.R. Venning, the club was permitted to continue on a revised system, ultimately with such success that it was able to pay its way out of debt.
Safes and Society
One day, the club was hit by robbers, who evidently must have thought that it was a serious moneymaking enterprise. The robbers carried off the Secretary’s iron safe and blew it up. However, they were no doubt badly disappointed by the less than- lucrative reward for their efforts.
Taking away and blowing up safes seemed to have been a favourite pastime then, for not long after, both the General Hospital and Printing Offices received similar attention. It was then believed that a huge joke had been played on the robbers by somebody, as all the safes yielded a poor return for the thieves, perhaps barely enough in some instances to cover the cost of the explosives!
A big event in Kuala Lumpur was the gathering of thousands of people on the club’s padang to cheer the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) during his visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1922. Landing at Port Swettenham (now Port Klang) on March 28th, he was met by four Malay Rulers. His three-day visit was filled with pomp and ceremony including a State banquet, a ball, and a grand reception.
A rousing polo match was also held during the visit. Several club members were said to have been included in the home team – captained by the then-Sultan of Perak – which played against the Prince’s side. In the visiting team was a young lieutenant, the Lord Louis Mountbatten, who returned 23 years later as Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia, at the time of the Japanese surrender to Allied Forces.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Between the 1910s and 1930s, the club was repeatedly subjected to the floods that regularly plagued Kuala Lumpur. Some years later, on 20th December 1970, the main section of the club was razed in a fire which was believed to have started from its kitchen at around 10:30pm. Fortunately, there were no casualties and guests of a children’s Christmas party in the club were safely evacuated. But the damage was done, and to add insult to injury, shortly after the fire, another flood struck Kuala Lumpur and the club premises.
After the fire, plans were made by the club to rebuild what was damaged. However, Kuala Lumpur’s City Hall suggested the construction of a civic centre over the site of the club’s field and clubhouse. Discussions were eventually made with City Hall, and it was agreed on the club’s rebuilding.
It was in front of this clubhouse, on the night of 30th August 1957, that the Malayan flag was hoisted for the first time in the country’s history. It was reported that, at midnight, when the new nation’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman repeatedly shouted “Merdeka!” at the padang, club members also broke into cheers of happiness. The club members had the best seats in the house to watch a historic event that they would always remember.
In 1984, “The Dog” was awarded royal status under the patronage of the Sultan of Selangor, and so today, it is known as the Royal Selangor Club. The club is one of the oldest British institutions in the country and its history is so closely linked to the nation’s independence, it will stand in Malaysia’s history forever. The storied old club known as “The Dog” is now recognised as a heritage building and institution.
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Source: Senses of Malaysia November-December 2015