We recently acquired some issues of Straits Produce, a magazine published in the latter part of the 19th century and through the first quarter of the 20th century. From the title, you would not be faulted if you thought that the magazine focused mainly on products like edible bird’s nest, rhinocerous horn, hornbill beak, seaweed, beeswax, gambier, pepper and tin, which in fact were products listed as “Straits produce” in a 19th century list.
You would never have guessed that Straits Produce was in fact a satirical magazine that sought to illustrate the lives of the white colonial rulers and settlers in tropical Malaya and Singapore through humorous caricatures and amusing sketches. The inaugural issue (20 pages long on good stout paper with three full-page and seven half-page illustrations) was printed and published by S. W. Augustin, at the Straits Times Press in Christmas of 1868 and the last issue appeared in the late 1930s. In between, the Straits Produce ceased publication twice.
The Straits Produce was initially published by its backers to more freely comment on the financial policy of the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Harry Ord. The magazine was, however, short-lived as it had to cease after its second issue in January 1870 when its chief financial backers pulled out of the venture. This was because the comments against the policy of the Governor had threatened to turn into mere personal prejudices, something the backers would not countenanced.
25 years after it made its first appearance, Straits Produce was resurrected by one of its original promoters and put out its third issue in January 1893. It was printed by the Singapore and Straits Printing Office (owned by Messrs. Fraser and Neave) and was priced at $1.00. Subsequent issues were printed until 1898 when, once again, it ceased to be published.
It was revived again 24 years on when the third iteration of Straits Produce came out in 1922 and continued to be published irregularly until the mid-1930s.
Originally, NUS Libraries only had issues No. 3-5 (1893-1895) and Vol. 6 (1927/28). With our recent acquisitions comprising issues published in 1930, and 1932-1936, we now have a more complete set available to anyone interested in the social life of the white community from 1860s to 1930s.
All images in this article are taken from the magazine, Straits Produce.