Friday, October 7, 2011

Carcosa - Norman or Hubback?

Many a time, when writing this tribute to the Hubback Brothers, I feel like a scribe, shrouded with a feathered pen, lamenting in the shadows of lighted candles, catching glimpses of what life must have been like during that particular period. Unfortunately, there are times when i do get extremely frustrated and confused, as there is so much conflicting information on the works of the Hubbacks in Malaya. This is mainly due to poor documentation in Malaya during the late 1800's.

One such example is Carcosa Sri Negara ~ in today's terms is actually a reference to 2 separate, individual properties located within the vicinity of Taman Tasik Perdana. Historically, Carcosa Sri Negara originally began life as;

Carcosa [opened around 1896-1897] : The Official Residence of the Resident General of The Federated Malay States [which will later evolve to be called Governor / British High Commissioner] built specifically for Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham.

King's House [opened 1913 *] : The Official Guest House of the Governor; and after Malaysia's independence in 1957, renamed as Istana Tetamu.

In 1987, Carcosa was returned to the Government of Malaysia, and in 1989, after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II stayed at Carcosa during the meeting of the commonwealth nations - Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), both mansions were administered together forming what is now called Carcosa Seri Negara.**

Google Map showing the location of Carcosa & Sri Negara [Istana Tetamu] respectively.

* contains excerpts and references from Wikipedia.
** contains excerpts and references from Archipelago Hotels & Resorts.

Incidentally, if you were to look up Carcosa in any journals and periodicals, there is a very high probability that the architect credited to Carcosa would be A.C. Norman. In some cases, journals/publications would remain impartial and perhaps hint that it was the work of A. C. Norman. So why then did Arthur Benison Hubback submit Carcosa as his work to the R.I.B.A.? And why in that very same article on wikipedia, Sir Frank Swettenham in a letter to the editor of British Malaya dated 1936, only credits C. E. Spooner and A. B. Hubback?

The man whom Carcosa was built for, remembers ... where is Norman?

This is weird let alone accurate? Let us take a journey backwards in time. Charles Edwin Spooner arrived in Selangor on November 15, 1891 and assumed charge of the Public Works Department [P.W.D.] under the title State Engineer. He came from Ceylon [Sri Lanka] with the thorough knowledge and executive working of the Public Works Department [P.W.D.] there.

Yes, I always had the suspicion that the 'real' mastermind of buildings around the railways was the elusive C. E. Spooner [you can refer to our article here]. So without a doubt, A. C. Norman and A. B. Hubback would have to had worked under C. E. Spooner at that time, making Spooner an extremely influential and powerful man despite being an engineer, if you were constructing railways and buildings for the British Empire in Selangor during the late 1800's. Unfortunately, from this point onward, things may just get a little speculative.....

According to Dr. A. Ghafar Ahmad's Chronological Biography of Arthur Charles Alfred Norman [A.C. Norman],  we would like to draw the following comparatives;
It is believed that the design of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, which is of the Moorish architectural style, was very much influenced by the State Engineer Charles Edwin Spooner who had working experience in Ceylon. It was Spooner who suggested that Norman and Bidwell should change the early elevations of the Building from Classic Renaissance to the adaptations of Mahometan style.
Like most of the British colonial buildings, A.C.A. Norman's buildings are essentially hybrids. Moorish influence, Tudor, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic are examples of architectural styles introduced by many British architects including A.C.A. Norman. As it was common practice in the PWD in those days, architects were responsible for the design of building plans and elevations (even though they were assisted and supervised by engineers), and thus much of the credit for the design of the buildings was given to A.C.A. Norman. For example, in the design of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it is likely that there were others including Charles Edwin Spooner as the State Engineer and Director of the PWD; and those who worked under A.C.A. Norman such as R.A.J. Bidwell and A.B. Hubback who had contributed their design ideas, suggestions and even carried out the detail drawings.
So it looks like our suspicions are confirmed. C. E. Spooner was indeed a highly influential person at that time. Once again, why did A.B. Hubback submit Carcosa as his work to the R.I.B.A [you can refer to the following image here.]? Perhaps some clues lie in the Minutes of Selangor, 1895 .......

No. 624/95 A - Cover
From whom : Resident
Place : Selangor
Date : 17 . 9 . 95

Mr. Hubback to act for Mr. Norman as Architect.
Is there any need for such a post? In [C?] Colonies an architect is only employed by 2 or 3 of the richest & largest.
21.9.1895 Resident. Selangor for further report.

Hon. C.S.,
Personally, I do not think it necessary but the history of Mr. Norman's appointment as "architect" is preordered on 1359/91 - v. para 11 of Mr. Maxewell's Report in that paper.

2. I will raise the question of a change in title in 1896, under separate cover, but, in the meanwhile, would recommend that Mr. Hubback, the Chief Draughtsman, should be allowed to act until the end of the current year. A similar arrangement was originally sanctioned on 224/95, in the case of Mr. Bidewell, then Chief Draughtsman.  5.10.1895

The paper referred to (1359/910) is attached. Mr. Maxwell, when Resident, held an enquiry into the P.W.D. & seems to have found it in a very bad state. He recommends getting a competent Engineer to take charge of the Dept. & to reduce Mr. Bellamy who was then the head of Dept & Mr. Norman who was the Asst. Supt. to Asst Supt & Architect Respectively.

No. 624/95 A - Page 1
2. There is an Architect also in Perak, I see. 9.10.1895

Mr. Norman was in 1891 put in charge of the drawing office & of the places being drawn. As there is reason to doubt the experiences of perpetuating the appoint at all, I will not prejudice the decision of that matter by authorising any one to cat as architect to the end of the year & such an authority prejudges the question. 9.10.1895 Resident. Selangor  To Note.

Hon. C.S.

2. I will ask that this may be referred to H.E. The Governor to whom I mentioned in person - all in Singapore.

3. The Title of "Architect" which appears on the Estimates for the current year, cannot be altered until 1896, & it seems scarcely fair that Mr. Hubback, who efficiently discharged the duties of the appoint during the most difficult period of the year - i.e. during the preparation of the Estimates, should not be allowed to act for & draw the available half salary of Mr. Norman, until the end of December as was originally sanctioned for his predecessor, Mr. Bidewell on 244/95.

No. 624/95 A - Page 2
4. The alteration of Mr. Norman's title to that of "District Engineer", from the beginning of 1896, has now been conditionally sanctioned on 8078/95. 14.10.1895

Submitted - Not recommended 19.10

Is it a mere question of extra salary and, if so, of how much? The title must drop. 18.10.1895

Mr. Norman's 1/2 pay is 1500. Mr. Hubback's 810(ab)/difference 700 or under $60 a month.

I can't understand how the preparation of the Estimates can make the Architect's work different [as] it may make calls on a draughtsman's time & Mr. Spooner has reported that with a good draughtsman he can do the work himself. 26.10

It seems to me to be a mere question of salary. Let Mr. Hubback draw the available half salary of Architect until 31st Dec 1895, but let the title be dropped. I suppose the auditor will not object. 29.10.1895 Resident Selangor To Note.

Just from a the above minutes which is only 3 pages long, one can begin to see the complexities in the administration of the British Colony in Malaya. Ah. The refreshing world of politics at work, which is not totally dissimilar to your every day office politics! Anyhow, it all started with Charles Edwin Spooners note to the Resident of Selangor on 23 August 1895 which I believe is more legible then the earlier minutes.

Could it have been as such? It may be speculative .....

  1. C. E. Spooner had lobbied for A. B. Hubback to be promoted to Acting Architect in August 1895. The legislative council (or resident under advice) agreed that Hubback could draw half salary from A.C. Norman but would not be given the title of Architect as it was not accounted for in 1895's estimates.
  2. Moreover, the title of Architect were only given in the richest and largest of the Colonies under the British Empire.
  3. There could have been early signs of discontentment with Mr. Bellamy and quiet possibly A. C. Norman as well.
  4. It is clear that the draughtsman at that time did all the laborious work of the architect without given the necessary title or pay.
So was it Norman or Hubback in designing Carcosa? Looking at the timeline, if Hubback was really appointed Architect in 1895, there would have been an extremely high possibility that Carcosa would clearly be credited to him, as his later works in Malaya do contain the Tudor style similar to that of Carcosa. It should not be said that by being a draughtsman at that time, he should not get the credit. If that happened, then we would have to review A.C. Norman and RAJ Bidewell works as well. However, to be fair, historically, a draughtsman's job does equate to an architects job during that period. It was most probably the set back of not being able to obtain the promotion and title of Architect in 1895 that caused A. B. Hubback to only apply for his Fellow from the R.I.B.A in 1909, prompting him in penning down Carcosa as part of his contribution to Malaya, which he so rightly deserved.What do you think?

Carcosa - Sitting in an English Garden

1 comment:

Malaysia-Traveller said...

Great work in producing an informative and worthwhile website. I hope your detailed research will be able to produce a definitive list of all of AB Hubback's buildings, including his later works which were not included in his letter to RIBA.

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