Tangled Worlds: The Story of Maria Hertogh 9789814377751

This story centres on the time Maria Hertogh spent in Singapore in 1950, when she became the innocent focus of a tangle

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Tangled Worlds: The Story of Maria Hertogh

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INSTITUTE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES Heng Mui Keng Terrace, Pasir Panjang, Singapore 0511

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies was established as an autonomous organization in May 1968. It is a regional research centre for scholars and other specialists concerned with modern Southeast Asia. The Institute's research interest is focused on the many-faceted problems of development and modernization, and political and social change in Southeast Asia. The Institute is governed by a twenty-four member Board of Trustees on which are represented the National University of Singapore , appointees from the government , as well as representatives from a broad range of professional and civic organizations and groups. A ten-man Executive Committee oversees day-to-day operations ; it is chaired by the Director, the Institute's chief academic and administrative officer.

Th e responsibility for facts and opinions expressed in this publication rests exclusively with the author and his interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the Institute or its supporters.

"Copyright subsists in this publication under the United Kingdom Copyright Act , 1911, and the Singapore Copyright Act (Cap . 187). No person shall reproduce a copy of this publication, or extracts therefrom, without the written permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore."

TANGLED WORLDS The Story of Maria Hertogh

LOCAL HISTORY AND MEMOIRS The importance of Oral History as a means of recovering and recording descriptions and interpretations of events of recent history by men and women who made history is fairly widely accepted. In the context of Southeast Asia, it is of particular significance, as it is unlikely that many Southeast Asians will write memoirs, biographies or leave their papers behind in such a way that scholars will have access to them in the future. If their contributions and perceptions are not recorded and preserved, historians may lose a vital source for their future histories of the region. With this in mind, the Institute of South ~ ast Asian Studies in 1972 inaugurated a modest, long-term programme in Oral History, with special emphasis on the social and economic history of Singapore and Malaysia. In addition to this programme, the Institute planned several special projects, including one on the ethnography of the Singapore cultural communities. Indeed, the latter activities have developed to such a point as to necessitate the Oral History Programme of the Institute being subsumed under the wider rubric of "Local History and Memoirs". This, it is hoped, will not only allow for greater scope and flexibility but also better reflect the Institute's real interest in the area. All the same, as in the case of the Oral History Programme, the Institute looks forward to working with all those concerned with the collection and preservation of ethnographic data, reminiscences, recollections, and memoirs or biographies of those who participated in the history and development of the region generally or in a particular event therein.

Tangled Worlds -- The Story of Marro flertogh is the first publication of the Institute's expanded Local History and Memoirs Programme.

TANGLED WORLDS The Story of Maria Hertogh

Tom Eames Hughes

Local History and Memoirs No. 1 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 1980


This story centres on the time Maria Hertogh spent in Singapore m 1950, when she became the innocent focus of a tangle of cultures and religions which aroused worldwide interest. There are introductory chapters outlining her origins and an epilof,rue sketching what happer..ed to her afterwards. The author was at the time (up to 3 November 1950) head of the Singapore Social Welfare Department which was, as is described, intimately involved. The account is thus largely based on firsthand knowledge. Recoilection has been refreshed by reference to the sources listed at the end of this paper, in particular, the author's own notes and the information supplied by Miss B.N. Tan who was Lady Superintendent of the Girls Homecraft Centre, York Hill, when Maria lived there for three months in 1950. This account was completed at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, during a Visiting Fellowship awarded to the writer in March/April 1980. He is grateful to the Director and staff of the Institute for the facilities and help given to him, in particular to Dr. Sharon Siddique, Research Officer, his mentor at the Institute, who gently improved his efforts without usurping any of his responsibility for what is now presented.


The name on Maria's document of birth is HUBERDINA MARIA HERTOGH. By the Dutch and other Westerners she was normally called BERTHA {or BERTA) HERTOGH. The name given to her when circumcised by Muslim rites was NADRA binte MA'AROF and she was known as NADRA to Malays and other Muslims. Che Aminah called her NADRA except sometimes when talking to Westerners when she used the name BERTHA. To the Social Welfare Department she was known as MARIA HERTOGH and this was the name most frequently used in court proceedings and by the English language press. MARIA HERTOGH is the name generally used in this account.

The titles INCHE and CHE are used for Malay men and women respectively in this account: these were the styles in use at the time.



HOW IT BEGAN IN JAVA, UP TO 1942: Maria's birth and parentage; parents' background; adoptions; Hertogh children; Che Aminah


MARIA COMES UNDER THE CARE OF CHE AMINAH, 1942: Mrs. Hertogh's version; Che Aminah's version; court discounts both; was Mrs. Hertogh interned?; date of Maria's transfer to Che Aminah



1942 TO 1950:


IV: MARIA IN SINGAPORE: Placed in care of Social Welfare Department pending result of court proceedings; custody awarded to parents: April/May 1950 V:























2 TO 12








HOW IT BEGAN IN JAVA, UP TO 1942 1\-laria's birth and parentage; parents' background; adoptions; Hertogh children; Che Aminah

Maria Hertogh was born on 24 March 1937 at Tjimahi in Java in the Dutch East Indies. Her father was Adrianus Petus Hertogh. Born in Holland in 1905, he had in 1924 enlisted in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army. In the early thirties he married Adeline Hunter, a Eurasian brought up in Java. Maria was thus a Dutch subject by birth, though she never saw Holland until she was nearly fourteen years old, after the events here described when she became, willy nilly and with tragic results, the central figure in a clash of cultures and religions. She was born in to a Christian family. On 10 April 19 3 7, she was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ignatius at Tjimahi by a Catholic priest, Father de Koster. During her earliest years, she regularly attended services at a Roman Catholic Church with her family.

* **** Maria's mother, Adeline Hertogh, was the daughter of one Hunter, son of a Scotsman settled in Java who had married an Indonesian (EuraSian) actress known as Nor Louise. They had two children, Adeline and a brother (two years older} who became a Muslim and was known as Soewaldi. Nor Louise, Adeline's mother, then acting with the "Bolero Opera Party", left Hunter when Adeline was five years old for an Indonesian Muslim, also an actor, named Raden Ismail.


Adeline was then "adopted" by an Indonesian Muslim. She was brought up as a Muslim until about the age of fifteen. She then met A.P. Hertogh, left her Muslim parents and married him in a Roman Catholic ceremony at Bandoeng in West Java. There is thus a parallel between the early lives of Maria and her mother. Both started off as Christians (or, in Adeline's case, at least as a non-Muslim). Both were "adopted" by Muslims at the age of five and then came under Muslim influences which dominated their lives until about the age of fifteen. Later, both reverted, Adeline, willingly, Maria unwillingly, to a Christian environment. The circumstances of Maria's "adoption" are disputed, as will be described. Such "adoptions" may seem strange in some western eyes, especially when they involve, as in these cases, a change of religion. However, the transfer of children, especially female children, was a common occurrence in Southeast Asia and still continues, though on a diminishing scale. In Singapore, the Department of Social Welfare is required by law to register and supervise children not living with their natural parents. One reason for this was the need to control the traffic in young females who were exploited for purposes of prostitution, and as cheap female labour (mui tsais), child actresses and so forth. It was also necessary to deal with the custom, among Malays as well as Chinese, of "giving away" children for economic reasons and as a result of the breakup of family units. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the problem was compounded by the disappearance of many parents during the Japanese occupation. Maria's father was one of thousands of these, though unlike many others he survived the war. The postwar Singapore requirement for registration did not, of


course, apply in ] ava at the end of 194 2 when Maria came under the care of Che Aminah binte Mohamed. In any case, the administration was in a state of chaos after nine months of Japanese military occupation. Whatever the circumstances under which Maria was handed over to Che Aminah, there was not at the time any possibility of its authentication by legal process, even if the taking of such action was ever contemplated by the parties concerned -- which is very unlikely. Their world was one in which the transfer of children was neither uncommon nor socially unacceptable, where such transfers were often made without legal formalities, irrespective of blood relationships and regardless of religious allegiances. It was also the world of the Japanese occupation: a world in which, Singapore people say, if you laughed, you were liable to be shot or, if you did not laugh, you were also liable to be shot.

***** At the end of 1942, Adeline Hertogh was living with her mother in Tjimahi. Her husband, now a Sergeant in the Netherlands East Indies Army, had been taken prisoner of war by the ] apanese. No one knew where he was or if he was still alive. In the chaotic conditions of the occupation, she was living in straitened and threatening circumstances, with five young children to care for and another about to arrive. One way of lightening the burden would be to find another home for one or more of her children. Whether her thoughts ran this way we do not know, but if they did, Maria, the youngest daughter, would have been the first to go. By 1942, Sergeant and Mrs. Hertogh had six children. The first three were girls: Weisji (born 1935), Corry (1936) and Maria (1937). Two boys were born between 1938 and 1941. A third boy was born late in December 1942. A seventh child, a boy, was born in Holland after the war, in 1948.


Maria went to live with Che Aminah at the end of 1942, when she was three or four months short of her sixth birthday. There is no doubt about this fact, though there are different versions, recorded in the next chapter, of the circumstances and conditions under which it happened.

* *** * Che Aminah binte Mohamed was hom of a "very respected" Malay family in Kemaman, Trengganu, Malaya. At the age of nineteen, in about 1919, she married Inche Abdul Ghani of Perak, who was Private Secretary to the Sultan of Trengganu. He was a cousin of Dato Bukit Gantang who became Mentri Besar {Chief Minister) of Perak after the war. Soon afterwards, accompanied by Che Aminah, he went to Tokyo as Malay Language Lecturer in a Foreign Languages College there. They lived in Tokyo for eleven or twelve years. They had no children. Abdul Ghani died. In the mid-thirties Che Aminah married Inche Ma'arof bin Haji Abdul, a jeweller in Bandoeng. A year after this second marriage, Che Aminah became friendly with "a Muslim Indo-Dutch woman named Nor Louise". This was the Mrs. Hunter who was the mother of Adeline Hertogh, Maria's mother. Che Aminah said she became as one of the family. This was not in the capacity of a servant or amah, as she was later described by some newspapers. "This Malay lady is not a kampong woman," said Mr. Justice Brown on 2 December 1950 (see qhapter XI). "In Europe she would be described as belonging to the 'bourgeoisie' or middle class."

** ***


These events in Java in 1942 sprang from the exceptional circumstances of war. They were not unique in that violent year when many families were displaced and many fathers had disappeared. Even the stress of two religions interacting within one family was not unknown in a region which, for centuries, had seen many religions jostling one another in a confluence of cultures. In Maria's particular case, however, cultural and religious incompatibilities were to flare into tragedy, public and private.


II: . MARIA COMES UNDER THE CARE OF CHE AMINAH, 1942 Mrs. Hertogh's version; Che Aminah's version; Court discounts both; was Mrs. Hertogh interned?; date of Maria's transfer to Che Aminah

There are two versions of the circumstances and understanding under which Maria came under the care of Che Aminah. One is the version given by Mrs. Adeline Hertogh and put forward by the Dutch authorities; the other is Che Aminah's. They differ in material respects. Mrs. Hertogh's version was given in evidence before Mr. Justice Brown at the hearing in November 1950 (see Chapter XI). Its basis is that, at the time of her confinement with her sixth child in December 1942, under her mother's persuasion, she had reluctantly agreed to allow Maria to go and stay with Che Aminah on a short visit. Before Maria returned to her, she was interned. This is not far removed from the sworn testimony of Frans van Lunteren of the Consulate-General for the Netherlands in Singapore, submitted at the first High Court hearing and dated 22 April 1950, to the effect that Maria had been handed over to Che Aminah for "safekeeping" -- not in adoption -- immediately before Mrs. Hertogh's internment. In evidence, Mrs. Hertogh stated that in December 1942, when living with her mother at Tjimahi and expecting her sixth child towards the end of that month, Che Aminah three times asked her to let Maria go to stay with her for a few days at Bandoeng, a short distance away. Three times Mrs. Hertogh refused. Around the time the sixth child was born on 29 December, her mother, Che Aminah's friend, persuaded Mrs. Hertogh to allow the child to go and visit Che Aminah for three or four days.


Three days after Mrs. Hertogh's confinement, Che Aminah arrived to fetch Maria. As the child did not return on the third or fourth day, Mrs.

Hertogh borrowed a bicycle on the fifth day (eight days after her confinement) and set out for Bandoeng to bring back her daughter. On the outskirts of Bandoeng, she was arrested by a Japanese sentry because she had no pass. She was thereupon interned. From her place of internment, Mrs. Hertogh smuggled a letter to her mother asking for her children to be sent to her. Maria was not with them, so she asked her mother to fetch Maria from Che Aminah in Bandoeng. Her mother wrote and told her that Che Aminah wanted to keep the child for two more days, after which she herself would bring the child to the internment camp. Maria was not so brought. Her mother said she never saw her at all during her internment. After her release, she could not find Maria or Che Aminah.

* **** Che Aminah's differing version was given in statements made to the Department of Social Welfare, Singapore, in April 1950 and in sworn testimony to the High Court in April/May and December 1950. Her first statement, signed and dated 24 April 1950, was taken down by Mrs. P.H. Lim, a supervisor in the Social Welfare Department. In it, Che Aminah claimed that she had been on close terms with the Hertogh family and that Adeline Hertogh had in 1942 put


Maria in her custody for adoption. She said there were no documents relating to the transaction "because of the chaotic conditions at the time." She said that, after much discussion I told the mother that I was not prepared to have her child unless she agreed not to Claim her back in future. She assured me that she would never dispute the custody of her child, and would explain matters to her husband when he is released from internment.

She added that she had helped Adeline financially on many occasions "as I regarded her as a member of my family. I did not receive any money from her for the upkeep of Maria." Che Aminah submitted two affidavits at the first custody hearing in April/May 1950. In the first, dated 26 April, she referred to Maria as her "adopted daughter" and affirmed that Maria had been given in adoption to her in 194 2 in Java by her mother, Mrs. Adeline Hertogh. The second affidavit, dated 17 May 1950, sought to repudiate the claim in Frans van Lunteren's affidavit of 22 April, affirming: I emphatically deny the allegation that (Maria) was handed over to me for safe keeping by Mrs. Hertogh immediately before she was interned. If this was so, I would not have converted the girl to Islam and brought her up as my own child. (Maria) was voluntarily given to me by Mrs. Hertogh for adoption by me and it was some time later that she was interned.

With this affidavit, Che Aminah submitted a "letter of confirmation" signed by Soewaldi, Adeline Hertogh's brother. This raises conjectures of some interest to which reference will be made later. Che Aminah also gave evidence before Mr. Justice Brown in November 1950 (see Chapter XI). On the adoption issue she said that, late in 1942, Mrs. Hertogh asked her if she would like to have one of her children, as Mrs. Hertogh had many and she had none.


Mrs. Hertogh added, according to Che Aminah, that she did not know whether her husband was dead or alive, but she was in any case prepared to take the responsibility (of giving away Maria) and to answer to him for her action. Che Aminah asserted that she then told Mrs. Hertogh that, if she took Maria, it must be on the understanding that she would regard her absolutely as her child and that she would bring her up in the Muslim faith. To this, Mrs. Hertogh was said to have replied that she would be glad because she herself had been brough t up as a Muslim.

***** The Judge who heard these differing versions in November 1950 described both Che Aminah and Mrs. Hertogh as unreliable witnesses. He declined to arrive at any finding of fact between the conflicting stories. He seems to have felt that this feature of the case was of secondary importance on the ground that, whatever arrangement had been reached between Mrs. Hertogh and Che Aminah in 1942, Maria's father, first plaintiff in the renewed custody hearing, had taken no part in them. The event at issue had taken place eight years earlier, under conditions of great stress for all concerned, especially Mrs. Hertogh. And she did not give her evidence until after the case, after seven months of unrestrained publicity, had become inflamed by controversy and extreme attitudes, racial and religious. Che Aminah's versions, given at various times between April and November, remained consistent, except on the point, considered below, of whether Mrs. Hertogh was interned. Moreover, neither Mrs. Hertogh nor Che Aminah spoke English; the Judge had to hear them through interpreters and although he had the advantage of observing them in court and although he and the


court officials concerned were well experienced in the problems evaluating translated evidence, he may not have dug as deep as might have done into an aspect of the case which was not going govern his verdict. By then, the legal validity of Maria's marnage 1 August 1950 had become the dominant issue.

of he to on

It is, however, to be regretted that the truth of what was done to Maria in 1942 is now unlikely to be incontrovertibly established. The status of Che Aminah in relation to the child Maria lay at the core of all that flowed from the events of 1942 in Java.

Maria herself had little recollection of the circumstances under which she had come under Che Aminah's care. By 1950 she had almost forgotten her parents. "I do not know them," she told the Department of Social Welfare on 26 April. "Che Aminah is my mother ... she has no other children ... I am the only one."

* * * * * There are two other aspects of what happened in 1942 which should be mentioned, even if only conjecturally. The first is: was Adeline Hertogh interned by the Japanese? The courts and the Riots Enquiry Commission in 1951 accepted that Mrs. Hertogh was interned from about 5 January 1943 until the end of the war. But there is some inconclusive evidence suggesting that she may not have been. Che Aminah testified before Mr. Justice Brown in November 1950 that Mrs. Hertogh and her mother (Nor Louise, Mrs. Hunter) were present at Maria's Muslim circumcision which took place "about a year after" Maria had been handed over to her: this would have been the end of 1943 or the beginning of 1944. Would Adeline Hertogh have been able to leave internment for the ceremony? Che Aminah during the November proceedings denied that


Mrs. Hertogh was ever interned. She also testified that she and Adeline continued to visit each other frequently after Maria had come under her care. She also said that Mrs. Hertogh went to Sourabaya to get a job "about the end of 1943 or the beginning of 1944" --which was the last Che Aminah saw of her until November 1950. On the other hand, in an earlier affidavit sworn on 17 May 1950, Che Aminah said that Mrs. Hertogh was interned "some time after" Maria was handed over to her. Mr. M.A. Majid, who comes into this story later, recorded in the late fifties that neither Mrs. Hertogh nor any of her family (excepting Sergeant Hertogh) were ever arrested or interned during the war. It is possible that, as a Eurasian whose home was in Java, Mrs. Hertogh would have been left alone by the occupying forces if she had kept what is now known as a low profile. However, the affidavit of Frans van Lunteren submitted to the court at the first custody hearing in April/May explicitly stated that Mrs. Hertogh was interned by the Japanese. Presumably, the Dutch authorities would have access to whatever records of internees as were available. The balance of probability is that Mrs. Hertogh was interned. If she was not, it would have to be explained how she was unable to

maintain contact with Che Aminah and Maria (unless she had written off Maria for good) and why she and her husband were unable to trace them after the war: they did not finally leave Java, after Sergeant Hertogh had returned from captivity in Japan, until about two years after the end of the war. If it could .be shown that Mrs. Hertogh was not interned, not

only would her reliability as a witness be impugned but a different light would be shed on the issue of whether Maria was handed over for (permanent) adoption or (merely) for safekeeping during the war. The second aspect which should be mentioned, and which also has relevance to the point made at the end of the previous paragraph,


1s: what was the actual date on which Maria was handed over to Che Aminah? The courts and the Riots Commission took this to be the very end of December 1942. But the "letter of confirmation" signed by Soewaldi, which as already mentioned was submitted to the court with Che Aminah's affidavit of 17 May 1950, places the event at a date six weeks earlier. The letter was dated at Bandoeng on 15 November 1942. It certified that on that day at Bandoeng Soewaldi witnessed the handing over of Maria to Mr. Ma'roef (sic) and said that this was done voluntarily and without any condition. The courts do not seem to have given any weight to this testimony. It is not mentioned in the judgements. The true date of the transfer of Maria has significance in relation to the motivation and intentions of her mother. Mrs. Hertogh later claimed in court that she did not want Maria to go to Che Aminah, that she tried to ~et her back after she ~ad gone to Che Aminah on a temporary visit and that it was in an effort to regain her that she was suddenly and unexpectedly interned and so lost Maria. If the letter of Soewaldi, Mrs. Hertogh's brother, is correct, Maria was given to Che Aminah six weeks before the birth of Mrs. Hertogh's sixth child and before internment for Mrs. Hertogh was an immediate prospect.

Che Aminah's only recorded statement relating to the timing of the hand-over is in her affidavit of 17 May mentioned above. It is to the effect that Mrs. Hertogh was interned "some time later", that is, some time after Maria came under her care: this statement could be referring to either the November or the end-December date but it would relate more naturally to the former.

* * * * *


Whatever the circumstances, Maria came under the care of Che Aminah when she was 5 years and 8 or 9 months old. From that time, Che Aminah brought her up in the Muslim faith and the Malay way of life. Mr. Justice Brown in his judgement of 2 December 1950 said he believed she was a good and devoted foster-mother. Maria was given the name of Nadra binte Ma'arof at her Muslim circumcision about a year after she came under Che Aminah's care. She grew up as a devout, practising Muslim. She spoke only Malay and preferred to be called by her Malay name. She was deeply attached to Che Aminah. Her childhood was contented.



Maria lived in Java with Che Aminah from the tum of the year in 1942/43 until some time after the end of the Japanese occupation. When Maria was handed over, Che Aminah was living in Bandoeng. But when Mrs. Hertogh's mother went to see her at Mrs. Hertogh's request after Mrs. Hertogh had been interned, she found the house empty. Che Aminah and Maria had apparently gone to Batavia. Che Aminah told the Social Welfare Department on 24 April1950 that they later moved back to Bandoeng "because of Bertha. If I were found with a Dutch child, the terrorists would have killed me." Maria was known to Malays as "Puteh", the fair one: she was conspicuous and Che Aminah's claim that the care of Maria was at great personal risk to herself had some basis. Back in Bandoeng, Che Aminah, making use of a skill acquired during her long residence in Japan, got a job as an interpreter with the Japanese military police. She avoided trouble during the occupation but continued to be in fear of "terrorists" and, as travel became easier in 194 7, she took Maria, via Singapore, to live in Kemaman, in the state of Trengganu in the Federation of Malaya, where she had relatives. She claimed that leaving Java meant the loss of a substantial amount of property which she estimated as being worth about S$50,000. At Kemaman, Maria attended the Chukai Malay Girls School for more than two years. She wore Malay clothes. She could not use a knife and fork. She learnt the Quran.


Sergeant Hertogh, Maria's father, was sent as a prisoner of war from Java to Japan, where he was released in 1945. He returned to Java and rejoined his wife. They said they enquired about Maria but could not find her. Eventually they returned to Holland without having been able to contact Maria or Che Aminah. They asked the Dutch authorities in Java and Singapore to try and trace the child. Investigations were then made by the Red Cross Society, the Indonesian Repatriation Service, the Dutch Army authorities and the Police. It was not until September 1949 that it was learnt that Maria was living, with Che Aminah, in Kampong Banggol, Chukai, Kemaman. Mr. and Mrs. Hertogh then requested the Netherlands ConsulateGeneral, Singapore, to arrange for Maria's return to them. Early in 1950, negotiations were opened through the Administrative Officer (East) at Kemaman, Mr. A. Locke. He expressed doubts about the wisdom of returning Maria to her parents in Holland: "you must remember the girl is now virtually a Malay," he said, and added that a sum of S$500 offered to Che Aminah to make up for what she had spent in maintaining Maria for nearly eight years was "poor compensation for the loss of a daughter." Somehow or other, Che Aminah was induced in April 1950 to come down from Kemaman to Singapore, with Maria. They had visited Singapore, where Che Aminah had friends, on previous occasiOns. It is not clear what persuaded them to make this particular VISit, which had portentous consequences. The intention of the Dutch authorities was to send Maria back to her parents in Holland but Che Aminah would not have brought her to Singapore if she had thought that that was the only purpose of the visit.


The judges at the first appeal in July 1950 seem to have accepted that Che Aminah and Maria were induced to come to Singapore in order to talk things over with the Dutch ConsulGeneral, in particular a suggestion, strongly advocated by Mr. Locke, that they should both go together to Holland to sort things out with Maria's parents. The terms of Che Aminah's first recorded statement to the Social Welfare Department, quoted in Chapters II and IV, suggest that at this early stage Che Aminah was sure of her ground. So she may have come to Singapore with the idea of getting the issue of the custody of Maria settled once and for all in her favour, either by negotiation with the Dutch authorities or with the parents (there was the suggestion that she should go to Holland with Maria), or, in the last resort, by the courts. While Che Aminah and Maria were temporarily under the jurisdiction of Singapore courts, the Netherlands Consul-General instituted proceedings in the High Court aimed at restoring Maria to her parents in Holland. Even before the proceedings began, the Dutch ConsulateGeneral had made arrangements for Maria herself to travel by sea to Holland. The proposal that Che Aminah should accompany her fell through. According to Mr. Frans van Lunteren, Concellor1 at the Consulate-General, in an affidavit sworn at Singapore on 22 April 1950, this was because Maria's parents could not afford the cost of her passage.

1 "Concellor" is what Mr. Van Lunteren called himself in his affidavit. He was No. 2 at the Consulate-General. It is understood it indicates the rank of Consul. The Consul-General (acting) was Jacob Van Der Gaag (spelling in Riot Commission Report para 24). Spelling elsewhere is Vanderhaag.


There 1s no record that the Dutch authorities ever offered to help with Che Aminah's passage. In Holland on 23 May, Maria's father repeated to the press that he had no money for Che Aminah's passage. He then added that, though he could not give Che Aminah any financial support, he was "prepared to give her food and shelter in my house so that she can stay with the girl of whom she appears to be so fond." By then it was too late. The day before, 22 May, the Chief Justice, who on 19 May had ordered the return of Maria to her parents, granted a stay of execution pending an appeal. This meant that Maria, who had been placed in the care and custody of the Department of Social Welfare while the original proceedings were before the High Court, remained with the Department and could not for the time being leave Singapore. Maria did not leave Singapore for another seven months. She never returned to her kampong in Kemaman. By this time, the end of May, a critical stage had been reached. The principal characters, without realizing it at the time, had now irrevocably passed a turning which had been momentarily accessible, a turning which could have led them to a quite different course of events. In this story, this was not the first, nor was it by any means to be the last, false-footing.


IV: MARIA IN SINGAPORE Placed in care of Social Welfare Department pending result of court proceedings: custody awarded to parents: April/May 1950

Che Aminah and Maria had come to Singapore from Kemaman around 12 April1950. It was the Chinese year of the Tiger, an ominous year for some. They stayed at No. 94 Syed Alwi Road. There they were visited on two or three occasions by officers of the Dutch Consulate-General, who found that Che Aminah was unwilling to be separated from Maria. The Consulate then sought the assistance of the Social Welfare Department, which dealt with displaced persons and with children in need of care or protection. Officers of the Women and Children's section of the Department got in touch with Che Aminah and Maria. Che Aminah's attitude then was that she was not prepared to give up Maria in any circumstances. She also said she did not want the S$500 which had been offered by the Consulate as compensation for the expenses of maintaining Maria for eight years. At this point, understanding that Che Aminah and Maria intended to return to Kemaman, Mr. Jacob Van Der Gaag, then acting as Netherlands Consul-General in Singapore, on 22 April 1950, by way of Originating Summons No. 124 of 1950, applied to the High Court for an order under the Guardianship of Infants Ordinance directing Che Aminah to deliver Maria into the custody of the Social Welfare Department, pending the making of a further order. The Chief Justice on the same day in Chambers heard and approved the application and ordered accordingly. Che Aminah and Maria knew nothing of all this. Neither was


served with cop1es of the Originating Summons. They were not m court and were not represented. The Chief Justice's interim order dated 22 April was transmitted that day to the Social Welfare Department and served by an officer of the Department on Che Aminah who surrendered Maria into the Department's care. She was sent to Middle Road Hospital for medical examination, which was the normal routine for all children committed into the Department's care. Found fit and free of all infection, virgo intacta, and judged to be of a clinical age of 15, she was admitted to the Girls Homecraft Centre, York Hill, on Monday, 24 April 1950. Thus the Department of Social Welfare became directly involved m the case. Its headquarters at the time was in the building then known as the Old Supreme Court, at the Padang end of High Street next to the Victoria Memorial Hall. It is now Parliament House. This is the oldest public building in Singapore. Originally built m 1826/27 by George Drumgold Coleman as a private residence for John Argyle Maxwell, merchant and one of Singapore's first three magistrates, it was never occupied by him owing to a dispute over his title to the land. The Settlement Government leased it in 1827 and in 1841/42 it was bought for S$15,600 by Thomas Church, Resident Councillor, for use as Government offices. From 18 75 it housed the Supreme Court until the latter moved in 1939 to new domed splendour across the .way in St. Andrew's Road. In 1953/54, the building was completely reconstructed and renovated, while retaining its exterior outlines, as Legislative Assembly House. It became Parliament House m 1959. The Social Welfare Department occupied the building for six years from 1946. It was then in a somewhat tatty condition after


more than a century's recobbling for divers uses, but it was central and roomy enough as headquarters for the Department's multifarious activities. It was here in 1950 that Che Aminah came on 24 April, the day Maria was admitted to the Girls Homecraft Centre, to the Women and Girls section at the north (High Street) end of the ground floor, behind the bronze elephant presented to Singapore by King Chulalongkorn of Siam in 1871. It was then that she made to Mrs. P.H. Lim the statement most of which is quoted in Chapter II. After claiming that Maria had been given to her in permanent adoption in 1942, she said that the officers of the Consulate who had recently visited her "did not make clear what they wanted" but that they told Maria that she must return to her parents in Holland. She went on: Maria insists on staying with me. I want to appeal to the Chief Justice for the custody of Maria because I have no child and regard her as my own. I want a statement to be taken from Maria. If she desires to return to her parents, I am prepared to give her up. If she decides to remaill with me, I will fight for the right to keep her. I want Maria to remain in Singapore until this case has been settled in the High Court.

Following this, on 26 April, Mr. C.R.D. Danby, then Assistant Secretary in charge of the Women and Children's section, took a statement from Maria in which she asserted that she wanted to stay with Che Aminah and did not wish to go to her "other mother" in Holland. Of course, Maria was at the time wholly under the influence of Che Aminah. But the impression received by the Department was that their devotion to each other was genuine; nothing came to alter this view during the three months that Maria was in the Department's care. On 28 April, Che Aminah, having submitted her first affidavit


referred to in Chapter II, obtained leave to be made a party to the adjourned High Court proceedings before the Chiefjustice in Chambers. lnche Ahmad Ibrahim, of S.C. Goho & Co., solicitors for Che Aminah, also filed an affidavit requesting the presence of Maria at the hearing which was resumed on Friday, 19 May. The court then had before it the affidavit from Mr. Frans van Lunteren referred to at the beginning of Chapter II and another from him summarizing Dutch law relating to adoption and nationality. Che Aminah submitted the affidavit dated 1 7 May, denying that Maria had been handed over to her only for "safekeeping" during the war. To this was attached a copy of Soewaldi's "letter of confirmation". The hearing lasted only about a quarter of an hour. Inche Ahmad Ibrahim, quoting precedent, argued that Che Aminah was entitled to the custody of Maria, being her de facto guardian. No oral evidence was taken. The Chief Justice ruled that, in the circumstances, Maria must be returned to her natural parents. He ordered that the Social Welfare Department should deliver Maria into the care and custody of the Consul-General for the Netherlands in Singapore and that the latter was at liberty to restore Maria to the care and protection of her lawful parents in Holland.




Once the case had been brought before the courts, it ceased to be a private issue between two families. Talk about it spread through Singapore and beyond. Its religious and racial undercurrents began to bubble to the surface. The central figure was a pretty thirteen-year-old girl, fair-haired and brown-eyed. Born of the Christian west and nurtured in the Muslim east, she exemplified the upheavals of a war which was still raw in the memory. The press scented a story. They sought out Che Aminah and approached the Dutch authorities. They interviewed ex-Sergeant Hertogh at Bergen-op-Zoom, Holland. They tried the Social Welfare Department, both at the Old Supreme Court and at the Girls Homecraft Centre, York Hill. The Department confirmed that, Maria was in their care but, as was normal practice, refused to allow reporters to interview Maria or to discuss the case while it was sub judz"ce. Maria's father in Holland acknowledged that his daughter had been found and that he hoped to get her back, indicating that there was more behind the story than he was then prepared to tell. Che Aminah and the Dutch authorities in Singapore gave their own versions in response to press enquiries. So by 19 May, when the hearing was resumed, public interest was widely aroused. A large number of local reporters and representatives of the foreign press were gathered at the approaches to the Supreme Court and in the office outside the Chief Justice's chambers. Maria was brought to the Welfare office in the Old Supreme Court by Miss B.N. Tan, Lady Superintendent of the York Hill Home, where Maria had been living. She was dressed in European clothes, the idea being to make her less conspicuous. She wore a printed mauve


floral dress. Her hair was in two pigtails. · She had two red hair clips, two tiny gold earrings and a locket on a thin gold chain round her neck. Escorted by Mr. Danby and besieged by reporters, Maria and Miss Tan made their way across to the Supreme Court building and arrived at the office outside the Chief Justice's chambers half-an-hour before the hearing. Che Aminah was there. She and Maria embraced and talked in whispers. At this stage, reporters did not try to speak to them. Mr. Danby and Miss Tan refused to make statements. After the brief hearing, Maria and Che Aminah left by the Judge's lift at the back of the building. This led to the street oalled Colombo Court where a car from the Consulate was waiting to take Maria away. Maria refused to enter the car. She clung to Che Aminah. They both started shouting at the top of their voices, in Malay, that they would kill themselves rather than be separated. Che Aminah screamed for all Muslims to come to help her. With tears streaming down her face, Maria cried "Aminah is my mother. Do you love me, mother? If you love me, don't leave me. I don't want to go with this man." The commotion attracted a large crowd. The press crowded around in force. Led by a correspondent of the London Daily Mail, one MacDonald, they started taking photographs. Maria and Che Aminah wedged themselves between a car and the metal grille protecting the back entrance to the courts, which Che Aminah gripped with all her strength. Miss Tan tried to persuade her to get in the car but Che Aminah struck her with one of her slippers, injuring her hands. The crowd pressed closer. The melee went on for three quarters of an hour, whereupon Mr. Danby ran across to the Social Welfare Department for more


female assistance. Then he went back into the court building to seek the help of Mr. Tan Toon Lip, who was then acting as Registrar to the High Court. Mr. Tan came down but his appeals to the crowd to disperse had little effect. Eventually with Mrs. P.H. Lim and Miss Cheong from the Welfare office helping Miss Tan, Che Aminah was prevailed upon to move towards the waiting car. Only after she had been persuaded that she should go and see her lawyer, who had left immediately after the hearing, was she induced to enter it. Maria, Che Aminah and her brother, Miss Tan, Mrs. Lim, Miss Cheong and Mr. Danby then all went in the car to Inche Ahmad Ibrahim's office in Malacca Street. Reporters were waiting there so they did not get out of the car for fear of another scene like the fracas in Colombo Court. But Mr. Danby went upstairs and eventually got Inche Ahmad Ibrahim to come down and talk to his client Che Aminah. He explained to her that Maria must be given up: Che Aminah could return to see him aftc::rwards. Maria was then taken back to York Hill. She parted from Che Aminah with tears and embraces. Mr. Danby took Che Aminah back to Malacca Street. Meantime, the order made that day by the Chief Justice had not been served on the Department. Mr. Tan Toon Lip, as Registrar, confirmed that, until it was served, the previous order of 22 April committing Maria to the Department's care still stood. This was an unwelcome situation for the Department which felt that Maria in her highly emotional state might run away or even try to take her own life as, indeed, she had thr'e atened to do. However, there was no alternative and Mr. Kenneth Gould, of the law firm of Rodyk and Davidson, representing the Consulate, asked that the


Department should continue to look after Maria until the Chief Justice's order was served, after which it would be the responsibility of the Consul-General to see her safely aboard the ship for Holland. Early next morning, Saturday, 20 May, the writer of this account, who was then head of the Social Welfare Department, was visited in his office at the Old Supreme Court by the Netherlands Consul-General. The latter said he had arranged for Maria to travel to Holland, under the care of two Malay-speaking Red Cross nurses, in the steamship Surriento which was due to leave Singapore on the following Tuesday, 23 May. A problem was that he had no suitable accommodation for her until she embarked. Would I keep her in York Hill until then? I replied that, once I received the order made by the Chief Justice on the previous day, the service of which was expected at any moment, I would have no authority for this. He asked if I could do so on his explicit request, Maria having now been legally placed in his custody pending her return to her parents. Reluctantly I conceded this might be possible. I pointed out that there was not, and had never been, any statutory "care and protection" reason, other than the Chief Justice's first order of 22 April, for holding Maria in a "place of safety" like York Hill. I added (having at the back of my mind the likelihood that Che Aminah and her advisers would contest the Chief Justice's ruling) that he might be well advised to send Maria away from Singapore as soon as the order was served. He demurred. Satisfactory arrangements for travel in the Surriento had long been made and he felt it was more convenient to stick to them, provided Maria could stay with the Department for the weekend.


As things turned out, the Department could not m any case have relinquished care of Maria on that Saturday. For some reason, the Chief Justice's order of 19 May was not immediately available from the Registrar, or it was not obtained from his office by the solicitors for the Consul-General, for service on the Department. It still had not been served when, on Monday, 22 May, lawyers for Che Aminah (S.C. Goho & Co. represented by Mr. D.K. Walters and Mr. A. Muthuswamy), upon their undertaking to lodge and prosecute an appeal, obtained from the Chief Justice in open court a further order staying execution of his order of 19 May.

Events pursued their unrelenting course, though agam they were so nearly diverted.



Maria was in the care of the Department of Social Welfare at the Girls Homecraft Centre, York Hill, from 24 April until 28 July 1950. Before the war, this had been a voluntary charitable institution for girls known as the Po Leung Kok. From July 1948, it became a government institution directly administered by the Social Welfare Department. It was situated on open ground at the top of York Hill, an eminence next to Pearl's Hill in the City area, approached by turning right at the top of Chin Swee Road. The buildings (demolished in the sixties and replaced by a school) were in four groups behind each other on sloping ground. Though old, they were in reasonable repair, airy and roomy, with plenty of space for exercise, recreation, gardening and animal husbandry. Immediately after the war, Singapore was short of specialized homes for young people needing residential care. York Hill, as it was commonly known, was one of the attempted remedies. Inevitably in the circumstances of the time, it had to tackle a wide range of functions. It was gazetted as a Remand Home and a Place of Safety. Apart from occasional remand cases, York Hill catered in its Nursery section for infants, abandoned or orphaned, of either sex up to the age of six years, and in the Homecraft section, which included school classes, girls from seven to eighteen who were homeless, neglected, ill treated, " runaways", or "in moral danger"; and uncontrollable girls taken in at parents' request. Durations of stay varied widely and the girls entered at different ages, many without prevwus education; some were physically or mentally handicapped. Only the experience and dedication of the Superintendent and


her largely untrained staff enabled this single multipurpose institution containing so many disparate, disadvantaged, elements to function usefully. When Maria was admitted, the Home had twenty-one infants m the Nursery section plus forty-four children and ninety-nine other female young persons. There was a staff of twelve. It was not the ideal environment for Maria. She fell into none of the categories normally admitted. Che Aminah had cared for her solicitously and had sheltered her from the predicaments and perils of childhood which, in this case, were compounded by the commotions of war and their aftermath. Fortunately, she was a tractable and hitherto happy child; after the initial shock of finding herself in such an unexpected place, she tried to make the best of things.

After the traumatic events of 19 May, however, Maria was almost in despair when she found herself back again at York Hill. A Sunday newspaper reported that she went on hunger strike. This was not quite true. Certainly she was at first off her food. But by the Saturday night, after only pecking at her meals for the most of two days, she told the Lady Superintendent that she was hungry and tucked in heartily to a special meal that was then prepared for her. The Saturday was a regular Visiting Day at the Home. Che Aminah came, bringing for Maria a prayer mat and a copy of the Quran which Maria had asked for at their parting on the previous afternoon. The Press continued to be closely interested. Most days, reporters were to be found outside the gates of York Hill, seeking news or glimpses of Maria or hoping to photograph or interview her. The staff refused to give information to reporters. The press never succeeded in photographing or interviewing Maria during the whole period of her stay at York Hill.


It was not that Maria was kept in seclusion. She took part m all the normal activities of the Home, including games and even outings. On 14 June, Maria went with other girls of her own age from the Home for a picnic in Katong Park and went swimming. She went in a European dress, to which she readily agreed. She would have been more conspicuous in the baju kurong (a Malay dress) which she normally wore at York Hill, where all the girls could if they wished wear their own clothes. From outside, it was not possible to see what was going on inside the Home. All the areas where the girls assembled, played, worked and slept were out of sight of the only open space in front of the entrance lodge from which the ground sloped steeply upwards before flattening out beyond the fourth block of buildings. At the Home, Maria was treated as considerately as possible. Normal visiting days were on the first and third Saturdays of each month. From the start, Che Aminah was given special permission to see Maria once a week; and extra visits were authorized from time to time. She brought Maria clothes, sweets and fruit. She used to bring a clean pair of shoes, taking the pair which had been worn away to clean. A member of the staff would be present when Che Aminah met Maria in a private room but they were able to whisper to each other, while embracing, without being overheard. On her visits, Che Aminah was often accompanied by relations and friends. On two occasions, one of them was Mansoor Adabi. Letters and a photograph received through the Consulate from her family in Holland were handed to Maria. She was told she could reply freely to these if she wished but did not do so while she was at the Home. The Ramadan fasting month started m the third week of


June. Maria told the Lady Superintendent that she wished to observe the fast. Arrangements were made for this although Maria was at the time the only one fasting among those committed to the Home. She was given a special meal at 7 p.m. Around 10 p.m. the Superintendent herself provided a second meal. Members of the staff were detailed in turn to wake her up at 3 a.m. and to see that she had a third hot meal. The staff said that Maria was then very sleepy and took a long time to eat. But they were concerned for her well-being and made sure that she had three good meals during each twenty-four hours. Mr. M.A. Majid, then President of the Muslim Welfare Association (established in 194 7 with an office at 94 Collyer Quay), on 23 May inaugurated a "legal defence fund" to finance Che Aminah's appeal. His help had earlier been sought by Che Zaharah binte Noor Mohamed, President of the Malay Women's Welfare Association and her husband.

That week he came to see me at the Old Supreme Court with representations concerning Maria's treatment at York Hill. I suggested we should go there together for him to see for himself. We went on the morning of Saturday, 27 May, without forewarning the staff. Mr. Majid was shown everything that went on and spoke to Maria. On 30 May, he wrote to me saying he was "very much impressed" by the facilities provided. He went on to ask that Maria should not be required to do any work in the kitchen (the girls in turns helped to cook their own food) in case pork was cooked there; that she should be allowed to cook her own food separately; that she should be given facilities to study English and Malay; and that she should be undisturbed at her daily prayers and recitations of the Holy Quran. In reply, pointing out that all girls had to conform to the normal rules and routine of the Home, I wrote that this did not mean th at any child was ever required to do anything contrary to her


religious beliefs or to the customs of her community. My letter went on: Pork has not been cooked or supplied in the Home since Maria was admitted; it is not possible to arrange entirely separate cooking facilities for Maria and I do not think this is necessary as she is not any time required to eat food which offends against her religious beliefs; she is given every facility to take part in the normal life of the Home and this includes the study of English -- Malay is not taught as a class-room subject in the Home.

My letter ended: Maria seems a well-behaved and level-headed child and appears to be reasonably happy in the Home and to be making the best of her present situation which we all hope is temporary.

These explanations proved acceptable to Mr. Majid. On several occasions, he accompanied Che Aminah on her visits to York Hill. The appeal proceedings opened on 12 June. The Court of Appeal gave judgement on 28 July, setting aside the orders made by the Chief Justice on 22 April and 19 May. The result was that Maria returned to the custody of Che Aminah. Maria left York Hill that day, Friday, 28 July at 4.30 p.m. Overjoyed, Che Aminah came to fetch her. "Allah has answered my prayers," she said. Maria put on the new clothes which Che Aminah brought for her, a white baju kurong with a white calico head-dress crinkled into a flower effect and having two loose panels hanging down at the back to below her knees, like a wedding veil.



The court that heard the first appeal consisted of Mr. Justice D.E.C. Evans (President), Mr. Justice Paul Storr and Mr. Justice W. Thorogood. The appellant, Che Aminah, was represented by Dr. C.H. Withers-Payne (Mr. D.K. Walters, who filed the appeal on 22 May, being ill) and Mr. Ayyamperumal Muthuswamy. Mr. Kenneth Gould appeared for the respondent, the Consul-General for the Netherlands. The court unanimously set aside the orders made by the Chief Justice on 22 April and 19 May. All costs, at the earlier hearings and in the Appeal Court, were awarded to the appellant, Che Aminah. The orders were set aside on the ground that the originating summons had not been served on anyone; in particular it had not been served on Che Aminah and Maria, both of whom were named in it and were, in the opinion of the court, necessary parties. No authority to dispense with service had been sought or obtained, nor had there been a waiver of service on behalf of M