The Story of the Houses
he House System developed in Britain between 1820 and 1860 in the traditional English Public School. Many British students then were boarders in ‘Houses’, cut off to a large degree from home and parents. Over time these Houses developed a domestic quality and their own corporate identities, providing a framework for pastoral care of students and the fostering of healthy sporting and cultural extra-curricular rivalry and competition with other Houses. Some Houses even had regular "House Teas". Houses were usually named after Old Boys of distinction whose names, it was hoped, would inspire and challenge students to live up to the high ideals with which those names were associated. The names also reminded students of the debt they owed to those who had preceded them in building up the School and to those who transmitted their traditions into the hands of the current generation. (Why, even that fictitious Hogwarts School from the Harry Potter series had four Houses that competed keenly against each other in exotic sports like Quidditch!)
The House Masters were usually senior teachers responsible for the personal welfare of pupils and were usually staff whom the pupils already held up as role models. Pupils joined a House at an early age and remained in their House until they left school. The House System helped build an individual's strengths within a group and created a bond with other pupils of all ages. As pupils reached their senior years at the School they became increasingly involved in running and co-ordinating activities of their respective Houses. The sense of community within each House encouraged a strong feeling of identity, loyalty and belonging.
The first headmaster, Mr. B. E. Shaw, was an educationist of some renown in Malaya and a believer in an all-round education. So it was not surprising that he adopted elements of the British House system for the V.I. in 1921. (The High School, Bishop's Stortford, where he last taught had six Houses.) It is not clear, though, why this wasn’t done much earlier as, by the turn of the twentieth century, the first V.I. boys, comprising those who had joined in 1893 would have already reached adolescence. Under Shaw’s system the School was divided into five Houses for competitive sports like cricket, hockey and football. With three masters in charge of each House, they were known as the Red, Yellow, Brown, Green and Orange Houses.
Faced with a burgeoning school population in 1923, Mr. R. J. H. Sidney, Shaw's successor, added five more Houses, making a total of ten Houses. He also dispensed with the naming of Houses after colours. Sidney had taught in King Edward's School in Birmingham which had its own system of eight Houses named after former Chief Masters or Deputy Chief Masters. In the case of the V.I., though, the Houses were named after persons who had been closely connected with the founding and development of the school. There was also, probably, to Sidney’s mind, no Old Boy of the then thirty-year-old Institution who had yet made enough of an impact in the world to be worthy of being immortalized in a House name.
Sidney made House membership easily and conveniently determined. A boy was assigned to a House according to the last digit in his school admission number. Thus ‘1’ placed him in Thamboosamy, ‘2’ in Rodger, and so on. The eight Houses from Sidney's old Birmingham school had colours uncannily close to today's V.I House colours: Light blue, dark blue, yellow, red, green, purple, white and pink! Yet back in 1923, for some reason, Sidney failed to think up single colours for five Houses of those eight, bestowing on them TWO official colours each instead of one:
Messrs K. Thamboosamy Pillay, Kapitan Yap Kwan Seng, and Towkay Loke Yew were businessmen and leaders of their own communities. Their efforts and donations, along with those of other citizens of Kuala Lumpur, led to the founding of the V.I. in 1893. They became trustees of the school as well. Each sent his son(s) and, later, even grandsons, to the school they jointly helped found.
Born in Singapore in 1850, Mr K. Thamboosamy Pillay received his early education at Raffles Institution. He sailed to Klang in 1875 with James Guthrie Davidson, when the latter was appointed Malaya's first British Resident. Prior to that, he had been a clerk in the legal firm in which Davidson was a partner. He was later transferred to the Treasury where he eventually became chief clerk and acted as State Treasurer on a few occasions. He was sent to India by the Malayan Government to bring over the first batch of Indian immigrants for the Railway and Public Works. Thamboosamy resigned from Government service in the 1880s and, going into partnership with Towkay Loke Yew, managed the New Tin Mining Company in Rawang. They were the first to use electric pumps for mining in Malaya.
A Justice of Peace and member of the prestigious KL Sanitary Board, Thamboosamy was the acknowledged leader of the Tamil community. His other business interests included coffee planting, real estate and construction. He was a member of both the Selangor Club and the Turf Club and owned several horses. Thamboosamy died in 1902 in Singapore, where he had gone to attend a meeting at the Singapore Turf Club. In addition to a V.I. House, a street in the Chow Kit district and a Tamil primary school in Sentul are also named in his memory. His son, K. T. Ganapathy Pillay, was a Victorian and served as the second President of the VIOBA.
Dr Loke Yew migrated to Singapore from China as a boy and first worked in a shop. Leaving his $4 a month job, he next went to Perak where he was one of the contractors for food supplies to the troops in the Perak war. He leased opium, spirit, gambling and pawn-broking farms from the Government and was the owner of numerous tin mines, and in later years, rubber estates, notably Hawthornden Estate outside Kuala Lumpur. Although he became a multimillionaire, he was excessively careful about petty expenditure. Yet in the greater scheme of things, he was extremely generous. Hong Kong University benefited from his charity and returned the favour by conferring an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on him. Loke Yew was generally the least expensively dressed man in his own office, used second-hand motor cars for transport and often went to work by rickshaw instead.
There is a story that one rainy day his wife went in their car to fetch him home from Hawthornden Estate and found him soaking wet with a cangkul in hand showing a coolie how to dig. He died at a ripe old age on February 24, 1917, greatly respected and mourned by all strata of society. A road near the V.I. leading south to Cheras is named after him. A few of his sons went to the V.I. including Loke Wan Yat and cinema magnate Loke Wan Tho.
Kapitan Yap Kwan Seng, a Guangdong Hakka, was born in 1846 in the Chak Kai district. At the age of 18 he sailed for Malaya where he first worked as a tin miner in Seremban. In 1870, he moved to Selangor and became one of the pioneers of its tin industry. He also set up a brick factory to meet the construction demands of Kuala Lumpur town that was rapidly developing. (The area where his factory was located later became known as Brickfields.) He was the founder of the Pooi Shin Thong which provided free medical service for the poor. Drawing on his own funds, Yap Kwan Seng ran this hospital, which he renamed Tung Shin Hospital, for 13 years. He also built the Tai Wah Ward and the Chak Kai Koong Kon in Jalan Sultan. A community leader, he once established his own constabulary to look after his widespread business interests.
Yap Kwan Seng became the fifth and last Kapitan China in 1890. He was appointed a member of the State Legislative Assembly and made a magistrate as well. He was the first Chinese to serve on the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board. His residence was in High Street (near the present Hotel Malaya) which had a garden and an audience hall where he sat to administer justice. When the Pahang War broke out in 1892 he provided transportation and supplies to the British and during the Boer War he helped raise $10,000 for the Crown. When Sir William Maxwell the British Resident became Governor of the Gold Coast in West Africa, Yap Kwan Seng sent thirty of his miners there to introduce the Chinese system of mining. He died in 1902 leaving behind a rich legacy of charity and concern for the less fortunate. Several of his 15 sons were Victorians as were a number of his grandsons, including Queens Scholar, Yap Pow Meng, and great grandsons. Jalan Yap Kwan Seng and Lorong Yap Kwan Seng are named in honour of him while Jalan Sin Chew Kee is named after his tin mining business.
Sir John Pickersgill Rodger (1851–1910) was Acting
British Resident of Selangor from 1884 to 1888, then Resident of Pahang in 1888,
returning to succeed Sir William Treacher as Resident of Selangor from 1896 to
1902. He and his wife were very popular in Kuala Lumpur society. He was wealthy
and was able to entertain lavishly and subscribe liberally for worthy causes.
He was an all-round sportsman and excelled in tennis and billiards. There is
a story - probably apocryphal - about Sir John and a young colonial service
functionary, who had been invited to dinner for the first time after arrival
in Malaya. After dinner, when the men adjourned to the billiard and card room,
our Resident asked the budding empire-builder: "Do you play
Sir John was posted to Perak as Resident in 1902 to 1903, and subsequently was appointed Governor of the Gold Coast (Ghana today) from 1905 to 1910. He took a keen and lively interest in the V.I., the only English school for boys in Selangor during his administration. The Rodger Gold Medal, founded by him in 1895, was awarded to the top scoring student in the Cambridge School Certificate examination before the war. (The award is now known as the Rodger Scholarship.) Sir Roger visited the school often, assisting in the examinations for the Treacher Scholarship and the Rodger Medal. He offered valuable suggestions while he was Chairman of the Trustees of the School.
The impetus that first led to the founding of the School came from the then British Resident in Selangor, (1892-1896), Sir William Hood Treacher. He launched the fund to establish the V.I. using, as nucleus, the unspent Treasury money collected six years early for 1887 Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. His wife, Lady Treacher, laid the foundation stone of the new school on August 14th, 1893. Sir William became the first President of the Board of Trustees of the VI. He went on to be Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1901 to 1904. The scholarship awarded to the top boy in Form Four is named for him.
The reasons for his successor to name a House in honour of Bennett E. Shaw were obvious. This conscientious and hardworking Headmaster had pioneered education in the V.I. over a 28-year period which set many precedents in Selangor and the other states as well. The colonial Government also paid tribute to him in 1938 by renaming Gaol Road, the road in front of the school, Shaw Road.
Mr Nugent Walsh was a prominent citizen of Kuala Lumpur and a great friend of the V.I. The Nugent Walsh scholarship was founded in 1909 as a memorial to him and took the form of a monetary grant to the boy who stood second in the Form Four examinations. Steve Harper was the Inspector of Police of Selangor and another friend of the school in its early days. The Steve Harper Memorial Fund was started in 1898 to purchase books for needy V.I. pupils but is now defunct.
Mr G. W. Hepponstall was, in a sense, the first headmaster of the V.I. He was the author of a geography textbook and had operated an English school in Kuala Lumpur before the establishment of the V.I. His pupils formed the nucleus of the new VI when Mr Heppnstall was appointed acting Headmaster in 1893. He ran the fledgling school until Mr Bennett Shaw arrived from England in June, 1894, and thereafter became an assistant master on the staff.
The Supervisor of the Primary School was a Scottish lady by the name of Miss Davidson. Arriving in Malaya as a young woman she was with the Methodist Girls School for a short while before joining the V.I. in 1905. From then till 1919 Miss Davidson devoted all her talent and energy to teaching the three R's to young Victorians in High Street. She died unexpectedly while on home leave on February 24, 1919. Her memory was honoured by Mr Sidney who named a House named after her. A tablet was also erected in the school to perpetuate her memory but this disappeared during the Japanese occupation. Sir John, Sir William, Miss Davidson, and Messrs Shaw, Hepponstall, Nugent-Walsh and Steve-Harper were those who, according to the School Song, "came across the ocean" to help build the school and were thus honoured by their eponymous Houses.
When the V.I. moved to its present site in 1929, the primary boys remained in High Street and later transferred to Batu Road School. With its school population halved, the number of houses was correspondingly pared back to five. Now House membership was determined by two last digits instead of one:
Despite this, by the luck of the draw, Treacher House had only 29 secondary school boys when it started off afresh in the new premises! Mr Thamboosamy Pillay's son continued his father's interest in the school. when he presented the Thamboosamy Trophy in his father's memory to be awarded to the champion house in athletics in the new V.I. In the nineteen-thirties the post of House Prefect was created with a rank lower than that of School Prefect. Shaw House became the first House to adopt a motto, "Carry On", and this remained its battle cry until the early fifties.
This House arrangement lasted till the outbreak of war. With the reopening of the school in 1946, entry to the VI was now lowered to Standard Five (Form One today) instead of the prewar Standard Six, bringing in an additional 160 boys. Furthermore there was a huge backlog of new boys who had been denied education for almost four years as well as boys whose schooling in 1941 had been interrupted. Accordingly, three of five former Houses, extinct since 1929 - Loke Yew, Rodger and Davidson - were resurrected in June 1947 to bring the number of houses to the present eight. The new line-up became:
With only eight houses the old system of allotment according to the last integer(s) of a pupil's school admission number could not be used. New pupils were assigned to their Houses according to the order in which their names appear in the school register, the first eight names to each of the eight Houses; then the next eight names in the same order and so on.
In the beginning the House system was only for sports but in the Lewis era when clubs and societies flowered, it became fashionable to have competitions not only between individuals, classes or forms but between Houses. Thus, there was an explosion of Interhouse debates, oratorical contests and quizzes sponsored by the respective societies. Even the Cultural Society got into the act and organized, of all things, an Interhouse play reading competition in 1968. (Hepponstall House carried the day with its rendering of Chekhov's The Bear; Shaw was runner-up with Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit.) And if a House boy still lacked sporting muscles or the gift of the gab, there were the annual InterHouse Analytical Chemistry competitions organized by the Science and Mathematics Society to anoint the year's Senior and Junior Analysts, bringing some intellectual lustre to the winning Houses. In the school’s annual athletics meet, Houses not only competed to see whose athletes ran fastest or jumped furthest, but also vied to have the best decorated tent on Sports Day. In recent years Houses have also been judged as to how well their contingents fared in the opening march past!
Late in 1962 the name of Davidson House was changed to Sultan Abdul Samat House after the great great great grandfather of the present Sultan. He was one of the founders of the school and also one of its two original Patrons. The Sultan had donated generously to the fund to launch the school.
In 1974 Hepponstall House was renamed Lee Kuan Yew House, honouring the distinguished Old Boy who had been an outstanding sportsman in his school days in the 1920s and a VIOBA chairman from 1963 to 1965 and again from 1984 to 1986. He was also a member of the V.I. Board of Governors.
His father was the owner of the famous Lee Wong Kee restaurant, then located in High Street, a stone’s throw from the gates of the school where Lee Kuan Yew was a pupil. (The restaurant later moved to Batu Road next to the Odeon Theatre). An outstanding athlete, he established a high jump record in the Selangor Amateur Athletic Meet which stood until 1947. He was also in the school relay team and represented the school in football. Kuan Yew was among the boys of the School Certificate class who literally moved to the new V.I. building in 1929, carrying their chairs and tables with them. In the 1930s he set up a Selangor record for the pole vault. After the completion of his school certificate, he assisted his father in the family business until 1933 when he left for Hong Kong University. Returned in 1936 with a B.A. degree, he taught briefly in Victoria School in Singapore. He returned to join government service in Malaya and became a Collector of Estate Duty. After his department was absorbed into the Inland Revenue Department, Kuan Yew was promoted as Assistant Comptroller of Inland Revenue a position he held until his retirement.
There were very few V.I. events that this loyal Old Boy missed in his time, be they Sports Day, Speech Day, Teachers' Day or VIOBA dinners. After his retirement from active sports he officiated in many of the SAAA and MAAA meets as a judge. He passed away on 19 August 1987. He is the only V.I. Old Boy with a House named after him.
So the present Houses are:
The House System helps to break down a large school like the V.I. into more intimate and manageable units. A House is further broken down into three to five age groups for competitive sports. This arrangement has been a defining feature and cornerstone of the V.I.'s history of success. An objective of the original House System was simply to provide competitive sports opportunities for boys not selected to represent the School on the regular teams. It was the best way to "provide regular, organized games for every boy." Weekly House meetings from January to October once brought boys of all ages and races together in common cause to fight the good fight and bring that fleeting wisp of glory for his House and Housemates. It helped to develop the athletic side of school life in common with the purely educational side, and thereby to attain the goal of a liberal education, namely "a healthy mind in a healthy body." Adapted to a school with a great tradition, it has fostered among both present and former pupils that feeling of lifelong camaderie, and pride and love towards their Alma Mater.
Created: 30 June 2005.