R.O. Winstedt: archivist of the hikayats of old

Sir RO Winstedt

(Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Sir Richard Olof Winstedt was born in 1878 in Oxford.

Interestingly, he went to Magdalen College School, Oxford, which was the same school YAM Raja Lope Nur Rashid Raja Abdul Rahman went to as a youth. Winstedt was later an undergraduate at New College, Oxford.

He received an MA at Oxford and went on to become a Cadet in the Federated Malay States Civil Service in 1902. He was appointed as an administrative officer in rural Perak and was later a DO at Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. It was during his formative years in Perak that Winstedt became well acquainted with Bahasa Melayu and the Malay culture. His notable paper on Malay folklore was published in 1907 which made him a British authority on Malay in Malaya.  In 1920, he received his DLitt (Doctor of Letters) from Oxford.

Winstedt was then made Assistant Director of Education for the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States, with special attention on Malay education, from 1924 to 1931. Upon his suggestion, Sultan Idris Training College was established in 1922 with the purpose of producing Malay teachers.

Malay Grammar by Winstedt

Malay Grammar. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1913. (Source: Google Images)

Winstedt’s list of publications included:

  1. Cherita jenaka: ya-itu Pa Kadok, Pa Pandir, Lebai Malang, Pa Belalang, Si Lunchai, Singapore: Methodist Publishing House, 1908.
  2. The Circumstances of Malay Life. The kampong. The house. Furniture. Dress. Food. 1909
  3. Fishing, Hunting and Trapping. 1911.
  4. Hikayat Anggun Che Tunggal. Singapore: Methodist Publishing House, 1914.
  5. An English-Malay Dictionary. Kelly & Walsh: Singapore, 1914-17.
  6. Malayan memories. Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, 1916.
  7. A Malay Reader. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1917.
  8. Misa Melayu. Singapore: Methodist Publishing House, 1919.
  9. Dictionary of Colloquial Malay. Malay-English & English-Malay. Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, 1920.
  10. Malaya: the Straits Settlements and the Federated and Unfederated Malay States. London: Constable, 1923.
  11. Shaman, Saiva and Sufi. A study of the evolution of Malay magic. London: Constable, 1925.
  12. A Malay History of Riau and Johore, etc. (Malay text of the Tuḣfat al-nafīs). Singapore, 1932.
  13. A History of Johore. Singapore, 1932.
  14. Right Thinking and Right Living. A primer on moral & social topics, etc. Singapore : Malaya Publishing House, 1933.
  15. A History of Perak. Singapore, 1934.
  16. A History of Malaya. Singapore, 1935.
  17. A Simple Malay Reader. London: Kegan Paul & Co., 1944.
  18. Britain and Malaya, 1786-1941. London, 1944.
  19. The Malays: a cultural history. Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, 1947.

Rightly so, Winstedt was described as “the first British scholar to make a systematic survey of Malay material for historical purposes, and laid the true foundation of a scientific approach to the writing of Malayan history“. He was knighted KBE in 1935 and retired from teaching in 1946, before which he was a Reader in Malay at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. In 1951, the University of Malaya conferred Winstedt an Honorary LLD (Doctor of Laws). He died in 1966. His works are currently archived at the SOAS in London.

1. Wikipedia
2. SOAS website

1. SOAS offers degrees at Masters level in Jawi And The Malay Manuscript Tradition and Traditional Malay Literature, among others.
2. Many of his books are difficult to find as not many are reprinted. It is noted that you can find some titles like Shaman Saiva and Sufi from online stores like amazon. However, rarer titles may be found in second hand bookstores, especially in Britain, or in personal collections.
3. Winstedt’s Malayan Memories can be read online in pdf format at the Internet Archive here.

9 thoughts on “R.O. Winstedt: archivist of the hikayats of old

  1. R.O Winstedt was also involved in the establishment of Sultan Idris Teachers College (now Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris). He brought up the proposal during the Residents Conference held on 10 May 1917 and suggested Tanjung Malim.

  2. Pingback: Raja Razman bin Raja Abdul Hamid: the soul of SembangKuala « SembangKuala BLOG

  3. Pingback: Surat ucapan takziah dari R.O. Winstedt, 1934 « SembangKuala BLOG

  4. I remember in the early 2000s, I helped one Zambri Bin Abdul Malek (author of Harimau Malaya: Tengku Mahmood Mahyideen) in his project in writing a biography of Sir Richard Winstedt. I was a student in the UK at that time and he requested me to get whatever I can about Winstedt from the archives in the UK.

    I managed to get a copy of Winstedt’s Birth and Death Certificates from the Public Record Office in Kew Gardens. He has a Swedish ancestry – not purely British. When he died in the 1960s, he was childless and the person reported his death was his wife’s nephew.

    I wonder what happen to Zambri Abdul Malek’s project…

    • Sorry for asking you sir. Do you still have the copy of Winstedt’s dicuments? Can I have that? because I need to fulfill my assignment. I’ll be pleasure if you can help me.

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