The Malay College

As an online portal that deals with many things Kuala, mention of this Kuala college, fondly referred to as Koleq to its students and alumni, have been manifold throughout this website since its inception, especially in biographical posts of Perak royals who have graced the hallowed corridors since the days of her first headmaster, William Hargreaves. Ironically, none of the editors have been educated at MCKK, but nevertheless here is SembangKuala’s concise appraisal of the history of the College. –Eds.


The MCKK emblem. (Source: Wikimedia)

The idea for the Malay College Kuala Kangsar was first realised in 1904 when R.J. Wilkinson, who was the Federal Inspector of Schools for the FMS, wrote a letter to the Resident-General, Sir William Treacher, suggesting that a special residential school was to be built. The ethos behind such a school was to provide British-styled education to the sons of the Malay ruling class so as to prepare them as future administrators in the FMS, especially when the only level of education available to the Malays at that time was somewhat elementary.

The idea of this Special Residential School was then formally discussed and agreed upon by Treacher, who was also Acting High Commissioner, and was supported by the Malay rulers of the FMS[1] – Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah of Perak, Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah of Selangor, YamTuan Tuanku Muhammad Shah of Negeri Sembilan and Sultan Ahmad Muadzam Shah of Pahang. A plot of land near Jalan Padang was provided by Sultan Idris (who was strongly supportive of education for the Malays, referring to the College as Bab-ul Darjat) in Kuala Kangsar and the school was named the Malay Residential School, which was officially opened on 2 January 1905. The school’s first headmaster was William Hargreaves, previously head of Penang Free School, and the school had only two teachers – Mr. R.C.W. Rowlands, who taught Class I (standards one to three) and Mr. F.A. Vanrennan, who taught Class II (standards four to five). The headmaster himself chipped in to teach Class III which covered standards six and seven.

A photo of William Hargreaves (seated, centre) with the first boys enrolled at the Malay College, c.1906. (Source: Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia)

There were 59 boys initially, 19 of whom were day boys. One of the first 40 boarders of the Malay Residential School (who then became the first head boy) was Raja Kamaralzaman bin Raja Mansur (later RDH 1948-62) who was a keen footballer and played with the likes of Raja Abdul Aziz (later Sultan of Perak 1938-48) ibni Raja Muda Musa and Tunku Abdul Rahman (later YamTuan Besar of NS 1933-60 and the first Yang Di-Pertuan Agong) ibni Tuanku Muhammad Shah. In a short memoir Raja Kamaralzaman wrote in MC Magazine in 1950, he recalled as a student in a Malay school in Tanjung Malim being picked by J. Philips, the Inspector of Schools for Perak, to attend the Residential School at Kuala Kangsar following which he gained admission on 20 January 1905.

Football at the Malay College in her early days, c.?1906-7. Raja Kamaralzaman, the first head boy of MCKK, is seen reclining next to the football.

These pioneer students were housed in a myriad of dormitories, some of which were rooms in the headmaster’s own domicile while others had to be content with rooms in small houses which previously housed clerks of the Malayan Railway. As for classes, the school was a building with a long attap roof, and some classes were even conducted in a fowl house! Nevertheless, the building of a permanent school commenced in December of 1905 as the intake into the school grew and the famous pseudo Greco-Roman building that is known as The Big School was completed four years later in 1909. The Big School was officially opened by Sultan Idris on 11 December 1909 and the school was formally renamed the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

Malay College prefects (1911-1914) in front of the Big School. Left to right: Raja Musa Raja Mahadi, Hussein, Ungku C.E. Mohamed, Raja Shahriman Raja Abdul Hamid (head boy), William Hargreaves (headmaster); Mahmud, Raja Razman Raja Abdul Hamid, Samah and Ismail. (Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Along the years, the Malay College saw the building of the Prep School which was opened in 1912. The College had its first Malay teacher in 1918 named Encik Abdul Majid bin Zainuddin, who was a Victoria Institution alumnus from Negeri Sembilan. The College had a special class named the Malay Probationer which had students who excelled in the VIIth Standard Examination. The Malay Probationer would last for three years and prepared students for entry into the Malay Administrative Service (MAS). It was usual for those in MAS to be subsequently absorbed into the Malayan Civil Service (MCS). One such student who became head boy in 1936 (like his father before him) was the late Raja Azam Raja Kamaralzaman, who in an interview in 1996 said, “We were taught a basic course which included English, Mathematics and History. But the most important thing about College was its discipline and dedication – its commitment to excellence.”

Raja Azam was the head boy of the Malay College in 1936, seen here seated third from left. (Source: The Sunday Star)

The Malay College had seen worse days. When Kuala Kangsar was badly flooded in 1926, College students were temporarily moved to Bukit Chandan by Sultan Iskandar Shah. When Malaya fell to the Imperial Japanese Army in World War 2, the College was a Japanese school, a gunsei kanbu (Japanese military headquarters) and a military hospital. After Japan’s surrender, the College was reopened in January 1947 with an intake of 205 boys. The reopening of the College coincided with the emergence of Malay nationalism with visits from Dato’ Onn Jaafar spurring the students to do well so as to have the skills to administer the country following its future independence from the British. Some deserving students have also been recipients of scholarships from UMNO.

This photo taken at a dinner function at the Selangor Residency comprises alumni of the Malay College who were in the civil service. (Source: Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia)

Like many other premier schools in the Federation, the Malay College had students doing the Post-School Certificate in 1949 which allowed successful candidates entrance into the University of Malaya in Singapore. By 1955, the Malay College saw several structural expansions to its campus which included the Right and Left Wings, including the Overfloor to the Big School, as well as the Administrative Block (officially opened by Sir Donald McGillivray, the last British High Commissioner). In 1965, the Malay College had her first Malay headmaster, Dato’ Abdul Aziz Ismail.

The College motto is Fiat Sapientia Virtus (Manliness Through Wisdom). To her credit, the Malay College has churned out a number of Malay rulers, heads of government, political leaders and corporate figures – to list them here without leaving someone out would be a somewhat monumental task for us here at SembangKuala. When in the past the College only admitted Malay boys from the upper echelons of society, MCKK has, in the past 60-odd years, admitted boys (and two girls) from all backgrounds.

[1]The houses of MCKK are named after these four Malay rulers – Idris, Ahmad, Muhammad Shah and Sulaiman.


1. Arkib Negara Malaysia. Maktab Melayu Kuala Kangsar.
2. Wikipedia. Malay College Kuala Kangsar.
3. Official website of MCKK. History of Malay College.
4. Raja Kamaralzaman Raja Mansur. Some early impressions. In MCKK Impressions (1905-2005). p 5-6.
5. Khoo E. Groomed for a life in service. Sunday Star. 1996 June 2.
6. The Wandering Thoughts of A Dying Man. The Life and Times of Haji Abdul Majid bin Zainuddin. Oxford in Asia Historical Memoirs . Edited by William R Roff, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1978. [Our gratitude to saudara Bakri Musa for pointing this out!]

Pau, anyone? – Restoran Yat Lai

Whoever said Yik Mun’s pau is good, has obviously never been to Kuala Kangsar.
– a comment made on a photograph of Yat Lai on

Yat Lai - a Kuala Kangsar institution to this day.

Restoran Yat Lai (or Yut Loy, as seen on the old rectangular sign above its entrance) is considered an institution amongst the people of Kuala, namely Perak royals and boys of The Malay College (budak Koleq). Yat Lai is well known for its pau, soft steamed buns containing luscious inti the likes of kari daging, ayam, and kaya.

For 'western' food, Yat Lai does a mean Hainan chicken chop, and a unique dish called Egg Steak (a 'cheaper' version of bifstik).

Word has it that the pau is so good that Tuanku Sultan Pahang would bring some along if he was to go to England (Tuanku was an old boy of The College). The pau is sold in the afternoon but punters have to be quick as they would have sold out by tea time.

‘Tradition’ has it that Yat Lai can only be frequented by senior Koleq boys (‘certain’ fifth formers, really). Nevertheless, Yat Lai can be filled with networking old MCKK boys on occasions like the Old Boys’ Weekend.

Left: The balcony on the first floor. Right: The man himself, Ah Loke, manning the till.

If you are worried that the pau will be sold out (it can happen as there are some occasions when a customer can buy the entire day’s supply), apparently you can call the restaurant and book your habuan!

Restoran Yat Lai is located at 51 Jalan Kangsar, 33000 Kuala Kangsar.

[Photos are from the personal collection of Raja Yusuf Izzudin Raja Lope Ahmad.]


Footnote: For more photos of Yat Lai, we recommend you to visit this photo gallery on, with photos uploaded by various photographers (and surely pau fans!). Click here.

R.J. Wilkinson: scholar, historian and administrator


Sir R.J. Wilkinson. (Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Sir Richard James Wilkinson, the son of a British Consul in Greece, was born in 1867 at Salonika, Greece. He was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. He was multilingual and commanded a few languages, which includes French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish and later, Bahasa Melayu and Hokkien.

He became a cadet in 1889 after joining the Straits Settlement Civil Service.

His other posts while serving in the Straits Settlements are as follows:

  • 1896 – 1898  Acting Director of Education, Penang
  • 1898 – 1900 Acting Inspector General of Schools in the Straits Settlements, Singapore
  • 1902 – 1903  Transferred to Dindings, Perak
  • 1903 – 1906  Acting Inspector of Schools for the Federated Malay States
  • 1906 – 1910  Secretary General to the British Resident (EW) Birch in Perak
  • 1910 – 1911  British Resident, Negeri Sembilan
  • 1911 – 1916  Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements, Singapore

His legacy includes the establishment of the Malay Training College in Malacca in 1900 which was eventually succeeded in 1922 by the Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) at Tanjung Malim.  In 1905, he founded the Malay Residential School, later known as the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).

He was an important contriubutor to the Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS). Some of the books authored by him are:

  1. Malay Grammar, co-authored  with Sir R.O. Winstedt, published by Clarendon Press , Oxford, 1913.
  2. A vocabulary of central Sakai (dialect of the aboriginal communities in the Gopeng Valley), published by J. Brown, FMS Govt. Press, 1915.
  3. The Achehnese, co-authored  with CS Hurgronje and AWS O’ Sullivan, published by E.J. Brill, 1906.
  4. Malay beliefs, published by Luzac & Co. 1906
  5. A history of the Peninsular Malays,  co-authored with Sir R.O. Winstedt, published by Kelly & Walsh, 1920.
  6. A English-Malay dictionary, co-authored with Sir. R.O. Winstedt, published by Kelly & Walsh, 1932.
  7. A history of Perak, co-authored with Sir R. O. Winstedt and SWE Maxwell, republished by Journal of The Malaysian Branch Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS), 1974.
  8. The incidents of Malay life, published by J. Russell at the FMS Govt. Press, 1908.
  9. Papers on Malay Subjects, Part I-V.
  10. Life and Customs, Part 1: The incidents of Malay Life,  1908.
  11. Papers on Malay Subjects: Law, Part 1-2: Introductory Sketch and the Ninety-Nine Laws of Perak

R.J. Wilkinson was appointed Companion of The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) in 1912. In 1916, he was appointed the Governor of Sierra Leone and served till he retired in 1922. He died in 1941.

1. Arkib Negara Malaysia
2. Wikipedia
3. British National Library Bibliography
4. Journal of the Malaysian Branch Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS)
5. Journal of the Straits Branch Royal Asiatic Society (JSBRAS)
6. Soda Naoki. The Malay world in textbooks: The transmission of Colonial Knowledge in British Malaya, Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 39, no. 2, September 2001.
7. J. M. Gullick. RJ Wilkinson (1867-1941): A man of parts. Journal of the Malaysian Branch Royal Asiatic Society, vol 74. no 1, 2001.