Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mercantile Bank of India Limited 1912

Memorial Peperangan Dunia Kedua
Bank Kerapu (Kerapu Bank)
Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Memorial is open to public
Entrance fee: RM2

This strange looking building was painted white before it was painted yellow. It was a British bank which was used during WWII by the Japanese as its Kempetai HQ. It was converted into a museum and now houses some of the items used in WWII by both the British and Japanese armed forces.

The fact that it was a commercial bank means that the British officers were already trading in Kota Bharu, Kelantan and had control of banking and related transactions in the area.

There are a few money changers in Kota Bharu today but whether they are descendants of the early Indians of that early mercantile bank is something we can possibly research on. Here's a lead:

In the history of this bank, it had 22 branches in 1926, and 24 branches in 1929. They were:

  1. 1 in Thailand, 
  2. 2 in Indonesia (Batavia and Sourabaya), 
  3. 7 in India (Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Howrah (Calcutta), Karachi, Madras, Shimla)
  4. 3 in Ceylon (Galle, Kandy, Colombo), 
  5. 2 in China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), 
  6. 5 in Malaya (Kota Bharu in Kelantan, KL in Selangor, Kuantan in Pahang, Penang and Ipoh* in Perak), 
  7. 1 in Burma, 
  8. 1 in Singapore*, 
  9. 1 in New York and 
  10. 1 in Mauritius. 

*The 2 branches at Ipoh and Singapore were listed after December 1926..

The numismatic website of Australia published info of a coin used by this bank - it was manufactured in England. Bank Kerapu is the same Anglo-Indian bank as the ones in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Both the branches in Shanghai and Hong Kong were later bought over by Citibank and finally Mitsubishi.

WWII Memorial in Kota Bharu, Kelantan.
Tourism plaque of Bank Kerapu.

This building, built in 1912 was first used as a commercial bank, The Merchantile Bank of India Limited, and the locals called it Bank Kerapu. The word 'Kerapu' refers to the rough exterior walls of the building which resemble the rough exterior of the carp (fish)(dinding menggerutu).

In 1929, the bank manager in Singapore was R. Kennedy.

During the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, this building was used as the headquarters of the Japanese secret police, the much feared Kempetai.

After the war, the building was reused as a commercial bank (there is no date of when it was reused as a bank nor who was managing the bank).

When I was growing up in Kelantan in 1969-1971, my mother would come to this bank for transactions. As a child, I never liked this building nor its interior. I never liked the feeling whenever I went near or inside this building.

In 1981, the first floor of the building was converted into an Art Gallery while the ground floor was used to display handicrafts.

In 1992, the building was turned into a memorial dedicated to WWII and was officially opened by the Sultan of Kelantan (Sultan Ismail Petra) in 1994. Items on exhibit include artifacts, photographs and other memorabilia of the war such as a lamp, masks, Japanese bicycle, and hand grenades. There is even the Japanese anthem written on one of the big display boards on the ground floor.

In 2009, I visited the building again. Outside the building, there is a red post box (pillar). There is also an attached outdoor display which houses larger exhibits such as a ship propeller, a British bunker and vehicles used in British Kelantan. Other non exhibits are Japanese boats, a black Morris car and a wooden carriage (which needs restoration work).

Advertisements in The Straits Times 1926-1929:

The Straits Times 16Dec1926 p14
The Straits Times 17Dec1926 p14
The Straits Times 18Dec1926 p14
The Straits Times 20Dec1926 p14
The Straits Times 21Dec1926 p14 .... mentioned Singapore
The Straits Times 28Dec1926 p14
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser 12Oct1929 p19 .... mentioned Ipoh


Mercantile Bank of India, Ltd (December 1926)
(incorporated in England)
  1. Capital           £3,000,000
  2. Subscribed     £1,800,000
  3. Paid-up          £1,050,000
  4. Reserve Fund and Rest £1,512,884 ... increased in 1929
Board of Directors (December 1926)
  1. J. M. Ryrie, Chairman
  2. P. R. Chalmers, Esq.
  3. J. O. Robinson, Esq.
  4. Sir David Yule, Bart. ... no longer in 1929
  5. Charles J. Hambro, Esq.
  6. W. H. Shelford, Esq.
  7. Chief Manager: James Stuart, Esq.
London Bankers:
  1. Bank of England.
  2. Midland Bank, Ltd.
Branches and Agents (December 1926)
  1. Bangkok
  2. Batavia
  3. Bombay
  4. Calcutta
  5. Colombo
  6. Delhi ... correct spelling
  7. Galle
  8. Hongkong ... one word
  9. Howrah (Calcutta) ... with 'h'
  10. Kandy
  11. Karachi
  12. Kota Bharu ........ before Ipoh and Singapore
  13. Kuala Lumpur
  14. Kuantan
  15. Madras
  16. Mauritius
  17. New York
  18. Penang
  19. Rangoon
  20. Shanghai
  21. Simla
  22. Sourabaya
TST 21Dec1926 p14


Mercantile Bank of India, Ltd (October 1929)
(incorporated in England)
  1. Capital          £3,000,000
  2. Subscribed    £1,800,000
  3. Paid-up         £1,050,000
  4. Reserve Fund and Rest £1,612,046
Board of Directors (October 1929):
  1. J. M. Ryrie, Esq., Chairman ...... he was also on the KL Sanitary Board, for KL markets
  2. P. R. Chalmers, Esq.
  3. Charles J. Hambro, Esq.
  4. J. O. Robinson, Esq.
  5. W. H. Shelford, Esq.
  6. Sir Thomas Catto, Bart. ... replaced Sir David Yule, Bart. 
London Bankers:
  1. Midland Bank, Ltd.
  2. Bank of England.
Branches and Agencies:
  1. Bangkok ... Thailand
  2. Batavia ..... Indonesia
  3. Bombay ... India
  4. Calcutta ... India
  5. Colombo .. Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
  6. Delhi ... India
  7. Galle ...... Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
  8. Hong Kong ... now a part of China
  9. Howrah (Calcutta) ... India .... add 'h' to Howra
  10. Ipoh ... Malaya (now Malaysia)
  11. Kandy ... Ceylon
  12. Karachi ... Pakistan (could be undivided India then)
  13. Kota Bharu ... Kelantan, Malaya (now Malaysia)
  14. Kuala Lumpur ... Malaya (now Malaysia)
  15. Kuantan ... Malaya (now Malaysia)
  16. Madras .... India
  17. Mauritius
  18. New York ... USA
  19. Penang ... Malaya (now Malaysia)
  20. Rangoon ... Burma (now Myanmar)
  21. Shanghai ... China
  22. Shimla ... India (corrected spelling from Simla to Shimla)
  23. Singapore
  24. Sourabaya .... Indonesia
TSFPMA 12Oct1929 p19