Thursday, 27 October 2011

Dr Mustapa bin Osman


(Dr) Mustapha bin Osman was born in Kedah in 1900.

He studied at Penang Free School in Georgetown, Penang.[1][2] This was the initial site before the school moved to a new site in Green Lane (now Jalan Masjid Negeri). The old school was renamed Hutchings School which became Penang Museum today. A new Hutchings School was built nearby to the Penang Museum.

Penang Free School was first opened in Georgetown in 1816

The new Hutchings School near the Penang Museum in Georgetown.

Penang Free School in Green Lane was opened in 1925

He wanted to study Law in England but World War I (WWI) made it impractical and dangerous. The State Government of Kedah sent him to further his education in Hong Kong instead.

It is not known at the time of this writing, how he travelled to Hong Kong, but a few routes are possible:

(i) By ship which plied the South China Sea between Tanah Melayu and the Chinese lands. He probably left from either Penang/Kedah port, Port Swettenham/Port Kelang (now Port Klang) or Keppel Harbour in Singapore.

(ii) He probably took the overland route from Penang to Kedah and onward into Thailand, across to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and finally to Hong Kong.

(iii) He could have taken the train from Penang/Kedah to Thailand, then gone further down to Kelantan, and left for Hong Kong from Kota Bharu since there were steamers plying Sungai Kelantan.

It is not known how long each journey/route took, be it by ship or overland route.

Mustapha entered the University of Hong Kong [3] in 1917 to study medicine. Dr Mustapha Osman graduated seven years later in 1924, prior to the Canton-Hong Kong strike of 1925-26.


[1] The idea of a school in Penang for local residents was borne by Reverend Sparke Hutchings of the St George's Anglican Church. The proposal for Penang Free School (PFS) was submitted to the Governor of the Prince of Wales Island (now Penang) in 1815. There are two premises for PFS – a previous one in Georgetown and another which is still in use in Green Lane. The PFS was first set up at a premise in Georgetown on 21 October 1816, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the demise of Captain Sir Francis Light. When the initial PFS became overcrowded, a new PFS was needed. A 30-acre site in Green Lane (now Jalan Masjid Negeri) was made the new premise for the second PFS. Construction of the new PFS began in 1924 and was completed in 1925. The second PFS in Green Lane was opened on 9 January 1925 by Ralph Scott, Resident Councillor of Penang. When the second PFS was built, the initial PFS was renamed to Hutchings School after its founder. A part of the Hutchings School building was bombed during the Second World War. The remaining Hutchings School building houses the Penang State Museum today.

[2] The term free does not mean without school fees. The term free here means it is open to all locals.

[3] Established in 1911 from the former Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, founded by the London Missionary Society in 1887, the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong was the only faculty that was open. In December 1916, the University of Hong Kong held its first congregation, with 23 graduates and 5 honorary graduates. – Wikipedia, University of Hong Kong. Accessed on 13 October 2010.


He became the first Malay Pathologist when he obtained his postgraduate diploma in 1925. He became the first Malay Professor of Pathology when he obtained his MD degree in 1930.

He was already working in Kedah when the Japanese attacked Penang island and Kedah. The Japanese attacked Kedah at Singgora on 8 December 1941.

Associate Professor Dr Mohd Isa Othman’s publication (translation by Haji Hashim bin Samin), The Second World War and the Japanese Invasion of Kedah had mentioned Dr Mustapha Osman along with his brother, Sheriff Osman, as they became part of the Japanese Administration in Kedah.

Of the administrative bureaus during the Japanese Occupation, Tunku Badlishah headed the Shumuin (Religion) Bureau while Syed Alwi was Assistant and Syed Shariff Osman was Secretary.

Professor Dr Mustapha bin Osman (Pathologist & Head of Shumuin Bureau
[Need a portrait of Syed Alwi bin Syed Sheikh] (Assistant of Shumuin Bureau)

Haji Mohammad Sheriff bin Awang Osman/En Shariff Osman (Secretary of Shumuin Bureau)

Another bureau, Somu-bu (Public Administration) had six subdivisions - Kanbo (Judicial Secretariat), Shomuka (Public Affairs), Kanri-ka (Administration), Bunkyo-ka (Education), Shiho-ka (Judiciary) and Konsei-ka (Welfare). These bureau was headed by Nakagawa Yamakami and seven Japanese officials along with En Shariff Osman, Momose, Ismail Marican, and Dr Mustapha Osman.” - Associate Professor Dr Mohd Isa Othman (translation by Haji Hashim bin Samin), The Second World War and the Japanese Invasion of Kedah, page 3. Accessed at Perbadanan Perpustakaan Awam Kedah website Retrieved 4 April 2011

The Japanese Military Administration appointed him as the Surgeon General[4] during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1941-5).


[4] The Surgeon General is an old term for the Chief Medical and Health Officer (CMHO).

He was bestowed the Honorary Doctorate of Laws (HonLLD) by the University of Hong Kong in 1961. At the award ceremony in 1961, his background and achievements were mentioned as follows:

“Dr. Osman is one of our distinguished Malayan graduates. Born at the turn of the century in Penang, he entered the University in 1917, and obtained his medical degree seven years later. For one, whose forebears, a generation removed, engaged in piracy in the Strait of Malacca, it was inevitable, perhaps, that he should prove to be a bold and fearless undergraduate whose passage was marked by a certain degree of turbulence. […] Of this honorary graduand, Your Excellency, one of our professors years ago once exclaimed in despair, "Osman, why don't you go back to Malaya and plant paddy?" He went back to do far more than that, and it is with pride and affection that we have invited him here today to receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.” – Honorary Degrees Congregation, University of Hong Kong, 1961. Accessed on 4 April 2011.

The University of Hong Kong had published a book, Growing with Hong Kong (2002) which mentioned him as follows:

“Many medical graduates returned to Malaya. Chinese doctors found it difficult to secure government appointments and most went into private practice in Penang, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. They enjoyed certain advantages over locally trained doctors who held licentiates rather than degrees, but positive discrimination in favour of Malays kept most Chinese doctors out of senior positions. Mustapha bin Osman (MBBS 1924, MD 1930, HonLLD 1961) was one of the few non-Chinese medical graduates from Malaya. After graduation he worked as assistant to the professor of pathology before taking up the post of Government Pathologist in Kedah state in 1930. He became Chief Medical Officer of Kedah in 1949, a member of the Federal Legislative Council of Malaya, and a member of the Council of State and Executive Council of Kedah state.”(Growing with Hong Kong 2002:50).

Dr Mustapha was the sibling of Mohd Shariff bin Osman (former Chief Minister of Kedah), Datuk Shuib Awang bin Osman (former Secretary of Kedah State Government [5]) and Tan Sri Khalid Awang bin Osman (Malaysian Ambassador to Egypt).

Dr Mustapha passed away in Penang in 1975.


[5] Mantan SUK Kedah. SUK = Setiausaha Kerajaan.


I visited Prof Syed Mohsin at home on Sunday, 23 October 2011. We were talking about Boon Siew and Honda when our conversation suddenly moved to "Dr Mustapha bin Osman". I informed Prof Syed Mohsin that I was looking for someone who would know what happened to Dr Mustapha as I needed his biography/story for TEMD. Prof Syed Mohsin had this to say (refer to my post on Arabs in Penang:

Syed Omar 
Syed Omar is retired, receives pension and lives in Kuala Lumpur. He was the former Accountant-General. He married the younger sister of Syed Razak, former Menteri Besar Kedah (ex-MB Kedah).

Syed Razak 
Syed Razak is related to Dr Mustapha bin Osman, an early Malay doctor (TEMD). His younger sister married to Syed Omar.

Another discussion, another lead ...
I talked to my husband to ask where else I should look for information on Dr Mustapha bin Osman. My husband said to try and ask USM doctors who are from Kedah. They may have heard of him or know about him. He gave me 2 names - Professor Zulkifli Ahmad (Community Medicine/DY Dean Dental R&D) and Dr Zainol Harun (former hospital director, General Hospital Alor Setar).

I calculated our USM doctors to be roughly my age, and born circa 1955. In 1955, Dr Mustapha would be 55, i.e., retirement age. When he retired he worked as a pathologist in Penang. So I need to know which of our USM doctors worked in Alor Setar (General Hospital Alor Setar) or Penang (General Hospital Penang) prior to 1955. Dr Che Lah (born 1904) would still be working in Pahang (his last place of work and only retired to Penang in 1959). My colleagues would be just be about to enter early school - they wouldn't know him. My colleagues completed their medical studies locally/overseas circa 1980 before they did housemanship locally; Dr Mustapha had died in 1975. So my colleagues too would not know about Dr Mustapha.

Next search ...
I have to ask someone a lot older than myself and my colleagues. I will need to ask someone who was born in the 1940s and who had met him or knew him, either in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Kedah or Penang. Someone born in the early 1940s would be in their early 70s in 2011. Where do I find them to ask them about Dr Mustapha bin Osman?

Link to Keluarga Awang Osman blog: