‘A Chronology of Brigadier General Arthur Benison Hubback’s Life’ offers a quick glance into the stages of his life in relation to the completion of his buildings. Using data compiled from a variety of resources - newspaper announcements and official Selangor State/Federated Malay States files, these fast facts present the most important study of this research, determining the exact timeline of his involvement in the architectural, sporting and volunteer army scene in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of the FMS.
A.B Hubback was an active and a popular personality at the early stage of modernization in Kuala Lumpur (and the rest of Selangor) up to the end of WWI. Events involving him were printed in newspapers from time to time, mainly in the Selangor Journals, The Malay Mail, The Straits Times, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, Perak Pioneer and Times of Malaya. The articles portrayed him as an admired sportsman, a highly respected member of the volunteer army and a celebrated government architect in British Malaya, having his name credited to each of his designs/buildings in print.
Articled to Thomas Shelmerdine, the City Architect and Surveyor in Liverpool from June 1887 - May 1890, A.B Hubback was later appointed as Assistant in the same office. In the Britain 1891 census, A.B Hubback was described as an Architect and Surveyor. The prospect of being involved in the design and construction of a mega project in Selangor (Government Office 1897, in Kuala Lumpur, also first administration headquarters of the Federated Malay States formed in 1896), would have prompted his decision to leave Liverpool at the age of 24 and head out for an adventure in the Far East, where he remained for the next 19 years. The timeline clearly explains his time of arrival in Kuala Lumpur in relation to his superiors, Henry Franklin Bellamy, Charles Edwin Spooner, Arthur Charles Alfred Norman and predecessor, Regent Alfred John Bidwell. This part of the paper clarifies the confusion over who really designed the Government Offices of 1897 (today Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad) and as you may read further, design credits go to more than one person. A.B Hubback was the new kid on the block in 1895 and State Engineer C.E Spooner probably saw his potential from the very beginning, though it was under F. St. G. Caulfield’s directorship in the F.M.S Public Works Department from 1901 to 1907 that A.B Hubback explored his best designs and made his mark as an architect. In between his resignation from Selangor PWD as Acting Architect and Acting Factory Engineer in 1897 and his appointment at FMS PWD in 1901, he ventured into the private sector as a brick-making contractor based in Kerling, Selangor with W. Nicholas.
As Architectural Assistant to the Director of the Public Works, F.M.S, and later in 1911 the ‘Government Architect’, he was in-charge of all the Architectural Work for the Government of the Federated Malay States - Selangor, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Pahang. Other than his short stint as supervisor of the Selangor-Pahang Trunk Road in Kuala Lipis in 1897, there are no leads towards his involvement in the designing of Pahang’s government buildings. His F.M.S Railways Office in the Straits Settlements of Penang was a Federal government project, and his work in Hongkong, a favour by the F.M.S Government for the Colony.
A dedicated member of the Anglican Church, he was also committee member of the St. Mary’s Church and Honorary Diocesan Architect in 1913. A.B Hubback also served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Malay States Volunteer Rifles (M.S.V.R) and had a tremendous interest in the Corps. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, he returned to Britain and began his career in the military service and was the first British Architect to be honoured the title Brigadier General during the First World War.
A glimpse into the life of an English architect in the country at his period – A.B Hubback spoke Malay (it was compulsory for F.M.S officers to learn Malay from a Munshi), rode a horse to his office and project sites and worked with people of various ethnicities. His department staff largely consisted of Ceylonese and Europeans. The Contractors who worked on his buildings were European (W.Nicholas), Chinese (Ang Seng) and Eurasian (Dunstan A. Aeria). There is a personal thank you letter from the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Suleiman Alaudin Shah to A.B Hubback for his Jamek Mosque design. His good relationship with the Sultan is more so apparent as the Sultan was relatively the godfather to A.B Hubback’s daughter and first child, Yvone, who was born in Carcosa in 1912. This, we learn from Dr. Peter Barbor during his 2014 visit to Kuala Lumpur. The birth of his Malayan born daughter at the residence of the Resident-General of F.M.S (which he had designed) indicates that he had good rapport with higher ranked British Administrators.
A.B Hubback, born during the reign of Queen Victoria, three years before the signing of the Pangkor Treaty, witnessed firsthand the transfer of political powers in Malaya through the formation of F.M.S and the rapid transformation of its built environment that came almost right after. The height of his architectural career matched the peak of the Malayan tin industry, stopped abruptly by the First World War in 1914. He was 47 years old when the war ended. The architectural scene transformed into a more modernist one after the War, and during this time, having sustained war injuries and contented to his military life in the U.K, it is understood that he retired from general architectural practice. His departure from the F.M.S in 1914, marked the end of the Mughal Eclectic style treatment in Malayan public and government institutions, though some architects did adopt the style in later years, like Swan and Maclaren for the Sungai Petani Hongkong & Shanghai Bank headquarters in 1922. Even if he did return to serve in the FMS Public Works Department after the War in 1919, he would have had to retire within seven years by 1926, reaching the age of 55.
He was in England when the Japanese occupied Malaya from 1941 to 1945, during which he received the devastating news about the death of his brother, Theodore Hubback in 1942 while in Pahang. A.B Hubback passed away at the age of 77 on 8 May 1948, about three months after the founding of the Federation of Malaya.