Charles Edwin Spooner

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Charles Edwin C.M.G., B.E.I., M.I.C.E.(1853-1909) was the third son of Charles Easton Spooner. It is suggested that the was the most dynamic of all the Spooners, his greatest achievement being to reorganise and expand the railways of Malaya. He obtained Diploma and special Certificate for practical engineering, at Trinity College, Dublin in 1874. He was articled under C.E.Spooner , employed in carrying out several geological surveys and constructing narrow gauge railways in North Wales (his c.v. to the I.C.E says). He was sole Resident Engineer during the construction of the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways, No.6 & 7 between 1874 & 1876. He entered the Survey Department Ceylon from 6th September 1876. He was appointed District Surveyor, Northern Province. In 1877 he carried out extensive surveys in the Jaffnapatam Peninsula and Patabilapullai Division. He was transferred to the Public Works Department (PWD) on 24th August 1877, constructing the Bulototta Pass trunk road and Laxapathy road Maskeliya. He then became Superintending Officer of the Dikoya, Bojawantalawa, Maskeliya, and Ambagamawa Districts, Central Province. He then joined the same service (PWD) in the Straits Settlements and, after acting as State Engineer of Selangor from 1892 to 1901, he was appointed as the General Manager of the Federated Malay States Railways in 1901.

He received the C.M.G. (Companion of the order of St Michael & St George) in 1904 (this is awarded to men and women who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country).

He was a good musician and a consummate artist - copies by him of portraits in Bron y Garth survive and a tiger emblem carried by the FMSR mail cars was his - and alterations to Bron y Garth were carried out to his plans[1]. From all accounts he burst on to the Malaya scene from Ceylon like some Vistorian topee'd Superman. Corrupt contractors were short-circuited by direct labour and setting up of public brick and timber works., Ceylonese artisans were brought in to ginger up local workmanship and new roads, bridges and buildings, apparently appeared at twice the accustomed rate. He completed waterworks, prisons and government offices that were Orientally flamboyant yet within budget; and his plans and estimates for Kualar Lumpur's first electricity system, complete with hydro-electric station, were in the Government's hands when in 1901 he was appointed the first General Manager and Chief Engineer of the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR), the line having previously been unconnected and promoted for local interests.

Spooner cast his spell once again. Construction difficulties melted away and fools went unsuffered wholesale. Malayan railways had hitherto been principally concerned with getting tin to the sea; now huge timber clearances for the new rubber plantations were proceeding and a national network was required. Against Spooner tradition Edwin wanted to start again with standard gauge but the Government jibbed at the total reinvestment involved and held him to metre gauge; and so he made a Spooner job of it. By 1906 Malayan trains were the largest on the heaviest rail to that gauge in the world and by 1909, when Edwin suddenly died of appendicitis, he had almost doubled the mileage. It had all happened in eight years; the connection to Johore was impending and would, except for the east coast branch and the causeway connection to Singapore (finished 1924), complete the system.

Four strands are worth mention from his obituaries: Edwin's immense enthusiasm for everything he tackled, his refusal to take credit for subordinates work, his directness and openness and the affectionate trusting atmosphere among his family. He was always a railwayman; he is rembered on leave in English trains, criticizing the track and suspension in detail. His wife Martha, (Martha Brownrigg (Nenek) Chartres b 1853 d 1947) (known throughout the family as "Nanie" = Malay nenék,"grandmother") was offered a posthumous KCMG so she could be Lady Spooner, but declined it. Her children Molly and Jack stayed on in Malaya, Jack in his father's flangeways and Molly (until widowed in 1918) as the wifeof the dashing Col. Douglas Campbell, British Adviser to the Sultan of Johore.

For an account of a Public Works Department dinner in 1897 to celebrate the completion of the Government Offices in Kuala Lumpur, in which he gives a speech, see Heritage Group Journal No. 147 of 2021. [2]


John Charles Garth (Jack) Spooner b 1883 d 1937.

Frances Mary Spooner (died in infancy)

Mary Abinda Georgina (Molly) Spooner b 1879 d 1969 married Douglas C. Campbell Spooner (Col.) b1868 d 1918.



  1. ^ Wilson D H (1977) Spooners Up to Date FRM No. 77, page 21 - 23.
  2. ^ Selangoor Journal on 3rd April (1897) "Charles Edwin Spooner in Malaya.", Festiniog Railway Heritage Group Journal, Issue 147, page(s): 30-41.

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