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Maria Hertogh riots

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Maria Hertogh riots

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The Maria Hertogh riots began on 11 December 1950 in Singapore after a court decided that a child who had been raised by Muslims should be returned to her Catholic biological parents. A protest by outraged Muslims escalated into a riot when images were published showing 13-year-old Maria Hertogh (or Bertha Hertogh) kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary. Riots in Singapore lasted until noon on 13 December 1950. Eighteen people were killed and 173 injured. Many properties were also damaged.

Hertogh (also known as Natrah) had been in the care of Che Aminah binte Mohamed before being returned to her Dutch Catholic biological parents.


  • Maria Hertogh 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Adoption 1.2
      • Adeline Hertogh's version 1.2.1
    • Muslim 1.3
    • Custody battle 1.4
    • Controversial marriage 1.5
    • Second appeal 1.6
    • Stay at the convent 1.7
  • The riots 2
  • The trials 3
  • Reviews 4
  • Epilogue 5
  • Death 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10

Maria Hertogh

Early life

Maria Hertogh was born on 24 March 1937 to a Dutch Catholic family living in Tjimahi, near Bandung, Java, then a part of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Her father, Adrianus Petrus Hertogh, came to Java in the 1920s as a sergeant in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army. In the early 1930s, He married Adeline Hunter, a Eurasian of Scottish-Javanese descent brought up in Java. Maria was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Ignatius at Tjimahi on 10 April by a Catholic priest.

When World War II broke out, Adrianus Hertogh, as a sergeant in the Dutch Army, was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army and sent to a POW camp in Japan, where he was kept until 1945. Meanwhile, Adeline Hertogh stayed with her mother, Nor Louise, and her five children, among whom Maria was the third and youngest daughter. On 29 December 1942, Mrs. Hertogh gave birth to her sixth child, a boy. Three days later, Maria went to stay with Aminah binte Mohammad, a 42-year-old Malay woman from Kemaman, Terengganu, Malaya (now Malaysia) and a close friend of Nor Louise.


Adeline Hertogh's version

According to Maria's biological mother, Adeline Hertogh, in testimony given in evidence before the court at the hearing in November 1950, she was persuaded by her mother after the birth of her sixth child to allow Maria to go and stay with Aminah in Bandung for three or four days. Consequently, Aminah arrived on 1 January 1943 to fetch Maria. When the child was not returned, Mrs. Hertogh borrowed a bicycle on 6 January and set out to retrieve her daughter. She claimed that she was arrested by a Japanese sentry on the outskirts of Bandung as she did not possess a pass and was therefore interned.

From her internment camp, she smuggled a letter to her mother, requesting for her children to be sent to her. This Nor Louise did, but Maria was not among them. So Mrs. Hertogh asked her mother to fetch Maria from Aminah. Her mother later wrote and told her that Aminah wanted to keep Maria for two more days, after which she herself would bring the child to the camp. This did not materialise and Mrs. Hertogh did not see Maria throughout her internment. After her release, she could find neither Maria nor Aminah.


Upon arriving with Aminah, Maria was given the name Nadra binte Ma'arof. For unknown reasons her new family moved to Jakarta for a period before moving back to Bandung, where Aminah worked for the Japanese military police as an interpreter until the end of the war.

In 1947, fearing harm upon the family during the Indonesian National Revolution because Maria was a putih ("White Child"), Aminah moved back to her hometown of Kemaman, Terengganu, Malaya. By then Maria was the same as any other Malay Muslim girl of her age: she spoke only Malay, wore Malay clothes and practised her religion devoutly.

Custody battle

In 1945, with the end of World War II, Sergeant Hertogh was released and returned to Java, where he reunited with his wife. The couple said that they enquired about Maria but could find neither their daughter nor Aminah. They then returned to the Netherlands after requesting the Dutch authorities in Java and Singapore to try to trace the child. Investigations were then made by the Red Cross Society, the Indonesian Repatriation Service, the Royal Netherlands Army, and local police. Finally, in September 1949, Aminah and Maria were traced to the kampung in which they were living.

Negotiations were opened to retrieve Maria in early 1950. The Dutch Consulate offered S$500 to make up for Aminah's expenses in bringing up the girl for eight years. Aminah rejected the offer and refused to give up her foster-daughter. Nonetheless, she was persuaded to travel with Maria to Singapore in April to discuss the issue with the Dutch Consul-General. However, Aminah could not be persuaded and the Consulate applied to the High Court of Singapore on 22 April for Maria to be delivered into the custody of the Social Welfare Department, pending further order. The Chief Justice heard the request the same day and approved the application ex parte.

The next day, an officer from the department served the order on Aminah and took Maria away. After a routine medical examination at the Middle Road Hospital, she was admitted to the Girls Homecraft Centre at York Hill. From this point onwards, Maria had made it clear that she wanted to stay with Aminah and did not wish to be returned to her natural parents. However, after a 15-minute hearing on 17 May, the High Court ruled that the custody of Maria be granted to the Hertoghs.

As Aminah and Maria exited the court via the backdoor, a car from the Consulate was waiting to take Maria away. Maria refused to enter the car and clung on to Aminah, both shouting in Malay that they would kill themselves rather than be separated. A large crowd quickly formed around the commotion. It was only after much persuasion that Aminah agreed to enter the car together with Maria and pay a visit to her lawyer, who explained that Maria had to be given up until an appeal was made. The duo then parted in tears, with Maria returned to York Hill for temporary safekeeping.

Maria stayed at York Hill for two more months under a further order from the Chief Justice pending appeal, which was filed on 28 July. The verdict was an over-ruling of the earlier decision. Aside from the ex parte order to hand Maria to the Social Welfare Department, the Appellate Court found ambiguity in the Dutch Consul-General's representation of Maria's natural father, a rather minor and technical detail but apparently significant enough under the circumstance. Both Aminah and Maria were overjoyed.

Controversial marriage

On 1 August 1950 Maria was married in a Muslim ritual to 22-year-old Mansoor Adabi, a Malayan-born who was then a teacher-in-training at the Bukit Panjang Government School. The marriage could have been a manoeuvre by Aminah to prevent further attempts by the Hertoghs to get back their daughter, as Maria returned to live with Aminah after the wedding night and the new couple never consummated their marriage. Whether such speculation was true was unimportant in the subsequent development of events, in which Maria, a willing bride nonetheless, became the central figure.

The first challenges on the appropriateness of the marriage actually came from the Muslim community. On 10 August a Muslim leader wrote to The Straits Times, pointing out that although Islamic law permits the marriage of girls starting after puberty (which Maria had reached a year earlier), there were Muslim countries such as Egypt that legislated for a minimum marriage age of 16. He added, however, that it would not be in the interest of "the friendly understanding... between Christians and Muslims" to object to the marriage since it had already taken place. The latter view was held by the Muslim population at large, albeit in a more antagonistic mood against the Dutch and Europeans at large.

Second appeal

Meanwhile, the Hertoghs had not given up legal pursuit to retrieve their daughter. Only a day after the marriage, Aminah received the Hertoghs' representative lawyers from Kuala Lumpur. The lawyers deliver a letter demanding the return of Maria by 10 August, failing which legal action would be taken. Believing that the marriage settled the matter, Aminah and Mansoor both ignored the deadline. The Hertoghs did not. On 26 August, an originating summons was taken out, under the Guardianship of Infants Ordinance, by the Hertoghs as plaintiffs against Aminah, Maria and Mansoor, who were all made defendants.

The hearing did not begin till 20 November. For four months the matter hung in suspense. During this time, Maria rarely left her residence in the house of M.A. Majid, then president of the Pakistan promising financial and other help arrived, some going so far as to declare any further move by the Dutch Government to separate the couple as "an open challenge to the Muslim world". Pledges of aid also came from Maria's native Indonesia and as far as Saudi Arabia.

The hearing finally opened, and Maria's natural mother, Adeline Hertogh travelled down to Singapore to attend. The judge, Justice Brown, delivered the verdict two weeks later. The marriage, instead of resolving the dispute, had instead complicated it. Justice Brown had two issues on his hand, namely the legality of the marriage and the custody of Maria. He held that the marriage was invalid because:

  1. Maria's country of domicile was, by law that of her natural father, i.e. the Netherlands. Under the Dutch laws, the minimum age of marriage for girls was 16. The English law applicable in Singapore recognised the marriage laws of the subject's country of domicile.
  2. An exception to the above point could not be established because neither Mansoor, born in Kelantan, could be proved to be domiciled in Singapore nor Maria be considered a Muslim by law. During her minority, Maria's natural father, who was a Christian, had the legal right to control her religion. He had testified that he would never consent to her conversion to Islam.

Having over-ruled the purported marriage, Justice Brown went on to deal with what he described as the "most difficult" question of custody. He noted that his duty to the law required him "to have regard primarily to the welfare of the infant". He believed this meant that he not only had to consider the current wishes of Maria, but also her future well-being. He stated:

It is natural that she should now wish to remain in Malaya among people whom she knows. But who can say that she will have the same views some years hence after her outlooks has been enlarged, and her contacts extended, in the life of the family to which she belongs?"

He also noted that whatever the details of the contested initiation of the custody at the end of 1942 might be, Adrianus Hertogh had not been part of it and had not abrogated his parental rights. He therefore awarded the custody of Maria to the Hertoghs and ordered that she should be handed over to her mother with immediate effect.

Stay at the convent

When policewomen came to take Maria away, she wept and clung to Aminah and Mansoor. Aminah fainted on the spot and a doctor standing by had to attend to her. Mansoor advised Maria to concede for the time being and promised that he and others would carry on the legal fight. Thus Maria allowed herself to be brought away into a car. Outside, the police, including a Gurkha Contingent, held back a crowd of several hundred.

The car delivered Maria to the Roman Catholic Convent of the Good Shepherd, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, at Thomson Road. Mrs. Hertogh stayed at another address for a few days, from where she visited Maria daily, before moving in to the convent herself. According to an official of the Netherlands Consulate-General, such arrangement was because of "greater convenience" while the stay of execution pending appeal was in effect. But it proved to be the falsest step, the spark that lit the fuse of the subsequent riots.

First and foremost, the press was not barred from entering the convent grounds. Nor were they restricted in any way in their approach to the incident, which had been nothing shy of sensational. On 5 December, the Singapore Standard published on its front page a photograph of Maria standing holding hands with the Reverend Mother. There were several more pictures on page 2, under the headline: Bertha knelt before Virgin Mary Statue. The Malay press retorted. The Utusan Melayu published on 7 December three photographs of Maria weeping and being comforted by a nun, as well as articles about Maria's "lonely and miserable" life in the convent.

These pictures, whether presenting Maria as happy or sad, mostly showed Maria surrounded by symbols of Christian faith. The Muslims, who looked upon Maria as one of their own, were deeply offended by such pictures, not to mention the sensational reports, some of which explicitly labelled the case as a religious issue between Islam and Christianity.

On 9 December, an organisation calling itself the Nadra Action Committee was formally constituted under the leadership of Dawn, an English paper published in Pakistan). Karim Ghani had also made an open speech at the Sultan Mosque on 8 December in which he mentioned jihad as a final resort.

In the light of these potent signs of a great disturbance, the Criminal Investigation Department sent a memo to the Colonial Secretary suggesting moving Maria back to York Hill to avoid further inciting Muslim anger. The Secretary did not agree on grounds that he had received no such representations from Muslim leaders, nor did he have the authority to remove Maria without further court orders – weak excuses since Maria could be relocated with her mother's consent. Nonetheless, it cannot be said definitively that moving Maria out of the convent at such a late stage could have averted the riots.

Crowds were enraged by the Court's rejection of the appeal.

The riots

The appeal hearing opened on 11 December. Maria stayed at the convent and did not attend. Since early morning, crowds carrying banners and flags with star and crescent symbols began to gather around the Supreme Court. By noon, when the hearing eventually began, the restive crowd had grown to 2,000 to 3,000 in number. The court threw out the appeal within five minutes. The brevity of the hearing convinced the gathering that the colonial legal system was biased against Muslims. The riots erupted.

The riots continued for three days and a curfew was imposed for two weeks. The mob (largely consisted of Muslims) moved out to attack any Europeans and even Eurasians in sight. They overturned cars and burnt them. The police force, its lower ranks largely consisted of Malays who sympathised with the rioters' cause, were ineffective in quelling the riots. By nightfall the riots had spread to even the more remote parts of the island. Help from the British military was enlisted only at around 6:45 PM. Major-General Dunlop promptly deployed two Internal Security Battalions while calling in further reinforcements from Malaya. Meanwhile, various Muslim leaders appealed over the radio for the riots to cease.

Reinforcements arrived early on 12 December, but riotous incidents continued on that day. The troops and police only managed to regain control of the situation by noon on 13 December. In total, 18 people were killed, among whom were seven Europeans or Eurasians, two police officers, and nine rioters shot by the police or military, 173 were injured, many of them seriously, 119 vehicles were damaged, and at least two buildings were set on fire. Subsequently, two weeks of 24-hour curfew were imposed, and it was a long time before complete law and order was re-established.

The trials

After the riot, the police set up a special investigation unit which detained 778 people, among them Karim Ghani. Out of these, 403 were released unconditionally and 106 were released on various conditions (they generally had to report to the police station monthly and adhere to a curfew after dark). The police eventually brought rioting charges against 200 people, of whom 25 were acquitted, 100 were convicted, 62 were referred to the Enquiry Advisory Committee, and seven were brought to trial at the Assize Court for wanton killing and five of them were subsequently sentenced to death on the gallows.One of the five that was sentenced to the gallows was A.K.S. Othman Ghani, a respectable Indian businessman from Madras, the founder of the once famous Jubilee Cafe and Restaurant.

On 25 August 1951, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who would later become the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, took over as the president of UMNO, a Malay and therefore Muslim party, that remains the largest and ruling political party in Malaysia today. He immediately set out to save the five on death row. Having garnered support from the Muslim population, Abdul Rahman placed pressure on the authorities, who finally gave in. The British government was expecting their role as the colonial master to end very soon and did not wish to leave behind grim memories. The death sentences for all five were commuted to life imprisonment.


A Commission of Inquiry was appointed by Governor Franklin Gimson. It was headed by Sir Lionel Leach, a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Commission placed large blame on the police command for not having anticipated the violence from many indicators between 2 and 11 December. Furthermore, when the riots first started, the police failed to act promptly to disperse the crowd. The Gurkha Contingent standing by was not put into action, while too much dependence was placed on Malay policemen, many of whom defected or at least hesitated to carry out their duties. The British House of Commons criticised the colonial government for its poor handling of the situation.

Present day Government of Singapore also attributed the tragedy to the insensitivity of the colonial government towards the racial and religious feelings of the locals. It cites the incident as a vital lesson learnt in the importance of racial and religious understanding and harmony. It also cites the incident as a case for placing a certain degree of governmental control on the media, especially when racial or religious issues are implicated.


On the night the riots broke out, Maria Hertogh was moved out of the convent, where the rioters tried twice to march on and were only kept back by the police. Plans were made at York Hill to receive her but she was instead sent to Saint John's Island, an offshore island 4 miles south of the main island of Singapore. The next day, Maria and Adeline Hertogh departed for the Netherlands by aeroplane. After landing in Schiphol Airport, they quickly proceeded to the Hertogh home on the outskirts of Bergen op Zoom.

At first, Maria could only talk to her mother, the only one in the family who understood Malay. She demanded rice with every meal, resenting the western diet. She continued to say her Muslim prayers five times a day. In addition, a policeman in plain clothes was assigned to escort her whenever she left the house, for fear of possible kidnappers who might take her back to Singapore, following reported sighting of "oriental strangers" around town. The house was also placed under surveillance.

Slowly, Maria began to adjust to her new environment. A nun came to the house daily to teach her Dutch until she was proficient enough to attend a local convent school. She also began to attend Mass with her family. Back in Singapore, Aminah and Mansoor had apparently given up hope of retrieving Maria after leave to appeal to the Privy Council was not granted. Earlier interest of the several Muslim groups involved had also gradually died down.

On 20 April 1956, Maria married Johan Gerardus Wolkefeld, a 21-year-old Dutch Catholic. On 15 February 1957, she gave birth to a son, the first of ten children. However, Maria did not seem to be contented. As she told De Telegraaf, she often had rows with her mother, who lived nearby. She also said she still longed for her Malayan homeland. Johan and Mansoor began corresponding. In letters both expressed wish for Maria to travel to Malaya to visit the aged Aminah, but such trip was never made due primarily to financial difficulties. Aminah died in 1976 and Mansoor would die of a heart attack in 1988.

The life story of Maria took another dramatic turn on August 16, 1976, when Maria found herself on trial in a Dutch court charged with plotting to murder her husband. She admitted in court that she had been thinking about leaving her husband but was afraid to start divorce proceedings in case she lost custody of her children. She came into contact with two regular customers at her husband's café bar. The trio bought a revolver and recruited a fourth accomplice to carry out the actual murder. However, the last member got cold feet and gossiped about the murder plan. The police quickly learnt of it and arrested all four conspirators.

In her defence, Maria's lawyers brought up her background, which the court acknowledged. With this in mind, and because the plot was never executed and there was no proof that she offered any inducement to the other three, the three-man bench acquitted Maria. Meanwhile, Maria had also filed for divorce on the grounds of the irreparable breakdown of her marriage.


On 8 July 2009, Maria Hertogh died at her house in Huijbergen from leukaemia at the age of 72. In a twist of fate, she died from the same cancer that killed her adoptive elder sister, Kamariah Mohd Dahan, of Japanese descent, whom she visited in 1998 in Kemaman. The highly emotional visit was the first time they had met after being separated for 48 years. But it would be the only time they would see each other before Kamariah died.

In 2014, Singaporean channel Channel NewsAsia, in cooperation with Monsoon Pictures, broadcast a five-part documentary about the tumultuous era of the 1950s and 1960s in Singapore called Days of Rage and it featured the Maria Hertogh riots, including exclusive interviews with Hertogh herself and Kamariah prior to their deaths.[1][2] Hertogh's son and two daughters were interviewed and spoke about witnessing their mother's frosty relationship with their grandmother Adeline and her struggle to come to terms with her painful childhood. Hertogh's son testified that Hertogh was not happy and felt betrayed. The siblings also paid a visit to Kemaman and met several elderly kampung residents who remembered the young Hertogh, then known to them as Nadra.

See also


  1. ^ Her full name at birth was Huberdina Maria Hertogh. To Dutch and other westerners she was normally known as Bertha (or Berta) Hertogh. The name given to her was Nadra binte Ma'arof, which was the name used by the Malays and other Muslims. However, Maria Hertogh was the name most frequently used in court proceedings and the English press. She died in 2009, Huijbergen, The Netherlands.
  2. ^ There was an uncanny parallel between the early lives of Maria Hertogh and her mother. Adeline Hunter, born a Eurasian, was adopted by a Muslim family at a young age. She married Adrianus Hertogh at the age of 15, upon which she converted to Christianity. Maria would later go through the same conversion, at around the same age, albeit involuntarily. Moreover, both were eventually married to Dutch soldiers.
  3. ^ If and only if both conditions were met could the Muslim law practised in Singapore be applied to the case, which would render the marriage valid.
  4. ^ Karim Ghani was arrested along with several members of the Nadra Action Committee and held at the detention camp on Saint John's Island for 15 months under Emergency Regulation 20 for his part in the riots before being released on grounds of poor health.
  5. ^ Family tree of Johannes Gerardus Wolkenfelt, Berthe and their ten children
  6. ^ Maria Hertogh (Natrah) meninggal dunia di Belanda (English version here) as reported by Malaysian ambassador to the Kingdom of Netherlands through e-mail to Bernama News Agency.


  1. ^ "DAYS OF RAGE — Nadra".  
  • Tom Earnes Hughes (1980). Tangled Worlds: The Story of Maria Hertogh. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.  
  • Fatini Yaacob, magazine – Dewan Masyarakat published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia – Februari-Mei, 1989 (the long interview with Maria Huberdina Hertogh @ Bertha @ Nadra was done in Lake Tahoe, Nevada United States of America, Mac 1989)
  • Haja Maideen (2000). The Nadra Tragedy. Pelanduk Publications.  
  • "The Maria Hertogh Riots (11 Dec 1950)". Ministry of Education, NationalEducation. Archived from the original on 25 October 2005. Retrieved 19 October 2005. broken URL
  • Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, Colonialism, Violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh Controversy and Its Aftermath, London: Routledge, 2009.
  • "Maria Hertogh Riots". National Library Board.
  • Fatini Yaacob,book – "Natrah: Cinta, Rusuhan dan Air Mata, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, year 2010, ISBN 978-983-52-0731-0/ISBN 978-983-52-0729-7
  • Fatini Yaacob,book – "In The Name of Love – Natrah", Institut Terjemahan Buku Negara (now ITBM),2011, ISBN 978-983-068-606-6

YouTube Story of a Nation – Maria Hertogh

  • YouTube Message from Maria Hertogh a.k.a. Nadra
  • [10] visit by Hertogh's grandchildren to Malaysia to find out more about their grandmother as reported in the New Straits Times

Further reading

  • Torn Between Two Worlds at "Headlines, Lifelines" website of the National Educational Multimedia kit for schools (c) Singapore Press Holdings. First published in 150 years of the Straits Times (15 July 1845–1995).
  • In Dutch language, an Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau slideshowFlashphoto archive of select news photos of the events published in the Netherlands
  • Maria Hertogh, returned to Malaysia in 1999 aged 63, for a Dutch TV documentary De Affaire
  • Singapore Media Development Authority and Christopher Chew's Monsoon Pictures Pte Ltd are developing an English language film "The Jungle Girl" aka "Nadra(period drama)" with screenwriter Sarah Lambert, Lantern Pictures, Australia.
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