Love and Betrayal in British Malaya.
'For a man to marry the wrong type of woman and to bring her to the tropics is rather like caging a lioness in the zoo. She will live and sleep and eat and may even reproduce her species, but given the chance she will turn round and rend her keeper and destroy him if she can.'
On 23 April 1911, in Kuala Lumpur, Ethel Proudlock, the Eurasian wife of an Englishman, shot dead William Steward, a mine manager. In the sensational trial that followed she claimed that he had tried to rape her, but the evidence pointed to a passionate affair, and a murder inspired by jealousy. Found guilty and sentenced to death, she walked free after being pardoned by the Sultan of Selangor, much against the wishes of British officials.
The event scandalised polite society, and revealed the suffocating nature of expatriate life in Malaya, where the British ruled with an unhealthy blend of suburban aspiration and gross insensitivity to the native population. Petty, hypocritical and terribly unhappy, the British never counted Malaya as home and spent their time wishing they weren't there. "Cheltenham on the Equator" was rocked to its foundations by the dark, sordid nature of the trial.
In this compelling work of social history Eric Lawlor examines Ethel Proudlock's case for the first time since the trial, and creates a disturbing portrait of this little-known outpost of Empire.