We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
  Arthur Benison Hubback (1871–1948), by Lafayette, 1927 Arthur Benison Hubback (1871–1948), by Lafayette, 1927
Hubback, Arthur Benison (1871–1948), architect and army officer, was born on 13 April 1871 at 74 Rodney Street, Liverpool, the eldest of the three sons and two daughters of Joseph Hubback (1814–1882), merchant and lord mayor (in 1870) of Liverpool, and his third wife, Georgina, née Eliott-Lockhart. Joseph Hubback's death in 1882 left his widow to bring up five young children, but Arthur Hubback went to Fettes College, Edinburgh (1884–1887), on a scholarship, and was then articled to the city architect in Liverpool.

Hubback began his Malayan career in July 1895 as chief draughtsman of the Selangor public works department, when it was fully extended in the construction of new government offices (later the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad), which the forceful state engineer, Charles Edwin Spooner, had decided should be designed in an eclectic style, new to Malaya, variously known as neo-saracenic or British raj. It had originated in India by a process of ‘architectural miscegenation’ (Davies, 188) that combined Indian Muslim, Hindu, Gothic, and other traditions, as an expression of imperial achievement. Apart from its novelty this style posed structural problems which led Kuala Lumpur ‘old hands’ to predict the collapse of the central tower. But a century later it stood to prove the sceptics wrong. On its completion Hubback left the government service for private practice, but he returned in 1901, and until 1914 he designed a number of large public buildings in the same style though with ingenious variations, including a state mosque (1909), and main railway stations in Kuala Lumpur (1911) and in Hong Kong (Kowloon, 1913). He became an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1905 and a fellow in 1909. In 1901 he married Margaret Rose Frances (Daisy) Voules, daughter of Sir Gordon Blennerhassett Voules, a judge in India, and sister of a Malayan colleague, Arthur Blennerhassett Voules; they had a son and a daughter. Hubback captained the Selangor cricket team, though he could not equal his brother Theodore [see below], who, keeping wicket for Lancashire, caught W. G. Grace and then hit forty runs off the doctor's bowling. Both were outstanding games players.

Arthur Hubback was also prominent in what became the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, used both for local defence and in support of the police in maintaining law and order. Under a commandant who lacked any idea of suitable training the new force, formed in 1902, had declined in numbers and morale. When Hubback took charge in 1907 he moved from ‘uninteresting’ barrack square drill to training at weekend camps in musketry and tactical movement (Wright and Cartwright, 598). The force then grew rapidly in strength and efficiency, and a contingent under Hubback attended the coronation of George V in 1911.

On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Hubback joined the 19th battalion, London (territorial) regiment, as a major. In the course of service in France he rose to the command of a brigade, was wounded, mentioned six times in dispatches, appointed CMG (1916) and DSO (1918). As early as 1916 he had considered transferring to the British regular army, and he did not return to a post-war Malaya that lacked the means and exuberance needed to continue building as it had done up to 1914. He commanded (from 1920 to 1924) the 5th London infantry brigade of the territorial army and then retired. He does not appear to have resumed practice as an architect after 1914. During the Second World War he held a senior post in Hertfordshire in the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Family Association, the leading armed services family welfare organization. He died at his home, 4 The Hollies, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, on 8 May 1948, of heart failure. He was survived by his wife and two children. His son, (Arthur) Gordon Voules Hubback (1902–1970), naval officer, was knighted in 1957.

Hubback's architectural achievements and his reforms of the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, followed by a distinguished war record, show that he had versatile ability as well as strong character. J. H. M. Robson, in his Records and Recollections (1934), included both Hubback and his brother Theodore in his list of the ‘men who absolutely identified themselves in the interests of the people of Malaya, irrespective of race’ (Robson, 2001 edn, 29).

Theodore Rathbone Hubback (1872–1944?), engineer and conservationist, had less talent and more of a disposition for controversy than his brother Arthur. Born on 12 December 1872, he studied civil engineering at University College, Liverpool, before joining his brother in Selangor in 1895. For a quarter of a century he had short spells, terminated by ‘resigning on principle’, as a government engineer, a contractor, and a rubber planter in Malaya and north Borneo (Hawkins, 78). In 1920 he settled in north-eastern Malaya, and was prominent in the campaign that led to the establishment of the King George V National Park (later the Taman Negara National Park). In his younger days a keen hunter, he came to be remembered as the ardent conservationist of his later years. He was a prolific author both on hunting big game and later on conservation. Described as ‘the handsomest man who ever came to Malaya’ (ibid.), he was a viking born out of his time. For two years (1942–4) he was on the run in the jungle, pursued by the Japanese; the exact circumstances of his death (probably in 1944) are unknown.

The third brother, George Clay Hubback (1882–1955), bishop of Assam and of Calcutta, was born on 7 April 1882, five months before his father's death. He was educated at Rossall School and University College, Liverpool, where he studied engineering; he graduated shortly after the college received its charter raising it to the status of a university. After working as a civil engineer on the Admiralty Harbour, Dover, and then for the Port Trust, Calcutta, he joined the Oxford mission to Calcutta in 1908, and was ordained a deacon. He remained in Calcutta until 1924, with the exception of the years 1910–12 as curate of St Anne's, Lambeth, and 1916–17 as war hospital chaplain in Bombay. He became bishop of Assam in 1924 and received a Lambeth DD in 1929. In 1945 he succeeded Foss Westcott as bishop of Calcutta and metropolitan of India. He retired five years later, living first at Salisbury and latterly in Guildford. He died in hospital at Guildford on 2 November 1955 after a fall in the street. He was unmarried.

J. M. Gullick


WWW · RIBA biographical files, incl. curriculum vitae compiled by widow · T. Hubback, ‘Sport’, Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya, ed. A. Wright and H. A. Cartwright (1908), 559 · A. B. Hubback, ‘Military’, Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya, ed. A. Wright and H. A. Cartwright (1908), 597–8 · Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia, Guide to Kuala Lumpur notable buildings (1976) · J. H. M. Robson, Records and recollections, 1889–1934 (1934); repr. (2001) · P. Davies, ‘Saracenic dreams’, Splendours of the raj: British architecture in India, 1660–1947 (1985), chap. 8 · Selangor Journal [fortnightly magazine] (1896–7) · T. R. Metcalf, An imperial vision: Indian architecture and Britain's raj (1989) · Selangor government archives [some copies at TNA: PRO] · G. Hawkins, ‘Theodore Hubback’, Malayan pioneers, ed. J. M. Gullick and G. Hawkins (1958) · C. Wells, ‘Theodore Hubback, the jungleman’, North of Singapore [n.d., c.1940], chap. 9 · C. Jones, ‘The Hubbacks’, unpublished seminar paper, 1988 · J. Kathirithamby-Wells, Nature and nation: forests and development in Peninsular Malaysia (2005) · b. cert. · d. cert. · The Times (4 Nov 1955) [G. C. Hubback]


Arkib Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur · RIBA


group portrait, photograph, 1897 (with Theodore Hubback), CUL · two photographs, 1897–1927 (Theodore Hubback), CUL · group portrait, photograph, 1907, repro. in Wright and Cartwright, British Malaya, 598 · W. Stoneman, bromide print, 1919, NPG · Lafayette, half-plate negative, 1927, NPG [see illus.] · photograph, 1939 (Theodore Hubback), repro. in Wells, North of Singapore, 128 · Bassano, five half-plate film negatives, 1948, NPG · W. Stoneman, four phographs, NPG

Wealth at death  

£1993 13s. 6d.: probate, 18 Sept 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales