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Monday 20 July 2020

Kayaroganam Thamboosamy Pillay (1850-1902)

Kayaroganam Thamboosamy Pillay (1850-1902) (Picture 1) worked as a clerk at the legal firm of Woods & Davidson, Singapore. He moved to Klang in the early 1870s with James Guthrie Davidson, when the latter was appointed Malaya’s first British Resident. He was later transferred to the Treasury where he eventually became chief clerk and acted as State Treasurer on a few occasions. He was also a Justice of Peace and member of the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board. 

Picture 1 : Kayaroganam Thamboosamy Pillay

He founded the famous Sri Mahamariamman Temple in 1873. The temple was first sited near the Railway Station and moved to its current location in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee in 1885. In the 1880s, he resigned from the government and went into partnership with Loke Yew in the Rawang Mining Concession in which they both did extraordinarily well. He promoted Batu Caves as a place of worship and decided to dedicate it to Lord Murugan around 1891 by establishing the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple. He also contributed a sizeable amount of money to the building fund of St Mary’s Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur in 1893. Thamboosamy, together with Sultan Abdul Samad, Yap Kwan Seng and Loke Yew, proposed to set up an English-medium school for boys in Kuala Lumpur. It led to the establishment of the Victoria Institution in 1894. 

Picture 2: The Padang with the old Selangor Club in the foreground (c. late 1880s)

Picture 3: K.T. Pillay's family residence at 1st mile Batu Road (c. 1906)

Picture 4: Luncheon party at K. Thamboosamy Pillay's residence at Batu Road (c. 1899).

Picture 5: Sekolah Kebangsaan Lelaki Jalan Batu

The earliest record of power generation can be traced back to a small mining town in Rawang, Selangor. Here, Thamboosamy Pillai and Loke Yew and installed an electric generator in 1894 to operate their mines; thereby making them the first to use electric pumps for mining in Malaya, and marked the beginning of electricity use in Malaysia. In the same year, private supply for street lighting purposes was extended from their mines to Rawang town.  Thamboosamy Pillay was also a committee member of the Kuala Lumpur Electricity Board and played a key role in supplying electricity to the city. One of the first organization to receive electricity supply was the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station around 1895.

Thamboosamy was the acknowledged leader of the Tamil Community and was consulted by the Government on all matters of importance. He was a Member of the Selangor Club (Picture 2) and a strong supporter of the Turf Club, owning many race horses and was a member of practically every public body in the State. He died in Singapore in 1902, where he had gone for a race meeting. Sir Frank Swettenham sent his body back in the Governor’s yacht to Port Swettenham, Klang, and it was then transported in a gun carriage from the Royal Selangor Club to his house. His eldest son, K.T. Parimanan Pillay, took over the family business. Upon Parimanan's death in 1918, his younger brother K.T. Ganapathy Pillay took charge. It is believed that their family house at 1st mile Batu Road (Picture 3 & 4) was demolished around 1920s to make way for a primary school managed by the trustees of Victoria Institution, known as Batu Road School (now Sekolah Kebangsaan (Lelaki) Jalan Batu).(Picture 5).


1. Bygone Selangor: A Souvenir (1922), Rimba.

2.  "Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources" Arnold Wright, H. A. Cartwright, Lloyd's Greater Britain Publishing Co. Ltd., 1908.

3. The Star 26.10.2013, retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2013/10/26/a-reminder-of-a-philanthropic-man-sri-mahamariamman-temple-and-victoria-institution-part-of-thamboos

4. https://agathiyarvanam.blogspot.com/2015/09/thambusamy-pillai-in-malaya.html

5. https://www.bfm.my/podcast/the-bigger-picture/live-learn/santa-kumarie-k-thamboosamy-pillai-life-legacy


  1. Did he contribute to MBS KL?

    1. R. Doraisamy Pillai contributed and the Methodist Boy's School hall in Sentul was named after him.

  2. I believe that would be R. Doraisamy Pillay.

  3. Very interesting piece of historical information, thank you.

  4. Excellent article. Tq for sharing

  5. Excellent account of Tamil Pioneer's contributions and his vision also .. the genesis English education in British Malaya.


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