Horley, William E.

1870 - 1931
Pioneer missionary and founder of schools

William Edward Horley was born in Devon, England on June 5, 1870. In 1893, at the age of 23, he obeyed God’s call to be a missionary to the East and went to Singapore under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Mission, a missionary organisation that had been active in Singapore since 1885. On arrival, he became a teacher at the Anglo-Chinese School Singapore. 

A year and a half later, Horley was posted to Ipoh, a small tin-mining town in the north of Malaya about 300 miles away from Singapore. The resident missionary, Reverend T. W. Stagg, had started a Methodist school, the first English school in the Kinta Valley, in Ipoh in 1893. However, the school did not succeed. Reverend Stagg returned to the United States and Bishop W. F. Oldham then sent Horley there to replace him.[1]

Horley would later write: “It was with a sad heart that I left Singapore in August, 1894 in order to come to Ipoh to open an Anglo-Chinese School. I had spent a very happy year and half in the Anglo-Chinese School, Singapore, and I was sorry to leave that School to come to the jungles of Perak, for Perak at that time was mainly jungle. Not a single rubber tree had been planted, except the few original trees from the Kew Gardens that had been planted in Sitiawan village and Kamuning Coffee Estate by Sir Grahame Elphinstone. Except for the tin mines and a few attap villages, the whole country was dense jungle. The new railway had just been opened from Telok Anson to Ipoh but it did not go beyond. To get to Taiping one had to go in a ‘shandrydan’. The journey then took 8 hours.”[2]

In fact, Horley had to set sail on a ship for Telok Anson as there was no railway line from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh yet. From Telok Anson, known today as Teluk Intan, he boarded the train to Ipoh.

Just five days after his arrival, on August 5, 1895, Horley opened the Anglo-Chinese School, Ipoh in a small, attap-roofed Malay house adjoining the police barracks behind the old Land Office. He had rented the house from a member of the royalty, Dato’ Panglima Kinta Mohamad Yusoff bin Lassam, who owned the premises. He started with only two Malay and two Chinese pupils. 

A few weeks later, he started the girls’ school with just two pupils. The girls’ school was an integral part of ACS until 1914 and later became a branch school until 1920 when the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society took over its running. However, it was not as successful as the boys’ school which saw its enrolment rising to 60 just months after it began. [3]

Horley dreamt of building a proper school to fulfil the needs of the growing student population. He applied for and was given four acres of jungle land on which to build a school by the then British colonial government. With his good friend William Cowan, the Protector of the Chinese (after whom Cowan Street -- now known as Jalan Raja Ekram -- in Ipoh was named), Horley approached the leading Chinese miners who “generously subscribed towards building a school”.[4] The foundations were laid in November 1895 and the first school building was completed six months later. Horley used it as a school during the week and as a church on Sundays. In 1898, he added a gymnasium for the school boys.

Horley would record in his diary: “I immediately had the jungle and blukar cut down. The swamps were filled in and the ground levelled, and in November 1895 I commenced building a School-church, having begged the money ($3,324) from the local community. The building was dedicated on Sunday May 3rd 1896 and was used as a school five days of the week and for a Church on Sundays. My house was built at the same time, a good friend lending me the money. It cost only $1,300.”[5]

The Methodist Episcopal Mission sent Reverend A. J. Amery as principal followed by Dr Eglund in 1897 and Mr S. H. Wood in 1898. Although Horley was not the principal for the first five years of the school, he remained the main driving force in its expansion before he returned to England on leave in March 1900. That year, the school’s enrolment shot up to nearly 220. 

In 1901, Horley returned to duty in Malaya and was assigned to Kuala Lumpur where there was an Anglo-Tamil School. The following year, he started the Methodist Boys’ School at an unused pork market in Malacca Street. Soon, there were 60 boys in attendance. When he received an eviction notice from the Sanitary Board, Horley began collecting funds to move the school to Petaling Hill.  

The laying of the foundation stone for the new school was performed on December 14, 1904. Eight months later, the school was opened by Sir William Taylor, the British Resident-General, in a grand ceremony. Aside from the school, the new complex would eventually include the Wesley Church and a parsonage. The location was chosen such that it was close to the community served and yet was sufficiently removed from the hustle and bustle. Horley remained there until 1909 when he was transferred back to Ipoh.

On his return to Ipoh as principal, he found the school flourishing. More space for classrooms was needed. By 1910, the school enrolment had risen to 603. Horley was obliged to erect four attap sheds to be used as temporary classrooms. The need for a large and commodious main building became apparent. This prompted him to embark on another ambitious expansion plan. His missionary colleagues thought he was crazy and the task impossible. 

Construction began in earnest in 1912 with $68,000 in donations from the public, due in no small part to Horley’s fund-raising efforts. The government chipped in with a grant of $25,000. The project was finally completed in April 1914. As it was a landmark undertaking, the British High Commissioner in Malaya and Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Arthur Young, declared it open officially in a grand ceremony.

Horley also had a part in the founding of ACS Sitiawan and played an important role in starting other schools. During his first stint in Ipoh, he was instrumental in starting a new school (as an outgrowth of the Ipoh school) in Teluk Anson (now Teluk Intan) in 1898. During his second stint, he helped other missionaries to start ACS Parit Buntar in 1910.

Horley left Ipoh again in 1915, leaving the boys’ school in the hands of Mr T. W. Hinch. But it was not for long. In 1916, he returned for another three years, much of it as principal again, but also as founder of ACS Tapah in 1917. In 1923, he was reassigned to Ipoh where he stayed for another five years before leaving for Singapore in 1928.

In total, he was associated with the founding of 27 schools, six of which he founded personally. In recognition of all that he did for Ipoh and Perak, Horley Street in Ipoh New Town was named after him. Although many street names have been changed over the years, it remains today as Jalan Horley. Horley served in Malaya during most of the 37 years of his missionary career except for the years 1929-1931 when he was appointed as district superintendent of the Methodist Church in Singapore.

Describing himself as “the biggest beggar in Malaya”, this silver-haired Englishman with an impressive figure, strong personality and booming voice would approach would-be donors with a cheerful smile and say he “wanted some money for another new school”. J. A. S. Jennings, the editor and owner of the Times of Malaya and a friend of Horley’s, said in a tribute he wrote after Horley’s death that “it was by no means easy to refuse Mr. Horley” when he did that.[6] He fascinated many Chinese entrepreneurs and persuaded them to part with their money for the purpose of educating young people. 

In 1926, King George V awarded Horley the Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.) in recognition of his services to the cause of education and social reform in Malaya. Jennings said it “was a reward he had earned long, long before it was given to him”.[7] Long-time friend J. Appaduray said in his own tribute to Horley that the award could well stand for “Master of Benevolent Enterprises”.[8]

Horley died suddenly of a heart attack on Good Friday, April 2, 1931. Earlier that day, he had preached the gospel of the “abundant life” in his church in Singapore.

At his graveside, The Right Reverend B. C. Roberts, bishop of Singapore, paid him tribute.

“For 37 years William Edward Horley spent himself in passionate devotion to the social and spiritual welfare of the people of this country. His zeal did not go without recognition, and he gained a public distinction which many men might covet, but far more precious to him must have been the confidence of the hundreds of simple souls which he won, and the personal friendships which he made by his cheerful and sympathetic nature. But he was more than a good comrade and kindly humanitarian. He had an exceptionally clear vision of God, and the witness which he bore was never obscure or half-hearted or compromising.”[9]

Horley did not just play a role in education, he was also active in social reform, as was acknowledged by the M.B.E. 

Said a correspondent in the local newspaper when he died: “On great questions which affected the welfare of the people, like the Opium and Drink Traffic and the Social Purity Crusade, his attitude was definite and uncompromising: and those who differed from him in opinion held him in respect. He was a man of generous human sympathies, and formed friendships among all the varied sections of the community – European, Eurasian, Chinese, Tamil and Malay: he could converse with them in their own languages.”[10] 

As his friend Jennings said, Horley “left behind him a record of work all over Malaya which is given to few men to achieve in a lifetime".[11]


  1. ^ “Four Decades of Growth, A Brief History of the Anglo-Chinese School Ipoh”, in The Voyager December 1935, 10, https://acsipohalumni.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/voyager-1935.pdf. Accessed January 4, 2021. The Voyager was the annual magazine of the Anglo-Chinese School Ipoh. The earliest issues from 1926-1931 were published twice a year.  
  2. ^ “Horley’s Own Words (1928), A.C.S Timescope From Horley to Ram”, in The Voyager Vol. XXXVIII 1970, 14,  https://acsipohalumni.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/voyager-1970.pdf. Accessed January 4, 2021. A shandrydan referred to a two-wheeled cart or hooded chaise or any old-fashioned rickety vehicle.
  3. ^ “Four Decades of Growth”, 18.
  4. ^  “Horley’s Own Words”, 14. The Office of the Chinese Protectorate was set up by the British colonial government to oversee matters concerning the Chinese community. 
  5. ^ Ho Seng Ong, Methodist Schools In Malaysia, Their Record and History (Petaling Jaya,   Malaysia: Board of Education of the Malaya Annual Conference, 1964), 518. 
  6. ^ “The Late William E. Horley, M.B.E. An Appreciation (By J.A.S. Jennings, J.P., M.J.I., Editor-Proprietor of the “Times of Malaya”)”, in The Voyager December 1931, 5, https://acsipohalumni.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/voyager-1931.pdf. Accessed January 4, 2021.
  7. ^ Jennings, “An Appreciation”, 5.
  8. ^ “The Beloved Founder of the Ipoh A.C.S”, in The Voyager December 1931, 7, https://acsipohalumni.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/voyager-1931.pdf. Accessed  January 4, 2021.
  9. ^ “The Rev WE Horley”, in The Ipoh ACS Alumni Association website, https://acsipohalumni.wordpress.com/our-school-ties/the-rev-we-horley/. Accessed January 4, 2021.
  10. ^ “The Rev WE Horley”, The Ipoh ACS Alumni Association website.
  11. ^ Jennings, “An Appreciation”, 5.

Tai Kim Teng
The author, an orthopaedic surgeon and the former executive director of OMF in Malaysia, is the project director of DCBAsia.


Ho, Ruth. Rainbow Round My Shoulder. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1975.

Ho, Seng Ong. Methodist Schools In Malaysia, Their Record and History. Petaling Jaya,   

Malaysia: Board of Education of the Malaya Annual Conference, 1964.

Lau, Earnest. From Mission to Church, The Evolution of The Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia: 1885-1976. Singapore: Genesis Books, 2008.