For the British or French or Dutch planter the rubber estate was a world within a world. ‘He hadn’t much to talk about but rubber and games, tennis, you know, and golf and shooting…’ Somerset Maugham wrote of a planter called Bronson: ‘he had the mind of a boy of eighteen. You know how many fellows when they come out east seem to stop growing.’ Many of the young Europeans employed on the rubber estates of Southeast Asia worked as assistant planters or ‘creepers’. They were the backbone of estate operations because a colour bar prevented Coolies rising above the level of clerk. The creepers were an odd bunch. James Mill said that the main purpose of Empire was to ‘provide out door relief for the British upper classes’. Many were misfits or black sheep exiled by their families. Others were restless fellows who had fled enervating office jobs in the City. In Malaya, at least a third of the assistant planters were Scottish. The Ramsden company archive is chockfull of reports of assistants sacked because they were alcoholic, prone to violence, mentally ill or just bone idle time wasters. A surprising number ended up destitute on the streets of Singapore, waiting, or begging, sometimes in vain, for a passage home. It was worth it for some. Colonial service offered a step up. They enjoyed powers that were not easy to attain in the normal run of things at home. These ‘Tuan Besars’ and ‘Tuan Kechils’ – the ‘great gentlemen’ and ‘junior masters’ – who strutted about their domains in stained khakis, tropical whites and solar tepees, periodically lunging at coiled snakes with a stick, were the petty lords of all they surveyed. A good number were unashamed racists who fervently believed in the civilising ethos of empire and the natural inferiority of native lesser breeds. The best and the brightest admittedly turned into decent linguists – learning the rudiments or more of Tamil, Malay, Javanese and the Chinese dialects often with the assistance of Asian ‘wives’ known as ‘sleeping dictionaries’. Work was hard and most of the ‘Tuans’ had to endure recurrent bouts of debilitating malaria.