The birth and growing up years of John Crawfurd. (1783-1868)
John Crawfurd was born in Scotland to physician John Coutts Antrobus and Fanny Swetenhem, studied at Edinburgh University and appointed Assistant Surgeon in the medical service of the EIC in 1806. Posted to Penang two years later, participated the Java Expedition. Held senior posts including that of Resident of Yogyakarta. An avid collector of Indonesia antiques and manuscripts, later sold to the British museum. The first president of the Straits Settlements Association formed in London, in 1861, Died in the same year. As 2nd Resident from 1823-1826.
Contributions to Singapore
A medical doctor by training, Crawfurd came to this part of the world in in 1808 under the banner of the East India Company(EIC). Like Farquhar, Crawfurd was no stranger to the political environment of the region, having mastered the Malay language and also learnt about the customs and traditions of the Malay aristocracy.
The importance of cross-cultural competence in his work was highlighted after he became Resident in 1823, when he helped secure complete EIC sovereignty over the island. Singapore had up till then only been leased to the company by the Malay rulers who were here before 1819. His agreement with the Sultan and the Temenggong gave the company full nights to ownership of the island, and paved the way for development on an even larger scale.
It was not Raffles but Crawfurd who made Singapore a British possesion. The new Resident received the necessary authorization from British India in early March 1824. His task was facilitated by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty Of London (17 March 1824), which among other things recognized the British position at Singapore. Crawfurd’s treaty with the Malay rajas was finalized on 2 August 1824, and secured the session at Singapore in full sovereignty and property to the East India Company, its heirs and successors.
Crawfurd faced several challenges to his administration during his term of office. First, Raffles felt let down because Crawfurd did not appear to comply with his instructions for the island’s development. For example, Crawfurd legalized gambling and opium farms as a way of earning revenue. This infuriated Raffles, who had opposed a similar move by Farquhar.
Another incident that put his abilities into question occurred in 1824, when cultivators of crops for sale in Singapore. Crawfurd felt that commercial farming was less reliable than the development of Singapore as a trading hub. It was only later, after much wasted resources and time, that he was proven right.
In addition, some people felt that Crawfurd was not very approachable, as he was known for his impatience and outbursts of anger. A comparison made by the early settlers with his more popular predecessor would naturally make him more unpopular.
Crawfurd had to deal with the fact that, till then, there was an absence at legally constituted counts in Singapore. The EIC was unable to create these counts because of two main reasons. First, the rights of sovereignty had not been obtained with respect to Singapore although Raffles’ 1823 Convention came close to that. Secondly, even after these rights were obtained by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty and the Treaty of Cession, the latter was satisfied by the British Parliament till 1826. It was only after such ratification that the British monarch could issue charters or letters patent to set up the judicial establishment.
Till the arrival of the second charter of justice, Crawfurd’s administration of justice on the island was strictly speaking, illegal. He was compelled to assume an authority which he did not possess and his decisions were not legally binding; indeed, they left him open to prosecution in the Indian Courts in cases where punishment was inflicted. Crawfurd abolished the Magistrate’s Courts established by Raffles and replaced them with the Recorder at Penang on the legality of Raffles’ 1823 Regulations. The court of Requests was a small debts court presided over by the Assistant Resident, and the Resident’s Court decided all civil and criminal cases ‘on general principles of English law’. So far as local conditions and the ‘character and manners of the different classes of inhabitants’ permitted. Crawfurd wrote to the supreme Government about defiant and troublesome Europeans but received little help. They simply advised him to banish them. These conditions remained unaltered until the establishment of the Recorder’s Court in 1827 and in 1826, leading merchants as well as government officials were appointed Justices of the Peace, empowered to try civil and criminal cases.
One of his main contributions to Singapore was in bringing about the transfer of the Straits Settlements from the EIC Office in India to the Colonial Office in London. If the Straits Settlements had remained under the direct jurisdiction of the office in India, progress might have been slower. The eventual transfer from India to London in 1867 greatly increased the prestige and attention given Singapore.
It is through knowing these perceptions that we see how Crawfurd was someone who possessed a mind of his own. Not easily swayed by other people’s opinions, this quality of his proved essential when it came to bettering the fortunes of the new colony.
Crawfurd is recognized for his outstanding administrative capabilities, without which Singapore might not have progress as far as it did then. He was actively involved in even the minute details in the island. It has suggested that his measures made Singapore a free port in the truest term, having abolished all charges and taxes for the use of the port.
John Crawfurd died on 11 May 1868 aged 85 in South Kensington, London. After studying at Edinburgh; he became a surgeon in the East India Company’s service. After that, he resided at Penang for some time. His Local knowledge made him invaluable to the government of Java during the British occupation. John Crawfurd served as an envoy to Siam and Cochin-China. He also became the governor of Singapore in 1823. He was also elected president of the Ethnological Society. John Crawfurd wrote History of the Indian Archipelago(1820), Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries(1856), Journal of an Embassy to the court of Ava in 1827(1829), Journal of an Embassy to the courts of Siam and Cochin-China, exhibiting a view of the actual State of there Kingdoms(1850), Inquiry into the System of Taxation in India, Letter on the Interior of India, an attack on the newspaper stamp-tax and the duty on the paper entitled Taxes Knowledge(1836), and lastly a Malay grammar and dictionary(1852). Although Crawfurd was unsuccessful in several attempts to enter the British Parliament in the 1830s buut had the honor of being the first president of the Straits Settlements Association (founded in 1868),which was formed to protect the Coloney's interest stood as a testimony to his contributions toward Singapore’s early growth.Beyond Singapore, Crawfurd is remembered in the world of scholarship for his works on the region, based on his diplomatic missions and personal researches. Like Raffles, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society. In addition, he was also elected Fellow of the Linnean Society and Fellow of the Geographical Society, reflecting his wide interests in both the humanities and the sciences. In many respects, Dr John Crawfurd is a worthy model for later scholar-administrators of Singapore.
Done by: Geraldine Neo Poh Yan, Lim Celine and Michelle Tang 2diligence!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The birth and growing up years of John Crawfurd. (1783-1868)