Lt. Colonel (later Major-General) William Farquhar, (b. 1770 - d. 13 May 1839 Scotland), First British Resident and Commandant of Singapore from 1819-1823. He was an emissary of Sir Stamford Raffles and part of the negotiating team for the Singapore Treaty which saw the setting up of a British settlement and trading post here. As chief executive of the island, his administration procedures conflicted with Raffles's instructions, and this led to his dismissal on 1 May 1823. He retired to Scotland where he died at the age of 68. William Farquhar, an outstanding figure is an important pioneer in the earliest period of Singapore's modern history.
Born in 1770. He entered East India Company's service as cadet in the Madras Engineers at the age of twenty, in 1790. Arrived in Madras on 19 June 1791, and shortly after on 22 June 1791, was promoted to a low-rank commissioned officer of the Madras Engineers. Two years later on 16 August 1793, he became a Lieutenant in the Madras Engineers.
William Farquhar was Chief Engineer in the expeditionary force which took Malacca from the Dutch on 18 August 1795. On 1 January 1803 he was promoted to the rank of full Captain. From 1803 he acted as Resident in Malacca, and was made a full Major in Corps on 26 September 1811, before he was officially appointed Resident and Commandant of Malacca in December 1813; a position he held for several years, in charge of both Civil and Military offices, until the Dutch returned in September 1818. During his tenure here he assisted in missions around the region, including the British invasion of Java led by Governor-General Lord Minto and Sir Stamford Raffles in August 1811. He spoke Malay, married a Malaccan girl, Nonio Clement (he had six children by her); and was popularly known as the Rajah of Malacca.In 1818, Malacca was handed back to the Dutch, in keeping with the terms of the Treaty of London. Farquhar, with the intention of returning to Scotland, sailed for Penang. However when he ran into Raffles, he plan changed. A letter from Lord Hastings which Raffles had with him expressed the hope that Farquhar would be able to assist him in establishing trading post South of the Malacca Straits and a new settlement. This eventually led Farquhar to the becoming of the first Resident and Commandant of Singapore in 1819. Regarding the latter’s administration of the new settlement, several differences subsequently rose between Raffles and Farquhar. Raffles found that Farquhar had not followed his instructions regarding the development of Singapore on his second visit to Singapore in 1822. Moreover, gaming and cockfighting were permitted, the sale of opium went unregulated and slaves were being exchanged not 50 yards from the Residency. The latter particularly angered Raffles, who decided that the settlement had outgrown Farquhar’s ability. However Farquhar refused to relinquish his position when Raffles appointed Travers Resident in his place. Farquhar finally left Singapore in December 1823, and complained to the E.I.C. Court of Directors about his treatment by Raffles, whom he accused of "acts of flagrant injustice and tyranny". Even though his petition to be the Resident of Singapore was not entertained, he was compensated for the loss of his civil appointment by being promoted to the rank of Major-General. Farquhar died in retirement at Perth in Scotland 1839.
With his long Malayan experience, and an intimate knowledge of Riau-Lingga politics, Major Farquhar was given the task to help Sir Stamford Raffles found a settlement on Singapore island. He helped negotiate the provisional agreement of 30 January 1819 with the local chieftain Temmengong Abdul Rahman of Johore; and the more formal Singapore Treaty of 6 February 1824, which Raffles signed with the Temmengong and His Highness the Sultan Hussein Mahomed Shah, confirming the right for the British to set up a trading post. The next day on 7 February 1819, Raffles appointed Farquhar as Singapore's first Resident. In his new post, he quickly set about clearing the plain on the north-east bank of the Singapore River. Word of this new trading post soon spread and Singapore became a thriving cosmopolitan town. Communication with Raffles in Bencoolen and the East India Company in Calcutta were so poor that for more than three years, Singapore developed on her own with Farquhar at the helm. On 9 May 1821, William Farquhar was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Despite his many positive achievements in the formative period of Singapore's development, he adopted measures in his administration which conflicted with Raffles' instructions, remarkably in allowing the erection of houses and godowns on the Padang and on the nearby banks of the Singapore River. His justification was that in the fast rapidly expanding settlement 'nothing is heard in the shape of grievance but the want of more ground to build on'. The conflicts which arose during Raffles' final stay in Singapore in 1822-23, and led to his dismissal on 1 May 1823, and supersession as Resident by Dr. John Crawfurd. He remained in Singapore after that for a few months.
Departure from Southeast Asia
At a farewell dinner with the principal merchants and British inhabitants on 27 December 1823, Colonel William Farquhar was presented with a plate valued at 3000 sicca rupees as a farewell gift. Shortly after, he finally departed from Singapore for Malacca, Penang and Calcutta en route back home to England. Farquhar's popularity with the Asian and the European community of Singapore was attested to by Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, in his Hikayat Abdullah. One example was the moving account of Farquhar's departure from Singapore at the end of December 1823, which was confirmed by a report in one of Calcutta's newspapers, which states that on that day as he left, he was accompanied to the beach by most of the European inhabitants of the settlement as well as by 'a large concourse' of Asians of every class. As a compliment to him, the troops formed a guard-of-honour from his house to the landing place, and he embarked with the traditional salute to his rank. Then many Asian boats accompanied him to his ship, the "Alexander", and as they sailed, some of the Siamese vessels fired salutes to him. Similar welcomes and tributes also awaited him up the Straits, in Malacca and in Penang.
In 1824, Farquhar finally retired in Scotland, together with his new wife, Margaret Loban, by whom he had seven children. In 1837, William Farquhar was promoted to the military rank of Major-General. He died in Scotland on 13 May 1839, at the age of 68.
Farquhar's claim to fame
Founding of Singapore
Reprinted in an article of the Singapore Chronicle dated 10 March 1831, there is a letter from the Asiatic Journal written by Colonel William Farquhar, in which he claims to have had a large share in the merit attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles, for the founding of Singapore. He was refuting a claim by Lady Raffles, the widow of Sir Stamford Raffles who claimed the 'sole and exclusive merit' for her husband of having established the new and thriving settlement of Singapore.
The New Harbour
As early as September, 1819 (and again in July 1820) Farquhar advocated and urged the use and advantages of the New Harbour, the present-day Keppel Harbour, but the town developed round the river, where the first settlement was made. In fact it was Farquhar who was responsible for the name 'New Harbour' today known as Keppel Harbour. Dr. Carl A. Gibson-Hill in the book "Memoirs of the Raffles Museum No.3, December 1956", suggests that 'it would have been fairer to have called it Farquhar's Harbour'
Our thanks to Colonel William Farquhar for the Esplanade which we still enjoy in our modern city of Singapore.
The Farquhar collection of drawings
On 30 December 1818, Farquhar arrived at Penang with a collection of natural history drawings. These 477 unsigned illustrations probably by some Chinese artists in Malacca, were commissioned by Farquhar during his term of office there. He donated the collection to the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Top Singapore stock-broker Mr. G.K. Goh subsequently bought the collection and donated them to the Singapore History Museum, where it is now exhibited. A book of this collection entitled "The William Farquhar collection of natural history drawings" was published in 1999 (RSING q759.959 WIL vol. 1 and 2)
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