Monday, August 27, 2007


1781 - 1826

The birth and growing up years

On the ship Ann off the coast of Jamaica, was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles’ birthplace. It was 6th July 1781. His father, Benjamin Raffles, was a captain in the East West Indies trade. Little is known of Raffles' parents. His family was poor and was forced to leave school when his father died being involved in the slave trade in the Caribbean. Although he was only 14, Raffles had to work as his family was in debt. He started working as a clerk in London for the British East India Company, the quasi-government trading company that shaped many of Britain's overseas conquests.
He was sent to Prince of Wales Island (now Penang in Malaysia) in 1805, starting a long association with Southeast Asia, working as a Assistant Secretary under the Governor of Penang (Philip Dundas). Prior to that, he married Olivia Mariamne Devenish, a widow whose ex-husband was Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt. Jacob was an assistant surgeon in Madras who died in 1800. In the meantime, Raffles developed a good friendship with Thomas Otho Travers. Due to him being fluent with the Malay language, he was imperative to the British Government, and he was later given a post as Malay translator to the Government of India.

When the British navy invaded Java to ‘dispose off’ Dutch and French traders in 1811, Raffles went along and was made Lieutenant governor of this multi-island colony. He was soon promoted to Governor of Bencoolen (now Sumatra). His wife passed away in 1814. In 1816, ill health forced him to return to London. He won an election to the Royal Society and a knighthood due to his studies of East Indian people.

He remarried to Sophia Hull in London. It was 1817. To safeguard British shipping to the China seas, Raffles conceived a plan to find a fort east of the Straits of Malacca by 1818.

Contribution to Singapore

On 29th January, 1819, Raffles founded modern Singapore.

The only reason Raffles came to Singapore was for trade. Prior to that, Singapore had many geographical advantages:
• She lay in the main trading rout of India and China.
• She had a deep harbor for big ships to anchor.
• She had a plentiful supply of fresh water.

There where only 200 people living in Singapore when Raffles first arrived, but in 3 years time, there were about 5000 people populating Singapore.

Major William Farquhar, British Resident of Malacca, had been attempting to negotiate commercial treaties with the local chiefs of the Riau Archipelago, especially with the heads of the Sultanate of Johore. Due to the death and subsequent turmoil of the sultanate at the time of Farquhar's arrival, Farquhar was compelled to sign the treaty not with the official head of the sultanate, but rather, the Raja Muda (Regent or Crown Prince) of Riau. Noting it as a success and reporting it as such back to Raffles, Raffles sailed to Calcutta in late 1818 to personally secure a British presence in the Riau area, especially Singapura, which was favored by both him through the readings of Malayan histories and by Farquhar's explorations.

Despite Lord Hastings' less-than-enthusiastic opinion of Raffles before (which had necessitated his trip to England to clear his name at the end of his tenure as Governor-General of Java), the now well-connected and successful Raffles was able to secure the permission to set up a settlement where the Malaysian name Lion City was applied and was in a strategically advantageous position. However, he was not to anger the Dutch, and his actions were watched closely. Despite the best efforts in London by authorities such as the Viscount Castlereagh to quell Dutch fears and the continuing efforts to reach an agreement between the nations that eventually became the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London of 1824.He also sent instructions to Raffles to undertake far less intrusive actions, the distance between the Far East and Europe had meant that the orders had no chance of reaching Raffles in time for his venture to start.

After a brief survey of the Karimun Islands on 29 January 1819, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Raffles established a free-trade post. It was confirmed that there was no Dutch presence on the island of Singapore. Johore also no longer had any control of the area, hence contact was made with the local Temenggong, or Raja. The contacts were friendly and Raffles, knowledgeable about the muddled political situation, took advantage to provide a rudimentary treaty between the nominal chiefs of the area that called for the exclusivity of trade and the English protection of the area. The members of Raffles' party surveyed the island and proceeded to request the presence of the sultan, or whoever at the time had supreme nominal power, to sign a formal treaty, while Major Farquhar was ordered to do the same in Rhio. A few days later, a man who claimed to be the "lawful sovereign of the whole of territories extending from Lingen and Johore to Mount Muar", signed the formal treaty. He was Tengku Long. Even though he had no previous contact with the British, he had certainly heard about the power of the British navy and hence was in no position to argue against the terms. Raffles, however, was able to convince the man and reassure him that the Dutch posed no threat in the area. As the Dutch were present, Farquhar's attempt to establish a more favorable treaty in Rhio was met with greater challenge. It made a rather awkward position. The Dutch were justifiably alarmed and sent a small contingent to the island. Despite a covert offer of subterfuge against the Dutch offered by the Raja of Rhio, Farquhar returned and an official protest was sent by the Raja to Java regarding the matter.

On 6th February, Raffles announced the foundation of what was to become modern Singapore, securing transfer of control of the island to the East India Company. Much pomp and ceremony was done, and the official treaty was read aloud in languages representing all nations present, as well as the Malay and Chinese inhabitants. Farquhar was officially named the Resident of Singapore as Raffles was named as "Agent to the Most Noble the Governor-General with the States of Rhio, Lingin and Johor". Although ownership of the post was to be exclusively British, explicit orders were given to Farquhar to maintain free passage of ships through the Strait of Singapore and a small military presence was established alongside the trading post. After issuing orders to Farquhar and the remaining Europeans, Raffles left the next day, 7 February 1819.

Raffles also planned to start a British presence in Achin, at the northern tip of Sumatra. As soon as he left, the Raja of Rhio sent letters to the Dutch, claiming innocence and a British encroachment. The Dutch in Malacca responded at once, and ordered that no Malays could go to Singapore. Raffles' bold claim of Singapore created a curious geographic situation where although Penang was clearly closer distance-wise to Singapore, Raffles, in his capacity as the Governor-General of Bencoolen, was in control. This undoubtedly irked the authorities in Penang to the point where they refused to send any sepoys to Singapore to complete the garrison. Before the end of the month, Official Dutch complaints came, and Raffles attempted to appease the situation by instructing Farquhar to not interfere with the politics of surrounding islands. Despite numerous threats and serious considerations by the Dutch Governor-General in Java, the Dutch did not take any military action.

The muddled political situation in Johore and Rhio also created a certain uneasiness and instability for the two nations. Turku Long was claimed to be a pretender to the throne, and since the succession laws in the Malay sultanates were not as clear cut as, for example, the Salic laws of Europe, the treaties signed between native rulers and the European powers always seemed to be on the verge of being invalidated, especially if a sultan is deposed by one of his siblings or other pretenders.
Nevertheless, amidst the uncertainty and intrigue, Raffles landed in Achin on 14 March, 1819, with the begrudging help of Penang. Once again, it seems that multiple people were in power, but none wanted to formally deal with the British. The hostile atmosphere created allowed for Raffles to cancel the only meeting he was able to arrange, with Panglima Polim, a powerful divisional chief, fearing treachery. As the influential merchant John Palmer, Raffles, and fellow commissioner John Monckton Coombs of Penang sat offshore, waiting for a response, Calcutta debated whether to reinforce Singapore or not. Evacuation plans were made, but the Dutch never acted and finally Lord Hastings prompted Colonel Bannerman, the Governor of Penang, to send funds to reinforce Singapore.
Raffles finally was able to convince his fellow commissioners to sign a treaty with Jauhar al-Alam Shah, the ruler of Achin, which placed a British resident as well as the exclusivity of trade. By the time Raffles returned to Singapore, on 31 May, much of the immediate crisis that the establishment of the colony have caused in both Penang and Calcutta have passed. By then, the initial five-hundred villagers have grown to become five-thousand merchants, soldiers, and administrators on the island. Raffles was determined to both destroy the Dutch monopoly in the area and create a gateway to the trade with China and Japan, the latter nation he attempted and failed to reach while governing Java.

While in Singapore, Raffles readily established schools and churches in the native languages. Rather, he allowed for missionaries and local businesses to flourish. Certain colonial aspects remained the same: a European town was quickly built to segregate the population, separated by a river; carriage roads were built and cantonments constructed for the soldiers. However, no duties were imposed. Confident that Farquhar have followed his instructions well, he sailed for Bencoolen once again on 28 June.

The plan of the town of Singapore, also know as the Jackson Plan. It was drawn by Lieutenant Philip Jackson.

Raffles was pleased at the fact that Singapore had grown exponentially in such short years. The colony was a bustling hub of trade and activity. However, Farquhar's development work was considered unsatisfactory. Raffles was not pleased with the settlement’s haphazard growth, and his instructions to reserve land on the north bank of the Singapore River exclusively for the government had not been followed.

To set things right, Raffles formed a Town Committee and issued a detailed list of instructions covering every aspect of Singapore’s future development on 4th November. Jackson had drawn up a general plan of the town by 1823.

It was still a segregated plan, giving the best land to the Europeans, yet it was considered remarkably scientific for the time. It was also during the replanning and reconstruction of the town that allowed Farquhar to clash dramatically with Raffles. He considered Farquhar unfit for the position of Resident, so Raffles took direct control with a heavy hand. In 1823, Raffles instituted a code of settlement for the populace, and soon followed with laws regarding the freedom of trade. He also quickly instituted a registration system for all land, regardless of ownership, and the repossession of the land by the government if land remained unregistered. This act greatly asserted the power of the British government as it covered land previously owned by the Sultan as well. A police force and magistrate was then set up, under British principles. In a very short period of time, Raffles had turned a semi-anarchic trading post into a proper city with at least a semblance of order.

Repeated efforts by Raffles for Calcutta to send a replacement for Farquhar remained unanswered. As Raffles started to hint at his impending retirement, he made Johore a British protectorate, causing a protest from van der Capellen. Finally, Calcutta appointed John Crawfurd, who had followed Raffles for over twenty years, as the Resident of Singapore. Captain William Gordon MacKenzie took over Bencoolen from Raffles. It's March 1823, and coincidentally, on the same day he was replaced, he received an official reprimand from London for the takeover of Nias.

With politics against him, Raffles finally turned back to the natural sciences. He gave a speech regarding the opening of a Malay college in Singapore that heavily involved his observations of his years in Southeast Asia and the importance of both the local and the European languages. Raffles personally gave $2000 towards the effort, as the East India Company gave $4000.
In 1823, Raffles drafted the first constitution for Singapore, which followed a fairly moralistic stance, outlawing gaming and slavery. A specific regulation in the constitution called for the multiethnic population of Singapore to remain as is, and there shall be no crimes based on being a race. He then went to work drafting laws, defining on exactly "what" constituted a crime.

Later Years

On 9th July, 1823, feeling that his work on establishing Singapore was finished, he boarded a ship for home, but not before a stop in Batavia to visit his old home and adversary, van der Capellen. A final stop in Bencoolen ensued, and the journey back home was interrupted by a heart-rending experience as one of the ships caught fire off Rat Island, which claimed many of his drawings and papers.

Upon arrival to England, Raffles was in poor health. Both Sir and Lady Raffles convalesced in Cheltenham until September, after which he entertained distinguished guests in both London and his home. Considerations to run for parliament during this time was made, but this goal was never realized. He moved to London at the end of November, just in time to have a war of words in front of the Court of Directors of the EIC regarding Singapore with Farquhar, who had also arrived in London. Despite several severe charges put upon Raffles, Farquhar was ultimately unable to discredit him and was denied a chance to be restored to Singapore, but he was given a military promotion instead.
With the Singapore matter settled, Raffles turned to his other great hobby - botany. Raffles was a founder (in 1825) and first president (elected April 1826) of the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo. Meanwhile, he was not only not granted a pension, but was called to pay over twenty-two thousand pounds sterling for the losses incurred during his administrations. Raffles replied and clarified his actions, and moved to his country estate, Highwood, but before the issue was resolved, he was already much too ill.
A day before his forty-fifth birthday, Raffles died in London, England. He died on 5th July 1826 due to apoplexy. His properties summed up around ten thousand pounds sterling, which was paid to the Company to cover his outstanding debt. Because of his anti-slavery stance, he was refused burial inside his local parish church (St. Mary's, Hendon) by the vicar, whose family had made its money in the slave trade. A brass tablet was finally placed in 1887 and the actual whereabouts of his body was not found until 1914 when it was found in a vault. When the church was extended in the 1920s his tomb was incorporated into the body of the building.

In memory of Raffles

The Bronze Statue of Raffles

The original bronze statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was sculptured by Thomas Woolner at a cost of $20,446.10. It was unveiled at the Padang in 1887. The statue showed Raffles's meditative pose with arms folded and was officially unveiled by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Frederick Weld on 27 June 1887 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign (Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Year).

The inscription on the statue reads as follows:

This tablet to the memory of Sir Stamford Raffles to whose foresight and genius Singapore owes its existence and prosperity Unveiled on February 6th 1919 .The 100th anniversary of the foundation of the settlement.

White Statue of Raffles

There is another statue of Raffles built in 1972 and is placed on the banks of the Singapore River where he first landed. With his back to the River, the white polymarble copy of the original bronze statue of Sir Stamford Raffles marks his first landing site on Singapore.

From the banks of the Singapore river, you can catch a panoramic view of Boat Quay and the Raffles Place skyline behind, and marvel at the development and progress that has taken place since Raffles first landed.

Inscription on the Statue :

'On this historic site, Sir Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819 and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.'

(There are similar inscriptions in Chinese, Malay and Tamil at each corner).


In Singapore, a number of landmarks have been named after him: Raffles College, Raffles Institution, Raffles Hotel, Stamford Road, Stamford House, Raffles City and Raffles Place. There is also a Raffles Lighthouse located at the southwest of Sentosa Island, and a Raffles Place Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station!

On the southern corner of Raffles City stands a world's tallest hotel, "The 73-floor, 1,235 room Westin Stamford."

Raffles Hotel

An ancient hotel established since 1887 by Armenian brothers; Martin, Tigran, Aviet, and Arshak Sarkies, the Raffles Hotel was first a colonial bungalow known as Beach House before becoming Raffles Hotel. Raffles Hotel is one of the world's most famous hotels. It was declared a National Monument in 1987 and was reopened in 1991 after renovations.

Raffles Institution

On June 5 1823, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles laid the foundation stone of a building which he named 'Singapore Institution' which was later renamed Raffles Institution, in memory of its founder in 1868.

The Rafflesia

One of the largest flowers in the world - the Rafflesia - was also named after him.


No comments: