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Founding of modern Singapore

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Title: Founding of modern Singapore  
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Subject: Early history of Singapore, History of Singapore, Straits Settlements, Singapore, History of the Republic of Singapore
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Founding of modern Singapore

Part of a series on the
Early history of Singapore (pre-1819)
Founding of modern Singapore (1819–26)
Straits Settlements (1826–67)
Crown colony (1867–1942)
Battle of Singapore (1942)
Japanese Occupation (1942–45)
Post-war period (1945–55)
Internal self-government (1955–62)
Merger with Malaysia (1962–65)
Republic of Singapore (1965–present)
Singapore portal

Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a British colony. This was distinct from its earlier probable use as a port in ancient times during the dominance of Srivijaya, and later, Melaka in the region.

Raffles' landing and arrival

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Malay archipelago was gradually taken over by the European colonial powers, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese at Malacca in 1509. The early dominance of the Portuguese was challenged, during the 17th century, by the Dutch, who came to control most of the region's ports. The Dutch established a monopoly over trade within the archipelago, particularly in spices, then the region's most important product. Other colonial powers, including the British, were limited to a relatively minor presence.

In 1818, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. Raffles believed that the British should find a way to replace the Dutch as the dominant power in the area. The trade route between China and British India passed through, and with the growing opium trade with China, that route had become vitally important. Furthermore, the Dutch were stifling British trade within the region; the British were prohibited from operating in Dutch-controlled ports, with the exception of Batavia, where unfavourable prices were imposed.

Raffles reasoned that the way to challenge the Dutch was to establish a new port in the region. Existing British ports were not suited to becoming major trading centres. Penang was too far away from the Straits of Malacca, the main ship passageway for the India-China trade, whereas Bencoolen faced the Indian Ocean, overseeing the entrance to the Sunda Straits, a much less important area. Many other possible sites were either controlled by the Dutch, or had other problems.

In 1818, Raffles managed to convince Lord Hastings, the then governor-general of India and his superior in the British East India Company, to fund an expedition to establish a new British base in the region.[1] Raffles then searched for several weeks. He found several islands that seemed promising, but were either already occupied by the Dutch, or lacked a suitable harbor.

Eventually Raffles found the island of Singapore. It lay at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, near the Straits of Malacca, and possessed an excellent natural harbor, fresh water supplies, and timber for repairing ships. Most importantly, it was unoccupied by the Dutch.

Raffles' expedition arrived in Singapore on 29 January 1819 (although they landed on Saint John's Island the previous day).[2] He found a small Malay settlement at the mouth of the Singapore River, headed by a Temenggong (governor) for the Sultan of Johor. The island was nominally ruled by Johor, but the political situation was extremely murky. The current Sultan of Johor, Tengku Abdul Rahman, was controlled by the Dutch and the Bugis, and would never agree to a British base in Singapore. However, Abdul Rahman was Sultan only because his older brother, Tengku Hussein, also known as Tengku Long, had been away in Pahang getting married when their father died. Hussein was then living in exile in the Riau Islands.

The treaty

With the Temenggong's help, Raffles smuggled Tengku Hussein to Singapore. He offered to recognize Hussein as the rightful Sultan of Johor, and provide him with a yearly payment; in return, Hussein would grant the British East India Company the right to establish a trading post on Singapore.[1] This agreement was ratified with a formal treaty signed on 6 February 1819, and modern Singapore was born.[3][4]

Early growth (1819–1826)

Raffles returned to Bencoolen soon after the signing of the treaty, leaving Major William Farquhar in charge of the new settlement, which initially consisted of some artillery and a single regiment of Indian soldiers. Establishing a trading port from scratch was in itself a daunting prospect, but Farquhar's administration was, in addition, practically unfunded, as Raffles did not wish his superiors to view Singapore as a liability. In addition, it was forbidden from earning revenue by imposing port duties, Raffles having decided from the outset that Singapore would be a free port.

In spite of these difficulties, the new colony rapidly proved to be a spectacular success. As news of the free port spread across the archipelago, Bugis, Peranakan Chinese, and Arab traders flocked to the island, seeking to circumvent the Dutch trading restrictions. During the first year of operation, $400,000 (Spanish dollars) worth of trade passed through Singapore. By 1821, the island's population had increased to around five thousand, and the trade volume was $8 million. By 1825, the population had passed the ten thousand mark, with a trade volume of $22 million. (By comparison, the trade volume for the long-established port of Penang was $8.5 million during the same year.)[1]

Raffles returned to Singapore in 1822. Although Farquhar had successfully led the settlement through its difficult early years, Raffles was critical of many of the decisions he had made. For instance, in order to generate much-needed revenue for the government, Farquhar had resorted to selling licenses for gambling and the sale of opium, which Raffles saw as social evils. Raffles arranged for Farquhar's dismissal, and set about drafting a set of new policies for the settlement.

He arranged for a second treaty with the Sultan and Temenggong, signed on 7 June 1823, which extended British possession to the entire island, except for the residences of the Sultan and Temenggong. The latter also gave up their rights to numerous functions on the island, including the collection of port taxes, in return for lifelong monthly payments of $1500 and $800 respectively. This agreement brought the island squarely under British law, with the proviso that it would take into account Malay customs, traditions and religion, "where they shall not be contrary to reason, justice or humanity."

Raffles, also shocked at the disarray of the colony, then arranged to organise Singapore into functional and ethnic subdivisions under the drafted ethnic neighbourhoods.

After installing John Crawfurd, an efficient and frugal administrator, as the new governor, Raffles departed for Britain in October 1823.[5] He would never return to Singapore. Most of his personal possessions were lost after his ship, the Fame, caught fire and sank, and he died only a few years later, in 1826, at the age of 44.[6]

Straits Settlements

The status of Singapore as a British possession was cemented by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, which carved up the Malay archipelago between the two colonial powers. The area north of the Straits of Malacca, including Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, was designated as the British sphere of influence, while the area south of the Straits was assigned to the Dutch.

This division had far-reaching consequences for the region: modern-day Malaysia and Singapore correspond to the British area established in the treaty, and modern-day Indonesia to the Dutch. In 1826, Singapore was grouped together with Penang and Malacca into a single administrative unit, the Straits Settlements, under the British East India Company.


  1. ^ a b c d "Singapore – Founding and Early Years".  
  2. ^ "Raffles' landing in Singapore". Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  3. ^ Jenny Ng (1997-02-07). "1819 - The February Documents".  
  4. ^ "Milestones in Singapore's Legal History".  
  5. ^ Bastin, John. "Malayan Portraits: John Crawfurd", in Malaya, vol.3 (December 1954), pp.697-698.
  6. ^ J C M Khoo, C G Kwa, L Y Khoo (1998). "The Death of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781 – 1826)". Singapore Medical Journal. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
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