notes from “The History Of Singapore” 2006 documentary

1: Raffles Little Child

200 years ago, jungle (1800?)

200 years later- economic giant? no natural resources land is infertile. (Location is a resource!) “Mangrove to metropolis.”

The LKY oversimplification: That LKY singlehandedly built Singapore.

“Unless you know where you came from, what your ancestors have been though, you have no reference point. What makes us different from say, the Thais, or the Filipinos, or the Sri Lankans? The difference is how we came here, how we developed, and that requires a sense of history.” – LKY

Singapore is a tiny island that’s been shaped by the grand forces of history.

19th century: British developing trading empire. (Who is British? Govt? Queen? EIC?)

Raffles was an official of the EIC. Supposedly visionary, idealistic. He carried out an archeological survey of the island:

Glorious 14th century past. Thriving malay Kingdom. Temasek. Appears in maps from China. Hints that SG was great before, could be great again?

Raffles had no legal right to SG. Local sultan of Johor ruled out making deals with the british. But had an older brother Hussein with a rival claim to the throne. Raffles smuggled Hussein into SG, proclaimed him to be rightful sultan. Raffles had carried out a coup. Installed a Sultan of Singapora out of thin air. Formal handover of power. Hussein received a handsome salary, but Raffles would be able to run the island as he wanted. Witnessed by a few orang laut. Othman Wok’s great-grandfather was there. “First time somebody saw a white man coming to Singapore.”

British settlement in the hands of East India Company.

Global economy. Singapore at the crossroads of great shipping lanes is a city born of globalization.

19th century- fortunes dependent on the ebb and flow of international trade

EIC had it’s own civil sservice and army, ruled over a 5th of the world’s population. trade routes stretched across half the globe. in its heyday earned more than britain itself

most valuable cargo was tea. chinese tea was popular in europe after marco polo. Opium from India sold in China. China to India was the most profitable trade route- through the Malacca straits. Port set up to protect its interests.

Problem: 200 years, Dutch had controlled East Indies. Company policy was to do nothing that would upset the British. Raffles had been told to tread carefully, nobody expected him to set up a port under the Dutch’s noses. British ambitions east of Culcutta- don’t rock the boat, the Dutch won’t like it.

2 weeks after Raffles raised the flag in Singapore, the news reached Charles Babbage, governor of Penang. Urgently contacted Dutch counterpart to say that Raffles was acting on his own initiative, not on behalf of the company- sorry, out of order, etc. This stopped the Dutch from invading Singapore! They waited for SG to pull out.

But the mood had changed in London. Napoleonic wars, national pride, national defiance. British wanted Raffles to stay put. Great brouhaha back in Europe.

For SG to survive, it had to be more than a stopover. But how to persuade traders to come? Free trade. No tax. Buy and sell anything. Nothing like it anywhere else. Bait that lured traders away from other ports. Center of regional trade. Birds nest from Borneo, Camphor and resins from the jungle, used for lacquer, gold dust from Bali- the main thoroughfare, east-west between China/India.

Ships were coming to Singapore like bees clustering around a honeypot- swarming. Raffles called it his Little Child. But he’d be an absent father- he was summoned to Bencoolen, in Southern Sumatra. His oficial job was as Governor there, and EIC insisted he go.

In that time people flocked to SG, and their descendants are modern Singaporeans. Large Chinese community had been trading along the Melaka straits for centuries. Others came from Mainland China to escape Manchu rule. (Main distinction? Two kinds of Chinese?) Indians came as traders, soldiers, civil servants already well-versed in the ways of the British empire. Some traditions that have disappeared in India are still preserved?

Singapore’s Malays. Sea gypsies. Elsewhere in the Malay Archipelago, came to make money and to worship freely. Religious tolerance was part of the ethos of multi-ethnic Singapore from the very beginning.

Oldest surviving sketch of the settlement- drawn by one of the british officers.

4 years, 10,000 people set up home. Raffles left William Farquhar in charge. Farquhar had a relaxed attitude to “local customs”. Allowed slave trading, gambling was commonplace, even cockfighting (which Raffles despised). Farquhar did nothing to stop the rise of opium. Quickly became addiction among Chinese laborers in SG. (Were these primarily the Mainland Chinese rather than Straits Chinese?) Robberies and stabbings every day. Tiny police force, but police were usually first to be murdered.

Raffles freaks out when he returns in 1822, perceived it as chaotic. Wanted science and arts and literature to flourish (Enlightenment going on in Europe prior? age of reason, order, progress). Elaborate blueprint for SG- grid structure, rational, efficient- continuous arcade on either side of the street. River would be the central artery of the town. Boat Quay was to be the focal point for mercantile establishments. 19th century- cargo from around the world filled the warehouses of boat quay. Smells, sounds, environment would’ve been different. Sacks of rice being moved. Cradle of commerce. Modern port since relocated. (Keppel? And later, Tuas?)

Swampy area became CBD. Free trade -> magical quality that could transform SG. Central square in the business district has same shape and dimensions, only now it’s known as Raffles Place… in honour of its founder.

“I’ve had to mould everything from first to last, to introduce a system of energy, purity and encouragement, that will last a century or two.”

Random facts:

Raffles met Napoleon in 1816 when the latter was in exile at St. Helena. Raffles found him unpleasant and unimpressive. (??)

Raffles was born on a ship off the coast of Jamaica.
Raffles spent only 9 months in Singapore- returned to England with a suspected brain tumor. Did some work in botany and zoology (founder and first precident of the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo) and died of apoplexy a day before his 45th birthday.

Raffles married twice. His first wife passed away within 10 years of marriage. had 5 children. 4 died in infancy, the one that survived died close to her 19th birthday. Their names were Charlotte, Leopold Stamford, Stamford Marsden, Ella Sophia, Flora Nightingall. Lady Sophia Hull, Raffles second wife, wrote his biography and died aged 72.

Farquhar married a Mallacan-French woman Antoinette “Nonio” Clement and had 6 kids.

“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 customary 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.”

He died in Perth, Scotland.

Between 1819 and 1823 Farquhar commissioned unidentified Chinese artists to illustrate local flora and fauna. This project resulted in 477 watercolours of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects found in Malacca and Singapore. These paintings played a pivotal role in revealing the region’s biodiversity to Western naturalists, and are interesting in their blending of the stylised oriental manner with the realism of western art.