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The implementation of English law in Singapore, along with Penang and Malacca, is detailed in Roland St. John Braddell’s landmark The Law of the Straits Settlements: A Commentary. Although this book is not the first attempt at documenting the legal history of Singapore, it has, nonetheless, contributed significantly to its study, and is regarded as a classic by scholars even today. In the 1890s, a group of Peranakan (Straitsborn Chinese) intellectuals decided to publish a magazine for the Straits community in Malaya. Singapore’s legal system can trace its origins to the British colonial era when it first adopted the English legal system. The First Charter of Justice Singapore was established on 6 February 1819, when Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor and Temenggong Abdul Rahman to establish a trading post in Singapore. Earlier in 1807, the British Crown had granted the British East India Company the First Charter of Justice to establish a Court of Judicature in…

Quite ironically, the most detailed account of Stamford Raffles’ momentous arrival in Singapore was captured by a man who was not even there. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, better known as Munshi Abdullah, gathered reports from those present to piece together a version of the events that occurred during Raffles’ first arrival to Singapore on 29 January 1819. This landmark narrative is included in his autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, or Stories of Abdullah, one of the most important records of the socio-political landscape in Singapore, Malacca and the southern Malay kingdoms of Johor and Riau-Lingga at the turn of the 19th century. Written in Jawi – modified Arabic script used to write the Malay language – between 1840 and 1843 and published in 1849, the book is considered compulsory reading among scholars of Malay literature and culture and is the most renowned of Abdullah’s works. Until the 1970s, it was used as a textbook in every Malay school in Singapore. Born in Malacca in 1797, young Abdullah studied under the best Malay scholars in his hometown and read all…

The Sejarah Melayu is considered by scholars as an important literary work on the history and genealogy of the Malay kings of the Malacca Sultanate (1400–1511). Partially composed in the 17th century in Jawi – the modified Arabic script used to express the Malay language – the title is derived from its original Arabic name, Sulalat al-Salatin (Genealogy of Kings). But few are aware that its first English translation in the early 19th century, the Malay Annals, was actually undertaken by a Scotsman. His name was John Leyden, a close friend of the founder of modern Singapore, Stamford Raffles, and a prominent figure of the Scottish Enlightenment movement of the late 18th century. The book, published in 1821, is the earliest English translation of the epic work, and opened up the world of Malay history and literature to 19th century colonial scholars. In some ways, the book was so revolutionary that it overshadowed the handwritten Jawi manuscript, as well as the printed Jawi version by the learned scholar Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (also known as Munshi…

Among the 19 letters held in the Rare Materials Collection of the National Library is one from Stamford Raffles to his business agent and friend, John Tayler, a London-based East India merchant. Interesting, this is also the first letter by Raffles that the National Library acquired in 1987.

Singapore was almost not founded by Stamford Raffles. Four letters that detail Raffles’ passionate defence to establish a British trading outpost on the island in 1819 offer insight into the objections he faced from the Dutch as well as his own British masters. Written between 1820 and 1823 to Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, the letters reveal the lengths that Raffles went to persuade his superiors at the British East India Company (EIC) of Singapore’s achievements and its growing importance as a regional trading hub.