stamford raffles


The National Library’s newest exhibition, “From the Stacks”, presents highlights of its Rare Materials Collection. Chung Sang Hong explains why you should not miss this event.

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…

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.

The founding of Raffles Institution (originally known as Singapore Institution) was fraught with difficulties and delays from the very beginning. It all started with this document – a 110-page record of a meeting held on 1 April 1823, in which Stamford Raffles laid down his plans to establish a school for Asians. First published in 1819 as On the Advantage of Affording the Means of Education to the Inhabitants of the Further East, the document reveals Raffles’ vision of Singapore as a hub not only in trade but also in learning. This was forward thinking at a time when even basic education was still not formally implemented in England. With the exception of Quranic instruction and a few Chinese schools in Penang and Malacca, formal education was sorely lacking in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. In this document, purchased by the National Library in 2006, Raffles puts forth his rationale for starting an institution of learning dedicated to the education of the Malay elites as well as employees of the British East India Company.…