Stamford Raffles's career and contributions to Singapore

Singapore Infopedia


Thomas Stamford Raffles (Sir) (b. 6 July 1781, off Port Morant, Jamaica–d. 5 July 1826, Middlesex, England)1 is known as the founder of modern Singapore. Besides signing the treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor on 6 February 1819 that gave the British East India Company the right to set up a trading post in Singapore, Raffles made several other contributions that helped establish Singapore as a thriving settlement.

Founding of Singapore
In December 1818, Raffles left Calcutta in search of a new British settlement to replace Malacca. Malacca was one of the many British territories returned to the Dutch under the Treaty of Vienna. Raffles had foreseen that without a strategic British trading post located within the Straits, the Dutch could gain control of Straits trade.2 Raffles arrived in Singapore on board the Indiana on 28 January 1819. Accompanied by William Farquhar and a sepoy, he met Temenggong Abdul Rahman to negotiate for a British trading post to be established on the island. On 6 February 1819, Raffles signed an official treaty with Sultan Hussein and the Temenggong and on this day, the Union Jack was officially hoisted in Singapore.3

Raffles Town Plan (Jackson Plan)
Raffles conceived a town plan to remodel Singapore into a modern city. The plan comprised the formation of separate clusters to house the different ethnic groups, and the provision of facilities such as roads, schools and land for government buildings.4 In October 1822, a Town Committee was formed by Raffles to oversee the project. This committee comprised Captain Charles Edward Davis of the Bengal Native Infantry as president, civil servant George Bonham and merchant A. L. Johnston.Lieutenant Philip Jackson was tasked to draw up the plan according to Raffles’s instructions, and the resultant plan was published in 1828.6

Free port
Raffles devised a set of policies and regulations that outlined the objectives of Singapore’s harbour, helping to establish the settlement as a free port. Singapore was chosen, by virtue of its strategic geographical location, to compete with other ports under the control of the Dutch.

Law and order
Raffles instituted the administration of justice to ensure peace and order in the thriving settlement. He founded the Resident Court, appointed magistrates, and implemented trial by jury. In addition, he instituted the abolishment of activities such as public gambling, slavery and cock-fighting.8

Singapore Institution
Shortly after the establishment of a British settlement in Singapore, one of Raffles’s immediate concerns was the formation of an institution of higher learning to educate the sons of the Malay chiefs; to teach the native languages to officers of the East India Company; and to collect the literature on the traditions, and laws and customs of the country.9 A site along a stretch of road, now known as Bras Basah Road, was chosen for this purpose.10 Raffles laid the foundation stone of this institution on 5 June 1823. The building was completed only in 1837, and was occupied by the Singapore Free School which operated as the Singapore Institution Free School.11 In 1856, the Singapore Institution Free School was renamed Singapore Institution.12 In the school’s annual report for 1868, the school was referred to as Raffles Institution.13 The Singapore Library (now known as the National Library) was established within the Singapore Institution building on 22 January 1845.14 

The first bridge
In 1822, Raffles assigned Lieutenant Philip Jackson to build a bridge across the Singapore River. The bridge, called Presentment Bridge, was also known as Jackson’s bridge, and extended across the Singapore River until 1842. Jackson’s bridge was eventually demolished and replaced in 1844 with another bridge called Thomson’s Bridge, which was used as a foot bridge until 1846.15

Career highlights16
 Gains employment as a clerk at the British East India Company.

8 Mar 1805: Becomes assistant secretary to Philip Dundas, the governor of Penang.
Oct 1810: Appointed by Lord Minto, the governor-general of India (1807–1813), as agent to the governor-general of the Malay States.
Sep 1811: Appointed lieutenant-governor of Java.
May 1817: Receives knighthood from the Prince Regent, King George IV.
6 Feb 1819: Signs a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah and Temenggong Abdul Rahman, establishing Singapore as a British settlement.
Jun 1823: Founds the Singapore Institution.
Apr 1826: Elected president of the Zoological Society.


Heirwin Mohd Nasir

1. Demetrius Charles Boulger, The Life of Sir Stamford Raffles (Amsterdam: Pepin Press, 1999), 2, 387. (Call no. RSING 959.57021092 BOU-[HIS])
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 6–7. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
3. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Book of Days, (Singapore: Antiques of the Orient, 1993), 67, 71. (Call no. RSING 959.57021092 SIR-[HIS])
4. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 79–87. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]) 
5. Donald Moore and Joanna Moore, The First 150 Years of Singapore (Singapore: Donald Moore Press, 1969), 82. (Call no. RSING 959.57 MOO-[HIS]); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 74–75, 81.
6. Harold Frankauthor Pearson, “Lt Jackson’s Plan of Singapore,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42, no. 1 (215) (July 1969), 161–165. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
7. Boulger, Life of Sir Stamford Raffles, 308–10, 333.
8. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 59, 76, 162–63.
9. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 122.
10. Victoria Glendinning, Raffles and the Golden Opportunity 1781–1826 (London: Profile Books Ltd, 2012), 250, 252. (Call no. RSING 959.57021092 GLE-[HIS])
11. Moore and Moore, First 150 Years of Singapore, 97; Singapore Institution Free School, Report (Singapore Institution Free School), 1834–62 (Singapore: Mission Press, 1862), 3. (From BookSG)
12. Theodore R. Doraisamy, cont. and ed., 150 Years of Education in Singapore (Singapore: Teachers’ Training College Publications Board, 1969), 22. (Call no. RSING 370.95957 TEA)
13. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 139.
14. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 526, 528.
15. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 116, 304. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
16. Book of Days, 6–7.

Further resources
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: A Comprehensive Bibliography., ed. Alice Loh (Singapore: Singapore Resource Library, National Library Board, 1997). (Call no. RSING 016.95957 SIR)

Sophia Raffles, Memoir of the Life and Public Services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles/Lady Sophia Raffles (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991). (Call no. RSING 959.57021092 RAF-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as at January 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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