Robert Fullerton

Singapore Infopedia

by Sitragandi Arunasalam


Robert Fullerton (Sir) (b. 1773–d. 6 June 1831), a Scotsman, was the governor of Penang from 1824 to 1827 and the first governor of the Straits Settlements from 1826 to 1830.Several iconic landmarks in Singapore were named in honour of him, such as Fort Fullerton, Fullerton Square, and the Fullerton Building.

Governor of the Straits Settlements
In 1826, Fullerton was appointed the first governor of the Straits Settlements, when Penang, Singapore and Malacca were grouped together to form the Presidency of the Straits Settlements. During Fullerton’s tenure as governor, a major problem he had to contend with was generating enough revenue to make the Straits Settlements self-sufficient and less dependent on the British government in India. He formulated several policies to address the problem, including a retrenchment scheme, new taxes on land and houses, and new fines and fees in the law courts.2 However, to preserve Singapore’s free port status, the Straits merchants overturned Fullerton’s proposals in 1829 to impose export duties, stamp dues and a levy on the accumulated wealth of those returning to China and India.3

Fullerton’s inability to balance the budget eventually caused the then governor-general of India, William Bentinck (Lord), to intervene. Bentinck arrived in 1829 with orders from the East India Company to reorganise and downsize the administration of the Straits Settlements.4 Fullerton returned to Europe in 1830, when the status of the Straits Settlements was reduced from a presidency to a residency of the Presidency of Bengal.5 He was succeeded by Robert Ibbetson as the governor of the Straits Settlements, and died a year later in London on 6 June 1831.6

Interest in the Malay states
Fullerton had proposed Malacca as the capital of the Straits Settlements.7 His rationale was that it would be easier for the British to maintain influence over all the Malay states, as Malacca was centrally situated between Singapore and Penang.8 Bentinck chose Singapore instead, because of its increasing importance and proximity to Java and the Malay Archipelago.9

Despite the East India Company’s non-intervention policy in the Malay states, Fullerton felt the need to check Siam’s aggression in the northern Malay states in order to protect British trade.10 Going against orders, he threatened Siam with war on a few occasions.11 He also guaranteed British support for Perak if its independence were threatened.12 It could be said that Fullerton had prevented Siam from extending its influence in the northern Malay states, especially in Perak and Selangor.13

Fort Fullerton
In 1829, Fullerton built a fort at the mouth of the Singapore River (current site of the Fullerton Hotel) to defend the town.14 The fort, which was named after Fullerton, was expanded by Captain Collyer in 1854 but demolished in 1873

Sitragandi Arunasalam

1. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1902), 194. (Call no. 959.57 BUC); Lisa A. Mills, Constance M. Turnbull and David Kenneth Bassett, “British Malaya, 1824–1867,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 33, no. 3 (1960): 42. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
2. Charles Donald Cowan, “Early Penang & the Rise of Singapore 1805–1832,” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (March 1950): 17 (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
3. C. M. Turnbull, The Straits Settlements, 1826–67: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony (London: Athlone Press, 1972), 189–90, 201. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
4. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St John Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 21–22. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
5. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 206; Cowan, “Early Penang & the Rise of Singapore,” 17
6. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St John Braddell, eds., One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 82. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Buckley, Anecdotal History, 192.
7. Cowan, “Early Penang,” 18.
8. Cowan, “Early Penang,” 17; Buckley, Anecdotal History, 205.
9. Cowan, “Early Penang,” 18.
10. Cowan, “Early Penang,” 14.
11. C. M. Turnbull, “Malaysia: The Nineteenth Century,” South East Asia: Colonial History, ed. Paul H. Kratoska (London: Routledge, 2001), 243. (Call no. RSING 959 SOU)
12. Andrew Barber, Penang under the East India Company 1786–1858 (Malaysia: AB&A, 2009), 145. (Call no. RSEA 959.51 BAR); Cowan, “Early Penang,” 14.
13. Turnbull, “Malaysia: The Nineteenth Century,” 243.
14. Marjorie Doggett, Characters of Light (Singapore: Times Books International, 1985), 125. (Call no. RSING 722 4095957 DOG)
15. Doggett, Characters of Light, 125.

The information in this article is valid as of March 2021 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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