1819 Singapore Treaty

Singapore Infopedia


On 6 February 1819, Stamford Raffles, Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman and Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor signed a treaty that gave the British East India Company (EIC) the right to set up a trading post in Singapore. In exchange, Sultan Hussein was to receive a yearly sum of 5,000 Spanish dollars while the Temenggong would receive a yearly sum of 3,000 Spanish dollars.1 It was also on this day that the British flag was formally hoisted in Singapore.2 It marked the birth of Singapore as a British settlement.3 Raffles left Singapore the following day, leaving William Farquhar to assume the role of Resident and Commandant in Singapore. The latter’s son-in-law, Francis Bernard, was appointed Master Attendant.4

Singapore island before the British
In January 1819, just a month before the treaty was signed, Singapore had approximately 1,000 inhabitants. They were made up mostly of “500 Orang Kallang, 200 Orang Seletar, 150 Orang Gelam and other orang laut”.5 There were also about 20 to 30 Malays in the Temenggongs entourage and around the same number of Chinese.6 This was the Singapore that Raffles and Farquhar found when they first landed on the island.7 On 30 January, Raffles and the Temenggong signed a preliminary agreement to the establishment of a British trading post on the island.8 Sultan Hussein, who was in Riau at the time, was then brought to Singapore for the signing of the Singapore Treaty.9

Terms of the treaty

The ceremony during which the treaty was signed was attended by the people on the island at the time. Among those present were Chinese planters, Malays, as well as the orang laut. British officials, soldiers and Malay dignitaries at the ceremony dressed in regalia and fine clothes.10 The treaty was written in English on the left side and Malay on the right.11 It gave legal backing for the EIC to “maintain a factory or factories on any part of His Highness’s hereditary Dominions”.12

The British pledged to assist the Sultan in the event of external attacks but not to get involved in internal disputes. The Sultan, in turn, agreed to protect the EIC against enemies. The Sultan and Temenggong also agreed that they would “not enter into any treaty with any other nation… nor admit or consent to the settlement in any part of their Dominions of any other power European or American”.13 Thus, the treaty protected the interests of both the British and the Malay rulers.14

The Singapore Treaty had its limitations for the British. As recognised by John Crawfurd, the second British Resident of Singapore, it “amounted to little more than a permission for the formation of a British factory. There was in reality no territorial cession giving a legal right of legislation. The native chief was considered to be the proprietor of the land, even within the bounds of the British factory”.15 Thus, the Sultan and the Temenggong still had a lot of power over Singapore since equality was essentially given to all three parties.16 Sultan Hussein, as native chief, was also entitled to a portion of duties of customs at Singapore’s port.17 At the same time, he was also allowed to engage in practices such as debt bondage and slavery, which Raffles found morally unacceptable.18

1824 Treaty of Friendship and Alliance
 On subsequent visits to Singapore in June 1819 and October 1822, further agreements were signed between the Sultan, Temenggong and Raffles, which represented attempts to reduce the influence of the Malay authorities.19 In 1824, the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, which sought to put power more firmly in the hands of the British, finally replaced the Singapore Treaty.20

According to the 1824 treaty, Singapore and its surrounding islands were ceded to the EIC and it would have full authority over them.21 In return, the Sultan and Temenggong received a lump sum of money, had their allowances raised, and were allowed to continue living on land set aside for them in Singapore.22

1. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 29. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
2. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 33. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
3. C. O. Blagden, C. O. (1991). “The Foundation of the Settlement,” in One Hundred Years of Singapore, ed. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 10. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
4. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 29.
5. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 25.
6. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 25.
7. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 32–34.
8. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 19.
9. Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore, a 700-Year History: From Early Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2009), 89. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
10. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 29.
11. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 36.
12. Ernest C. T. Chew, “The Foundation of a British Settlement,” in A History of Singapore, ed. Ernest C.T. Chew and Edwin Lee (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 36. (Call no. RSING 959.57 HIS-[HIS])
13. Chew, “Foundation of a British Settlement,” 37.
14. Carl A. Trocki, Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore 1784–1885 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2007), 61. (Call no. RSING 959.5103 TRO)
15. Chew, “Foundation of a British Settlement,” 38–39; Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 94.
16. Trocki, Prince of Pirates, 61.
17. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 94.
18. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 95.
19. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 95.
20. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 98.
21. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 98.
22. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 275.

The information in this article is valid as of 15 May 2014 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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