Raffles Institution

Singapore Infopedia


Raffles Institution is one of the oldest schools in Singapore, with a history that stretches back to 1819 when Stamford Raffles proposed the establishment of a premier learning institution.1 The foundation stone of the building was laid on 5 June 1823, marking the official founding of the institution.2 The school was renamed Raffles Institution sometime in 1868, presumably after the founder of Singapore and the school.3 The institution was originally located at Bras Basah and moved twice – first to Grange Road, then to Bishan, where it currently remains.4

Raffles’s proposal
Shortly after the establishment of a British settlement in Singapore in 1819, Raffles wanted to establish an institution that would educate the sons of the local chiefs;  teach local languages to officers of the East India Company; and facilitate research in the history, culture and resources of Asian countries.5 There was also an intention to amalgamate the institution with the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca, but the plan fell through when the college was relocated to Hong Kong.6

The institution proposed by Raffles was to be governed by a board of trustees, and Raffles provided land grants to the institution in order to ensure its financial stability and future success.7 Many of these leases were subsequently sold to raise revenue.8 On 8 April 1823, Raffles promised a plot of land, estimated at about 15 ac (60,703 sq m), for the proposed institution. The land was bounded by Bras Basah Road, Victoria Street, Beach Road and Stamford Road, although the school campus eventually occupied only a small fraction of it.9

On 15 April 1823, during the first meeting of the board of trustees, subscriptions amounting to $17,495 were raised for the construction of the institution.10 Raffles laid the foundation stone on 5 June 1823, and in the same year proclaimed the building to be the “Institution”.11 It was subsequently referred to as the Singapore Institution.12  

Early difficulties
The institution met with many obstacles in its early years. Although funds were raised for the construction of its building in 1823, with the intention to complete the work in 12 months, the building was still uncompleted by the end of 1832. The Singapore Free Press newspaper described the unfinished and uninhabited building as “an eye-sore to the inhabitants of the Settlement” and “a convenient shelter for thieves”.13

In addition to funding problems, there was also little support from the directors of the East India Company, who felt that the idea of the institution was premature. The company requested Singapore’s then resident, John Crawfurd, to submit a report on the feasibility of establishing the institution.14 Crawfurd’s report, which was submitted on 7 February 1826, deemed that the scale of the original project was too extensive.15 He recommended that the government focus its efforts on elementary education instead, particularly on reading, writing and arithmetic in English.16 While Crawfurd’s plans for the institution were approved by the government, they were unrealised as his term as resident ended later that year, and he did not see through the plans.17 No classes were held at the institution between 1823 and 1834.18

A renewed effort
On 5 January 1836, the subscribers of the Raffles Monument Fund – established for the purpose of erecting a monument to commemorate Raffles's contributions to Singapore – held a meeting to decide how to utilise the funds they had collected.19 The committee agreed that Raffles would be best remembered if they were to “complete the Institution founded by him for the purpose of education”.20 

On 20 May 1836, the trustees approved a contract for repairs to the building and authorised the erection of a new wing.21 The institution was established as an elementary school and not a college as Raffles had initially envisaged.22 The school was a two-storey brick building with a library and a large attap (palm fronds) shed for play.23 The renovation was near completion by October 1837, and the Singapore Free School, which started classes in 1834, relocated from High Street to the institution’s building in December 1837.24 The institution then operated as the Singapore Institution Free School.25

Administration and classes
During the late 1830s, the Singapore Institution Free School was under the dual administration of the school committee and the trustees. The trustees gained complete control of the institution in August 1839.26

The school initially had English, Chinese and Malay classes, but the Malay department closed in 1842 due to low enrolment. The English department had an upper and lower division, with a curriculum that included subjects such as English, arithmetic, history, chronology, natural history and philosophy.27 A library was also set up in the school. Although it was opened to the public, only subscribers to the school fund could borrow books.28 A separate girls’ department – named Raffles Girls’ School in 1879 – was established on 4 March 1844 – with 11 students in its pioneer batch – on the premises of the Singapore Institution Free School. An eight-member ladies committee supervised the activities of the school, while the trustees provided annual grants. On 23 January 1883, the girls’ school started classes in its own building on Victoria Street.29

Renaming and elimination of lower-level classes
In 1856, the Singapore Institution Free School was renamed Singapore Institution.30 In mid-1861, the Supreme Court appointed a new board of trustees for the school.31 The trustees and staff of the school aimed to gradually eliminate the lower-level classes in order to make the school a “sort of high school for the more elementary schools”.32

According to Charles Burton Buckley, the Singapore Institution remained so named until 1867. In the school’s annual report for 1868, the school was referred to as the Raffles Institution.33

Raffles Institution became a government school on 1 January 1903, and new feeder schools were established.34 Two of these feeder schools were the Outram Road School and the Victoria Bridge School. In 1905, Raffles Institution abolished its Standard I and II classes, as well as all standards up to IV, fulfilling the trustees’ aim of eliminating the lower-level classes in the school.35 

The early 20th century and World War II
In 1912, a new wing was added to the Raffles Institution building, which gradually extended towards Stamford Road.36 The school earned eight of the top 10 places in the 1927 Cambridge examination, and several of its students were awarded Queen’s Scholarships in the 1930s.37

During World War II, Raffles Institution was used as a military hospital by the British, and subsequently a military camp by the Japanese.38 The school building was severely damaged during the war, with much of its furniture and equipment either destroyed or looted.39 Classes at Raffles Institution resumed at the St Joseph’s Institution building in November 1945, before shifting to Monk’s Hill School in May 1946.40 Raffles Institution repossessed its former building at Bras Basah in October 1946.41 

Move to Grange Road
In 1972, Raffles Institution moved from Bras Basah to a new campus on Grange Road. The school’s former site was acquired by the government for urban redevelopment.42 A farewell ceremony was held at the Bras Basah campus on 10 March 1972, and the school officially moved to Grange Road that same day.43The new campus was the first in the country at the time to have sports facilities such as a gymnasium, sports complex and squash and tennis courts.44

The Bras Basah school building was demolished in the latter half of 1972.45 The Raffles City complex, comprising a shopping centre, two hotels and an office tower, currently occupies the site.46

Developments in the 1980s and 1990s
Raffles Junior College was established in late 1981 on Paterson Road, and opened in 1982.47 Prior to its establishment, Raffles Institution offered a six-year education from secondary one to pre-university two. The opening of the junior college on 4 January 1982 marked the end of post-secondary education in Raffles Institution, as all the pre-university classes were transferred to the new college.48

In 1984, Raffles Institution, along with Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary), was selected to offer the Ministry of Education’s then newly introduced Gifted Education Programme for secondary one students.49 In 1987, Raffles Institution considered becoming an independent school, but this decision was deferred until 1989 as the majority of teachers, parents and alumni wanted to make sure that the school remained a premier institution accessible to children of working parents.50 A press conference held on 31 August 1989 announced that Raffles Institution would become an independent school in January 1990, and that it would move into a new building at the junction of Braddell Road and Bishan Road in June the same year.51

Raffles Institution is the first government school to become independent.52 In mid-1990, the school moved from Grange Road to its new campus at Bishan.53 A notable architectural feature of the Bishan campus is its five-storey-high clock tower.54 

Integrated Programme and merger with Raffles Junior College

In January 2003, it was announced that Raffles Institution would offer the  Integrated Programme (IP) comprising six years of study from secondary one to junior college second year. The programme allows students to bypass the General Certificate of Examination (GCE) Ordinary Level examination and directly proceed to Raffles Junior College in their fifth year of study.55 The IP in Raffles Institution commenced in January 2004.56 To accommodate the increase in student numbers, Raffles Junior College moved to a new campus in Bishan – adjacent to Raffles Institution – in December 2004.57

In 2008, Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College contemplated a merger, since they were already on adjacent campuses, and almost all Raffles Institution students continued with their studies at Raffles Junior College through the IP.58 The merger took place in January 2009. While the pre-university section of the merged school was initially known as Raffles Institution (Junior College), this name was abolished in 2010, as staff and students became more comfortable with the six-year IP. The merged school became known simply as Raffles Institution.59

School motto
Auspicium Melioris Aevi (Latin for “Hope of a Better Age”).60

School crest
The school crest is based on Raffles’s coat-of-arms, which features a gryphon (a mythical hybrid creature made up of an eagle and a lion) and a double-headed eagle. The gryphon sits atop the school crest, which is ringed by a crown. At the centre of the crest lies a double medallion, which represents the Order of the Golden Sword conferred upon Raffles by the Sultan of Aceh in 1811. The crest also features the school colours – green, black and white.61

Some notable alumni of Raffles Institution include Song Ong Siang, Yusof bin Ishak, Benjamin Sheares, David Marshall, Goh Chok Tong, S Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and S Rajaratnam.62

Vina Jie-Min Prasad & Jaime Koh

1. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 127 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); E. Wijeysingha, The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon: The Story of Raffles Institution 1823–1985 (Singapore: Pioneer Book Centre, 1989), 21 (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 WIJ); D. D. Chelliah, A History of the Educational Policy of the Straits Settlements with Recommendations for a New System Based on Vernaculars (Kuala Lumpur: G. H. Kiat, 1960), 16–17. (Call no. RCLOS 370.9595 CHE)
2. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 28.
3. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 139; Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 91.
4. “Minister: Moving School Should Be Occasion for Joy,” Straits Times, 2 June 1972, 10; “Boys Help in RI Move,” Straits Times, 23 May 1990, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 127; Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 21; Chelliah, History of the Educational Policy, 16–17.
6. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 122–3; Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1921), 428–9. (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 MAK-[RFL])
7. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 24–25.
8. Michael Lim, “The Ups and Downs of Institution Hill,” Straits Times, 15 February 1985, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 124–5.
9. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 123–4.
10. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 428–9.
11. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 122; Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 28–29.
12. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 139.
13. T. R. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education in Singapore (Singapore: Teachers’ Training College Publications Board, 1969), 10 (Call no. RSING 370.95957 TEA); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 127.
14. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 126–7.
15. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 10.
16. Chelliah, History of the Educational Policy, 20; Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 10; Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 127.
17. Chelliah, History of the Educational Policy, 20.
18. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 20.
19. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 129; Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 58.
20. “Untitled.” Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, 2 January 1836, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Singapore Institution,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 26 May 1836, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 62.
22. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 65.
23. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 131.
24. “Circular,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 5 October 1837, 1; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 28 December 1837, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 431–2.
25. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 521; “The Fourth Report of the Singapore Institution Free School: 1837–38,” in Singapore Institution Free School, Report (Singapore Institution Free School), 1834–62 (Singapore: Singapore Mission Press, 1838). (From BookSG)
26. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 132.
27. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 132; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 436.
28. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 139.
29. Celine Menu-Lange and Sarah Siew, eds., Daughters of a Better Age, 1844–2006 (Singapore: Raffles Girls’ School, 2006), 21, 27 (Call no. YRSING 373.9597 DAU); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 432, 443.
30. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 22.
31. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 91; Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 136; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 434.
32. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, 439.
33. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 139.
34. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 29.
35. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education, 38.
36. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 134.
37. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 160.
38. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 189.
39. “Partial Release of Singapore School,” Straits Times, 22 August 1946, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 189–90.
40. “Raffles Institution,” Straits Times, 8 November 1945, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 189.
41. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 189.
42. “Moving School Should Be Occasion for Joy.”
43. Masie Kwee, “End of an Era,” Straits Times, 11 March 1972, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 261.
45. William Campbell, “Preserving Bits of the Old RI at Its New Site,” Straits Times, 10 November 1972, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “The $600M Raffles City,” Straits Times, 17 April 1979, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
47. “RI to Split,” Straits Times, 24 November 1981, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 314.
48. Teresa Ooi, “RI Fails to Keep All Its Students under One Roof,” Straits Times, 24 November 1981, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Wijeysingha, Eagle Breeds a Gryphon, 316; Gifted Education Branch, Singapore, Gifted Education in Singapore: The First Ten Years (Singapore: Gifted Education Unit, Ministry of Education, 1994), 14. (Call no. RSING 371.95095957 GIF)
50. “Move will Benefit Students, Say Present and Past Rafflesians,” Straits Times, 2 September 1989, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Chua Chong Jin, “RI Goes Independent from Next Year,” Straits Times, 2 September 1989, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Sandra Davie, “Education Moves into the Nineties with a Number of Firsts,” Straits Times, 3 January 1990, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
53. “Boys Help in RI Move,” Straits Times, 23 May 1990, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
54. “Award-Winning Design for New Premises,” Straits Times, 2 September 1989, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
55. “The Usual Mix Till Specialisation Starts in Sec 3 or JC1,” Straits Times, 1 January 2003, 4; Liaw Wy-Cin, “IP Scheme a Hit with Students,” Straits Times, 8 November 2004, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
56. Lynn Lee and Nicola Cheong, “Life in the Fast Lane,” Straits Times, 3 January 2004, H1. (From NewspaperSG)
57. “RJC’s Bishan Move Right on Track,” Straits Times, 30 December 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
58. Sandra Davie, “Raffles JC, RI Looking into Merger,” Straits Times, 5 January 2008, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
59. Amelia Tan, “Goodbye RJC,” Straits Times, 10 February 2010, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
60. “Our Mission,” Raffles Institution, accessed 2013.
61. “Our Crest,” Raffles Institution, accessed 2013.
62. Tan Guan Heng, 100 Inspiring Rafflesians: 1823–2003 (Singapore: World Scientific, 2008), v–x. (Call no. RSING 373.5957 TAN).

Further resources
E. Wijeysingha, One man’s Vision: Raffles Institution in Focus (Singapore: E. Wijeysingha, 1992). (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 ONE)

John Barie Neilson, A History of Raffles Institution (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1929). (Call no. RCLOS 373.5957 NEI)

Ng Sow Chan, She Is from the East (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1991). (Call no. RSING S895.1 NG)

Raffles Institution (Singapore), The Rafflesian: Centenary Edition 1886–1986 (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1987). (Call no. RCLOS 373.5957 RAF)

Raffles Institution (Singapore), The Rafflesian: Magazine of Raffles Institution (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1924). (Call no. RCLOS 373.5957 R)

Yap Meen Sheng, ed., Raffles Institution: The Bras Basah Years (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1996). (Call no. RSING q373.5957 RAF)

Yap Meen Sheng, ed., Raffles Institution: The Grange Road Era (Singapore: Raffles Institution, 1996). (Call no. RSING q373.5957 RAF)

The information in this article is valid as of 25 November 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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