Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, FRS (6 July 1781 – 5 July 1826) was a British statesman, Lieutenant-Governor of British Java (1811–1815) and Governor-General of Bencoolen (1817–1822), best known for his founding of Modern Singapore.
He was heavily involved in the conquest of the Indonesian island of Java from Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the expansion of the British Empire. He was also an amateur writer and wrote a book, The History of Java (1817).
Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles was born in 6 July 1781 on the ship Ann off the coast of Port Morant, Jamaica, to Captain Benjamin Raffles (d. June 1797) and Anne Raffles (née Lyde). His father was a Yorkshireman who had a burgeoning family and little luck in the West Indies trade during the American Revolution, sending the family into debt.
The little money the family had went into schooling Raffles. He attended a boarding school. In 1795, at the age of 14, Raffles started working as a clerk in London for the British East India Company, the trading company that shaped many of Britain's overseas conquests.
He was appointed assistant secretary to the new Governor of Penang in 1805 and married Olivia Mariamne Devenish, a widow who was formerly married to Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt, an assistant surgeon in Madras who had died in 1800.
At this time he also made the acquaintance of Thomas Otho Travers, who would accompany him for the next twenty years.
In 1811, after the annexation of the Kingdom of Holland by France during Napoleon's war, Raffles had no choice but to leave the country. He mounted a military expedition against the Dutch and French in Java, Indonesia. The war was swiftly conducted by Admiral Robert Stopford, General Frederick Augustus Wetherall, and Colonel Rollo Gillespie, who led a well-organized army against an army of mostly French conscripts with little proper leadership.
The previous Dutch governor, Herman Willem Daendels, had built a well-defended fortification at Meester Cornelis (now Jatinegara), and at the time, the governor, Jan Willem Janssens (who, coincidentally, surrendered to the British at the Cape Colony), mounted a brave but ultimately futile defence at the fortress. The British, led by Colonel Gillespie, stormed the fort and captured it within three hours. Janssens attempted to escape inland but was captured.
The British invasion of Java took a total of forty-five days, during which Raffles was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor by Lord Minto before hostilities formally ceased. He took his residence at Buitenzorg and despite having a small subset of Britons as his senior staff, he kept many of the Dutch civil servants in the governmental structure.
During the relatively brief British rule in Java, Raffles negotiated peace and mounted some significant military expeditions against local Javanese princes to subjugate them to British rule.
Most significant of these was the 21 June 1812 assault on Yogyakarta, one of the two most powerful indigenous polities in Java. During the attack the Yogyakarta kraton was badly damaged and extensively looted by British troops. Raffles seized much of the contents of the court archive.
The event was unprecedented in Javanese history. It was the first time an indigenous court had been taken by storm by a European army, and the humiliation of the local aristocracy was profound.
Although peace returned to Central Java in the immediate aftermath of the British assault, the events may have fuelled the deep-seated instability and hostility to European involvement that ultimately gave rise to the Java War of the 1820s.
Raffles also ordered an expedition to Palembang in Sumatra to unseat the local sultan, Mahmud Badaruddin II, and to seize the nearby Bangka Island to set up a permanent British presence in the area in the case of the return of Java to Dutch rule after the end of the War of the Sixth Coalition in Europe.
During his lieutenant-governorship, Raffles placed some restrictions on the local slave trade in line with wider British policy across its Asian territories, although slavery remained widespread and Raffles himself was served by a large retinue of slaves at his official residences in Java.
Under Raffles's aegis, a large number of ancient monuments in Java were systematically catalogued for the first time. The first detailed English-language account of Prambanan was prepared by Colin Mackenzie while Borobudur was surveyed and cleared of vegetation by H. C. Cornelius.
Raffles also attempted a replacement of the Dutch system of forced agricultural deliveries in kind with a cash-based land tenure system of land management, probably influenced by the earlier writings of Dirk van Hogendorp (1761–1822).
Under the harsh conditions of the island, his wife, Olivia, died on 26 November 1814, an event that devastated Raffles. In 1815, he left again for England shortly before the island of Java was returned to control of the Netherlands following the Napoleonic Wars, under the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. Raffles had been removed from his post by the East India Company ahead of the handover and officially replaced by John Fendall on account of the poor financial performance of the colony during his administration and allegations of financial impropriety on his own part.
In 1817 he was knighted and created a Knight Bachelor by the Prince Regent whose daughter, Princess Charlotte, was particularly close to him. At the publication of the book, he also stopped using the name "Thomas", preferring to use his middle name, "Stamford", possibly to avoid confusion amongst his associates with Sir Thomas Sevestre or his cousin Thomas Raffles who bore the same name. On 22 February he married his second wife, Sophia Hull.
Raffles arrived in Bencoolen (Bengkulu) on 19 March 1818. Despite the prestige connected with the title of Governor-General, Bencoolen was a colonial backwater whose only real export was pepper and only the murder of a previous Resident, Thomas Parr, gained it any attention back home in Britain.
Raffles found the place wrecked, and set about reforms immediately, mostly similar to what he had done in Java – abolishing slavery and limiting cockfighting and such games. To replace the slaves, he used a contingent of convicts, already sent to him from India.
It is at this point when he realized the importance of a British presence that both challenged the Dutch hegemony in the area and could remain consistently profitable, unlike Bencoolen or Batavia.
However, the strategic importance of poorly maintained but well-positioned British possessions such as Penang or Bencoolen made it impossible for the British to abandon such unprofitable colonies in such proximity to the Dutch in Java.
The competition in the area, between Raffles and the aggressive Dutch de jure Governor, Elout, certainly led at least in part to the later Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Raffles looked into alternatives in the area – namely Bangka, which had been ceded to the Dutch after its conquest by the British during its occupation of Java.
Bintan was also under consideration. Despite the fact that Francis Light overlooked the island before settling upon Penang in 1786, the Riau Archipelago was an attractive choice just to the south of the Malay Peninsula, for its proximity to Malacca.
In his correspondences with Calcutta, Raffles also emphasized the need to establish a certain amount of influence with the native chiefs, which had greatly waned since the return of the Dutch. Raffles sent Thomas Travers as an ambassador to the Dutch, to possibly negotiate an expansion of British economic interests. When this failed, and when Raffles' own expeditions into his new dominion found only treacherous terrain and few exportable goods, his desire to establish a better British presence was cemented.
However, the Anglo-Dutch Convention of 1814 was not completely clear, especially on the issue of certain possessions such as Padang. The Convention of 1814 only returned Dutch territory that was held before 1803, which did not include Padang.
Raffles asserted the British claim personally, leading a small expedition to the Sultanate of Minangkabau. Yet, as Raffles confirmed with the sultan regarding the absolute British influence of the area, he realized that the local rulers had only limited power over the well-cultivated and civilized country, and the treaty was largely symbolic and had little actual force.
Major William Farquhar, the British Resident of Malacca, had been attempting to negotiate commercial treaties with the local chiefs of the Riau Archipelago, especially before Raffles's arrival. Farquhar was compelled to sign the treaty not with the official head of the sultanate, but rather, the Raja Muda (Regent or Crown Prince) of Riau.
He noted it as a success and reported it as such to Raffles. Raffles sailed to Malacca in late 1818 to personally secure a British presence in the Riau area, especially Singapura, which was favoured by him both through the readings of Malayan histories and by Farquhar's explorations.
Despite Lord Hastings' less-than-stellar opinion of Raffles before (which had necessitated his trip to England to clear his name at the end of his tenure as Governor-General of Java), the now well-connected and successful Raffles was able to secure permission to set up a settlement.
At this point in Malaysian history the name Lion City was applied. The city was in a strategically advantageous position; however, he was ordered not to provoke the Dutch, and his subsequent actions were officially disavowed by the British government.
In London, Viscount Castlereagh attempted to quell Dutch fears, and continuing efforts were made to reach an agreement between the nations that eventually became the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London of 1824. As well as the treaty, instructions were sent out to Raffles to undertake far less intrusive actions; however, distance between the Far East and Europe meant that the orders had no chance of reaching Raffles in time.
After a brief survey of the Karimun Islands, on 29 January 1819, he established a post at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It was established that there was no Dutch presence on the island of Singapore. Johore also no longer had any control of the area, so contact was made with the local Temenggong, or Raja. The contacts were friendly and Raffles, knowledgeable about the muddled political situation, took advantage to provide a rudimentary treaty between the nominal chiefs of the area that called for the exclusivity of trade and the British protection of the area.
Members of Raffles' party surveyed the island and proceeded to request the presence of the sultan, or whoever at the time had supreme nominal power, to sign a formal treaty, while Major Farquhar was ordered to do the same in Rhio (Riau).
A few days later, the formal treaty was signed by a man who claimed to be the "lawful sovereign of the whole of territories extending from Lingga and Johor to Mount Muar. This man was Hussein Shah of Johor, who, although having had no previous contact with the British, had certainly heard of the might of the British navy and was in no position to argue against the terms.
However, Raffles was able to charm the man and to reassure him that the Dutch posed no threat in the area. Hussein Shah had been the crown Prince of Johor, but while he was away in Pahang to get married, his father died and his younger brother was made sultan, supported by some of the court officials and the Dutch.
To circumvent the situation of having to negotiate with a sultan influenced by the Dutch, Raffles decided to recognise, on behalf of the British Crown, Hussein Shah as being the rightful ruler of Johor.
Farquhar's attempt to establish a more favorable treaty in Rhio (Riau) was met with greater challenge, as the Dutch were present and made for a rather awkward position. The Dutch were alarmed and sent a small contingent to the island. Despite a covert offer of subterfuge against the Dutch offered by the Raja of Rhio (Riau), Farquhar returned and an official protest was sent by the Raja to Java regarding the matter.
Raffles declared the foundation of what was to become modern Singapore on 6 February, securing the transfer of control of the island to the East India Company. With much pomp and ceremony, the official treaty was read aloud in languages representing all nations present, as well as the Malay and Chinese inhabitants.
Hussein Shah was paid $5,000 a year while the local Temenggong received $3,000 a year, both massive sums at the time, equivalent to several hundred thousand dollars now.
Farquhar was officially named the Resident of Singapore and Raffles was named as "Agent to the Most Noble the Governor-General with the States of Rhio (Riau), Lingin and Johor". Although ownership of the post was to be exclusively British, explicit orders were given to Farquhar to maintain free passage of ships through the Strait of Singapore and a small military presence was established alongside the trading post. After issuing orders to Farquhar and the remaining Europeans, Raffles left the next day, 7 February 1819.
Raffles also planned to start a British presence in Achin, on the northern tip of Sumatra.
As soon as he had departed, the Raja of Rhio (Riau) sent letters to the Dutch, disclaiming the deal, protesting innocence and blaming British encroachment.
Meanwhile, in Malacca the Dutch acted at once, commanding that no Malays could go to Singapore. Raffles' bold claim of Singapore created a curious geographic situation: although Penang was clearly closer in distance to Singapore, Raffles, in his capacity as Governor-General of Bencoolen, was nominally still in control. This undoubtedly irked the authorities in Penang to the point where they refused to send any sepoys to Singapore to complete the garrison.
Official Dutch complaints came before the end of the month, and Raffles attempted to appease the situation by instructing Farquhar to not interfere with the politics of surrounding islands. Despite numerous threats and serious considerations by the Dutch Governor-General in Java, they did not take any military action.
The confused political situation in Johore and Rhio also created a certain uneasiness and instability for the two nations. Tengku Long was claimed to be a pretender to the throne, and, since the succession laws in the Malay sultanates were not clear cut, treaties signed between native rulers and the European powers always seemed to be on the verge of invalidation; especially if a sultan should be deposed by one of his siblings or other pretenders.
Nonetheless amidst uncertainty and intrigue, Raffles landed in Achin on 14 March 1819, with begrudging help of Penang. Once again, it seems that multiple people were in power, but none wanted to formally deal with the British. The hostile atmosphere created allowed Raffles to cancel the only meeting he was able to arrange, with Panglima Polim, a powerful divisional chief, fearing treachery.
As the influential merchant John Palmer, Raffles, and fellow commissioner John Monckton Coombs of Penang sat offshore, awaiting a response, Calcutta debated whether to reinforce the port city. Evacuation plans were made, but the Dutch never acted and ultimately Lord Hastings prompted Colonel Bannerman, the Governor of Penang, to send funds to bolster Singapore.
Finally Raffles was capable of convincing his fellow commissioners to sign a treaty with Jauhar al-Alam Shah, the ruler of Achin, which installed a British resident as well as guaranteeing the exclusivity of bi-lateral trade.
By the time Raffles had returned to Singapore, on 31 May, much of the immediate crisis that the colony had caused in Penang and Calcutta had passed. By then, the initial five-hundred villagers had grown to become five-thousand merchants, soldiers, and administrators packed onto the island.
Raffles was determined to destroy the Dutch mercantile monopoly in the area to replace it with a gateway for trade with China and Japan. The latter he had attempted but failed to reach an agreement while governing Java.
While in Singapore, Raffles established schools and churches in the native languages. He allowed missionaries and local businesses to flourish. Certain colonial aspects remained: a European town was quickly built to segregate the population, separated by a river; carriage roads were built and cantonments constructed for the soldiers. Otherwise no other duties were imposed.
Confident that Farquhar would follow his instructions well, Raffles sailed for Bencoolen once again on 28 June.
Raffles was still the Governor-General of Bencoolen when he returned. Raffles started more reforms that were, by now, almost trademarks of his rule over the colonies. Forced labour was abolished when he first arrived, and he declared Bencoolen a free port as well. The currency was regulated and, as he had an excess of out-of-work civil servants, they formed committees to advise him on the daily running of the colony.
However, Bencoolen was not as self-sufficient as Singapore. The area was poor and disease-ridden: the first reports from the committees reflected very poorly upon the condition of the colony. Unlike the salutary neglect Raffles granted upon Singapore, he delayed European-inspired reforms emphasizing only the cultivation of whatever land was available.
Native authorities were given power in their respective districts and were answerable only to the Governor-General. The slave-debtor system was brought in, instead of the old slavery system that Raffles had abolished in Java, Borneo, and initially in Bencoolen.
Slave-debtors were registered, and educational reforms started to focus on children instead of the entire population. Raffles looked into a long-term plan for the slow reform of Bencoolen.
Unlike many other European adventurers, Raffles did not impose upon the colonized the alien language or culture of the colonizer. In addition to preserving the artifacts, fauna, and flora of his colonies, he also allowed religious freedom, which was especially important as the Malay states were largely Muslim. However, Christian schools were started by missionaries in all of his colonies.
Colonel Bannerman's death in Penang in October 1819 brought new opportunities for Raffles to expand his power to also include the other minor British factories and outposts from Sumatra to Cochin China.
He sailed to Calcutta and as Lord Hastings sought to consolidate all of the small British possessions in the East Indies. During his sojourn, he had the opportunity to argue for free trade and the protection of the private enterprise. Education and the retention of small British outposts were also discussed.
The Dutch claim on the Sultanate of Johore and hence, Rhio, and the diplomatic exchanges between Baron Godert van der Capellen and Calcutta continued throughout this time.
The legitimacy of the British treaties was also questioned once again, but finally, as Singapore grew at an exponential rate, the Dutch gave up their claim on the island, allowing the colony to continue as a British possession. However, the pressures put upon Calcutta ensured that no single governor of all British possessions in the Strait or on Sumatra was appointed, and Raffles, whose health was slowly ailing, returned to Bencoolen.
Raffles returned to Bencoolen in ill-health, but as his health improved, he continued on his quest to learn about the island he now called home. He studied the Batak cannibals of Tapanuli and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh, writing in detail about the transgressions that warranted such an act as well as their methods. He also noted the rise of the Sikh religion in certain parts of Sumatra.
By early 1820, Tengku Long had firmly established himself as the Sultan of Johor to the British, but the political situation in the area remained a befuddled mess, with the old sultan dying and many new ones attempting to gain either the crown or regency. As Farquhar was involving himself poorly in local politics, Raffles appointed Travers as the Resident of Singapore, replacing Farquhar. Upon his arrival, Travers found the colony a delightful smörgåsbord of different races and cultures, numbering over six thousand. He also found that Singapore's trade was slowly overtaking that of Java.
As in Java, Raffles collected samples of local species of plant and animal, as well as describing them in his journals. He located other tribes and recorded their customs, especially their religions and laws. Bringing the island of Nias under British rule he noted its civilized state and high production yields of rice.
Yet the production of food remained a problem. In Bencoolen Raffles paid special attention to the agricultural methods of the Chinese, including an introduction to the only issue of Proceedings of the Agricultural Society. In order to remedy the shortages his employer, the East India Company, concerned themselves only with profit-taking. Even as Raffles lived like a country gentleman and ran his colony like an estate, his expenditure on nature preservation was seriously frowned upon. In both Calcutta and London they discussed his removal from office, while Castlereagh continued negotiations with the Dutch regarding the ongoing diplomatic conflicts.
Luckily, the Singapore issue had its supporters in the House, so as negotiations continued in Europe, Raffles remained largely idle in Bencoolen. The only major issue, outside the politics of the local sultans, involved the replacement of Farquhar, who decided that he had no intention of leaving his post voluntarily, causing a moment of tension between him and Travers. Raffles' request for Travers to deliver dispatches to India nullified the issue late in the year, and Farquhar remained in charge of Singapore, with its survival still in doubt for many in both India and London, who believed that it would either be handed over to the Dutch or taken violently by force when Castlereagh's negotiations had ended.
Still William Farquhar stirred up more trouble, especially with local English merchants over trivial matters of self-importance and overreaction over small infractions of white traders, for some of which he was reprimanded by Calcutta officially. Public works, commissioned by Raffles but undertaken by Farquhar, were becoming overwhelmingly expensive.
Personal tragedies also started for Raffles. His eldest son, Leopold Stamford (b. 1818), died during an epidemic on 4 July 1821. The oldest daughter, Charlotte (b. 1818), was also sick with dysentery by the end of the year, but it would be his youngest son, Stamford Marsden (b. 1820), who would perish first with the disease, on 3 January 1822, with Charlotte to follow ten days later. For the good part of four months the couple remained devastated. The year would be eventful with the suicide of Castlereagh and the appointment of Lord Amherst as the Governor-General of India, replacing Hastings. As Raffles grew restless and depressed, he decided to visit Singapore before heading home to England. Accompanying him would be his wife Sophia and their only surviving child, Ella.
Raffles was pleased with the fact that Singapore had grown exponentially in such a short period of time. The colony was a bustling hub of trade and economic activity. Even so, Farquhar's administration was deemed unsatisfactory, for example, allowing merchants to encroach on government areas, permitted vices such as gambling, and toleration of the slave trade. In response Raffles instituted new policies and set up a committee headed by the colony's engineer, Phillip Jackson to draw up a plan, now known as the Jackson Plan, based on instructions by Raffles.
The plan was still racially segregated, giving the best land to the Europeans. Yet it was considered remarkably scientific for the time. It was also during the replanning and reconstruction of the port town that Farquhar dramatically argued with Raffles, who now considered him unfit for the position of Resident. The founder took direct control; and with a heavy hand. In 1823, he instituted a code of settlement for the populace, which was soon followed by laws regarding freedom of trade. A registration system was quickly instituted for all land, regardless of ownership, and the repossession of the land by the government if land remained unregistered. This act asserted the power of the British government as it covered land previously owned by the Sultan as well. A police force and magistracy were then set up on British principles, turning a trading post into a proper city with some semblance of order.
Repeated efforts were made to persuade Calcutta to send a replacement for Farquhar; but they remained unanswered. As Raffles started to hint at his impending retirement, he made Johor a British protectorate, raising a protest from Van der Capellen. Eventually Calcutta appointed John Crawfurd, who had followed Raffles for over twenty years, as the new Resident of Singapore, while Captain William Gordon MacKenzie took over Bencoolen. In March 1823, coincidentally the same day he was replaced, he received an official reprimand from London for the takeover of Nias.
With politics against him, Raffles finally turned back to the natural sciences. He gave a speech regarding the opening of a Malay college in Singapore that heavily involved observations on his years in Southeast Asia and the importance of both the local and the European languages. Raffles personally gave $2,000 towards the effort, as the East India Company gave $4,000.
Also in 1823, Raffles drafted a series of administrative regulations for Singapore, which followed a fair and moralistic stance, outlawing gambling, imposing heavy taxation on what he considered social evils such as drunkenness and opium-smoking, and banned slavery. A specific regulation in the constitution called for the multiethnic population to remain as they were; and no crimes were entirely based on racial principles. Raffles worked on drafting laws, defining exactly "what" constituted a criminal act. Finally, on 9 June 1823, feeling that his work in establishing Singapore was finished, he boarded a ship for home, but not before a stop in Batavia to visit his old home and adversary, van der Capellen. A final stop in Bencoolen followed. Tragedy befell Raffles once more when his youngest daughter Flora Nightingall, born on 19 September, died a little over one month later on 28 November while still in Bencoolen.
On 2 February 1824, Raffles and his family embarked on the East Indiaman Fame for England. Unfortunately, she caught fire 50 miles from Bencoolen the evening after she sailed. All aboard were able to take to her boats and were saved, although the ship herself was totally destroyed.. The fire claimed all his drawings and papers.
The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 finally settled the score in the East Indies. The British gained dominance in the north, while the entirety of Sumatra became Dutch. The Malay Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent were both free of Dutch interference. Raffles finally returned to England on 22 August 1824, over a year after he left Singapore. His longest tenure in Singapore was only eight months, but he was considered the founder of Singapore nevertheless.
Upon arrival in England in poor health, Sir Stamford and Lady Raffles convalesced in Cheltenham until September 1824, after which he entertained distinguished guests in both London and his home. He also made plans to stand for parliament, but this ambition was never realized. They removed to a London address at Berners Street at the end of November 1824, just in time to have a war of words with Farquhar, who had also arrived in the city, in front of the Court of Directors of the EIC regarding Singapore. Despite raising several severe charges against Raffles, Farquhar was ultimately unable to discredit him; he was denied a chance to be restored to Singapore, but was given a military promotion instead.
With the Singapore matter settled, Raffles turned to his other great interests – botany and zoology. Raffles was a founder (in 1825) and first president (elected April 1826) of the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo. Meanwhile, he was not only not granted a pension, but was called to pay over twenty-two thousand pounds sterling for losses incurred during his administration. Raffles replied by clarifying his actions: and he decided to move to his country estate, Highwood, north London, but before the issue was resolved, he was already much too ill.
He died at Highwood House in Mill Hill, north London, a day before his forty-fifth birthday, on 5 July 1826, of apoplexy. His estate amounted to around ten thousand pounds sterling, which was paid to the Company to cover his outstanding debt. Because of his anti-slavery position, he was refused burial inside the local parish church (St. Mary's, Hendon) by the vicar, Theodor Williams, whose family had made its money in Jamaica in the slave trade. A brass tablet was finally placed in 1887 but the actual whereabouts of his body was not known until 1914 when it was found in a vault. When the church was extended in the 1920s, his tomb was incorporated into the body of the building and a square floor tablet with inscription marked the spot.
Raffles was survived by his second wife Sophia Hull and daughter Ella, and predeceased by his other four children in Bencoolen. Ella died in 1840, aged nineteen. Sophia remained at Highwood House until her death in 1858, at the age of 72. Her tomb and memorial may be seen in St Paul's Church graveyard, Mill Hill, close to the rear door of the church. All his other children remained buried overseas. Thirty three years after his death, Raffles's substantial collection of Indonesian antiquities and ethnography was donated to the British Museum by his nephew, Rev William Charles Raffles Flint.
A life-size figure in white marble by Sir Francis Chantrey depicts Raffles in a seated position. The sculpture was completed in 1832 and it is in the north choir aisle.
In Singapore and in other parts of the world, his name lives on in numerous entities, including:
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|By Stamford Raffles|
The Earl of Minto
|Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies
John Fendall, Jr.
|Governor-General of Bencoolen
Returned to the Dutch Rule