Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles - Encyclopedia

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SIR THOMAS STAMFORD RAFFLES (1781-1826), English administrator, the founder of Singapore, was born on the 5th of July 1781, on board a merchantman commanded by his father, Benjamin Raffles, when off Port Morant, Jamaica.

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=Early Career

He received his early education at a school at Hammersmith, but when only fourteen he obtained temporary work in the secretary's office of the East India Company. In 1800 he was appointed junior clerk on the establishment. In 1805 the East India Company decided to make Penang a regular presidency, and sent out a governor with a large staff, including Stamford Raffles, who was appointed assistant-secretary. On the eve of his departure he married Mrs Fancourt (Olivia Mariamne Devenish), widow of a surgeon on the Madras Establishment; she proved herself a helpful wife and counsellor to her husband in his rapid rise to fortune during the following nine years, dying prematurely in Java in November 1814. On his way out to Penang, Raffles began the study of the Malay language, and had mastered its grammar before his arrival. He continued his studies, finding a congenial fellow-worker and kindred spirit in John Leyden, who was invalided to Penang. In August 1806 Raffles was appointed acting secretary during the illness of that official, and in 1807 he received the full appointment. In the meantime he had acted as Malay interpreter, which entailed heavy and unappreciated work in addition to his regular duties.

Career in Malacca

In 1808 his health gave way, and he was ordered for a change to Malacca. This proved a turning-point in his career. The East India Company had decided to abandon Malacca, and orders had been issued to dismantle it. Raffles perfected his study of Malay during his stay at this place, and learning from the Malays, with whom he mixed freely, that the abandonment of so important a position would be a grave fault, he drew up a report explaining the great importance of Malacca, and urging in the strongest manner its retention. This report was sent by the Penang authorities not only to London, but to the governor-general, the earl of Minto. The latter was so impressed by the report that he at once gave orders for suspending the evacuation of Malacca, and in 1809 the company decided to reverse its own decision. When the whole question was calmly considered in the light of subsequent events, many years later, the verdict was that Raffles had "prevented the alienation of Malacca from the British Crown." A direct correspondence with Lord Minto was established by the mediation of Leyden, who wrote to Raffles that the governor-general would be gratified in receiving communications direct from him.

British Conquest of Java

In June 181 Raffles, of his own accord, proceeded to Calcutta, where Lord Minto gave him the kindest reception. Raffles remained four months in Calcutta, and gained the complete confidence of the governor-general. He brought Lord Minto round to his opinion that the conquest of the island of Java, then in the hands of the French, was an imperative necessity. To prepare the way for the expedition, Raffles was sent to Malacca as "agent to the Governor-General with the Malay States." He did his work well and thoroughly - even to the extent of discovering that the short and direct route to Batavia by the Caramata passage would be safe for the fleet. In August 1811 the expedition, accompanied by Lord Minto, and with Sir Samuel Auchmuty in command of the troops (I I,000 in number, half English and half Indian), occupied Batavia without fighting. On the 25th of the same month a battle was fought at Cornelis, a few miles south of Batavia, and resulted in a complete English victory. On the 18th of September the French commander, General Janssens, formally capitulated at Samarang, and the conquest of the island was completed. Lord Minto's first act was to appoint Raffles lieutenant-governor of Java. From September 1811 until his departure for England in March 1816, Raffles ruled this large island with conspicuous success and the most gratifying results. To give only one fact in support of this statement, he increased the revenue eightfold at the same time that he abolished transit dues, reduced port dues to one-third and removed the fetters imposed on trade and intercourse with the Javanese by Dutch officialdom. In his own words, his administration aimed at being "not only without fear, but without reproach." He had a still greater ambition, which was, in his own words, "to make Java the centre of an Eastern insular Empire," and to establish the closest relations of friendship and alliance with the Japanese, whom he described as "a highly polished people, considerably advanced in science, highly inquisitive and full of penetration." It is interesting to note that when another great Englishman, Rajah Brooke, began his career in Sarawak in 1838, he announced: "I go to carry Sir Stamford Raffles's views in Java over the whole Archipelago." The policy of Raffles was based on the assumption that Java would be retained, but for reasons of European policy it was decided that it must be restored to Holland.

Return to England

After his return to England in 1816 he endeavoured to obtain a reconsideration of the question, but the decision taken was embodied in a treaty and beyond all possibility of modification. During his stay in England Raffles was knighted by the prince regent, published his History of Java (1817) and discussed with Sir Joseph Banks a project for the foundation in London of a zoological museum and garden on the model of the Jardin des Plantes at Paris. He also married his second wife, Sophia, daughter of T. W. Hull of Co. Down; he had many children by both marriages, but the only one to live beyond childhood was a daughter, who died fifteen years after her father's death, and before she was twenty. He left, therefore, no direct descendants.

Career in Sumatra

In November 1817 Sir Stamford quitted England on his return to the East, where the lieutenant-governorship of Fort Marlborough (Sumatra) had been kept in reserve for him. His administration of Sumatra, which lasted from March 1818 till December 1823, was characterized by the same breadth of view, consistency of purpose and energy in action that had made his government of Java remarkable. He had not, however, appeased the Dutch, who, on their recovery of Java, endeavoured to establish a complete control over the Eastern archipelago, and to oust British trade. This design Sir Stamford set himself to baffle, and although he was more frequently censured than praised by his superiors for his efforts, he had already met with no inconsiderable success in minor matters when, by a stroke of genius and unrivalled statecraft, he stopped for all time the Dutch project of a mare clausum by the acquisition and founding. of Singapore on the 29th of January 1819.

Disputes with East India Company, Founding of Zoological Society, and Death

In 1824 Sir Stamford returned to England, but unfortunately the differences between him and the East India Company had resulted in an accumulation of disputes which placed a severe strain on his enfeebled constitution. The memorials and statements that he had to compile for his own vindication would fill a large volume, but at last the court passed (12th of April 1826) a formal decision in his favour. It did not omit, however, to censure him for "his precipitate and unauthorized emancipation of the Company's slaves," or after his death to make his widow pay 10,000 pounds for various items, which included the expense of his mission to found Singapore ! Harassed as he was by these personal affairs, he still found time to carry out his original scheme with regard to a zoological society in London. He took the largest part in the creation of the existing society, and his fine Sumatra collection formed its endowment. He was unanimously elected its president at the first meeting, and by a remarkable unanimity of opinion on the part of those who helped in the work, he has been recognized as "the Founder of the Zoological Society." He was contemplating entering parliamentary life when his sudden death on his birthday, 1826, ended his brilliant career at the early age of forty-five. Sir Frederick Weld, lieutenant-governor at Singapore, when unveiling the statue of his predecessor at that place in 1887, crystallized the thoughts of his countrymen and anticipated the verdict of history in a single sentence: "In Raffles, England had one of her greatest sons." See Lady Raffles, Memoir of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1830); D. C. Boulger, Life of Sir Stamford Raffles (1897); Hugh Egerton, Sir Stamford Raffles (1899); J. .Buckley, Records of Singapore (1903). (D. C. B.)

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