Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1819, Thomas Raffles founded Singapore.

Raffles was one of the Nineteenth Century pioneers who expanded the British Empire. 

Thomas Stamford Raffles was born on board ship in 1781. Little is known of his early life except that he was the son of a sea captain, a slave trader, who died when Raffles was fourteen and left the family in poverty.  

Raffles started work as a clerk at the East India Company. In 1805, he was sent to Penang, in what we now call Malaysia. At this time, Britain was at war with France as also was the Netherlands, the nominal colonial power in that part of the Far East. The East India Company was anxious to expand British interests and took advantage of the Dutch preoccupation with the war in Europe to gradually take control of their colonies.  

Raffles developed his career substantially at this time. In 1811, he became the Lieutenant Governor of Java and in 1813, Governor of Sumatra. During his administration, Raffles introduced many British concepts to the region. He brought in a measure of democracy with elected councils, ended the slave trade, replaced  agricultural serfdom with land tenure, and prohibited the ridiculous European practice of driving on the right.  

In 1815, after the end of the European war, the colonies were returned to Dutch rule and Raffles went back to London. In 1817, he published his History of Java, the definitive record of the island since antiquity. The British government now considered that British involvement in the Far East had ceased and so awarded Raffles a knighthood in final recognition of his services. Raffles, however, was not ready to abandon the Orient.  He returned to Malaysia and occupied a site on the Southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and, on 6th February 1819, declared the area a British colony.  

This location, later known as Singapore, prospered from the start. Independent merchants were attracted by the tax free zone, starting trading posts for traffic between East and West. When the government became aware of the prosperity being generated at Singapore, they immediately gave their approval to the new colony. Although not the authorized governor, Raffles stayed on to manage the colony’s affairs. When he left in 1823, Singapore was on its way to becoming the largest port in the world. Today, Singapore is not only, a major port and a vast city, but also a nation state.  

In 1826, Raffles died of a stroke at his home in London. He was buried at Hendon St. Mary’s, but the then vicar disapproved of Raffles, particularly on his anti-slavery stance, and would not allow him burial in the main body of the church. When the church was extended in the Twentieth Century, the tomb became part of the fabric of the church. [St Mary’s Church, Church End, Hendon, London NW4 4JT]

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