SINGAPORE UNDER BRITISH CONTROL

SIR THOMAS RAFFLES AND SINGAPORE

Concerned that Britain lacked a major port between China and India, the British explorer and merchant Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) scouted various locations in Southeast Asia for such a port. In 1819, Raffles explored what is now a Singapore and decided it was the perfect place to establish a port because it was a about halfway between the ports of India and China and it was situated on the Malacca Straits, an important shipping lane on which nearly all ships traveling between India and China and between Europe and the Far East passed.

Raffles was the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (now Bengkulu) in Sumatra. He landed in Singapore on January 29, 1819, after a survey of the neighbouring islands. Recognising the immense potential of the swamp covered island, he helped negotiate a treaty with the local rulers, establishing Singapore as a trading station. Soon, the island’s policy of free trade attracted merchants from all over Asia and from as far away as the U.S. and the Middle East.

At the time Raffles arrived Singapore was covered by rainforests and swamps. The only inhabitants were 150 or so Malays. Raflles was determined that Singapore be an entrepot and free port, concentrating on providing services for commerce and shipping. Later Rafffles wrote: "The Settlement I had the satisfaction to form in this very centrical and commanding station has had every success ... our Port is already crowded with shipping from all the native Ports in the Archipelago."

Sir Thomas Raffles

The son of an impoverished ship captain, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles began his career at an early age as a clerk for the British East India Company in London. He was promoted at the age of twenty-three to assistant secretary of the newly formed government in Penang in 1805. He was serious student of the history and culture of the region and became fluent in Malay. His achievements as an administrator in Penang earned him an appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Java (1811-1816), temporarily under British control after the Napoleonic Wars. After falling out with the company for making reforms to the Dutch colonial system, Raffles returned to England.

Raffles returned to Southeast Asia as governor of Bengkulu on the southwestern coast of Sumatra. The search that resulted in the founding of Singapore began after he convinced the British governor general in India of the importance of the Malacca Strait and the need to set up an outpost there to counteract Dutch expansionism in the area.

Raffles vigorously opposed his government's plan to abandon control of the China trade to the Dutch. In 1818 Raffles sailed from Bencoolen to India, where he convinced Governor General Lord Hastings of the need for a British post on the southern end of the Strait of Malacca. Lord Hastings authorized Raffles to secure such a post for the British East India Company, provided that it did not antagonize the Dutch. Arriving in Penang, Raffles found Governor General James Bannerman unwilling to cooperate. When he learned that the Dutch had occupied Riau and were claiming that all territories of the sultan of Johore were within their sphere of influence, Raffles dispatched Colonel William Farquhar, an old friend and Malayan expert, to survey the Carimon Islands (modern Karimun Islands near Riau). Disregarding Bannerman's orders to him to await further instructions from Calcutta, Raffles slipped out of Penang the following night aboard a private trading ship and caught up with Farquhar. Raffles knew of Singapore Island from his study of Malay texts and determined to go there. [Source: Library of Congress]

Raffles and the Establishment of Singapore

On January 28, 1819, Raffles and Farquhar anchored near the mouth of the Singapore River. The following day the two men went ashore to meet Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman, who granted provisional permission for the British East India Company to establish a trading post on the island, subject to the approval of Hussein. Raffles, noting the protected harbor, the abundance of drinking water, and the absence of the Dutch, began immediately to unload troops, clear the land on the northeast side of the river, set up tents, and hoist the British flag. Meanwhile, the temenggong sent to Riau for Hussein, who arrived within a few days. Acknowledging Hussein as the rightful sultan of Johore, on February 6 Raffles signed a treaty with him and the temenggong confirming the right of the British East India Company to establish a trading post in return for an annual payment (in Spanish dollars, the common currency of the region at the time) of Sp$5,000 to Hussein and Sp$3,000 to the temenggong. Raffles then departed for Bencoolen, leaving Farquhar in charge, with instructions to clear the land, construct a simple fortification, and inform all passing ships that there were no duties on trade at the new settlement. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The immediate reaction to Raffles' new venture was mixed. Officials of the British East India Company in London feared that their negotiations with the Dutch would be upset by Raffles' action. The Dutch were furious because they considered Singapore within their sphere of influence. Although they could easily have overcome Farquhar's tiny force, the Dutch did not attack the small settlement because the angry Bannerman assured them that the British officials in Calcutta would disavow the whole scheme. In Calcutta, meanwhile, both the commercial community and the Calcutta Journal welcomed the news and urged full government support for the undertaking. Lord Hastings ordered the unhappy Bannerman to provide Farquhar with troops and money. Britains foreign minister Lord Castlereagh, reluctant to relinquish to the Dutch "all the military and naval keys of the Strait of Malacca," had the question of Singapore added to the list of topics to be negotiated with the Dutch, thus buying time for the new settlement. *

The opportunity to sell supplies at high prices to the new settlement quickly attracted many Malacca traders to the island. Word of Singapore's free trade policy also spread southeastward through the archipelago, and within six weeks more than 100 Indonesian interisland craft were anchored in the harbor, as well as one Siamese and two European ships. Raffles returned in late May to find that the population of the settlement had grown to nearly 5,000, including Malays, Chinese, Bugis, Arabs, Indians, and Europeans. During his four-week stay, he drew up a plan for the town and signed another agreement with Hussein and the temenggong establishing the boundaries of the settlement. He wrote to a friend that Singapore "is by far the most important station in the East; and, as far as naval superiority and commercial interests are concerned, of much higher value than whole continents of territory." *

At this time, Singapore had about 1,000 inhabitants. David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Singapore, then just a pimple on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, was a swampy fishing and trading village when Raffles arrived. It had few people, no resources and no relief from the blistering heat. But like all valuable real estate, it had three key attributes: location, location, location. "The City of the Lion" stood at the crossroads of the Orient, amid the Strait of Malacca and the shipping lanes that link the lands of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Like Hong Kong and Gibraltar, it would become a cornerstone of Britain's empire, and its port would eventually become one of the world's busiest. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007]

Early Days of British-Controlled Singapore

Singapore ultimately prospered in its role as a free-trade hub for Southeast Asia, but the early years, according to to Lonely Planet “were marred by bad sanitation, disease, Empire-sponsored opium addiction and piracy.” Large-scale immigration of Chinese workers occurred, with some Chinese intermarrying with local Malays to create the Peranakan people and culture. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Although the India-China trade was partly responsible for the overnight success of Singapore, even more important was the well-established entrepôt trade of the East Indies that the new port captured from Riau and other trade centers. The news of the free port brought not only traders and merchants but also permanent settlers. Malays came from Penang, Malacca, Riau, and Sumatra. Several hundred boatloads of Hussein's followers came from Riau, and the new sultan had built for himself an istana (palace in Malay), thus making Singapore his headquarters. The growing power of the Dutch in Riau also spurred several hundred Bugis traders and their families to migrate to the new settlement. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Singapore was also a magnet for the Nanyang Chinese who had lived in the region for generations as merchants, miners, or gambier farmers. They came from Penang, Malacca, Riau, Manila, Bangkok, and Batavia to escape the tariffs and restrictions of those places and to seek their fortunes. Many intermarried with Malay women, giving rise to the group known as the Baba Chinese. The small Indian population included both soldiers and merchants. A few Armenian merchants from Brunei and Manila were also attracted to the settlement, as were some leading Arab families from Sumatra. Most Europeans in the early days of Singapore were officials of the British East India Company or retired merchant sea captains. *

Not wanting the British East India Company to view Singapore as an economic liability, Raffles left Farquhar a shoestring budget with which to administer the new settlement. Prevented from either imposing trade tariffs or selling land titles to raise revenue, Farquhar legalized gambling and the sale of opium and arak, an alcoholic drink. The government auctioned off monopoly rights to sell opium and spirits and to run gambling dens under a system known as tax farming, and the revenue thus raised was used for public works projects. Maintenance of law and order in the wideopen seaport was among the most serious problems Farquhar faced. There was constant friction among the various immigrant groups, particularly between the more settled Malays and Chinese from Malacca and the rough and ready followers of the temenggong and the sultan. The settlement's merchants eventually funded night watchmen to augment the tiny police force. *

Singapore Under Raffle’s Plan and Administration

When Raffles returned to Singapore from Bencoolen in October 1822, he immediately began drawing up plans for a new town. An area along the coast about five kilometers long and one kilometer deep was designated the government and commercial quarter. A hill was leveled and the dirt used to fill a nearby swamp in order to provide a place for the heart of the commercial area, now Raffles Place. An orderly and scientifically laid out town was the goal of Raffles, who believed that Singapore would one day be "a place of considerable magnitude and importance." Under Raffles' plan, commercial buildings were to be constructed of brick with tiled roofs, each with a two-meter covered walkway to provide shelter from sun and rain. Spaces were set aside for shipyards, markets, churches, theaters, police stations, and a botanical garden. Raffles had a wooden bungalow built for himself on Government Hill. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Each immigrant group was assigned an area of the settlement under the new plan. The Chinese, who were the fastest growing group, were given the whole area west of the Singapore River adjoining the commercial district; Chinatown was further divided among the various dialect groups. The temenggong and his followers were moved several kilometers west of the commercial district, mainly in an effort to curtail their influence in that area. The headmen or kapitans of the various groups were allotted larger plots, and affluent Asians and Europeans were encouraged to live together in a residential area adjacent to the government quarter. *

In the absence of any legal code, Raffles in early 1823 promulgated a series of administrative regulations. The first required that land be sold on permanent lease at a public auction and that it must be registered. The second reiterated Singapore's status as a free port, a popular point with the merchants. In his farewell remarks, Raffles assured them that "Singapore will long and always remain a free port and no taxes on trade or industry will be established to check its future rise and prosperity." The third regulation made English common law the standard, although Muslim law was to be used in matters of religion, marriage, and inheritance involving Malays. *

Raffles was an enlightened administrator for his time. He believed in the prevention of crime and the reform, rather than the mere punishment, of criminals. Payment of compensation to the injured by the offender was to be considered as important as punishment. Only murder was to be considered a capital offense, and various work and training programs were used to turn prisoners into useful settlers. Raffles shut down all gambling dens and heavily taxed the sale of liquor and opium. He abolished outright slavery in 1823, but was unable to eradicate debt bondage, by which immigrants often were forced to work years at hard labor to pay for their passage. *

Raffles felt that under Farquhar the temenggong and the sultan had wielded too much power, receiving one-third of the proceeds from the opium, liquor, and gambling revenues, and demanding presents from the captains of the Asian ships that dropped anchor there. Hussein and the temenggong, however, viewed Singapore as a thriving entrepôt in the mold of the great port cities of the Malay maritime empires of Srivijaya, Malacca, and Johore. As rulers of the island, they considered themselves entitled to a share of the power and proceeds of the settlement. In June 1823, Raffles managed to persuade Hussein and the temenggong to give up their rights to port duties and their share in the other tax revenues in exchange for a pension of Sp$1,500 and Sp$800 per month, respectively. Because the Dutch still contested the British presence in Singapore, Raffles did not dare push the issue further. On March 17, 1824, however, the AngloDutch Treaty of London was signed, dividing the East Indies into two spheres of influence. The British would have hegemony north of a line drawn through the Strait of Malacca, and the Dutch would control the area south of the line. As a result, the Dutch recognized the British claim to Singapore and relinquished power over Malacca in exchange for the British post at Bencoolen. On August 3, with their claim to Singapore secure, the British negotiated a new treaty with the sultan and the temenggong, by which the Malay rulers were forced to cede Singapore and the neighboring islands to the British East India Company for cash payments and increased pensions. Under the treaty, the Malay chiefs also agreed to help suppress piracy, but the problem was not to be solved for several more decades. *

In October 1823, Raffles left Singapore for Britain, never to return. Before leaving, he replaced Farquhar with the Scotsman John Crawfurd, an efficient and frugal administrator who guided the settlement through three years of vigorous growth. Crawford continued Raffles' struggles against slavery and piracy, but he permitted the gambling houses to reopen, taxed them, and used the revenue for street widening, bridge building, and other civic projects. He failed to support, however, Raffles' dream of higher education for the settlement. As his last public act, Raffles had contributed Sp$2,000 toward the establishment of a Singapore Institution, which he had envisioned as a training ground for Asian teachers and civil servants and a place where European officials could gain an appreciation of the rich cultural heritage of the region as Raffles himself had. He had hoped that the institution would attract the sons of rulers and chiefs of all the region. Crawfurd, however, advised the company officials in Calcutta that it would be preferable to support primary education. In fact, education at all levels was neglected until much later. *

Singapore Grows and Prospers

Following Raffles’s establishment of his free-trade port, Singapore grew in size, population, and prosperity. In 1824 the Dutch formally recognized British control of Singapore, and London acquired full sovereignty over the island. In 1832, Singapore became the centre of government for the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. From 1826 to 1867, Singapore, along with two other trading ports on the Malay Peninsula—Penang and Malacca—and several smaller dependencies, were ruled together as the Straits Settlements from the British East India Company headquarters in India.

By 1827 Chinese had become the most numerous of Singapore’s various ethnic groups. They came from Malacca, Penang, Riau, and other parts of the Malay Archipelago. More recent Chinese migrants came from the South China provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “As trade increased and an infrastructure was built up under the British, migrant workers—Chinese (who today make up more than three-quarters of the population) and Indians, many of them from what is now known as Sri Lanka—began arriving to join the indigenous Malays. The island became a rich blend of colors, religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism) and languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil). [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007]

In the first half-century after its founding, Singapore grew from a precarious trading post of the British East India Company populated by a few thousand to a bustling, cosmopolitan seaport of 85,000. Although the general trend of Singapore's economic status was upward during this period, the settlement endured economic recessions as well as prosperity, fires and floods as well as building booms, and bureaucratic incompetence as well as able administration. In 1826 the British East India Company combined Singapore with Penang and Malacca to form the Presidency of the Straits Settlements, with its capital at Penang. The new bureaucratic apparatus proved to be expensive and cumbersome, however, and in 1830 the Straits Settlements were reduced to a residency, or subdivision, of the Presidency of Bengal. Although Singapore soon overshadowed the other settlements, Penang remained the capital until 1832 and the judicial headquarters until 1856. The overworked civil service that administered Singapore remained about the same size between 1830 and 1867, although the population quadrupled during that period. Saddled with the endless narrative and statistical reports required by Bengal, few civil servants had time to learn the languages or customs of the people they governed. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although the European and Asian commercial community was reasonably satisfied with the administration of the settlement under Bengal, an economic depression in the 1840s caused some to consider the merits of Singapore being administered directly as a crown colony. The advent of the steamship had made Singapore less dependent on Calcutta and more closely tied to the London commercial and political scene. By mid-century, the parent firms of most of Singapore's British-owned merchant houses were located in London rather than Calcutta. In 1851, following a visit to Singapore, Lord Dalhousie, the governor general of India, separated the Straits Settlements from Bengal and placed them directly under his own charge. In the following sixteen years, a number of issues arose that caused increased agitation to remove the Straits Settlements completely from administration from India and place it directly under the British Colonial Office. Among these issues were the need for protection against piracy and Calcutta's continuing attempts to levy port duties on Singapore. Mostly as a result of the need for a place other than fever-ridden Hong Kong to station British troops in Asia, London designated the Straits Settlements a crown colony on April 1, 1867.

Singapore Grows Into Flourishing Free Port and Key Military Outpost

The port on the island of Singapore was initially developed by the East India Company. In 1867 it was taken over by the British government. Singapore was considered Britain's key defensive position in the Far East. Trade grew because of its status as a free port. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of the telegraph and steamship, Singapore's importance as a centre of the expanding trade between the East and West increased tremendously. By 1860, the thriving country had a population that had grown from a mere 150 in 1819 to 80,792, comprising mainly Chinese, Indians and Malays.

In 1867 the British needed a better location than fever-ridden Hong Kong to station their troops in Asia, so the Straits Settlements were made a crown colony and its capital Penang, ruled directly from London. The British installed a governor and executive and legislative councils. By that time, Singapore had surpassed the other Straits Settlements in importance, as it had grown to become a bustling seaport with 86,000 inhabitants. Singapore also dominated the Straits Settlements Legislative Council. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869 and steamships became the major form of ocean transport, British influence increased in the region, bringing still greater maritime activity to Singapore. Later in the century and into the twentieth century, Singapore became a major point of disembarkation for hundreds of thousands of laborers brought in from China, India, the Dutch East Indies, and the Malay Archipelago, bound for tin mines and rubber plantations to the north.

Early Financial Success for Singapore

Singapore came into its own as a hub for the international tea trade. Trade at Singapore had eclipsed that of Penang by 1824, when it reached a total of Sp$11 million annually. By 1869 annual trade at Singapore had risen to Sp$89 million. The cornerstone of the settlement's commercial success was the entrepôt trade, which was carried on with no taxation and a minimum of restriction. The main trading season began each year with the arrival of ships from China, Siam, and Cochinchina (as the southern part of Vietnam was then known). Driven by the northeast monsoon winds and arriving in January, February, and March, the ships brought immigrant laborers and cargoes of dried and salted foods, medicines, silk, tea, porcelain, and pottery. They left beginning in May with the onset of the southwest monsoons, laden with produce, spices, tin, and gold from the Malay Archipelago, opium from India, and English cotton goods and arms. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The second major trading season began in Septeember or October with the arrival of the Bugis traders in their small, swift prahu, bringing rice, pepper, spices, edible bird nests and shark fins, mother-of-pearl, gold dust, rattan, and camphor from the archipelago. They departed carrying British manufactures, cotton goods, iron, arms, opium, salt, silk, and porcelain. By mid-century, there were more than twenty British merchant houses in Singapore, as well as German, Swiss, Dutch, Portuguese, and French firms. The merchants would receive cargoes of European or Indian goods on consignment and sell them on commission. *

Singapore's development and prosperity at mid-century were largely confined to the coast within a few kilometers of the port area. The interior remained a dense jungle ringed by a coastline of mangrove swamps. Attempts to turn the island to plantation agriculture between 1830 and 1840 had met with little success. Nutmeg, coffee, sugar, cotton, cinnamon, cloves, and indigo all fell victim to pests, plant diseases, or insufficient soil fertility. The only successful agricultural enterprises were the gambier and pepper plantations, numbering about 600 in the late 1840s and employing some 6,000 Chinese laborers. When the firewood needed to extract the gambier became depleted, the plantation would be moved to a new area. As a result, the forests of much of the interior of the island had been destroyed and replaced by coarse grasses by the 1860s, and the gambier planters had moved their operations north to Johore. This pressure on the land also affected the habitats of the wildlife, particularly tigers, which began increasingly to attack villagers and plantation workers. Tigers reportedly claimed an average of one victim per day in the late 1840s. When the government offered rewards for killing the animals, tiger hunting became a serious business and a favorite sport. The last year a person was reported killed by a tiger was 1890, and the last wild tiger was shot in 1904. *

The main site for mercantile activity in mid-century Singapore was Commercial Square, renamed Raffles Place in 1858. Besides the European merchant houses located on the square, there were in 1846 six Jewish merchant houses, five Chinese, five Arab, two Armenian, one American, and one Indian. Each merchant house had its own pier for loading and unloading cargo; and ship chandlers, banks, auction houses, and other businesses serving the shipping trade also were located on the square. In the early years, merchants lived above their offices; but by mid-century most had established themselves in beautiful houses and compounds in a fashionable section on the east bank of the Singapore River. *

Most of the trade between the European and Asian merchants was handled by Chinese middlemen, who spoke the necessary languages and knew the needs of their customers. Many of the middlemen had trained as clerks in the European trading firms of Malacca. With their experience, contacts, business acumen, and willingness to take risks, the middlemen were indispensable to the merchants. For the Chinese middlemen, the opportunities for substantial profit were great; but so were the risks. Lacking capital, the middlemen bought large quantities of European goods on credit with the hope of reselling them to the Chinese or Bugis ship captains or themselves arranging to ship them to the markets of Siam or the eastern Malay Peninsula. If, however, buyers could not be found or ships were lost at sea, the middlemen faced bankruptcy or prison. Although the merchants also stood to lose under such circumstances, the advantages of the system and the profits to be made kept it flourishing. *

Construction of government buildings lagged far behind commercial buildings in the early years because of the lack of taxgenerated revenue. The merchants resisted any attempts by Calcutta to levy duties on trade, and the British East India Company had little interest in increasing the colony's budget. After 1833, however, many public works projects were constructed by the extensive use of Indian convict labor. Irish architect George Drumgold Coleman, who was appointed superintendent of public works in that year, used convicts to drain marshes, reclaim seafront, lay out roads, and build government buildings, churches, and homes in a graceful colonial style. *

Life in Colonial Singapore

The highly unbalanced sex ratio in Singapore contributed to a rather lawless, frontier atmosphere that the government seemed helpless to combat. Little revenue was available to expand the tiny police force, which struggled to keep order amid a continuous influx of immigrants, often from the fringes of Asian society. This tide of immigration was totally uncontrolled because Singapore's businessmen, desperate for unskilled laborers, opposed restriction on free immigration as vehemently as they resisted any restraint on free trade. Public health services were almost nonexistent, and cholera, malnutrition, smallpox, and opium use took a heavy toll in the severely overcrowded working-class areas. [Source: Library of Congress]

Philp Lim of AFP wrote: Publications kept by the Rare Materials Collection (RMC) of Singapore's National Library include European travelogues from as early as 1577, biographical accounts of daily life in Malaya and even love poems and cookbooks from a hundred years ago. "The Mem's Own Cookery Book" -- meant for the wives of British administrators who established colonies around Asia at the time -- features recipes to suit the tastebuds of homesick Englishmen. Recipes for spinach soup, roast hare and pigeon mingle with tips for more adventurous fare like jungle deer curry and sheep head broth. In contrast, the "Hikayat Abdullah," an 1849 biography of the father of modern Malay literature Munshi Abdullah, offered a unique perspective often missing from records largely penned by Western authors, librarian Ong said. "It offers an Asian perspective in contrast to the accounts you see from the East India company's records and the memoirs written by those officials," he stated. [Source: Philp Lim, AFP, September 18, 2011]

In the biography, Abdullah praises Raffles -- who had employed him as a translator -- but offered a less than complimentary description of British sailors who docked in his hometown Malacca, now part of Malaysia. "To see an Englishman was like seeing a tiger, because they were so mischievous and violent... At that time I never met an Englishman who had a white face, for all of them had 'mounted the green horse', that is to say, were drunk," he wrote. "So much so that when children cried their mothers would say, 'Be quiet, the drunken Englishman is coming,' and the children would be scared, and keep quiet."

Pirates in Early Singapore

Probably the most serious problem facing Singapore at midcentury was piracy, which was being engaged in by a number of groups who found easy pickings in the waters around the thriving port. Some of the followers of the temenggong's son and heir, Ibrahim, were still engaging in their "patrolling" activities in the late 1830s. Most dangerous of the various pirate groups, however, were the Illanun (Lanun) of Mindanao in the Philippines and northern Borneo. These fierce sea raiders sent out annual fleets of 50 to 100 well-armed prahu, which raided settlements, attacked ships, and carried off prisoners who were pressed into service as oarsmen. The Illanun attacked not only small craft from the archipelago but also Chinese and European sailing ships. Bugis trading captains threatened to quit trading at Singapore unless the piracy was stopped. In the 1850s, Chinese pirates, who boldly used Singapore as a place to buy arms and sell their booty, brought the trade between Singapore and Cochinchina to a standstill. The few patrol boats assigned by the British East India Company to protect the Straits Settlements were totally inadequate, and the Singapore merchants continually petitioned Calcutta and London for aid in stamping out the menace. *

By the late 1860s, a number of factors had finally led to the demise of piracy. In 1841, the governor of the Straits Settlements, George Bonham, recognized Ibrahim as temenggong of Johore, with the understanding that he would help suppress piracy. By 1850 the Royal Navy was patrolling the area with steam-powered ships, which could navigate upwind and outmaneuver the pirate sailing ships. The expansion of European power in Asia also brought increased patrolling of the region by the Dutch in Sumatra, the Spanish in the Philippines, and the British from their newly established protectorates on the Malay Peninsula. China also agreed to cooperate in suppressing piracy under the provisions of treaties signed with the Western powers in 1860. *

Singapore as a Crown Colony

After years of campaigning by a small minority of the British merchants, who had chafed under the rule of the Calcutta government, the Straits Settlements became a crown colony on April 1, 1867. Under the crown colony administration, the governor ruled with the assistance of executive and legislative councils. The Executive Council included the governor, the senior military official in the Straits Settlements, and six other senior officials. The Legislative Council included the members of the Executive Council, the chief justice, and four nonofficial members nominated by the governor. The numbers of nonofficial members and Asian council members gradually increased through the years. Singapore dominated the Legislative Council, to the annoyance of Malacca and Penang. [Source: Library of Congress *]

By the 1870s, Singapore businessmen had considerable interest in the rubber, tin, gambier, and other products and resources of the Malay Peninsula. Conditions in the peninsula were highly unstable, however, marked by fighting between immigrants and traditional Malay authorities and rivalry among various Chinese secret societies. Singapore served as an entrepôt for the resources of the Malay Peninsula and, at the same time, the port of debarkation for thousands of immigrant Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, and Malays bound for the tin mines and rubber plantations to the north. Some 250,000 Chinese alone disembarked in Singapore in 1912, most of them on their way to the Malay states or to the Dutch East Indies. *

A number of events beginning in the late nineteenth century strengthened Singapore's position as a major port and industrial center. When the Suez Canal opened, the Strait of Malacca became the preferred route to East Asia. Steamships began replacing sailing ships, necessitating a chain of coaling stations, including Singapore. Most of the major European steamship companies had established offices in Singapore by the 1880s. The expansion of colonialism in Southeast Asia and the opening of Thailand to trade under King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) brought even more trade to Singapore. The spread of British influence in Malaya increased the flow of rubber, tin, copra, and sugar through the island port, and Singapore moved into processing and light manufacturing, some of which was located on its offshore islands. To serve the growing American canning industry a tin smelter was built in 1890 on Pulau Brani (pulau means island). Rubber processing expanded rapidly in response to the demands of the young automobile industry. Oil storage facilities established on Pulau Bukum made it the supply center for the region by 1902. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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