Farquhar, not Raffles, the real hero of early modern S'pore: Book

Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh and British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman atthe book launch of 200 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom yesterday.
Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh and British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman atthe book launch of 200 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom yesterday.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Collection of essays by experts reflects on the shared history between Republic and Britain

The person who did the most for the success of Singapore in the crucial first four years of the arrival of the British was not Sir Stamford Raffles but Major-General William Farquhar.

Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh said this at the launch yesterday of a book that reflects on the shared history between Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Titled 200 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom, the book published by Straits Times Press features a series of essays by scholars, historians and subject specialists from both the Republic and the UK.

Professor Koh, who co-edited the book with British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman, said they both felt "Raffles has been given too much credit, and the first two Residents, William Farquhar and John Crawfurd, too little, for the success of early Singapore".

While Raffles had laid down a number of broad plans for the new port in Singapore, he was largely absent.

It was Farquhar who created the circumstances that allowed the port to thrive, according to an essay in the book by Dr Graham Berry, former Scottish Arts Council chief executive. Differences in opinion led Raffles to successfully campaign for Farquhar's removal from the island, wrote Dr Berry.

This is among the new insights into Singapore's early colonial history that the collection of essays provides, Prof Koh said at the book launch at the National Museum of Singapore.

The book begins with two essays on pre-colonial Singapore, before delving into milestones such as the Japanese Occupation during World War II, Singapore's independence in 1965 and the shock withdrawal of British forces.

It also reflects on the British legacy in Singapore, covering its influence in areas such as literature, law, healthcare and education.

Speaking at the event, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that in the years since independence, Singapore has built on many of the attributes and foundations left by the British, while finding its own footing and identity as a young nation.

 
 
 
 

The book launch was held 200 years to the date that Raffles and Farquhar first set foot on Singapore to establish a trading post for the East India Company.

It also comes a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off the Singapore Bicentennial, a year-long commemoration of the founding of modern Singapore.

Prof Koh, who said he aimed to write a balanced account that neither glorified nor vilified Singapore's colonial past, assessed that during their 142-year rule of Singapore, the British did more good than bad. Singapore's relationship with Britain has evolved from that of ruler and ruled to one between equals, with the Republic even surpassing the UK in some aspects, noted Prof Koh.

Mr Wightman said that it has been interesting to observe the different views in Singapore on the significance of the anniversary, the impact of British rule and what it means to be Singaporean, adding that he hopes the book will contribute to the debate.

200 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom is available in major bookstores and at www.stbooks.sg for $35 (with GST).

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'Farquhar, not Raffles, the real hero of early modern S'pore: Book'. Print Edition | Subscribe