The Man Who Raffles Left Behind: William Farquhar (1774-1839)

Ernest C. T. Chew, Associate Professor of History, National University of Singapore

Ernest Chew has graciously shared this essay, which first appeared in Raffles Town Club, vol. 7 (April-June 2002), with readers of the Postcolonial Web. It appears with his permission and that of the Raffles Town Club, which retains the copyright.

2. Farquhar's Claims to be the Founder of Singapore

In July 2000, my wife, younger son, and I visited Perth, which was once the capital of Scotland. At the town library, we found the record of Farquhar's death in May 1839, and at the old Greyfriars' cemetery, newly "renovated", we saw his elaborate tomb, on which there is the following inscription in block capitals:

Sacred to the Memory of Major General William Farquhar of the H.E.I.C.Service and Madras Engineer Corps who served in the East Indies upwards of 33 years. During 20 years of his valuable life he was appointed to offices of high responsibility under the civil government of India having in addition to his military duties served as Resident in Malacca and afterwards at Singapore which later settlement he founded. In all the stations which he filled he acquired honour to himself and rendered service to his country. He departed this life at Early Bank, Perth, on the 11th of May 1839, highly respected and deeply regretted by all who had the happiness of his acquaintance.

This claim that Farquhar "founded" the settlement of Singapore was based on his own perception and conviction of his founding role. When he was dismissed by Raffles in 1823, he wrote to him that "nothing has been wanting on my part to advance the prosperity of this Settlement by every means in my power, that our Political and Commercial relations with all the surrounding Native States throughout the Eastern Archipelago, the Malay Peninsula, the Eastern coast of Sumatra, together with the kingdoms of Siam, Cambojia and Cochin China, have been supported, cultivated and improved, both by extensive epistolatary correspondence as well as every other suitable and available means within my reach to which circumstances may in great measure be attributed the origin of that extensive commerce, which is now carried on at this Settlement, whilst at the same time the establishment generally during the period I have had the honour to direct its affairs, has attained to a height in population, wealth and general prosperity I may venture to say quite unrivalled" (Wurtzburg 669-670).

Later, in his lengthy "Memorial" to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, written in 1824, he complained of his unjust removal from office, and requested his rightful reinstatement. In this Memorial he described Singapore as "a settlement formed at his own suggestion and matured under his personal management", and asked the Directors to "appreciate those feelings of interest excited in his mind in regard to a Settlement selected and founded by himself" (quoted in Boulger 353-355; Wurtzburg 704-707).

When the Directors referred this Memorial to Raffles, he dismissed Farquhar's claim as peremptorily as he had dismissed Farquhar from office in April 1823. Raffles replied: "On the credit assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar for having suggested the establishment of Singapore, [...] this is the first time I ever heard of the circumstance, and [...] on reference to the public records I find nothing to support it. [...] a regard to truth compels me to deny in broad terms that Colonel Farquhar ever suggested, or, to my knowledge, knew or stated anything with regard to the formation of a Settlement at Singapore, until I communicated to him the authority with which I was invested, to form a Settlement there" (Raffles to the Court of Directors, 25 January 1825; quoted by Boulger 358; Wurtzburg 708). Raffles was only prepared to acknowledge "the assistance he rendered to me on the first establishment of the Settlement" (Boulger 359; Wurtzburg 709). Finally, he concluded that Farquhar's "claim to the credit of having suggested the formation of the Settlement of Singapore, or its ultimate acquisition, has no foundation" (Boulger 361; Wurtzburg 711). Boulger points out that Farquhar's Memorial, and Raffles' rebuttal, amounted to 33,000 words, and he thus reproduced only the portions on Singapore! (Boulger 353).

In Farquhar's brief rejoinder to Raffles' reply, in April 1825, he omitted reference to Singapore and to his claim, and the Court of Directors finally ruled against him in November 1825, refusing his request to be reinstated. Raffles commented in a letter to his sister: "It was my wish poor Man that he should be let off as easily as possible, but he seems to have failed in all he attempted, and if he has not been so severely handled as he might have been he has me to thank for it -- for certainly he stands on no better footing than he did before he made his Appeal" (Bastin vol.1, 19).

However, after Raffles died in 1826, and Lady Raffles' Memoir was published in 1830, Farquhar challenged certain statements made in her book, in which, he asserted, "she very modestly and candidly allows [her late husband] the sole and exclusive merit of having established and brought into commercial importance the new settlement of Singapore, which is styled his Settlement". Farquhar published an article in which he contended that he had "at least a large share in forming that establishment" and that, having stated all the circumstances, he would "leave the public to judge whether Lady Raffles can fairly claim for her husband the sole and exclusive merit of having formed the settlement of Singapore" (Cited by Bastin vol.1, 19). He thought that he had at least an equal claim.


Bastin, John. "William Farquhar", in The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. Singapore: G.K. Goh, 1999.

Boulger, Demetrius C. The Life of Stamford Raffles [1897, 1899]. Amsterdam: The Pepin Press, 1999.

Wurtzburg, Charles Edward. Raffles of the Eastern Isles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984, 669-670.

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Last modified: 12 October 2002