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.

3. Farquhar's Military and Political Career

Before we enter into a reassessment of Farquhar's claims, we should first review the highlights of his career in India and Malaya. Unlike Raffles, Farquhar was a soldier, and served in the Madras military establishment of the East India Company from the age of 17 onwards. As part of the Engineering Corps he participated in campaigns in south India against Mysore in 1792 and the French in 1793, when he was promoted Lieutenant.

In 1795 he took part in the British capture of Malacca from the Dutch, and with minor interruptions he spent a large portion of his career there, rising from chief of staff to the Commandant in 1798 to Commandant in 1803, at the age of 29. This position, later designated Resident and Commandant, he was to hold for 15 years, until Malacca was restored to the Dutch in 1818, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Farquhar laboured with great difficulties in Malacca, especially when Penang was elevated to a Presidency in 1805, and when the Company's Directors decided to destroy Malacca's fortifications and buildings. He also faced financial shortages, unrest among the Indian contingents, and narrowly escaped assassination by a European sentry. However, Farquhar argued against Malacca's abandonment, and for its continuing strategic and commercial importance, and though he was forced to destroy most of the fortifications, he saved such buildings as Christ Church and the Stadthuis.

By 1807-08 he had found an ally in Raffles, whose report on Malacca drew on his earlier memorandum, and helped to reverse the destructive policy. Raffles was seven years younger than Farquhar, and clearly his junior, but as Wurtzburg suggests, "they both had a genuine affection for and sympathy with the Malays, and were in return esteemed and respected" (59).

However, with the British expedition to capture Dutch Java in 1811, their positions were reversed. Raffles was appointed Lieutenant-Governor, and Farquhar was offered the Residentship of the Javanese court of Yogyakarta, which he declined, resuming his command at Malacca. However, in 1812 he performed several military tasks for Raffles at Bangka and Mentok, and in recognition of all his efforts, the Governor-General Lord Hastings designated him Resident and Commandant of Malacca in 1814 until the restoration of Malacca to the Dutch in 1818. He was popularly regarded as the "Rajah of Malacca", and commissioned and collected the natural history drawings which he lated donated to the Royal Asiatic Society, and which are now in the possession of the Singapore History Museum.

Farquhar was much appreciated by the local population, as Munshi Abdullah testifies in his Hikayat, and he was given warm farewells both at Malacca in September 1818 and at Penang by the Governor, in December 1818. However, before he could proceed on furlough to England, his plans were changed by the arrival of Raffles, with instructions from Hastings for Farquhar to accompany him on a mission to Riau "with a view to your remaining in Local Charge of British Interests in that quarter under the general superintendence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Fort Marlborough [i.e., Raffles]" (quoted in Bastin 13).

Related Materials

Main Web Page Singapore [History]

Last modified: 12 October 2002