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.

4. Farquhar's Contributions to Singapore

Without entering into the controversy of 'who did more' in the founding of the British settlement, it is clear that while the objectives and initiatives were from Raffles, the actual operations and implementation were left to Farquhar, in his new capacity as British Resident and Commandant of Singapore. It was Farquhar who was more familiar with the Malay authorities, and who had to provide the main administrative direction for this joint "Anglo-Malay condominium", as it has been termed by Christopher Wake.

While Raffles described the new settlement as his Child and his Colony, in paternal and proprietory fashion, it was really Farquhar who had to play the role of mother and nurse to the infant during its first four years. He had also to combine the political, diplomatic and administrative roles of Resident with the military functions of Commandant, protecting and defending the settlement against Dutch retaliation. Moreover, his main task was to ensure the economic survival and growth of this East India Company "factory", to attract traders to this free port, and to arrange the allocation and distribution of land among the various communities on the island. Given Raffles' infrequent visits to Singapore, and fitful supervision from Bencoolen, Farquhar was left with the heavy burdens of making as well as implementing policies, until Raffles' final and longest visit of October 1822 to June 1823, during which the differences between them came to a head, over such matters as land allocation, gambling, and slavery. Farquhar was replaced by another Scotsman, Dr John Crawfurd, in April 1823.

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Last modified: 12 October 2002