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00 Years Of Singapore And The United Kingdom (Image from Straits Times. Photo by Mark Cheong)

William Farquhar did more for early Singapore than Raffles, says new bicentennial book

Major-General William Farquhar did more for the success of Singapore than Sir Stamford Raffles, said Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh at the launch of the book, 200 Years of Singapore and the United Kingdom, held at the National Museum of Singapore.

The book, published by Straits Times, features a collection of essays by scholars, historians and subject specialists from Singapore and the UK about Singapore’s journey over two centuries.

Those who worked on the book include histories Kwa Chong Guan, Alber Lau, Tan Tai Yong, Karl Hack, and Anthony J. Stockwell as well as former civil servant J. Y Pillay. Professor Koh co-edited the book with British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman.

Prof Koh said that they both felt that “Raffles has been given too much credit and the first two Residents, Farquhar and John Crawfurd, too little, for the success of early Singapore”.

Thought Raffles laid down broad principles and plans for the new port in Singapore, it was Farquhar who created the circumstances that allowed the port to flourish, says Dr Graham Berry in the book.

The former Scottish Arts Council chief executive said that the differences in opinion between Raffles and Farquhar led to the formers successful campaign to remove the latter from the island.

Prof Koh described this perspective as being a ‘new insight’ into Singapore’s early colonial history.

Mr Whightman, who also wrote the foreword, begins with a couple of essays on pre-colonial Singapore. He also covers the milestones of the nation from the arrival of the British to the Japanese Occupation, and Singapore’s Independence.

The book also reflects on the legacy left by the British in Singapore, influencing areas such as literature, law, healthcare, and education. And on a more recent matter, it looks at UK’s impending exit from the European Union it will “chart its own independent path forward”, according to Singapore’s High Commissioner to the UK Foo Chi Hsia who also contributed to the book.

At the launch, 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 at the same time finding its own footing and identity as a young nation.

The launch was held on 28th January, 200 years to the date of Raffles and Farquhar’s arrival on the island to establish a trading post for the East India Company. This followed a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s launch of the Singapore Bicentennial – a year-long commemoration of the founding of modern Singapore.

Prof Koh said he aimed to write a balanced and objective aacount that neither glorified not vilified the country’s colonial part. He added that the British did ‘some good things and some very bad things’ during their 142-year rule – roughly 60% good and 40% bad, he elaborated.

Prof Koh noted that Singapore’s founding fathers were able to build on the rich and positive legacy left by the British and that the relationship between the two countries have evolved over time from that of ruler and ruled to one between equals.

Agreeing with that assessment, Mr Wightman said that Singaporeans took some of the institutions and approaches developed by colonial administrators and applied them “invariably much more effectively than their predecessors”.

He added, “It’s been interesting for me to observe in the last 12 months how many different views there are in Singapore on the significance of the anniversary, the impact of British rule and administration and what it means to be Singaporean.” He said he hopes that the book will help to enlighten and contribute to the bicentenary debate.

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