Dr John Crawfurd (1783-1868): The Scotsman Who Made Singapore British

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. 8 (July-Sept 2002), with readers of the Postcolonial Web. It appears with his permission and that of the Raffles Town Club, which retains the copyright.

1. Connexion

On 29 January 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles and Major William Farquhar landed on Singapore island. The following day Raffles signed a preliminary agreement with the Temenggong, the local Malay chief, and on 6 February he concluded a more definitive treaty with Sultan Hussein of Johor, and the Temenggong, which allowed the British to establish a settlement on Singapore. He appointed Farquhar as first British Resident and Commandant of the new settlement, and left him behind to take care of what he was to call 'a Child of my own' and 'my new Colony'.

Towards the end of his fourth and longest visit (October 1822 to June 1823), Raffles signed a Convention with the Malay rulers, which extended British control over the entire island, with the exception of the Sultan's and Temenggong's enclaves. The Sultan was to receive an allowance of $1,500 and the Temenggong $800 a month for life, in return for which they relinquished their rights to port duties, shares in the revenue farms, presents from captains of Asian vessels, and regular attendance at the Resident's court. British laws would henceforth be enforced 'with due consideration to the usages and habits of the people', and respect for Malay laws and customs in cases involving religion, marriage, and inheritance 'where they shall not be contrary to reason, justice or humanity' (Convention of 7 June 1823). However, while British rule was becoming more direct, this Convention still failed to cede sovereignty to the East India Company.

Both Raffles and Farquhar laid claims to have founded Singapore (see the inscriptions on the memorial to Raffles in Westminster Abbey, London, and on Farquhar's tombstone in Scotland) -- but It was not Raffles but Dr John Crawfurd who made Singapore a British possession. Crawfurd, who had been appointed in April as second British Resident, arrived in Singapore on 27 May to take charge of the settlement. Raffles left Singapore for good on 9 June, and Farquhar in December 1823.

In March 1824 Crawfurd received the necessary authorisation from Calcutta to make Singapore a permanent British possession. This was made possible by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London (17 March 1824), which was largely the achievement of the British Foreign Secretary George Canning (the father of Charles Lord Canning, the Viceroy of India after whom Fort Canning is named). By this treaty the Dutch recognised the British position at Singapore, and exchanged their settlement of Malacca for the British settlement of Bencoolen (of which Raffles had been Lieutenant-Governor).

On the strength of this treaty, Crawfurd negotiated another treaty with the Malay rulers. When finalised on 2 August 1824, this treaty ceded Singapore 'in full sovereignty and property to the East India Company, its heirs and successors' (which include our Republic of Singapore).

Who then was Crawfurd? What led to his appointment as second British Resident of Singapore? What were his main achievements?

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Last modified: 12 October 2002