John Crawfurd (b. 1783, Scotland - d. 1868, England) was the second British Resident of Singapore, holding office from 1823 - 1826. He was instrumental in implementing some of the key elements of Raffles' vision for Singapore and laying the foundation for the future economic growth of Singapore. Crawford Street, Crawford Bridge and Crawford Park in Singapore are named after him.
Although a qualified medical doctor, Crawfurd's interests lay in languages, history and political administration. He joined the East India Company's medical service in 1803 at the age of twenty and served in Penang and Java under Raffles. In 1821, he was sent as an envoy to Siam and Cochin-China in an effort to open these areas to British trade, albeit not very successfully. He was appointed Resident of Singapore in June 1823 after the departures of Raffles and Farquhar.
The period of Crawfurd's administration was marked by a vigorous increase in population, trade and revenue. A shrewd and practical Scotsman, Crawfurd focused on increasing government revenue and promoting free trade. He legalised and regulated gambling through highly profitable gambling houses. He also introduced licenses for pawnbrokers and for the manufacture and sale of gunpowder. As a vigorous proponent of free trade, he also abolished anchorage and other port fees, making Singapore unique as a port free from tariffs as well as port charges.
Crawfurd's residency also saw much progress in the planning and physical development of Singapore town. Using convict labour, roads were widened and levelled, and a proper bridge was built across the river. English street signs and street lighting were introduced. Troops were moved from the town centre to a new encampment in the north-west. Land was also allotted to religious buildings.
Crawfurd was also instrumental in bringing about the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance between the East India Company, Sultan Hussein Shah and the Temenggong in August 1824. The treaty gave the East India Company all rights to Singapore and all islands within ten miles of her shores. In return, the chiefs were given land in Singapore and would receive substantial monetary compensation should they decide to leave Singapore permanently. The treaty effectively ended any native control of Singapore, and, together with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of London of 1824, in which the Dutch agreed to surrender all claims on Singapore, it entrenched the British firmly as the government of Singapore. Some historians argue that he was the true "founder of Singapore" as a result of this treaty.
On a personal level, Crawfurd's residency was not a success. Described by Munshi Abdullah as "tight-fisted" and "fond of material wealth", he was said to be cold and ruthless and was unpopular with both the European and Asian communities. Nevertheless, he was an efficient and conscientious administrator and Singapore owes much of her early success to his leadership.
Crawfurd left Singapore in 1826 and eventually returned to England, where he remained involved in politics and continued to advance the cause of the merchant community in Singapore. In the last year of his life, 1868, he became the first President of the Straits Settlements Association in London, which was formed to protect the interests of the region.
1803 : Joined East India Company's medical service.
1821 : Led Crawfurd mission to Siam and Cochin-China to open these areas to British trade.
1823 : Appointed Resident of Singapore.
1824 : Negotiated Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with Malay chiefs, in which the Sultan and the Temenggong surrendered all rights to Singapore to the British.
1826 : Left Singapore.
1868 : Became the first President of the Straits Settlements Association in London.
Abdullah Abdul Kadir, Munsh. (1969). The Hikayat Abdullah: the Autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, 1797-1854. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.51032 ABD).
Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1967. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)
Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A History of Singapore: 1819-1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)
Recordsingapore. (n.d.). Crawford, Dr, Sir John. Retrieved December 28, 2001, from www.recordsingapore.com/who_was_who/abc/crawforddrsirjohn.htm
The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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Crawfurd, John, 1783-1868