Olivia Mariamne Raffles



Olivia Mariamne Raffles née Devenish1 (b. 16 February 1771, India2–d. 26 November 1814, Buitenzorg, Batavia, Dutch East Indies) was the first wife of Thomas Stamford Raffles. She met Raffles in London around 1804 when the latter was a clerk in the Secretary’s Office of the East India Company. The couple married on 14 March 1805 in London. Soon after, they left for Penang (then known as Prince of Wales Island), following Raffles’s appointment as assistant secretary in the government of Penang.

Early life
Olivia was the illegitimate child of George (or Godfrey) Devenish of Casheltauna Four Mile House, County Roscommon, and a Circassian woman in India. Olivia spent her early years in Ireland and sailed to India in around 1787 to join some relatives there.3 During her voyage on board the vessel Rose, Olivia had an affair with the ship’s master, Captain John Hamilton Dempster. She gave birth to a daughter by Dempster in Madras, India, and left the child in the care of Dempster, who later returned to England with the girl.4


On 26 May 1793, Olivia married Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt, an assistant surgeon working for the East India Company. In early 1798, Fancourt was ordered to serve in an infantry regiment of Madras, and Olivia left for London around the same time. Fancourt died in Madras in 1800 while Olivia was still in London.5

Marriage to Raffles
Financially strapped, in 1804 Olivia sought a widow’s pension from the East India Company.6 It was around this time that she met Raffles, who was 10 years her junior and a clerk at the Secretary’s Office of the East India Company.7 On 14 March 1805 Olivia and Raffles were married at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury, London.8

The couple sailed to Penang on board the Ganges in late April 1805, following Raffles’s appointment as assistant secretary in the presidency government of Penang.9 Described to be charming and to possess a lively grace,10 Olivia was well received in Asia.11 She exchanged letters and poetry with the Scottish poet John Caspar Leyden, who had arrived in Penang in a terrible condition and Olivia had nursed him back to health.12 Raffles’s Malay secretariat, Abdullah Abdul Kadir (who became known as the writer, Munshi Abdullah) later wrote glowingly of Olivia in his Hikayat Abdullah:13

I noticed that the character of Mr Raffles’s wife was unlike that of ordinary women. She shared her husband’s charm, his modesty and prudence in everything that she did. She spoke in a friendly and courteous manner alike to the rich and poor. She enjoyed making a thorough study of Malay, and used to ask how the Malays say this and that. All the points that she noted she wrote down on paper. And I observed too that whenever Mr Raffles wanted to do something, for instance to make a purchase, he always asked his wife first and if she agreed he acted. It was her nature, I noticed, to do all her work with the greatest alacrity, never wasting a moment in idleness, but forever working away at one thing or another.

Olivia and Raffles were in Melaka (Malacca) for a spell between 1810 and 1811, during which time Olivia was mostly ill and took to her bed. In 1812, the couple settled in Buitenzorg (present-day Bogor) on Java island, after Raffles was made lieutenant-governor of the newly captured Batavia (today’s Jakarta). There, Olivia continued to suffered from poor health. However, she still held receptions at her home as well as attended social events and accompanied Raffles on work trips.14

On 26 November 1814, Olivia passed away in Buitenzorg at the age of 43.15 She was buried in the Tanah Abang cemetery (now the Taman Prasasti Museum) in Batavia.16

Mount Olivia, a hillock at the northern beach in Penang, was named after Olivia. It was the site of a bungalow in which she and Raffles had lived.17 There is also a memorial of Olivia at the Botanic Gardens in Bogor.18



Authors

Bonny Tan & Fiona Lim



References

1. Wurtzburg, C. E. (1984). Raffles of the Eastern Isles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.570210924 RAF) 
2. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
3. Bastin, J. S. (2002). Olivia Mariamne Raffles. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703092 BAS-[HIS])
4. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 57–58. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
5. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 59–60, 69. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
6. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Book of days. (1993). Singapore: Antiques of the Orient, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 SIR-[HIS]) 
7. Bastin, J. S. (2002). Olivia Mariamne Raffles. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 13, 16. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703092 BAS-[HIS])
8. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS]) 
9. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Book of days. (1993). Singapore: Antiques of the Orient, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 SIR-[HIS]); Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, J. (2016). Family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 72, 74–76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS]) 
10. Pearson, H. F. (1957). This other India: A biography of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 23, 51, 53. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.570210924 RAF.P-[RFL]) 
11. Wurtzburg, C. E. (1984). Raffles of the Eastern Isles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 362–363. (Call no.: RSING 959.570210924 RAF)
12. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, J. (2016). Family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 79–87. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
13. Hill, A. H. (1955, June). The Hikayat Abdullah. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 28(3)(171), 3–354, p. 77. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
14. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 95, 99, 101–106. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
15. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 101, 108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
16. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore; Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 101. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])
17. Wurtzburg, C. E. (1984). Raffles of the Eastern Isles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 959.570210924 RAF)
18. Bastin, J., & Weizenegger, K. (2016). The family of Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore: National Library Board, Singapore and Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 959.57030922 BAS-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

 

Subject
Colonial administrators
Raffles, Olivia Mariamne, 1771-1814
Colonial administrators' spouses--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators