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William Farquhar is first British Resident and Commandant 6th Feb 1819

William Farquhar was installed as the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore following the establishment of a British trading post on the island by  then Lieutenant Governor of Bencoolen, Sir Stamford Raffles, on  6 February 1819.[1] Farquhar was an accomplished British officer prior to becoming resident of Singapore. He had served in the East India Company (EIC) since joining the Madras Engineers in 1791 and had been involved in a number of British missions in the region. These missions included the expedition to capture Malacca from the Dutch in 1795 and another expedition against the Dutch led by then Governor General of India, Lord Minto, and Raffles to occupy Java in 1811.[2] During the British occupancy of Malacca, Farquhar served as resident from 1803 until the settlement was returned to the Dutch in 1818.[3] Farquhar spoke Malay and was popularly referred to as the “Rajah of Malacca”.[4] With his wealth of experience serving in the Malayan peninsula and an intimate knowledge of Riau-Lingga politics, Farquhar was enlisted by Raffles in the search of a new British settlement south of Malacca.[5]

Raffles gave Farquhar instructions on how Singapore should be governed before he left for Bencoolen on 7 February 1819, during his second visit between May and June 1819 as well as through his correspondences with Farquhar from Bencoolen. Among other things, Raffles wanted Farquhar to impose zero tariffs in Singapore to encourage trade, build up its town area based on a plan that demarcated where the ethnic communities should settle and the location of their warehouses, erect some simple defence fortifications, prohibit gambling and keep expenses to a minimum.[6] However, communications with Raffles in Bencoolen and the EIC in Calcutta were so poor that Farquhar had, in effect, led the development of Singapore independently during his term as resident.[7] To raise revenue, Farquhar steered away from Raffles’ anti-gambling instruction by introducing a tax-farming system that auctioned monopoly rights to sell opium and run gambling dens.[8] He also went against Raffles’s town planning wishes by allowing the merchants to build their warehouses beyond the designated areas after the merchants argued that their allocated areas were unsuitable for the loading and unloading of goods.[9] However, Farquhar did adhere to some of Raffles’ instructions earnestly. For instance, he maintained the settlement’s free port status despite facing revenue problems. This decision led to the rapid growth of the settlement in terms of size and trade.[10]

When Raffles returned to Singapore in October 1822, he was delighted with Singapore’s progress. However, he disapproved of many of Farquhar’s pragmatic measures and was unhappy that the resident did not carry out some of his instructions.[11] This resulted in Raffles removing Farquhar as resident in April 1823 and replacing him with John Crawfurd in June that same year.[12] There were also other factors  that caused Raffles to replace Farquhar, one of which  was the resident’s feud  with the settlement’s  then Master Attendant William Flint, who happened  to be Raffles’s brother-in-law.[13]  Another reason was  Raffles’s  frustration over  Farquhar’s refusal  to retire from  his post.[14] A grand ceremony was held to send off Farquhar in December 1823.[15]

1. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (pp. 28–29). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR.
2. Dozier, L. (2010). Natural history drawings: The complete William Farquhar collection: Malay Peninsula, 1803–1818 (pp. 10–12). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet: National Museum of Singapore. Call no.: RSING 759.959 NAT; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 77-78). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE.
3. Dozier, pp. 12–14.
4. Dozier, p. 13.
5. Turnbull, p. 27.
6. Dozier, p. 17; Turnbull, pp. 31–32.
7. Turnbull, p. 32.
8. Dozier, p. 18.
9. Turnbull, p. 35.
10. Dozier, p. 17.
11. Turnbull, p. 37; Dozier, p. 20.
12. Dozier, p. 20.
13. Turnbull, p. 37–38.
14. Boulger, D. C. K. (1999). The life of Sir Stamford Raffles (pp. 328–329). Amsterdam: Pepin Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 BOU.
15. Abdullah Abdul Kadir. (1969). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, 1797–1854 (p. 135). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RCLOS 959.51032 ABD.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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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