Statue of Stamford Raffles
by Tan, Bonny
The statue of Stamford Raffles, sculpted by Thomas Woolner, is a popular icon of Singapore. The statue depicts Raffles, standing tall, arms folded, with an aura of quiet assurance. It was installed on Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887 at the Padang, and relocated to Empress Place during Singapore’s centenary celebrations on 6 February 1919.1
Location at the Padang
The statue was the work of the famed British sculptor-cum-poet Thomas Woolner. The eight-foot-tall bronze figure was nicknamed orang besi or "iron man". The statue was unveiled by then Governor of the Straits Settlements Frederick Weld on 27 June 1887 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. A little known detail was added by Woolner at the base of the statue. Here, he had traced a map depicting the area around the Straits of Malacca to symbolise Raffles having set foot on British Malaya. The statue originally stood at the Padang, facing the sea, between St Andrew's Road and Connaught Drive. However, it was often struck by flying footballs or used as a seat for a vantage view of a field game at the Padang, so the authorities felt that a more dignified location was required.2
Move to Empress Place
During Singapore's centenary celebrations, the statue was moved to a site in front of the Victoria Memorial Hall at Empress Place on 6 February 1919. A semi-circular colonnade of the Italian Doric order framed the statue, and in front of it, a marble-lined pool was constructed with fountain jets. With two rows of flower vases around the pool to add colour to the classical setting, the statue was placed such that Raffles faced the site that he was assumed to have landed, at the mouth of the Singapore River. It was also carefully positioned axially with respect to the centre of the clock tower of the Victoria Memorial Hall.3
In the midst of moving the statue, the base was found to be supported by a rod which went through one leg of the statue. The corrosion around it was duly repaired before the move. A tablet was placed at its plinth, recognising the important role that Raffles had played in the founding of Singapore. Raffles' coat of arms and the knight's motto were engraved on a bronze shield placed at the base of the statue’s granite pedestal. A cast of the statue's head was also made for a bust to be located at the Raffles Museum and Library. This bust is not the same one as the plastercast replica of Francis Legatt Chantrey's bust of Raffles, which was also placed at the Raffles Museum and Library.4
World War II
In mid-September 1942, the statue was removed to the Syonan Museum (the former Raffles Museum). Some later suggested that the Japanese had intentions to melt it for the war effort. Although reports showed that the colonnade and flower vases remained intact during the Japanese Occupation, they were not to be found following the surrender of the Japanese. However, the statue remained intact, and was reinstalled at Empress Place in July 1946.5
In June 1953, during the coronation celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II, the fountains were run again for just this one time. However, the colonnades and the flower vases were never replaced. Albert Winsemius, an economic advisor to Singapore in the 1960s, was credited for ensuring that the statue remained a symbol of developed Singapore. According to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the statue would represent a “symbol of public acceptance of the legacy of the British and could have a positive effect” in Singapore's future development.6
A plaster cast of the original bronze statue was used to recast a polymarble copy, which was unveiled in 1972 and now stands on the north Boat Quay bank of the Singapore River, marking what is believed to be Raffles’s landing site. There is also a life-size marble statue of Raffles at Westminster Abbey in London, posed seated in a thoughtful stance.7
1. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 377—378. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Ramachandra, S. (1961). Singapore landmarks: Past and present. Singapore: D. Moore, pp. 1—5. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
2. Centenary of Singapore. (1919, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 377—378. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. Centenary of Singapore. (1919, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 377—378. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Raffles statue being removed to museum. (1942, September 9). The Syonan Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Statue of founder removed to museum. (1942, September 13). The Syonan Times, p. 4; Ong, C. S. (1971, December 3). Our heritage. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM. (1996, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 377—378. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Ramachandra, S. (1961). Singapore landmarks: Past and present. Singapore: D. Moore, pp. 1—5. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM); Chua, B. C. (1971, July 29). Why the wraps have gone up around Raffles' statue. The Straits Times, p. 3; ‘Do not forget your past’ call by Dr. Yeoh. (1972, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 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.
Raffles, Thomas Stamford, Sir, 1781-1826--Statues