Statue of Stamford Raffles

The bronze statue of Stamford Raffles, sculpted by Thomas Woolner, was installed on Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887 at the Padang. It was relocated to Empress Place during Singapore’s centenary celebrations on 6 February 1919. The statue depicts Raffles standing with arms folded and an aura of quiet assurance.1

The statue was the work of famed British sculptor-cum-poet Thomas Woolner. As it had been commissioned after Raffles’ death in 1826, it is thought that Woolner modelled the statue after Francis Chantrey’s works of Raffles.The eight-foot-tall bronze figure was nicknamed orang besi, Malay for “iron man”. At the base of the statue is a map depicting the area around the Strait of Melaka, symbolising Raffles setting foot in British Malaya.3

Location at the Padang
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. It originally stood at the Padang – a popular open field for sports, games and other events – facing the sea, between St Andrew’s Road and Connaught Drive. However, as the statue was often struck by footballs and was used as a seat by spectators to gain a vantage view of a game at the Padang, the authorities felt that a more dignified location was required.4

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. It replaced an elephant statue from King Chulalongkorn of Thailand that marked his visit in March 1871.5

A semi-circular colonnade of the Italian Doric order framed the Raffles statue, while a marble-lined pool with fountain jets sat in front of it.6 There were also two rows of flower vases around the pool, which added colour to the classical setting. The statue faces the site where Raffles 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.7

In the midst of moving the statue from the Padang, the base was found to be supported by a rod that went through one leg of the statue. This iron support had not been cast properly and encased fully in the bronze, and moisture seeping from beneath the statue corroded it. The corrosion was duly repaired before the move. A time capsule containing issues of local newspapers, the government gazette, a programme of the Centenary and currency below a dollar was also buried at the new site.8

A tablet was placed at its plinth to recognise the role that Raffles had played in the founding of modern Singapore. The plaque reads:


This tablet to the memory of

Sir Stamford Raffles,

to whose foresight and genius Singapore

owes its existence and prosperity,

was unveiled on February 6th, 1919,

the 100th anniversary of the

foundation of the Settlement.”

Raffles’ coat of arms and the knight’s motto are also engraved on a bronze shield placed at the base of the statue’s granite pedestal.9

World War II
On 11 September 1942, the statue was removed to the Syonan Museum (formerly Raffles Library and Museum).10 Some later suggested that the Japanese had intended 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.11 However, the statue remained intact and was reinstalled at Empress Place in July 1946.12

Later developments
In June 1953, during the coronation celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II, the fountains were run once again for the occasion. However, the colonnades and the flower vases were never replaced.13 Albert Winsemius, an economic adviser to Singapore in the 1960s, was credited for ensuring that the statue remained following independence as a symbol of developed Singapore. According to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the statue represented a “symbol of public acceptance of the legacy of the British and could have a positive effect” on Singapore’s future development.14

Other statues
A plaster cast of the original bronze statue was used to recast a polymarble copy, which was unveiled in 1972. This copy stands at the north Boat Quay bank of the Singapore River, marking what is believed to be Raffles’ landing site. There is also a life-size marble statue of Raffles at Westminster Abbey in London, posed seated in a thoughtful stance.15

Bonny Tan 

1. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 377–78 (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 1–5. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
2. Ong Choo Suat, “Our Heritage,” New Nation, 3 December 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Centenary of Singapore,” Straits Times, 7 February 1919, 27. (From NewspaperSG); Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 377–78.
4. “Centenary of Singapore”; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 377–78.
5. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore's Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest. (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, 2010), 30 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]; Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 20.
6. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 1–5; Centenary of Singapore.”
7. “Centenary of Singapore.”
8. “Centenary of Singapore.”
9. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 3; Centenary of Singapore.”
10. “Statue of Founder removed to Museum,” Syonan Times, 13 September 1942, 4; “Unveiling of Raffles’ Statue,” Straits Times, 4 July 1946, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 377–78; Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 1–5.
12. “Stamford Raffles Moves Back,” Sunday Tribune, 7 July 1946, 2; Ong, “Our Heritage.”
13. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 1–5.
14. “Singapore Is Indebted to Winsemius: SM,” Straits Times, 10 December 1996, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 377–78; Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, 1–5; Chua Boon Chin, “Why the Wraps Have Gone Up around Raffles’ Statue,” Straits Times, 29 July 1971, 3; “‘Do Not Forget Your Past’ Call by Dr. Yeoh,” Straits Times, 4 February 1972, 28. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at July 2020 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. 


Colonial administrators
Raffles, Thomas Stamford, Sir, 1781-1826--Statues

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