RAFFLES, Thomas Stamford

RAFFLES, Thomas Stamford (Sir Stamford). on sea near Jamaica 6.7.1781 — near London 5.7.1826. British Colonial Servant and Scholar. Born on board of the Ann sailing from Jamaica to England under his father, Captain Benjamin R., mother was Anne Lyde. Living in London, only short period at school as father had not means for his education. From 1795 clerk at the East India House. In 1797 his father died and young Raffles had to support his family with his meagre salary. He educated himself during nights and got 1805 nomination as an assistant to the Chief Secretary in the just formed Penang Presidency (with salary jumping from £ 70 to £ 1500 per annum). Before leaving he married Mrs. Olivia Fancourt (née Devenish, d. 1814), the widow of a surgeon serving in Madras and ten years older than Raffles.

In Penang he rapidly interested in research (nature and Oriental history). In 1807 promoted already to Chief Secretary. Now became acqainted with John Leyden. He wrote a report on East Asian affairs, which impressed Lord Minto and made Raffles a friend to the Governor General. Together they embarked to conquer Java then (and poorly) ruled by the French. The island was conquered in short time during August 1811 and Minto made Raffles the Governor of British Java. Beside running very well his administration Raffles had time for extensive studies of history, ethnology and nature of the island. Borobudur was found and visited by him, but wrongly interpreted as a Hindu monument. His wife died in 1814.

London was not interested in Java, because it was clear that after Napoleon’s defeat they would give it back to the Dutch. Raffles himself was not in good terms with Lord Moira, Minto’s successor, and was relieved of his duty before Java was ceded, early in 1816. He came to London – meeting on way Napoleon at St Helena – in July with rich collections which made him famous among scientists and even the Court (Regent and princess Charlotte). History of Java was published in 1817 summarizing all his stud­ies on the history, culture and nature of the island. The book is modelled after the similar work on Sumatra by his elder friend Marsden and it is lauded not only by the few specialists (for it he was knighted by the Regent). In 1817 Raffles married Sophia Hull.

In October 1817 Raffles departed for Sumatra as Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen and de facto Political Agent for the Malay States. Touring inner parts of Sumatra he discovered the plant Rafflesia. In 1819 he became by a brave coup the founder of Singapore and thus of British influence in East and South-East Asia. Also further research and wide plans (e.g. for a British Sumatra). Bencoolen was very unhealthy place, four of their five children died, and themselves they came home very sick in 1824. Ungrateful Company denied Raffles a pension. He was one of the founders of the London Zoo. Trying to begin a quiet country life he died suddenly at home. In addition to political and scholarly ambitions Raffles was a humanist and an abolitionist (a close friend of Wilberforce).

Publications: “On the Maláyu Nation, with a translation of its Maritime Institutions”, As. Res. 12, 1816, 102-158 (transl. from Malay).

– History of Java. 1-2. L. 1817, 2nd ed. 1-2. L. 1830.

Sources: *Memoirs on the life and public service of Sir Th.St.R. particularly in the Government of Java from 1811 to 1816 and of Bencoolen from 1817 to 1824 … by his widow. L. 1830.

Buckland, Dictionary; Maurice Collis, Raffles. London 1966 [referring to *D. C. Boulger, The Life of Sir Stamford Raffles, L. 1897; *H. E. Egerton, Sir Stamford Raffles, L. 1900; *Emily Hahn, Raffles of Singapore, N.Y. 1946; *C. E. Wurtzburg, Raffles of the Eastern Isles, L. 1954]; Wikipedia.

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