On February 6, 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johor that allowed the British to set up a trading port in Singapore laying the foundation of the modern island nation. Currently, Singapore is one of the most important tourist destinations in Asia and is a growing center for fashion, media, industry, and finance.
The earliest mentions of Singapore are found in ancient Chinese historical records from the third century, though its origins are still unclear. At the time the settlement was known as “Pu-luo-chung” roughly translated as the ‘island at the end of (the Malay) peninsula’. By the thirteenth century a settlement called Temasek grew in the region that now forms the city of Singapore. The name was attributed to its location as an island town. According to a 14th century legend, the Prince of Srivijaya, Sang Nila Utama, went out hunting from his capital in Palembang. He went on to establish a city at the location where he hunted and killed a lion – a sign of good luck for a ruler. He called the city Simha (Lion) Pura (City) or the Lion City. The city grew into a trading port as the ships sailing in from China, India, Arabia, and Portugal stopped over here.
In 1509, the Portuguese arrived at Malacca. By the 16th century, the colonial powers of Europe had started to make their presence felt in the Malay Archipelago and the Dutch started to dominate the archipelago and trade in the region. In an attempt to stage a foothold in the region, the British started looking for a trading center here that they could control. Singapore seemed very promising. Not only was it located on the India-China trade route, an important channel for British trade, and would challenge Dutch trade prospects in the region. After much research, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (Bengkulu) in Sumatra managed to convince the governor-general of India, Lord Hastings, to sponsor an expedition to the region. It came as quite a disappointment to Sir Raffles that most of the islands in the region were unsuitable as harbors and the one which were satisfactory ports were already occupied by the British. After much exploration, he came across Singapore – an excellent natural harbor that was rich in all natural resources including fresh water, food, and timber. It was also free from Dutch dominion.
Sir Raffles and his expedition party landed in Singapore on January 29, 1819. At the time, the Malay settlement at the opening of the Singapore Straits was headed by a Governor (locally referred to as the Temenggong) for the Sultan of Johor. The region was considered to be the territory of the Sultan of Johor, but the political environment at the time was quite unstable. Tengku Abdul Rahman, the de facto Sultan of Johor had gained control after the exile of his older brother, Tengku Hussein (Tengku Long) in the Riau Islands. The Temenggong helped the British bring Tengku Hussein back to Singapore. Raffles offered to reinstate Hussein as the lawful Sultan of Johor on the condition that he would permit the British East India Company to establish a trading post on the island of Singapore. The agreement between Sir Raffles and Tengku Hussein was formalized by way of a treaty on February 6, 1819. Modern Singapore was thus established.
At the time of signing the treaty, Singapore had only about 150 residents. Within the next couple of decades the city grew in both might and prestige and by 1832 it became the administrative center for the settlements of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore. By 1860, the city was a thriving trading port and had a population of over 80,972 residents comprising Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Singapore’s boom was suddenly arrested by a Japanese invasion in 1941-42. For nearly the next four years, Singapore remained under Japanese occupation and maritime trade suffered greatly.
Following World War II, the territory of Singapore was handed to the British forces and in April 1946, it was declared a British Crown Colony. By 1959, the growth of nationalism in the nation and the need for independence was strongly felt. The country elected its leaders and embarked on self-governance but by 1961, a referendum showed that the people were in favor of a merger with Malaysia. The union was, however, soon to fail and Singapore separated once more on August 9, 1965. Currently over 5 million people live in Singapore and the island nation is one of the best-loved and growing destinations in Asia.
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