Sir Stamford Raffles: The Monster

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This video belongs to a two-part series exploring the adventures and misadventures of Sir Stamford Raffles. For the full transcript of the first video, visit Sir Stamford Raffles: The Hero.


(Intro disclaimer) This video belongs to a two-part series exploring the adventures and misadventures of Sir Stamford Raffles. We advise you to watch this series in its entirety before passing judgement on our Founding Father.

This is Sir Stamford Raffles. Founder of our nation, icon of the Singapore river, and namesake of our prestigious hotel and schools. Recently, historical information has surfaced, showing a different - darker - side of Raffles. He is even described as a “monster”. Hard to believe? Let’s back it up a bit.

It all started with Raffles, the Governor General of British India (Lord Minto) and a really big idea.

Raffles imagined Java as an “Eastern Empire” for the British. But at the time, Java was occupied. By who? The Dutch. The Dutch and British were bitter rivals. The British held a crucial trading port in Malaya (Melaka). But the Dutch held all of present day Indonesia.

At this point, the British were jealous. So Raffles hatched a plan for an invasion. The grand prize? The port-city of Batavia (present day Jakarta) - the seat of Dutch power.

Raffles convinced Lord Minto to support his plan - Operation Java Expedition. British forces reached Java in August 1811. After 3 months of fighting, the city of Batavia fell and Raffles had placed himself in charge of governing the land.

So Raffles was an ambitious guy. That doesn’t make him a monster…. Right?

In Java, Raffles allowed slavery to continue - provided that the slaves were under 14. At that age, he believed that “The change cannot be felt and the misfortune is not remembered”. The story gets darker.

Batavia was not enough for Raffles. The Dutch still held Sumatra.

In a few exchanges, Raffles had encouraged the Sultan of Palembang (Sultan Badruddin) to kick out the Dutch - violently. Raffles knew that the Sultan hesitated. So he shipped 4 cases of 80 muskets and 10 baskets of gunpowder cartridges to Palembang. Giving the Sultan a signal - “You know what to do next”.

The Sultan gave the order to kill. The armed local marched to the Dutch settlement in Palembang. Dutchmen and their families were ambushed and killed. The British then swooped in and settled in Palembang.

All this happened in 1811. Just 8 years before Raffles founded Singapore in 1819. And perhaps his actions weren’t uncommon during European colonisation. But most Singaporeans do not know of this side of Raffles, as it was left out of our social studies textbooks.

But now that we've all grown up and have dealt with darker truths, should Raffles still be such a celebrated name in Singapore?

History depicts two very different sides of Raffles, depending on which narrative you’ve read. Was Raffles a hero or a monster? Let us know what you think.

(Tagline) If you’re still undecided on Raffles and would like to hear more stories of his adventures, check out our other video on Raffles: The Hero.