The (almost) Forgotten Founder of Singapore

I posted the following blog about William Farquhar and Singapore a year ago.

I have always been surprised by the lack of recognition in Singapore for its co-founder William Farquhar. Please correct me if I am wrong but I cannot find a street or place named after him anywhere in the city.

William Farquhar Image 3

In 1818 the Governor-General of India authorized Stamford Raffles to establish a post at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca provided it did not cause a conflict with the Dutch and his orders stated:

The long experience and peculiar qualifications of Major Farquhar, the late resident of Malacca, and his late employment at Riau and Lingga, eminently fit him for the command of the post which it is desirable to establish, and the local superintendence of our interest and affairs.

While the British Resident in Malacca from 1803 to 1818, William Farquhar had established friendly relations with the Temenggong Abdu’r-Rahman of Johor. Knowing that the Dutch would soon be returning to the Strait of Malacca after the hand-over of Java and its dependencies by the British in 1816, he concluded an agreement with the Temenggong (A Malay Chief) allowing the British to establish a settlement in the Riau Islands. Subsequently the Dutch had installed their Resident in the Riau Islands and forced the Temenggong to annul the agreement with Farqhuar.
It was Raffles and Farquhar who landed together at the Singapore River on 29 January 1819. The Temenggong who lived nearby came out to welcome his old friend William Farquhar. Introduced to Raffles, he told them of the current dispute within the Johor-Riau Sultanate. In 1810 the Sultan of Johor had died, his eldest son Tengku Long was his successor; however, the powerful Bugis faction in the Johor-Riau court exploited Tengku Long’s absence at his own wedding to declare his more compliant younger brother as Sultan.

Raffles took advantage of this dispute to sign an agreement on 6 February 1819 with ‘the legitimate successor to the empire of Johor’ for the British to set up a trading settlement on part of Singapore Island and his official Proclamation reads:

The Honourable Sir T.S.Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen and its dependencies, Agent to the Governor-General is pleased to to certify the appointment by the Supreme Government of Major William Farqhuar of the Madras Engineers to be Resident and to command the troops of Singapore and its dependencies and all persons are hereby directed to obey Major Farquhar accordingly.

Farquhar with his long experience in Malacca was an effective Resident of Singapore for the next four years until churlishly dismissed by Raffles on 1 May 1823, just before his term was about to end.

In that blog post, I challenged anyone in Singapore to find a street or place named after its co-founder. There was no response, so this year I decided to check with Mr. Google – a search found 77 business and place names with the prefix Raffles and nothing for Farqhuar.

Imagine my surprise when this year I found some ‘official graffiti’ under one of the bridges across the Singapore River showing Major William Farquhar and the Temenggong witnessing Stamford Raffles signing the lease agreement with Tengku Long, on behalf of the British East India Company.

IMG_2392 - Copy

During his twenty years in Malacca and Singapore, William Farquhar amassed a unique collection of 477 paintings of native flora and fauna especially commissioned from local artists. The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings was presented to the Royal Asiatic Society London in 1827 where it remained until put up for auction in the 1990’s. Thanks to the generosity of Goh Geok Khim, founder of the brokerage firm GK Goh, the collection was purchased for S$3 million in 1995 and donated to the Singapore History Museum in honor of his father. The William Farquhar Natural History Collection is now listed as one of the National Treasures of Singapore.

William Farquhar Book

It is therefore appropriate that the other ‘graffiti image’ under the bridge shows William Farquhar observing the flora and fauna of Malaya and Singapore

IMG_2393 - Copy

I hope that next year I can report on the offical naming of a Farquhar Place somewhere in Singapore or perhaps the addition of his name to the plaque at the landing site on the Singapore River.

The history of the founding of Singapore and its regional context can be found in the book ‘East Indies’ by Ian Burnet.

Go to

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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7 Responses to The (almost) Forgotten Founder of Singapore

  1. Hugh Sutherland says:

    You will be interested to know of a recently published book entitled
    ” from Kilts to Sarongs- Scottish Pioneers of Singapore by Graham Berry, and published locally by Landmark Books
    Isbn:978 981 4189 65 1

  2. Thessauron says:

    Most if not all of our textbooks cast the limelight on Raffles, while Farquhar was just the guy who tagged along. Whichever chapters Farquhar was featured also tend to be the ones about the less pleasant aspects of a new colony. (Plagues, lack of infrastructure etc) So generally, at least for me, Farquhar doesn’t have that appealing or capable a historical image. I suspect most Singaporeans have the same impression, unfortunately.

  3. Damn Chobo says:

    How about Farquhar Junior College?
    …Instead of “you know ya”?

  4. Jan Coughtrie says:

    There is a Farquhar Street shown in the 12th Edition (1978) of the Singapore Street Directory, just a few streets along from Raffles Hotel

  5. Tejas says:

    There was a street named after him in kampong glam, but it was removed a few years later. It was called “Farquhar Street”.

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