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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Portrait of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles

Portrait of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles

Portrait of Sir Thomas

Stamford Bingley Raffles

This “Portrait of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles” depicts Raffles as youthful and knowledgeable, surrounded by symbols of his scholarly work. He was an amateur writer and wrote “The History of Java” in 1817. He is shown with a manuscript in his hand sitting at his writing desk with sculptures from Java, where he contributed to the expansion of the British Empire.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781 – 1826) was a British statesman, Lieutenant-Governor of British Java and Governor-General of Bencoolen, a British possession in Sumatra based in the area of what is now Bengkulu City. His longest tenure in Singapore was only eight months, but he was considered the founder of Singapore nevertheless.

Raffles founded colonial Singapore in 1819 as a trading post of the East India Company. After the collapse of the Company and the establishment of the British Raj, the islands were ceded to Britain and became part of its Straits Settlements in 1826. While in Singapore, Raffles established schools and churches. He allowed missionaries and local businesses to flourish. A European town was built to segregate the population, separated by a river. He oversaw the building of roads and a military garrison constructed for the soldiers. He oversaw the development of a thriving commercial port for the British.

Portrait of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles

Closeup of the youthful-looking Stamford Raffles portrait

The original version of this painting was painted by George Francis Joseph (1764-1846) after Raffles returned to England from Java in 1816. This version is a copy by John Adamson.

Founder of London Zoo

Upon his return to England, he made plans to stand for parliament, but this ambition was never realised. Instead, Raffles turned to his other significant interests, botany and zoology. Raffles was a founder in 1825 and first president of the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo.

Meanwhile, he was not granted a government pension, as he expected. Also, Raffles was called on to pay for the losses incurred during his administration in Singapore, which he disputed. Unfortunately, before the issue was resolved, he died of a stroke, a day before his 45th birthday. His death resulted in the value of his final estate being paid to the East India Company to cover his outstanding debt.

Because of his anti-slavery position, he was refused burial inside the local parish church by the vicar, whose family had made its money in Jamaica in the slave trade. When the church was extended in the 1920s, his tomb was incorporated into the expanded building, and a square floor tablet with inscription marks the spot.

The History of Java by T.S. Raffles, (London 1871)

“The Dutch Company, actuated solely by the spirit of gain, and viewing their [Javan] subjects, with less regard or consideration than a West India planter formerly viewed a gang upon his estate, because the latter had paid the purchase money of human property, which the other had not, employed all the existing machinery of despotism to squeeze from the people their utmost mite of contribution, the last dregs of their labor, and thus aggravated the evils of a capricious and semi-barbarous Government, by working it with all the practised ingenuity of politicians, and all the monopolizing selfishness of traders.”

 Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles

  • Title:                 Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles
  • Artist:               John Adamson, after George Francis Joseph
  • Date:                1817
  • Material:          Oil on Canvas
  • Dimensions:    55 in. x 43 in. (1397 mm x 1092 mm)
  • Museum:          National Museum of Singapore

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Reflections

  • The founder of Singapore and London Zoo.

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“A given excuse that was not asked for, implies guilt.”
– Singaporean / Malay Proverb

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Photo Credit: GM

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