Raffles, Sir Thomas Stamford 1781–1826

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Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles

A British colonial administrator and the founder of Singapore, Raffles was the son of a sea captain, born off the coast of Jamaica. He began work for the East India Company (a quasi-governmental trading company that shaped much of England's overseas empire) at age 14, and was transferred to Penang on the Malay Peninsula in 1805. With the Netherlands embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars between 1811 and 1816, Britain took control of Java under Raffles's governorship, during which time he introduced a new system of land tenure, stopped the slave trade, and removed fetters on trade. After a year in England, Raffles returned to the island of Sumatra as lieutenant governor in 1818 and, fearing Dutch influence in the region, persuaded the East India Company in 1819 to establish a free-trade station at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. That station became modern Singapore. When Raffles left the East Indies for good in 1824, he had established a strategic anchor for the British on the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea that today is one of the largest trade ports in the world. Raffles also authored a history of Java and was the founder of the Zoological Society of London. He was knighted in 1817.

SEE ALSO Bonaparte, Napoleon; East India Company, British; East India Company, Dutch; Empire, British; Empire, Dutch; EntrepÔt System; Free Ports;Indian Ocean;Laborers, Coerced; Indonesia;Singapore;Spices and the Spice Trade.


Bayly, Christopher. Atlas of the British Empire. New York: Facts on File, 1989.

Lapping, Brian. The End of Empire. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Peter E. Austin