On January 29, 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company landed on the banks of the Singapore River. Negotiating with island leaders, he secured British rights to use Singapore as a trading post. The town sat at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca, an important shipping route between India and China. The East India Company already controlled Penang at the northern end; possession of Singapore secured the company's dominance of the Straits.
In 1826, the British East Company grouped Singapore with Malacca and Penang to form the Straits Settlements. By 1830, Singapore's strategic location had transformed the backwater settlement into a major port. Britain further encouraged commercial activity by making Singapore a free port, devoid of tariffs and other charges on commerce. As U.S. trade with China grew throughout the first part of the nineteenth century, American merchant ships frequently called at the port of Singapore. In July 1836, the United States installed a Consulate in Singapore and named Joseph Balestier as the first U.S. Consul.
Between 1821 and 1860, Singapore's population exploded from around 5,800 to more than 81,000. By the start of the 1860s, the Chinese composed the largest ethnic group, followed by the Indians and Malays. Lawlessness and immorality were rampant in nineteenth century Singapore. The British, however, maintained a very small police force (only 12 officers in 1850!) and seemed more concerned with preserving the bottom line rather than law and order.
I stated my tour of Singapore in the Colonial District, which is located north of the Singapore River. The area contains many landmarks from the period of British control during the mid-nineteenth century. The government of Singapore has done a solid job of placing historical markers, which provided much of the content for the captions below.
Fort Canning Park
After touring the colonial era sites near the river, I headed to Fort Canning Park. This Singaporean national treasure is situated on a rise that the British once called Government Hill. Raffles built a bungalow here that served as a home to several governors. My stroll along the shady "19th-Century Walk" was a welcome break from the tropical heat and humidity.
Between 1859 and 1861 the British constructed a fort on Government Hill. The fort was designed with two purposes in mind-- protection of Singapore against a foreign sea-borne invasion and shelter for the local European population in the event of a local uprising. The British named the fort after Lord Charles John Canning, the Governor-General of India during the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The rise subsequently became known as "Fort Canning Hill." When completed, the fort had barracks for Indian and British soldiers, officers' quarters, two magazines, and a hospital. According to a historical marker on the site, by 1867 Fort Canning was armed with seven 68-pounder guns, eight 8-inch guns, two 13-inch mortars, and a few 14-pounder carronades.
|Fort Canning's gate is located up the footpath from the remnants of the old wall.|
|Another view of the fort's gate.|
Maurice Collins, Raffles: The Definitive Biography (2009 ed.); Peter Church, A Short History of South-East Asia (2009); Mark Lewis, The Rough Guide to Singapore (2013); Iain Manley, Tales of Old Singapore (2013); St. Andrew's Cathedral, Diocese of Singapore, "Our Beginning"; U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, "A Guide to the United States' History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Singapore".