The Singapore Treaty was signed by Thomas Stamford Raffles, Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman

6 February 1819: Raffles, Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman sign the Singapore Treaty, marking the official founding of modern Singapore as a British settlement.

The Singapore Treaty of 1891 gave the British East India Company the right to have a trading post in Singapore. In return, Sultan Hussein would receive 5000 Spanish dollars the Temenggong would receive 3000 per year. To mark the occasion, the Union Jack was hoisted to mark the birth of modern Singapore as a British settlement.

Written in English on the left and Malay on the right, the Singapore Treaty was signed by Thomas Stamford Raffles, Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman in front of Chinese planters, Malays, the Orang Laut, British officials and Malay dignitaries.

The British pledge to help the Sultan in the event of external attacks but agreed to avoid getting involved in internal affairs. The Sultan would in return agree to protect the East India Company against enemies.  The National Library Board (NLB) writes that the Sultan and Temenggong also agreed that they would “not enter into any treaty with any other nation…nor admit or consent to the settlement in any part of their Dominions of any other power European or American”.

Whilst Singapore was recognised as a British colony after the treaty was signed, the Sultan and the Temenggong still retained a great deal of power in the land. NLB writes “[the Sultan] was also allowed to engage in practices such as debt bondage and slavery, which Raffles found morally unacceptable.”

Further agreements in June 1819 and October 1822 between the Sultan, Temenggong and Raffles attempted to reduce the influence of Malay authorities. The Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 1824 gave more power to the British, eventually replacing Singapore Treaty.

Thomas Stamford Raffles

Thomas Stamford Raffles was born on 6 July 1781 in a ship off the coast of Jamaica to a merchant captain father. Working as a clerk for the East India Company at age 14, Raffles was educated in science and languages. At age 25, Raffles was appointed Assistant Secretary to the government of Penang, an island in the Malacca Strait of Malaya.

Raffles was also appointed Lieutenant Governor of Java. However, he was eventually removed from his position in the East India Company after the island of Java was returned to control of the Netherlands following the Napoleonic Wars.

When Raffles returned to England in 1817, he was knighted and created a Knight Bachelor by the Prince Regent. In an effort to reduce the Dutch dominance as a western regional power, Raffles convinced Lords Hastings, Governor General of India that Britain needed a fortified post in the east.

Raffles then headed east to pursue a British post. In late 1818, Raffles secured a British presence Malacca. After his success in Malaysia, Raffles was given permission to set up a settlement in Singapore, which was called Lion City at the time. The city seemed strategically advantageous for trade.

Raffles left the city on the day after the treaty was signed.