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Strait of Malacca.

Malay Archipelago (Maritime Southeast Asia): ° Bangladesh ° India ° Indonesia ° Malacca Strait ° Malaysia ° Maldives ° Myanmar (Burma) ° Pakistan ° Philippines ° Riau Islands ° Singapore ° Sri Lanka ° Thailand ° Timor


As a major world port, Singapore naturally attracted the most dynamic merchants from around the world; among these was the community that gave its name to Armenian Street, which runs down toward the world-famous Raffles Hotel. (The Raffles Hotel was founded and made famous by Armenians.)

Singapore.Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore, South East Asia

The continent stretches from the shores of the Mediterranean to Japan's outlying islands and has given rise to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, to name but a few of the religions that it boasts. From Japanese might and unity under the shogun to the glories of old Baghdad under the caliphate and the splendors of Moghul India and Buddhist Borobudur, Asia has many sources of cultural wealth.

During the 1800s, there was a sizeable foreign community in Singapore. A popular destination was the Botanic Gardens with its manicured gardens and water features and bandstand pavilion. Joseph Balestier was the first United States Consul of Singapore in the early 1800s. He owned a 1,000-acre sugarcane plantation, which produced sugar and rum. This plantation was known as Balestier Plantation, and was located at Balestier Plain. Balestier was forced to sell of his plantation following an industrial downfall and the death of his wife, Maria Revere Balestier. He returned to the United States soon thereafter.

Singapore.Singapore. 1900s. Photography.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was born at sea on board the ship Ann on the 6th of July, 1781 off the coast of Jamaica.

In 1795, the young man accepted his first job in the East India Company as a clerk. But he studied hard in his spare time and in 1804, was posted to Penang (then Prince of Wales Island) and promoted to Assistant Secretary to the Presidency of that Malaysian island. His mastery over the Malay language made him indispensable to the British Government, and he was later appointed Malay translator to the Government of India. In 1811, he returned as the Lieutenant Governor of Java, and was soon promoted to Governor of Bencoolen (now Sumatra). On 19th January, 1819, Raffles founded modern Singapore and first mooted the idea which led to the establishment of the Raffles Museum on the island. (The classic Raffles Hotel was named for him.)

For nearly two hundred years the Netherlands East Indies Company had been the EIC’s arch rival in the region. When Napoleon annexed the Netherlands in 1810, Britain occupied the major Dutch possessions in the Indonesian archipelago in order to prevent them falling into the hands of the French. Melaka, Bencoolen on the west coast of Sumatra and the island of Java were taken over by Britain.

Singapore.Sir. Thomas Raffles and the Raffles Hotel.

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles (July 6, 1781 to July 5, 1826), a British statesman, is credited with "founding" the city of Singapore; he was also involved in. When Raffles reached Singapore in the early 1800s he found a rain forest with orchids and monkeys roaming freely. Stamford Raffles was appointed head of a civil government to run Java and Sumatra. The colony was added to the EIC Indian empire, reporting directly to Calcutta.

Raffles designated land along the banks of the Singapore River as a port-settlement. Singapore soon became an important world port for both sailing and steamships. He hoisted the British flag on the island of Singapore on 29 January 1819. It was the second island in the region occupied by the English East India Company (EIC). Penang had been acquired in 1786. The EIC had a monopoly on the English trade between India and China, had acquired considerable territory in India and was eager to ensure control of the Straits of Melaka, the crucial passage of water through which most of its trading ships to China sailed. Penang gave it the ability to control the northern entrance of the Straits: Singapore gave it the ability to control the southern exit.

A View of Singapore from the Roads 
American, French and British shipping.

The British commercial community were strong supporters of the acquisition of Singapore, seeing it as a boost to trade in Southeast Asia. In 1824 the Anglo Dutch Treaty settled territorial disputes between the two countries, with the Netherlands recognizing Britain’s possession of Melaka and Singapore and Britain handing Bencoolen back to the Netherlands. By the 1830s Singapore had become the major trading port in Southeast Asia. It was challenged by Manila and Batavia (now Jakarta) but had three crucial advantages over the other colonial port cities and over the major indigenous ports.

In the late 1820s, Chinese settlers from Singapore began to look towards Johor for gambier and pepper cultivation at the encouragement of Temenggong Abdul Rahman and his successor, Daing Ibrahim. As more Chinese settlers established gambier and pepper plantations in Johor during the 1840s, Temenggong Ibrahim formed a bureaucracy made up of Malay officials, to oversee administrative affairs upon the Kangchu.

Most of the Chinese leaders were also members of secret societies and communal warfare often broke out in Singapore between different dialect groups as a result of conflicting economic interests. From the late 1850s onwards, the Kangchu began to exert political influence in the state affairs by establishing close ties with Temenggong Abu Bakar.

The crop produce from these plantations were generally exported to other countries from Singapore with the assistance of Chinese merchants based in Singapore.

September 16, 1854, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom, Press


THE following interesting account of the value and progress of Singapore as a commercial settlement is given by our contemporary the Shipping Gazette:

Thirty-five years ago, when Dutch power was dominant in the Eastern Archipelago, and long before free trade was opened with China, or the Australian settlements had risen into their present importance by the discovery of gold and the production of wool, a shrewd and enlightened British governor, Sir Stamford Raffles, with great political foresight and admirable sagacity, took possession of the then unimportant and insignificant island of Singapore. His intelligence pointed out to him that, from its geographical position, it would be a centre of vast importance to commerce, to the extension of trade, and to the interests of civilization. With a safe anchorage at all seasons, easily reached in a few days from China, the ports of the Malayan Peninsula, Indian Continent, and the surrounding islands, and blessed with a good climate, it was all that could be desired for an emporium of British commerce, and a fulcrum from which we might extend our political influence, and for securing the advantages of trade with the Eastern Archipelago and the Chinese empire through the Straits of Malacca.

Singapore. Mark R. Frost.

Two years after its establishment the fixed inhabitants of Singapore numbered 12,000; now they have risen to 70,000. In 1826 the whole population of the united straits' settlements, Penang, Province Wellesley, Singapore, and Malacca, was but 101,500; in less than thirty years they have risen to 251,000 souls. The value of the import and export trade of the straits' settlements in 1828 was four and a quarter millions sterling. In 1853 it had risen, including the intermediate trade, to eight and three quarters millions sterling, Indeed, each succeeding year, from the foundation of Singapore, exhibits a most satisfactory and marked progress. Recently the trade has been augmenting at the rate of 1,000,000£ sterling per annum.

About 783,000 tons of shipping annually enter the ports of the straits' settlements; 1,028 square rigged vessels, of 347,000 tons, arrived at Singapore in the year ending March last; and of these 641, measuring 225,878 tons, sailed under the British flag. Of the remainder, 179 were Dutch, 47 American, 25 Siamese, and of French, Hamburg, Swedish, and native craft there were about twenty each. This was exclusive of twenty-three men-of-war. The native vessels (prahus and junks) arriving numbered 2,310, and their aggregate burden was 75,859 tons. This was an increase of 203 vessels and 5,665 tons over the previous year. They came chiefly from Bali, Borneo, Celebes, Sumatra, Java, and the neighbouring islands from China, Siam, Arracan, Maulmain, and other ports of the continent.

A large increase has taken place in the direct trade with the Australian settlements, from whence ninety-three vessels arrived of 35,000 tons, against thirty-six of 13,258 tons in 1852-53. The commerce with Great Britain and with Java has also greatly increased, twenty-five more vessels from English ports and thirty from Batavia having arrived this year. A very large proportion of the population of these settlements consists of Chinese, who have usually been industrious and orderly At least 45,000 are located in Singapore, and of the 70,000 souls in Malacca there are a great many Chinese. Having no customs duties, the revenue of the straits' settlements, which is chiefly derived from opium and spirit licences, or farms, market dues, (fee., is at present inadequate to the payment of the incidental Government expenses and charges. The gross receipts are about 77,540£, and the expenditure, including charges for military and convicts, 104,750£.

Viewed in its commercial relations, Singapore is of great advantage to this country; it produces annually 5,000 tons of gambier, 6,650 tons of pearl sago and sago flour, and 1,250 tons of black and white pepper. It also receives and ships 29,000 cwt. of gutta percha, 23,000 cwt. of tin, besides antimony ore, sapan-wood, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshell. Penang is the great seat of our spice culture for nutmegs and mace, and Malacca bids fair to succeed in sugar cultivation. But it is in its vast relations as a storehouse for the extensive supply of British manufactured goods to the dense native population of the archipelago, and as a mart of exchange for the various goods brought by native junks from hundreds of little-known and unfrequented ports, that Singapore is so important. As a naval station, also, for the protection of British interests, the suppression of piracy, the advantages of a coaling depot for the Peninsular and Oriental and Netherlands India Steam Companies, it is of great utility. And as commerce and civilisation extend their beneficial influences, a more marked progress will become evident in tbe native races who are thus brought into connection with European customs, arts, and manufactures. British colonisation is making such rapid strides in the East, and British commerce has become so important in the archipelago, that new fields are opening up to enterprise day by day.

Japan is no longer a sealed kingdom, and the Chinese empire will most probably become ere long entirely free to commerce. Steamers will shortly run thence to California; and our own islands on the north-west coast of America, with possibly Sitka and other possessions now belonging to Russia, may then be deemed worthy of attentive consideration.

From the 1860s onwards, many of these Kangchu chalked up debts and began to sell their property rights to these merchants or to larger business magnates (Kongsi in Teochew) based in Singapore, who were known to the locals as Tuan Sungai (literally Masters of the River). The Kangchu were often hired as supervisors or managerial roles by the merchants to keep watch of day-to-day operations of the gambier and pepper plantations. Temenggong Abu Bakar also began to issue contract-style letters of recognition to these Kangchu, which was known by its Malay name Surat Tauliah.

February 26, 1863, London and China Telegraph, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom



The following is the treaty which has been concluded between Colonel Cavenagh and His Highness the Sovereign Ruler of Jahore. We give it, as far as possible, in a condensed form:-- Singapore.Sumatra and Java. 1862.

Whereas by Article 6 of the Treaty between the Honourable the English East India Company on the one side and their Highnesses the Sultan and Tumongong of Johore on the other, concluded on the second day of August, 1824, the said East India Company engaged, in the event of the said Tumongong preferring to reside permanently in any portion of his own states, and to remove for that purpose from Singapore, to pay ot the said Tumongong, his heirs or successors, the sum of fifteen thousand Spanish dollars ($15,000) and by Article 7 of the said treaty, the said Tumongong, in consideration of the said payment did thereby relinquish for himself, his heirs and successors, to the Honourable the English East India Company, their heirs and successors, for ever, all right and title to every description of immovable property of which his Highness might be possessed within the Island of Singapore, or its dependencies, at the time he might think proper to withdraw from the said island, for the purpose of permanently residing in his own states. And whereas it has been agreed that in consideration of his Highness Da'u Tumongong Aboobakar Sri Maharajah, for himself, his heirs, and successors, renouncing all right and claim to the payment of the aforesaid sum of fifteen thousand Spanish dollars ($15,000), and making over to the British Government certain portions of the lands of which he is now in possession at Telloh Blangah, in the Island of Singapore, as shown in the plan hereto annexed, the said British Government shall grant unto his Highness, his heirs, executors, administrators, and assigns, a title in fee simple to the remainder of the lands at Telloh Blagah aforesaid in his possession, and that Articles 6th and 7th of the said treaty shall in consequence be abrogated and annulled. . .

May 6, 1887, Colonies and India, London, United Kingdom

A calamitous accident resulting in the loss of the SS. Benton has to be chronicled this week. The Benton was a Singapore screw steamer, and was run down and sunk on the night of March 29 by another local steamer, the Fair Penang, between the Formosa Bank and Batu Pahat. Of the 200 and odd souls on board only 50 have been saved, amongst whom may be mentioned Mr. Farquharson, chief officer; Mr. Anchant, second engineer; Mr. H. O. Newland, superintendent of police at Malacca; a German sailor, and the rest were Chinese, Malays, Klengs, and Javanese. Amongst the drowned were Captain Miles, the master; Mr. Blair Cooper, chief engineer; Mrs. and Miss Kappa, wife and daughter of the chief clerk, of the Singapore Magistrates' Court; Mrs. J. J. Arozoo, of Bangkok; and the remainder were native passengers. The Fair Penang had her bows damaged, but reached Muar, making no water. Captain Dorff, of the Will-o'-the- Wisp, saved 25 of the 50 passengers rescued, and it is not too much to say that had it not been for him they would most probably have perished from exhaustion. It is gratifying to hear that the owners of the Benton had expressed their great appreciation and warm thanks for the valuable assistance rendered by Captain Dorff and his officers and crew.

August, 24, 1887, Janesville Daily Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin

Winning a Wife in Singapore.

The damsel in Singapore is given a canoe and a double-bladed paddle and allowed a start of some distance. The suitor, similarly equipped, starts off in chase. If he succeeds in overtaking her, she becomes his wife; if not, the match is broken off. It is seldom that objection is offered at the alst moment, and the race is generally a short one. The maiden's arms are strong, but her heart is soft and her nature is warm and she soon becomes a willing captive. If the marriage takes place where a steam is near, near, a round circle of a certain size is formed, the damsel is stripped of all but a waistband and given half the circle's start, and if she succeeds in running three times around before her suitor comes up with her, she is entitled to remain a virgin; if not, she must consent to the bonds of matrimony. As in other cases, but few outstrip their lovers.

October 21, 1890, London and China Telegraph,, London, United Kingdom


Singapore.Images of Penang.The government has relet the Penang opium farm to a new farmer, Oong Ah Thye, who is know to be a nominee of the late farmer, at a reduction of $28,000 per month, so that on the fifteen months which have to run there will be a loss of over $400,000. That sum the Government will, of course, try to recover from the former contractors and their sureties; but we doubt whether anything approaching to the sum lost will be obtained. The Crown has reserved its right to sue the farmer or his partners for the loss, and the rights Of the farmer and --partners to resist this claim and insist on the objection of a flaw in the contract they raised in the late action now withdrawn also remain untouched. The right of the farmer, moreover, to sue the Crown by Petition of Eight or otherwise for the sums daily collected by the Assistant Treasurer is also reserved. In the meanwhile the deposit of $190,100 will be withheld by the Government.

Speaking of the settlement the Free Press observes: We believe that in Singapore matters have been managed more judiciously, and the farmers have been dealt with in a manner firm, yet considerate. Whon unable to meet their monthly rental a promissory note has been taken for the balance, redeemable in three or four months ; and so the difficulty has been tided, over without disarranging the revenue, or disturbing the confidence of the public and the Government in the farm system. On what we believe to be good authority the Singapore Opium Farm is no longer embarrassed, acd it is doing something more than merely making ends meet. It may be thought by many that if the pending farmers had been handled as judiciously as their colleagues at this end of the Straits, the difficulty and actual loss of revenue incurred might most likely have been avoided.

November 1, 1892, London and China Telegraph,, London, United Kingdom

Straits Settlements. Singapore.

The advices by this mail are to Oct. 5. The English mail, with London date Sept. 9, arrived per P. and O. steamer Ravenna on Oct. 3. The Straits Times reports as follows : In connection with the recent accident to the Governor and party in the Kinta River it is said that the sunken; pinnace and the Governor's portmanteau containing H.E.V orders and decorations have been recovered, and that they were brought to Singapore this morning. H.E. has now recovered everything that was lost. The firms of Crane Bros, and A. H. Crane have amalgamated for carrying on business under the stjle of Crane Bros.

...The Free Press has the following news : The first of a series of temperance meetings was held in the Methodist Episcopal Church on Oct. 3, when a lively and enthusiastic welcome was given to Miss Ackermann, a member of the W.C.T.U. The inquest held into the circumstances attending the death of Charles Over, a petty officer on board H.M.S. Mercury, who died as the result of injuries received in an explosion on Sept. 21, ended in a verdict of death from burns. It was elicited during the inquiry that a naked light had been. in use in the spirit room.

The S.C.C. Lawn Tennis Tournament, despite the phenomenal number of entries and the unfinished ties caused by the early failing light in this season of the year, is progressing very favourably. All first and second ties have been played.

Mr. Cheang Hong Lim has been nominated and recognised by the Governor as the "headman" of the Hokien community in Singapore. We do not desire in the slightest to impugn Mr. Cheang Hong Lim's fitness to become the " head of the Hokiens whatever that may mean. Educated Chinamen may understand what it means, but it is obvious the distinction is open to very serious misapprehension among the ignorant . . .

By the 18th century, Armenian communities had established themselves in the East. By the 1830s, Armenian merchants began investing in land.

On Oct. 2 Mr. Catchick Moses, the venerable father of the Armenian community, passed peacefully away at his residence on Oxley Hill, at the age of eighty years. The funeral was very numerously attended by old residents. But a short time ago and we congratulated the venerable father of the Armenian community in Singapore on celebrating his eightieth birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of his firm. Mr. Catchick Moses was born at Bussorah in Persia on August 30, 1812, and went as a boy to Calcutta. He came to Singapore in the vessel Hercules, landing here on August 1, 1828. Soon after his arrival he joined the firm of Messrs. Boustead, Schwabe and Co., as a clerk, and left them to begin business on his own account. For sixty-four years he has been a continuous resident in this place, with the exception of a short visit paid to Calcutta in the Cowasjee Family in 1835...

January 18, 1903, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Busy Little Singapore

Eighty years ago Singapore was a jungle, inhabited by tigers and other wild beasts -- a place where one could scarcely put his foot down without treading on a cobra. Today the Island is one huge commercial house. It does a business something like fifty millions sterling yearly. Its hotels will accommodate hundreds of guests, and fifty great steamship lines connect it with the north, south and west. It has miles of docks, and more than a thousand vessels come in and out of its harbor every month. SingaporeSingapore.

Singapore is chief city of the Straits Settlements, and is so near the Asiatic continent that it is possible to row there in a canoe in half an hour. You can walk across the Island in a day for there are only about 45,000 acres in it; yet it is now one of the most important financial centers of King Edward's empire. It contains about 200,000 people, of whom about 6000 are whites.

In the market places may be seen Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, and Jews hobnobbing over bargains.

There are hundreds of dark-skinned Arabs, and representatives of almost every tribe of Hindustan and Burmah. Parsees from Bombay, Armenians from Turkey, East Indians. Americans and Englishmen all throng together in its streets. Yet life here is as safe as it is in England and a force of only 2000 Britishers governs it. It shows what England can do in the way of opening up the world's trade.

Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea.
Singapore and the Silk Road
of the Sea, 1300-1800
John N. Miksic
 This book synthesizes 25 years of archaeological research to reconstruct the 14th-century port of Singapore in greater detail than is possible for any other early Southeast Asian city.

Singapore. A Biography. Mark R. Frost. Singapore: A Biography
Mark Frost
Winner: 2010 Asia Pacific Publisher Association Gold Medal
Critical moments in the island's past captured through the personal accounts of people who lived through them: violent unrest on the city's streets, corridors of power, the high life of its up-and-coming elites, and the daily struggles of existence. An epic drama that stretches back over seven centuries. Scholarship and imagination: dramatic, complex and engrossing than you might expect.

A History of Singapore
South-East Asian Studies

Ernest C. T. Chew
In 1819 Thomas Stanford Raffles established an outpost of British India on a sparsely populated island at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca. This volume tells how that settlement became a Crown Colony that was for over 100 years one of the most prosperous ports not just of British Malaya but in the entire British Empire.

Singapore A Pictorial HistorySingapore.
Gretchen Liu
Through the eyes of the nation. More than 1,200 well-chosen, historical images vividly bring Singapore's history to life. All ethnic groups are presented in a balanced fashion, as are all kinds of activity political, economic, religious, cultural, and social.

A Sociolinguistic History of Early Identities in Singapore: From Colonialism to NationalismSingapore.
Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew

Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore 1880-1940Singapore.
James Francis Warren
A well written history of the rickshaw in Singapore. For over half a century this means of transportation marked the daily life of the then British colony. Rickshaws were, for many years, the sole ambulances in the colony. Coolies came mostly from China and their immigration contributed to making the social composition of Singapore what it is today. Their proletarian life addresses ethical values, the politics and the economics of Singapore in that period (1880-1940). Gambling, brothels and opium smoking were part of a common lifestyle.

The History of Spice by Jack Turner.Spice The History of a Temptation. Spice: The History of a TemptationSpice: The History of a Temptation.
Jack Turner
Vintage Books, 2004

Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and MalaysiaSingapore.
Nadia H. Wright

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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