The British, who were extending their dominion in India, and whose trade with China in the second half of the 18th century was expanding, saw the need for a port of call in this region to refit, revitalise and protect their merchant fleet, as well as to forestall any advance by the Dutch in the East Indies. As a result, they established trading posts in Penang (1786) and Singapore (1819) and captured Malacca from the Dutch (1795).
In late l818, Lord Hastings, Governor-General of India, gave tacit approval to Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, to establish a trading station at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. On 29 January 1819, Raffles landed on the island of Singapore after having surveyed other nearby islands. The next day, he concluded a preliminary treaty with Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman to set up a trading post here. On 6 February 1819, a formal treaty was concluded with Sultan Hussein of Johor and the Temenggong, the de jure and de facto rulers of Singapore respectively.
Singapore proved to be a prized settlement. By 1820, it was earning revenue, and three years later, its trade surpassed that of Penang. In 1824, Singapore’s status as a British possession was formalised by two new treaties. The first was the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of March 1824, by which the Dutch withdrew all objections to the British occupation of Singapore. The second treaty was made with Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman in August, by which the two owners ceded the island outright to the British in return for increased cash payments and pensions.
The Straits Settlements
Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, the two British settlements in the Malay Peninsula, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, under the control of British India. By 1832, Singapore had become the centre of government for the three areas. On 1 April 1867, the Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London.
With the advent of the steamship in the mid-1860s and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore became a major port of call for ships plying between Europe and East Asia. And with the development of rubber planting, especially after the 1870s, it also became the main sorting and export centre in the world for rubber. Before the close of the 19th century, Singapore was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and trade expanded eightfold between 1873 and 1913. The prosperity attracted immigrants from areas around the region. By 1860, the population had grown to 80,792. The Chinese accounted for 61.9 per cent of the number; the Malays and Indians 13.5 and 16.05 per cent respectively; and others, including the Europeans, 8.5 per cent.
The peace and prosperity ended when Japanese aircraft bombed the sleeping city in the early hours of 8 December 1941. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 and was renamed Syonan (Light of the South). It remained under Japanese occupation for three and a half years.
The decades after the war saw a political awakening amongst the local populace and the rise of nationalist and anti-colonial sentiments. Singapore was moving slowly towards self-government by the 1950s.
In 1959, the People’s Action Party was elected with Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister (a position he would continue to hold for the next 31 years). A union was formed with Malaya (now Malaysia) in 1963, which proved short-lived. Almost unwillingly, Singapore became a sovereign, democratic and independent nation on the 9th of August 1965 – a date that has since been celebrated as National Day.
Independent Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on 21 September 1965, and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations on 15 October 1965. On 22 December 1965, it became a republic, with Yusof bin Ishak as the republic’s first President. Shrewd and pragmatic, then-PM Lee Kuan Yew formed a government around strict social order and a heavy emphasis on a Confucian belief system.
With the British Government’s decision in 1967 to withdraw its armed forces from Singapore by the end of 1971, Singapore set out to build up its own defence forces. The Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute was established in 1966 and compulsory National Service for men was introduced in 1967. A Singapore Air Defense Command and a Singapore Maritime Command were set up in 1969. In August 1967, Singapore joined Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand to form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Early obstacles that Singapore faced included having to survive and prosper despite having almost no natural resources and the creation of national identity despite a diaspora of immigrants. Despite this, Singapore took advantage of its strategic location and the favourable world economy to become a model of economic success in the region.
Public housing was given top priority during these years. New towns sprang up and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartments were sold at a low cost. To encourage homeownership, Singaporeans were allowed to use their Central Provident Fund savings to pay for these apartments.
In 1990, Lee Kuan Yew was replaced as Prime Minister by Goh Chok Tong, which signalled a governmental shift towards consultation and liberalization.
After enjoying an extended period of rapid economic growth and prosperity, the Southeast Asian economic downturn of the late-1990s hit Singapore extremely hard. In one 3-month period, unemployment in the country doubled. The real estate industry, too, as with other industries was severely affected.
The starting of the new millennium has seen the city-state taking rapid strides in every respect to become one of the leading countries in the world. Constant problems regarding living places have been solved by the coming up of the Housing Development Board estates and condominiums. With low crime rates and huge scope for education and employment, this little “Red Dot” has increasingly become one of the world’s most important financial centres. It has also established itself as a health and medical hub and education centre in this part of the world.