History of Singapore

Singapore’s history dates from 11th century. Based on the Chinese historical account the island is known as “Pu-Long-Chung”, an island at the end of the peninsula. During the 13th century the country was become a part of the Srivijayan Empire and was known as Temasak (the sea town) was known as an early settlement inhabited by Malay and Chinese.

The legend of Sang Nila Utama, explained how Singapore acquire its present name. According to the legend, the prince of Sumatra is looking for a suitable place for a new city and visited the islands coast of Sumatra. During his hunting on Temasek he saw a strange animal fine looking animal that moved with great speed. Thought that what he saw was a lion, and believed it to be good omen, thus decided to build a new city in Temasek and named it “Singapura”, city of lion.

Beginning of modern Singapore

During 16th to 19th centuries, the Malay Archipelago was gradually taken over by European colonial powers. The dominance of Portuguese was challenged by the Dutch during 17th century whom later on came to control most of the port in the region and established monopoly over the trade within the archipelago.

Sir Stamford Raffles, the Lieutenant- Governor of Bencoolen in Sumatra strongly opposed the monopoly of trade by the Dutch and so realized the necessity to break the Dutch monopoly of trade.

Determined to break the monopoly of the Dutch over the trade, he wrote several complaints to the East India Company against the Dutch and forwarded ideas about forming a new British Settlement. After several try the Governor-General of British India, agreed to let him visit Calcutta and present his ideas in person. Raffles sailed towards east and on 29 January 1819 he landed in Singapore, with its geographical position and excellent harbour and abundant supply of food and drinking water he decided to set up the new port that the British desperately needed.

Though the Malay chief or Temenggong, was willing to give Raffles permission to start a settlement the island is nominally ruled by the Sultan of Johor, Tengku Rahman, who was under by the Dutch control. The weakened factional division of the Sultanate and the loyalty of Malay chiefs to the older brother of Sultan Tengku Rahman led to a formal treaty concluded by Raffles on the 6 February 1819 with Sultan Hussein of Johor and the Temanggong, as the de jure and de facto rulers of Singapore respectively. The treaty allows the British to establish a trading post in southern Singapore and that the Sultanate and the Temenggong would be paid yearly.

After singing the treaty Raffles returned to Bencoolen and left his assistant Major William Farquhar in charge of the new settlement. As a prized settlement, Singapore as a free port attracted traders as well as immigrants mostly from Malay Archipelago, Southeast Asia, India and China. By the year 1825 Singapore surpassed the trade volume of the long established port of Penang.

In 1822, three years after the establishment of the trading post Raffles returned to Singapore. To ensure that the Singapore will be functional and orderly city, he developed a plan for the improvement the town.

Raffles divided the British town into sections – government and public use, business and residential. The north bank of the Singapore River was reserved for government and public use. The south bank was turned into business area. The area of the hill on the south bank of Singapore River was developed into a Commercial Square in wherein both Asian and European merchants could trade and live. Under his plan ethical subdivision was also organized and a network of roads was built.

On 7 June 1823, the second treaty singed by Raffles with the Sultanate and the Temenggong, the agreement brought the island under the British law with the provision that it would take account Malay customs, tradition and religion. The new Resident John Crawfurd, who replaced Farquhar carried out the plan of laid by Raffles.

Strait Settlement

The Dutch government protested the establishment of the new settlement by the British based on the argument that Sultan Abdul Rahman was the rightful Sultan of Johor-Riau Sutltanate and not Tenaka Hussein whom Raffles signed the treaty with.

This dispute was solved when the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 was signed between the British and the Dutch. Among the terms of the treaty, was the division of Malay Archipelago into two colonial powers- Malacca, Penang and Singapore falling under British sphere of influence which will be under British control and the Dutch sphere of influence.

Having solved the problem with the Dutch, the East India Company (EIC) concluded another treaty with the Sultan Hussein and the Temanggong. Based on the treaty the entire island of Singapore was handed over to the EIC in return for more cash payments and pensions.

Singapore become the centre of government for the three areas and grew to become an important port in the region. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 boost trade in Singapore and became a major port of call for ships plying between Europe and East Asia. At the end of 19th century, Singapore was experiencing exceptional prosperity and trade expanded eightfold between 1873 and 1913. The affluence attracted immigrants from areas around the region. Chinese became the largest ethnic group in Singapore, followed by Malays who worked as fishermen, craftsmen or as wage earners. By 1860, the Indians became the second largest ethnic group in Singapore consisting of unskilled labourers, traders and convicts who were sent to carry out public work projects.

Despite the prosperity of the country, the administration governing the island was understaffed, incompetent and was unconcerned with the welfare of the public.

Singapore’s peace and prosperity ended in the early morning of 15 February 1942 when the Japanese bombs rained down on the island.

Japanese Occupation

The occupation of Japanese in Singapore was like a long nightmare that lasted for three years and half. During the occupation the Japanese gave Singapore a new name “Syonan-to” which means the light of the South. However the light did not shine brightly to the people of Singapore. People suffered and lived in constant fear of Japanese.

The Japanese imprisoned all the Europeans found in Singapore. The prisoners-of-war (POW) were kept in various camps of Changi Prison, Selarang Barracks, Siam Road Camp and others. Some were sent to Thailand for the railroad construction. Force to work with simple tools and long work hours with less food to eat. The railways was completed within 16 months despite the estimated 5 years of railroad construction, it cost the lives of thousands of people. Thus, the railways became known as the Death Railway.

The other prisoners who were in the prison camps were made to clean up the city, bury the dead bodies and restore water and electricity supplies. The food shortage and poor health conditions in the prisons led to the death of many POWs.

The law and order in the country was critical during the occupation. Looters caught were shot to death and had their heads displayed at Dhoby Ghaut, Anderson Bridge and Kallang Bridge.

Cloud of suspicion also arise dues to the spies of Kempeitai or Japanese Military Police that encourage people to give information in return of reward and privileges. Harsh measures were given to those arrested and suspected as anti Japanese. Mass executions claimed about 50,000 in Singapore. The populace suffered severe hardship throughout the three and half years of Japanese Occupation.

In August 1945, the World War II ended. The British forces led by Lord Louis Moutbatten returned to Singapore to receive formal surrender of Japanese forces in the region from General Itagaki Seihiro and to govern Singapore under the British Military Administration. In March 1946 the period of military administration ended, the Straits Settlement was also dissolved. Singapore became a Crown Colony on 1 April 1946 while Malacca and Penang became part of the Malayan Union in 1946 and later the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Singapore as a crown colony with civil administration was headed by a Governor. The clamor of the people to have a say in the government led to the establishment of separate Executive and Legislative Councils. The Governor continued to hold a firm control over the colony but there was a provision for the election of six members to the Legislative Council by popular vote. On 20 March 1948 the first Singapore election was held.

Three months after the election the communist party of Malaya tried to take over Malaya and Singapore by force. A state of emergency was declared on June 1948 and lasted for 12 years.

Towards the end of 1953, the British Government appointed a commission under Sir George Rendel to review the country’s constitutional position and to make recommendation for change. In 1954 based on Rendel’s proposals the British decided to give Singapore limited self-government. This meant that certain less important areas of government would be controlled by local representatives while the British Ministers would control more important areas in the country such as defense, finances and foreign affairs.

The 1955 Legislative election was an exciting event on the history of the Singapore with several political parties joining the fray.  Automatic registration expanded the voters registry to 75,000 to over 300, 000 which included large numbers of Chinese. Lobour Front party won most seat and David Marshall, became Singapore’s first Chief Minister on 6 April 1955.

As a Chief Minister, David Marshall was still under the control of the Governor. With limited self-government Marshall felt insufficient and by 1956, he led a group of men to London to ask the British government for full self-government. Marshall stepped down as a Chief Minister after breakdown of constitutional talks in London.

Lim Yew Hock the second important leader of Labour Front replaced Marshall as Chief Minister. He launched a crackdown on communist and leftist groups, imprisoning many trade union leaders and several pro-communist members of the PAP under the Internal Security Act. In 1957, Lim Yew Hock led another group to London and asked for full self-government. This time the constitutional talk was successful. Constitutional Agreement was signed in London on 28 May 1958.

It was in 1959 when the self-governance was attained. The first Singapore general election was held to choose 51 representatives to the first fully elected Legislative Assembly. The People’s Action Party (PAP) swept the election, winning forty three of the fifty-one seats. On 3 June 1959, a huge crowd gathered at the Padang in front of the City Hall, the confirmation of Singapore as a self governing state was proclaimed by the Governor, Sir William Goode, who became the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State). Lee Kuan Yew was declared as Singapore’s first Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that the PAP’s victory was viewed with dismay by foreign and local business leaders the PAP government went on to fight for independence and tackle the pressing problems of unemployment, housing and education.

The government felt that the best solution to the country’s growing unemployment problem would be to merge with the Malaya. On 27 May 1961, the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, proposed closer political and economic co-operation between the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei in form of merger.  The main terms of the merger agreed upon by the two leaders were to have central-government responsibility for defense, foreign affairs and internal security but local autonomy in education and labor.  In 1 September 1962, a referendum on the terms of merger was held.

On 16 September 1963, Malaysia was formed, consisting of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo. Brunei opted out while Indonesia and Philippines opposed the merger.  The Malaysia did not start well. Racial tension within the Merger occurs as well as the conflict on the economic front.  On 9 August 1965, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced the separation of Singapore from the rest of Malaysia.

Republic of Singapore

On 9 August 1965, Singapore became an independent nation. Freed from British rule and Independent Malaysia, people were from then on known as Singaporeans. The country became a Republic with a President as Head of Republic. Yusoff Ishak was proclaimed as the first President. The Legislative Assembly was renamed as Parliaments while the assembly members became members of the Parliament. The most important man in the government was the Prime Minister who leads the Cabinet.

A massive industrialization program was launched with the extension of Jurong Industrial Estate and creation of smaller estates in Kallang Park, Tanjong Rhu, Redhill, Tiong Bahru and Tanglin Halt.  In 1968 the Employment Act and the Industrial Relations Act were passed to promote industrial peace and discipline among workforce.

The treat of being attacked by Indonesian Military and be re-absorbed forcibly into the Malaysia Federation in unfavourable terms caused Singapore to sought international recognition of its sovereignty. In 1965, Singapore joined the United Nation and Commonwealth. Foreign Minister Sinnathamby Rajaratnam led a new foreign service that helped assert Singapore’s independence and established diplomatic relations with other countries. On 8 August 1967, Singapore co-founded the Association of Southeast Asian Nation and was admitted into the Non-Aligned Movement in 1970.

In 1968 the Economic Development Board was recognized and implemented national economic strategies. Jurong Town Corporation and the Development Bank of Singapore were set up.

The Government started a program of economic restructuring after the 1979 oil crises. Modifying education policies and adopting English language as a language of instruction, expanding technology and computer education to develop a competent workforce suited for the industry.

Since lack of good public housing and high unemployment are main causes of social problems. The government gave top priority to public housing. Housing and Development Board apartments were sold at low cost to provide housing to the squatters.

In 1971 the British troops withdraw their force in Singapore and allowed Singapore to set up its own defense troops, the Singapore Armed Forces.

In 1970 Singapore is already a politically stable state with high economic growth rate. The economic success of the state continued through the 1980s with low unemployment rate and a real GDP growth averaging at 8% per annum. The one party Parliament that emerges from 1968 general election became a pattern. PAP had a 15 year monopoly in the parliament winning all seats in elections.

A new chapter opened in Singapore’s modern history in 28 November 1990, Lee Kuan Yew passed the leadership rein to successor Goh Chok Tong, the second Prime Minister of Singapore. Goh presented an advisory style of leadership as the country continuous modernization.

In 2000’s Singapore went to some post independence crisis – the treat of terrorism, in which a plot to bomb embassies and other infrastructures of the state were uncovered and a number of Jemaah Islamiya group were arrested, and SARs outbreak in 2003.

Lee Hsien Long, the eldest son of Lee Juan Yew became the third Prime Minister of Singapore in 2004.  He initiated several changes in the policy including the reduction of national service duration from two and half years to two years as well as the legalization of casino. In 2006 general election the PAP returned to power winning 82 seats out of 84 parliamentary seats.