First British Resident of Singapore William Farquhar

First British Resident of Singapore William Farquhar

Much has been attributed to Stamford Raffles with regards to the founding of Modern Singapore. From school history text to institutions, landmarks and streets named after him, Raffles is a name synonymous to the establishment of Modern Singapore. Little is known of another figurehead from the East India Company (EIC) who was integral to Singapore’s early success as a British trading post. William Farquhar was installed as the first British Resident and Commandant from 1819 to 1823 and administered matters in the absence of Raffles. Even a little street named after him in the Beach Road area was expunged in 1994.

From left to right, the street directory of 1966, 1988, 1991 and 1993 showing Farquhar Street. The street was expunged in 1994 because of street alignment and site development work.

From left to right, the street directory maps of 1966, 1988, 1991 and 1993 showing Farquhar Street. The street was expunged in 1994 because of street alignment and site development work. (Click on image to enlarge.)

A view of the Bugis area in 1976. The distinctive 7th Storey Hotel situated near Farquhar Street was demolished in 2009 to make way for the construction of the Downtown Line. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

A view of the Bugis area in 1976. The distinctive 7th Storey Hotel situated near Farquhar Street was demolished in 2009 to make way for the construction of the Downtown Line. Image Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Just beyond these shophouses in the Kampong Glam area was the expunged Farquhar Street.

The expunged Farquhar Street was situated beyond these shophouses in the historic Kampong Glam area.

Farquhar was central to the negotiation that led to the signing of the Singapore Treaty. A provisional agreement was reached with the local chieftain, Temenggong Abdul Rahman of Johore on 30 January 1819 and the official Singapore Treaty was signed with Tengku Hussein on 6 February 1819. With his fluency in the Malay language and valuable knowledge of the peninsula as the previous Resident and Commandant of Malacca, Farquhar was appointed the first Resident of Singapore on 6 February 1819.

Raffles left Singapore under the care of Farquhar with specific instructions. The latter was to encourage trade in Singapore and transform the island into the port of choice for traders by imposing zero tariffs. He was to build up the town area according to a town plan that demarcated zones to ethnic lines. Raffles also wanted defence fortifications to be set up. Lastly, and most challenging of all, Farquhar was to keep expenses low.

A selection of William Farquhar-commissioned 19th century drawings of flora and fauna is on display at the National Gallery of Singapore’s inaugural exhibition titled Siapa Nama Kamu.

A selection of William Farquhar-commissioned 19th century drawings of flora and fauna is on display at the National Gallery Singapore’s inaugural exhibition titled Siapa Nama Kamu.

A painting of an adult Asian tapir. This extensive collection of 477 paintings commissioned by William Farquhar between 1819 and 1823 is one of a kind in the environmental history of the Malay peninsula in the early 19th century. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

A painting of an adult Asian tapir. This extensive collection of 477 paintings commissioned by William Farquhar between 1819 and 1823 is one of a kind in the environmental history of the Malay peninsula in the early 19th century. Image Source: National Museum of Singapore.

Farquhar sought measures to raise revenues. He introduced a tax-farming system that allowed businessmen to buy monopoly rights to sell opium and operate gambling dens. He also allowed merchants to build their godowns and warehouses along the Singapore River, as it was more suitable for cargo transport and unloading. Raffles had intended the area for exclusive government use.

Farquhar’s pragmatism allowed the administration to maintain its free port status. This led to the spectacular growth and development of the settlement in terms of size and trade. Traders worldwide were drawn to Singapore for its free trade status and optimal location.

While Raffles was pleased with Singapore’s progress during his return in October 1822, he was unhappy with the disobedience of his town plan and what he had perceived as the promotion of social ills like gambling and opium smoking. Raffles’ brother-in-law William Flint also had an apparent feud with Farquhar. Raffles then arranged for Flint to replace Farquhar’s son-in-law Francis James Bernard as the Master Attendant.

Raffles removed Farquhar as Resident of Singapore in April 1823 and replaced him with John Crawfurd in June that year. Farquhar was given a grand send-off in December 1823 where most European inhabitants and Asians of every class bid him farewell. Many brought him presents – a sign of his popularity with the island’s residents and locals.

The Chinese community presented this silver epergne to William Farquhar as a parting gift when he left the island in 1823. Farquhar was known to be popular with the Asian communities. This epergne is currently on display in the National Museum of Singapore.

The Chinese community presented this silver epergne to William Farquhar as a parting gift when he left the island in 1823. Farquhar was known to be popular with the Asian communities. This epergne is currently on display in the National Museum of Singapore.

Farquhar’s contributions were not limited to the port city’s administration. During his four years in Singapore, he commissioned Chinese artists to illustrate the local flora and fauna. This project resulted in 477 vivid watercolours of animals, insects and plants found in Malacca and Singapore and would become one of the earliest records of flora and fauna in the peninsula.

This collection of drawings has been rotated and displayed at the Goh Seng Choo Gallery in the National Museum of Singapore since 2011.

This collection of drawings has been rotated and displayed at the Goh Seng Choo Gallery in the National Museum of Singapore since 2011.

Farquhar donated this collection of drawings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London in 1827. In 1993, stockbroker Goh Geok Kim bought over the collection. He generously donated the collection to the National Museum of Singapore in 1995. A selection of this collection has been displayed on rotation in the Goh Seng Choo Gallery of the National Museum of Singapore since 2011.

Farquhar Street, the only road named after Farquhar in Singapore, was expunged in 1994 alongside Bernard Street (named after his son-in-law) because of street alignment and site development work.

Farquhar’s name is not entirely forgotten today. Justin Trudeau, the newly appointed 23rd Prime Minister of Canada, is the maternal great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Farquhar. Farquhar had married Antoinette Clement, the daughter of a French officer and Malaysian woman. The eldest of their six children, Esther, married British officer Francis James Bernard. Esther Bernard is Trudeau’s great-great-great-great-grandmother.

A memorial plaque of Esther Bernard, the eldest daughter of William Farquhar, on the brick walls of Fort Canning Hill. Esther Bernard is Trudeau’s great-great-great-great-grandmother.

A memorial plaque of Esther Bernard, the eldest daughter of William Farquhar, on the brick walls of Fort Canning Hill. Esther Bernard is Trudeau’s great-great-great-great-grandmother.

A memorial plaque of William Clark Farquhar bricked into the walls at Fort Canning Hill. William Clark Farquhar was the great grandson of William Farquhar.

A memorial plaque of William Clark Farquhar bricked into the walls at Fort Canning Hill. William Clark Farquhar was the great grandson of William Farquhar.

Farquhar died in his country of birth Scotland in 1839 and his tomb is engraved with the following: “During 20 years of his valuable life he was appointed to offices of high responsibility under the civil government of India having in addition to his military duties served as Resident in Malacca and afterwards at Singapore which later settlement he founded.”

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