Thomas Stamford Raffles

ebook Schemer or Reformer?

By Syed Hussein Alatas

cover image of Thomas Stamford Raffles

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The name of Thomas Stamford Raffles continues to be a mark of prestige in Singapore more than 200 years after he first established a British factory on the island. Not one but two statues of Raffles stand prominently in Singapore's civic and heritage district. Streets and squares are named after him, and important local businesses use his name. Does Raffles deserve this recognition? Should we continue to celebrate him, or like the image of Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, must Raffles fall?

This question was considered at length in Syed Hussein Alatas' slim but devastating volume Thomas Stamford Raffles: Schemer or Reformer? (1971). While it failed to spark a wide debate on Raffles' legacy in 1970s Singapore, Alatas' critical stance was noticed by Edward Said, who later cited Alatas' The Myth of the Lazy Native as an example of works that "set themselves the revisionist, critical task of dealing frontally with the metropolitan culture, using the techniques, discourses, and weapons of scholarship and criticism once reserved exclusively for the European".

Nearly 50 years after its original publication, this extended essay on Raffles reads as fresh and relevant. A new introduction by Syed Farid Alatas assesses contemporary Singapore's take on Raffles, and how far we have, or have not, come in thinking through Singapore's colonial legacy.

Thomas Stamford Raffles