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Major-General William Farquhar (b. 26 February 1774, Newhall, Aberdeenshire, Scotland - d. 11 May 1839, Perth, Scotland) was the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore from 1819 to 1823. He was an emissary of Sir Stamford Raffles and part of the negotiating team for the Singapore Treaty that saw the establishment of a British settlement and trading post on the island. Although he and Raffles disagreed over the administration of the settlement and Farquhar was dismissed in 1823, he made many positive contributions and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the British colonial period of Singapore history.
Born in 1774, Farquhar entered the service of the East India Company in 1790, at the age of 20, as a cadet in the Madras Engineers. He arrived in Madras on 19 June 1791, and on 22 June 1791 was promoted and became a low-ranked commissioned officer of the Madras Engineers. On 16 August 1793, he became a Lieutenant in the Madras Engineers.
Activities in Malacca
Farquhar was Chief Engineer in the expeditionary force that captured Malacca from the Dutch on 18 August 1795. On 1 January 1803, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. From 1803, he acted as Resident in Malacca, and was made a Major in Corps on 26 September 1811. He was officially appointed Resident and Commandant of Malacca in charge of both civil and military offices in December 1813, a position he held for several years until the return of the Dutch in September 1818. During his tenure, he assisted in missions in the region, including the British invasion of Java led by Governor-General Lord Minto and Sir Stamford Raffles in August 1811.
Farquhar married a Malaccan woman of French-Malay descent, Nonio (believed to be a corruption of “Nonya”) Clement or Clemaine, and had six children with her. He spoke Malay, and was popularly referred to as the “Rajah of Malacca”. He had a strong interest in natural history, and while in Malacca kept a private collection of animals such as a leopard, porcupine, cassowary and a variety of monkeys.
During his term, Farquhar also commissioned 477 natural history illustrations that were believed to have been completed by Chinese artists in Malacca. In 1827, he donated the collection of drawings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London, where it resided until Singapore stock-broker Goh Geok Khim bought the collection and donated it to the National Museum of Singapore in 1996. A book about the Farquhar Collection was published in 1999.
Resident of Singapore
With his long experience on the Malayan Peninsula and an intimate knowledge of Riau-Lingga politics, Farquhar was given the task of helping Raffles found a settlement on the island of Singapore. He helped negotiate the provisional agreement of 30 January 1819 with the local chieftain, Temenggong Abdul Rahman of Johore, and the more formal Singapore Treaty of 6 February 1824, which Raffles signed with the Temenggong and Sultan Hussein Mahomed Shah, confirming the right of the British to set up a trading post. The following day, Raffles appointed Farquhar as Singapore's first Resident.
Word of the new trading post soon spread and Singapore became a thriving cosmopolitan town. Farquhar set about clearing the plain on the north-east bank of the Singapore River. He managed to attract traders, settlers and supplies to Singapore, and administered the settlement on a shoestring budget. To raise revenue for the settlement, he took pragmatic measures such as allowing gambling dens and auctioning monopoly rights to sell opium and spirits.
During Farquhar’s tenure, communications with Raffles in Bencoolen and the East India Company in Calcutta were so poor that for more than three years, Farquhar in effect led the development of Singapore independently. While Raffles is often credited with the founding of Singapore, some historians note that he was present on the island on only three occasions over five years, from January to February 1819, May to June 1819, and October 1822 to June 1823, altogether for a total of less than 10 months. By comparison, as Resident, Farquhar played a significant role in the daily administration of the settlement in its critical early years.
On 9 May 1821, Farquhar was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, seemingly a sign that he was performing well. However, despite his many positive achievements in the formative period of Singapore's development, he had adopted administrative measures that conflicted with Raffles' instructions concerning land management in the settlement, notably in allowing the building of houses and godowns on the Padang and on the banks of the Singapore River. His justification was that in the rapidly expanding settlement, land was in great demand. The conflicts arose during Raffles' final stay in Singapore from 1822 to 1823, and led to Farquhar’s dismissal on 1 May 1823. Farquhar was succeeded as Resident by Dr John Crawfurd.
At a farewell dinner with the principal merchants and British inhabitants of the settlement on 27 December 1823, Farquhar was presented with a plate valued at 3,000 sicca rupees as a farewell gift. Shortly after, he departed from Singapore for Malacca, Penang and Calcutta en route to England. In his Hikayat Abdullah, Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir attested to Farquhar's popularity with the Asian and European communities with his account of Farquhar's departure from Singapore at the end of December 1823. The event was confirmed by a report in a Calcutta newspaper that described how, on the day of his departure, Farquhar was accompanied to the beach by most of the European inhabitants of the settlement as well as by a large following of Asians. As a compliment to him, the troops formed a guard-of-honour from his house to the departure point, and he embarked with the customary salute to his rank. Many Asian boats accompanied him to his ship, the Alexander, and as they sailed, some of the Siamese vessels fired salutes to him. He received similar welcomes and tributes in Malacca and in Penang.
After his departure, the Chinese community of the settlement gifted Farquhar with an ornate silver epergne (a type of table centrepiece with candlestick holders) bearing crests, a Latin inscription, and the hallmark “1825”. In 1993, the National Museum of Singapore acquired the epergne from a descendent of Farquhar, Captain David John Farquhar Atkins, for S$52,000.
After his arrival in London in 1824, Farquhar wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company to request the reinstatement of his command of Singapore, in the process asserting that it was he who had suggested the establishment of a settlement on the island and challenging the view of Raffles as the founder of the settlement. His request was rejected and his assertion refuted by Raffles in 1825.
He eventually settled at Early Bank Villa in Perth, Scotland in late 1826. He married his second wife, Margaret Loban, on 7 April 1828 and went on to have six children with her. In 1837, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General. He died on 11 May 1839 at the age of 66. The inscription on his memorial at Greyfriars Burial Ground in Perth, Scotland states that he “served as Resident in Malacca and afterwards at Singapore which later settlement he founded”.
Farquhar Street, the only road in Singapore named after him, was expunged in 1994 due to street alignment and site development work and no longer exists. It was originally located in the Kampong Glam area between Beach Road and North Bridge Road.
Vernon Cornelius-Takahama and Joanna HS Tan
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The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.
Farquhar, William, 1774-1839
Singapore History 1819-1867
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