What is colonialism?

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Colonialism is the practice by which a country establishes direct political and economic control over a place or the people (usually through military actions)

Colony is a place controlled by people from another country.

Positive effects:

  • Development of colonized country  industrialization, more jobs  economic growth

  • Civilisation  raise the standard of living

Negative effects:

Oppression of people, Exploitation of resources of the country, cultural tension, bringing in of diseases which locals have no immunity to, loss of culture



  • Long period of comparative peace in Europe  manpower and money available for colonization

  • Opening of Suez canal in 1869  journey to the East safer and faster

  1. National pride and glory  competition among the European countries to gain supremacy over each other due to the belief that more territories gained through colonialism would mean that they were more powerful. Wanted to prevent newly unified Germany from being powerful through acquiring new colonies

  2. Political stability to SEA countries  enhance trade and industrial activity

  • Example: In Perak, Malaya, conflicts with Chinese Secret Societies and succession disputes hampered the progress of their tin mines.

  1. Industrial Revolution  a shift from home to factory production  need for raw materials which are found in abundance in SEA, markets to sell their goods

  2. Spice Trade and Straits produce

  3. China trade  silk, tea and porcelain, large market

  • Ports in Southeast Asia would serve as a place for ships to dock before continuing to China

  • Able to have a hand in protecting ships

  1. Competition in Europe in acquiring colonies sped up the colonization process  wanted monopoly of trade routes


  1. Idealism  belief in the superiority of one’s own culture and that locals can’t rule effectively
    (colonization is required for the progress of the country)

  2. Spread religion and ‘superior’ culture  improve welfare

Example: Religious zeal especially in the Philippines during the time of the Spain

Colonial Masters in SEA in the 19th century:

  1. Britain – Singapore, Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, Myanmar, Brunei

  2. Netherlands (Dutch) – Sumatra, Java, Moluccas islands, Kalimantan, West Iran (Indonesia)

  3. France – Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam (Indochina)

  4. Spain – Philippines (until 1898)

  5. America – Philippines (from 1898)

  6. Portugal – East Timor


Reasons for a third port:

  1. To break the Dutch Monopoly

  • Britain and Holland were rivals in SEA, however, in Europe they were allies who worked against France.

  • In SEA, Dutch held key ports in Malacca and Batavia which had trade links with China and India

  • Britain had ports in Penang (1786) and Bencoolen

  • In 1795, France occupied Holland and Holland passed its territories in SEA, Malacca, to Britain [the signing of the Kew Letters]  no motivation to find new port

  • Britain also occupied Java to prevent French occupation in 1811

  • 1815 marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars and Holland’s liberation

  • In 1816 and 1818, Britain returned Java and Malacca respectively to the Dutch

  • Dutch returned to SEA and had a monopoly of trade.

  • Dutch only allowed foreign ships at Batavia and taxed British traders heavily [port AND trade]

  • Britain needed to find a new trading settlement of a good geographical location to rival the Dutch and break the Dutch monopoly of trade in the Archipelago, to secure their economic rights.

  1. Unsuitability of Penang and Bencoolen

  • Penang is too far north as an important port of call for ships to trade in the Malay Archipelago

  • Bencoolen is facing the Indian Ocean instead of the Straits of Malacca which was the main trade route

  • Needed a third port with good geographical location to secure trade in the region

Reasons for the founding of Singapore:

  1. Strategic Location

Singapore was located along the trade route between India and China. It was in the centre of the Malay Archipelago and could serve as a collecting and distributing centre for SEA goods. Singapore was also a convenient stopover for British trading vessels. Singapore could then be used as a trading port to serve British trade in China and the Malay Archipelago.

  1. Lack of obvious Dutch presence

Dutch friendship was required to maintain peace in Europe as well as Britain’s security in Europe. Due to Holland’s close proximity to England, Britain needed her friendship to use Holland as a strong buffer state. A lack of Dutch presence in Singapore would mean that they would not antagonize the Dutch. Other suitable locations were already occupied by the Dutch.

  1. Natural Conditions of Singapore

Deep harbour  ships could berth all the way in  save time and manpower
Fresh supply of water  sufficient amount of water for ships to re-stock their supply
Good geographical position  sheltered from harsh weather by Indonesian islands


  • Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar set off on the Indiana in search of a suitable port of call.

  • Considered Karimun, Lingga, and Riau but they were already occupied by the Dutch (needed Dutch friendship in Europe for Dutch to be a strong buffer state)

  • Temenggong running the island was agreeable with setting up a trading port but the final decision lies with the Johor-Riau Sultanate, Sultan Abdul Rahman who was under Dutch control

  • Raffles also learned about the succession dispute between Sultan Abdul Rahman and Sultan Hussein and decided to recognize Tengku Hussein as the rightful Sultan for Johor-Riau

  • Tengku Hussein was secretly brought into Singapore when he and the Temenggong signed a treaty with the British allowing them to build a trading settlement in the southern part.

  • The Dutch strongly protested against this when they found out as they regarded Singapore as under their influence and Singapore was a serious threat to the Batavia port

  • However as both sides did not stand to gain from a war, the Anglo-Dutch treaty was formed.

Anglo-Dutch Treaty (1824)


  1. Holland as a buffer state for British due to its proximity to England [Holland used by France to attack England before]

  2. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had also made Holland financially weak and they owed British huge debts. Going to war would cripple their economy

Content of Treaty:

  1. Divided the Malay Archipelago and the East Indies as two separate spheres of influence

  2. Dutch ceded Malacca and her factories in India and the Malay peninsula to the British

  3. Dutch also recognized Singapore as a British possession

  4. British ceded Bencoolen and all her East India Company possession in Sumatra to the Dutch

  5. Britain also agreed to not make any treaty with local rulers anywhere south of Singapore [Dutch sphere of influence]

  6. Most favoured Nation status granted to each other [priority in trade]

  7. Holland’s monopoly of spice trade in the Moluccas accepted

  8. Holland’s tin treaties in Perak and Selangor to lapse

  9. Agree on custom rates for each other’s ships

  10. Dutch agreed to pay 100 000 pounds worth of debt to the British government

  11. Suppress piracy together

Aims and Effects:

  • End all hostility between the two country

  • Not very successful

  • Complaints from British traders about Dutch hampering their trade

  • Dispute over Borneo when it was ceded to the British by the Sultan of Brunei  Dutch protested that Borneo was south of Singapore  solved in 1891

  • Creation of 2 separate spheres of influence

  • Split of Johor Empire into two parts [British and Dutch recognized]– Pahang eventually broke away

Who is the founder of Singapore?

Sir Stamford Raffles:

  • Spotted the south coast of Singapore

  • Liased with the Temenggong

  • Thought of the idea to recognize Tengku Hussein as the rightful Sultan  crucial in obtaining permission to establish trade in Singapore

  • Raffles Town Plan

  • Singapore Instituition

  • Closed gambling dens, discouraged drinking and opium smoking through heavy taxation, banned prostitution

William Farquhar:

  • Offered rewards for every pest [rats and centipedes] caught  successfully exterminated these pests and raised the standard of living

  • Encouraged people to live in Singapore  built up trading settlement and labour for industrial activities

  • Set up a small police force  tackle problem of violence and disorder

John Crawfurd:

  • Officially made Singapore a British colony

  • Signed another treaty with Sultan Hussein in 1824 in which the Sultan and Temenggong handed over the whole island to the British EIC.


Political Aspect

In 1826, Penang, Malacca and Singapore became known as the Straits Settlements (SS) and was controlled under one administration. This helped to cut down on manpower, time and resources for Britain as one policy was applicable for all three places. Also, a common revenue coffer ensured that the three settlements can help each other financially and the moving of funds would be smoother. The SS saw an increase in trade and population as traders were encouraged to trade there and there were no restrictions in immigration.

Singapore was the most developed of the Straits Settlements and made the greatest progress in trade and population due to strategic location/natural conditions/economic policies. Made a Presidency in 1826. Penang increased in trade and population too, but slowly. It was too far north to become a major trading centre in the Malay Archipelago. Province Wellesly, which was her hinterland, depended largely on agriculture which was the domain of indigenous people and hence, was unable to attract Chinese immigrants. Malacca declined as a port with the rise of Penang and Singapore. Heavy silting in the harbour meant that large ships could not berth and hence, had to go to the trouble of docking further off at sea and using small smalls to carry their goods. The population there was mainly Malay farmers.

From 1826 to 1867, the SS was placed under the government of India, which was the crown colony of Britain, for the ease of communication. The Indian government would also be more familiar with the SEA area. Furthermore, the SS was not deemed as very important. However, in 1867, the SS was placed directly under the Colonial Office in London and became a Crown Colony.

The transfer of the SS was a result of protests made by people living in the SS. There were mainly Europeans who settled in the SS as merchants, lawyers or newspaper editors. In as early as 1857, they petitioned to the British Parliament for the SS to be ruled by London.

Reasons for transfer:

  1. Inefficient administration

- Lack of officials [12 policemen in the whole neighbourhood] few officials to carry out duties

- Low Quality of officials  promising and young Indian officials all did not want to come to Singapore as it was perceived as a demotion/not trained to local culture, language & conditions

As the India government did not want to incur extra expenditures of the SS, there was a lack of officials to carry out government projects and administrative work. For instant, the Governor and Resident doubled up as judges and heads of police forces, resulting in inefficiency. There was a lack of officials to carry out important administrative work, such as land surveys and registration, causing the land tenure to become highly disorganized. Furthermore, the officials sent were usually of low quality. Many young and promising Indian officials did not want to be sent to the SS as it was seen as a demotion. Those that came often had low morale and were disinterested in their duties, which were further exacerbated by the lack of knowledge of the language, culture and way of life in the SS. This resulted in the formation of inefficient policies and as trade and population grew, the progress of the SS was impeded by the inefficient administration

  1. Disinterest of Indian government  neglect

- Loss of British monopoly of trade with China in 1833  Penang and Singapore lost their use

- Many problems in SS Chinese secret societies, piracy  little done, no proper police

In 1833, British lost the monopoly of trade with China. Ports at Singapore and Penang was set up to serve trade in China, hence after that, the India government was unwilling to incur any extra expenditure on these ports, resulting in the neglect of SS. The problem of piracy and Chinese secret societies were not tackled, and this threatened trade in the SS. Furthermore, the merchants of SS wanted the India government to interfere in the Malaya states to protect their commercial interests. Succession disputes between princes, rivalry between CSS and the problem of piracy however, led to disruptions of tin trade in Perak and Selangor. With the policy of non-intervention, the India government was unwilling to interfere as that would mean added manpower and resources spent on the SS. This angered the SS Merchant community.

  1. Lack of representation in Indian government – no say in policies, petitions took a year

  1. Grievances against official policies

- Dumping of convicts in SS  threaten security

- Interference with trade and 1855 currency act  1856 attempted trade and port duties

In the 1855, the India government imposed the currency act which stated that the Indian rupee would replace the Spanish silver dollar as the legal tender in the SS. This adversely affected trade in the SS as the silver dollar was the common currency used. Furthermore, the Indian rupee was not a currency recognized in international trade and was of a lower monetary value. This caused the merchants to become very upset. In 1856, the Indian government also tried to impose trade and port duties in the SS. Although this fell through eventually due to protests by the SS community, the traders were convinced that the Indian government did not care about their trade.

- Policy of non intervention in Malay states  succession disputes, secret societies, piracy

  1. Growth of public opinion – key factor in causing the transfer eventually

After the transfer, a Governor [Sir Harry Ord] from the colonial office in London was placed in charge of the SS. He had veto powers and was the most important person, assisted by the Executive and Legislative Council. The Executive Council consisted of high ranking British officials who advised and helped the governor in running the SS. The Legislative Council consisted of members of the Executive council, as well as non-official members who were traders and merchants. They helped to formulate laws. There was very little Asian participation and the first Asian non-official member was Hoo Ah Kay (Whampoa).

Raffles Town Plan

  • is a plan initiated by Sir Stamford

  • organized the land specifically according to purpose and use: commercial area, government buildings and residential areas

  • Residential areas are further split by races  efficiency in administration; each race has some sort of a “leader” or head, whom the British just need to liaise with. Policies for that area also just need to consider that specific race

  • is a logical use of space  people know where to go for different purposes

  • political interest  divide and conquer/rule [of races]  prevent the people from gathering strength when they keep within their race

Economic Aspect

Singapore is developed mainly for its potential as a trading port due to its strategic location; allowed Britain to trade with China and in the Malay Archipelago

  • Establishment of Singapore as a free port

Traders did not have to pay taxes for the usage of the port, nor import or export duties on any goods brought in, like opium and liquor

  • Promotion of free trade in Singapore – minimal government interference

Did not enforce British Navigation Laws which required all trade between British colonies and Britain to be carried out on British ships | Did not enforce the Anglo-Conventions which forbade the Americans from trading in Singapore | No monopoly imposed by the government – traders were free to trade anything with anyone

  • Establishment of entrepot trade

Port for selling and buying of goods; Singapore is located on main trading routes of India and China, and is in the middle of the Malay Archipelago. Hence, many different goods from different countries (e.g. china porcelain, Indian spices) can be sold and bought here, making Singapore suitable for entrepot trade. European countries can also see their manufactured products in Singapore. Furthermore, Singapore does not have any local produce to sell except for gambier and hence is not suitable for the more conventional trade.

  • Maintaining safety at sea

Trade was sea-borne and piracy was active in the Straits of Malacca; Chinese pirates from South China, Lanuns from North Borneos & Mindanaos from The Philippines. Britain sent gun boats to patrol the region and got rid of pirate hideouts. Problem was never totally eradicated.

  • Attracting of immigrants to settle into Singapore

Immigrants to provide abundance of low skilled workers for the development of Singapore.

  • External factors: Opening of Suez canal

Made the route to the East shorter than the Cape of Good Hope route and hence, made the Straits of Malacca more impt. than the Sunda Straits. SG became a more important port of call.

Social Aspect

In the 19th century, British did very little to improve the lives of the people in the SS as their main concern was for economic gains and improving the welfare of the people would require both money and manpower. However, from the end of the 19th century, things started to change


  • 19th century – Education in the hands of private organizations/individual communities

Classic Chinese vernacular education provided by temples and clan associations [high emphasis on education in Chinese society due to high status of scholars]

Semi-government sponsored Malay schools  deplorable quality

Missionaries schools, e.g. SJI, St. Andrew’s Boys School

This caused segregation and the government has little control over what was taught

  • 20th century – helped English and Malay schools

Higher demand for English-speaking people for jobs in government and businesses  government provided grants

Established the Queen’s scholarship further studies in British universities local pool of talent

Setting up of a medical college funds raised by Asians [King Edward VII College of Medicine]

1928, Raffles College was opened  higher learning

Chinese schools were neglected  anti-British feelings  British plans for China colonialism
Concentrated on English schools to maintain loyalty among English-speaking Chinese and students versed in English proved as assets to the British colonial government [civil servants]

Public Health

  • 19th century – poor living conditions

Lack of sanitary facilities in Singapore and over-crowding in Chinatown  high death rate in Singapore  affected reputation of Singapore  turned away potential traders

  • 20th century

1887, Public Health Department was set up; malaria committee  supervise infilling of mosquito-infested swamps, replacing pail system with a modern water-carriage sewage system, clearing dirty streets and drains

Quarantine Law  prevent the spread of cholera and small pox  St. John’s island was used to isolate locals and foreigners who had infectious disease

Lim Boon Keng [first Asia to join the Legislative council] campaigned against poor quarters in Singapore; conducted the health survey in 1906; expansion of General Hospital in 1907

A general hospital, leper camp and lunatic asylum was also set up and the outpatient clinics were set up in 1882.

Law and Order

  • Chinese Secret Societies

  • Originated from China  traced from Fujian province

  • In existence since warring states

  • Notions of “brotherhood” and kinship

  • Blood oaths of loyalty

  • Strong Nationalistic feelings  during the Qing Dynasty when the Man Chu minority took over the government, they assumed political acts of rebellion and strife

  • First society in Singapore was the Ghee Hin Kongsi – an offshoot from “Tiandi Hui”, an anti Manchu organisation

  • About 25% to 30% of the Chinese population in Singapore was involved in secret societies

  • By mid 19th century, secret societies started engaging in illegal activities to ensure a livelihood for all its “brothers”  gambling dens, opium smuggling, protection money, coolie trade, brothels, robbed, murder, arson

  • 1850s was the peak of Chinese Immigration and the peak of Chinese secret societies as more shady characters arrived  Short Daggers Rebellion Amoy 1853/4

  • Social unrest as rivalry between different secret societies exploded in open warfare.

  • 1846, 1851 against members who turned to the Catholic Church

  • 1854 riot sparked off from someone purchasing rice 600 deaths

  • Great disorder, loss of life and property

  • At least 5 different secret societies with the largest being the Hokkien Ghee Hin

  • Used body and hand signals to avoid arrest by the authorities and to ensure secrecy

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