Project: History of Singapore
• Founding of Modern Singapore
The British, who were extending their dominion in India, and whose trade
with China in the second half of the 18th century was expanding, saw the
need for a port of call in this region to refit, revitalise and protect their
merchant fleet, as well as to forestall any advance by the Dutch in the East
Indies. As a result, they established trading posts in Penang (1786) and
Singapore (1819), and captured Malacca from the Dutch (1795).
In late l818, Lord Hastings, Governor-General of India, gave tacit approval
to Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, to establish a
trading station at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. On 29 January
1819, Raffles landed on the island of Singapore after having surveyed other
nearby islands. The next day, he concluded a preliminary treaty with
Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman to set up a trading post here. On 6 February
1819, a formal treaty was concluded with Sultan Hussein of Johor and the
Temenggong, the de jure and defacto rulers of Singapore respectively.
Singapore proved to be a prized settlement. By 1820, it was earning
revenue, and three years later, its trade surpassed that of Penang. In 1824,
Singapore's status as a British possession was formalised by two new
treaties. The first was the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of March 1824, by which the
Dutch withdrew all objections to the British occupation of Singapore. The
second treaty was made with Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdu'r
Rahman in August, by which the two owners ceded the island out right to
the British in return for increased cash payments and pensions.
• The Straits Settlements
Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, the two British settlements
in the Malay Peninsula, became the Straits Settlements in 1826, under the
control of British India. By 1832, Singapore had become the centre of
government for the three areas. On 1 April 1867, the Straits Settlements
became a Crown Colony under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in
With the advent of the steamship in the mid-1860s and the opening of the
Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore became a major port of call for ships plying
between Europe and East Asia. And with the development of rubber
planting, especially after the 1870s, it also became the main sorting and
export centre in the world for rubber. Before the close of the 19th century,
Singapore was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and trade expanded
eightfold between 1873 and 1913. The prosperity attracted immigrants from
areas around the region. By 1860, the population had grown to 80,792. The
Chinese accounted for 61.9 per cent of the number; the Malays and Indians
13.5 and 16.05 per cent respectively; and others, including the Europeans,
8.5 per cent.
The peace and prosperity ended when Japanese aircraft bombed the
sleeping city in the early hours of 8 December 1941. Singapore fell to the
Japanese on 15 February 1942, and was renamed Syonan (Light of the
South). It remained under Japanese occupation for three and a half years.
• Towards Self-Government
The British forces returned in September 1945 and Singapore came under
the British Military Administration. When the period of military
administration ended in March 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved.
On 1 April 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony. Penang and Malacca
became part of the Malayan Union in 1946, and later the Federation of
Malaya in 1948.
Postwar Singapore was a contrast to the prewar country of transient
immigrants. The people, especially the merchant class, clamored for a say
in the government. Constitutional powers were initially vested in the
Governor who had an advisory council of officials and nominated non-
officials. This evolved into the separate Executive and Legislative Councils
in July 1947. The Governor retained firm control over the colony but there
was provision for the election of six members to the Legislative Council by
popular vote. Hence, Singapore's first election was held on 20 March 1948.
When the Communist Party of Malaya tried to take over Malaya and
Singapore by force, a state of emergency was declared in June 1948. The
emergency lasted for 12 years. Towards the end of 1953, the British
government appointed a commission under Sir George Rendel to review
Singapore's constitutional position and make recommendations for
change. The Rendel proposals were accepted by the government and
served as the basis of a new constitution that gave Singapore a greater
measure of self-government.
The 1955 election was the first lively political contest in Singapore's
history. Automatic registration expanded the register of voters from 75,000
to over 300,000, and for the first time, it included large numbers of Chinese,
who had manifested political apathy in previous elections. The Labor Front
won 10 seats. The Peoples Action Party (PAP), which fielded four
candidates, won three seats. David Marshall became Singapore's first Chief
Minister on 6 April 1955, with a coalition government made up of his own
Labor Front, the United Malays National Organization and the Malayan
Chinese Association .
Marshall resigned on 6 June 1956, after the breakdown of constitutional
talks in London on attaining full internal self government. Lim Yew Hock,
Marshall's deputy and minister for Labor became the Chief Minister. The
March 1957 constitutional mission to London led by Lim Yew Hock was
successful in negotiating the main terms of a new Singapore Constitution.
On 28 May 1958, the Constitutional Agreement was signed in London.
Self-government was attained in 1959. In May that year Singapore's first
general election was held to choose 51 representatives to the first fully
elected Legislative Assembly. The PAP won 43 seats, gleaning 53.4 percent
of the total votes. On June 3, the new Constitution confirming Singapore as
a self-governing state was brought into force by the proclamation of the
Governor, Sir William Goode, who became the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara
(Head of State). The first Government of the State of Singapore was sworn
in on June 5, with Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore's first Prime Minister.
The PAP had come to power in a united front with the communists to fight
British colonialism. The communists controlled many mass organizations,
especially of workers and students. It was an uneasy alliance between the
PAP moderates and the pro communists, with each side trying to use the
other for its own ultimate objective--in the case of the moderates, to obtain
full independence for Singapore as part of a non-communist Malaya; in the
case of the communists, to work towards a communist take-over.
The tension between the two factions worsened from 1960 and led to an
open split in 1961, with the pro-communists subsequently forming a new
political party, the Barisan Sosialis. The other main players in this drama
were the Malayans, who, in 1961, agreed to Singapore's merger with Malaya
as part of a larger federation. This was also to include British territories in
Borneo, with the British controlling the foreign affairs, defense and internal
security of Singapore.
• The Malaysia Proposal
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 the
form of a merger. The main terms of the merger, agreed on by him and Lee
Kuan Yew, were to have central government responsibility for defense,
foreign affairs and internal security, but local autonomy in matters
pertaining to education and labor. A referendum on the terms of the merger
held in Singapore on 1 September 1962 showed the people's overwhelming
support for PAP's plan to go ahead with the merger.
Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, and consisted of the
Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah).
Brunei opted out. Indonesia and the Philippines opposed the merger.
President Sukarno of Indonesia worked actively against it during the three
years of Indonesian confrontation.
The merger proved to be short-lived. Singapore was separated from the
rest of Malaysia on 9 August 1965, and became a sovereign, democratic
and independent nation.
Independent Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on 21
September 1965, and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations
on 15 October 1965. On 22 December 1965, it became a republic, with Yusof
bin Ishak as the republic's first President.
Thereafter commenced Singapore's struggle to survive and prosper on its
own. It also had to create a sense of national identity and consciousness
among a disparate population of immigrants. Singapore's strategy for
survival and development was essentially to take advantage of its strategic
location and the favourable world economy.
• Coming of Age
A massive industrialization program was launched with the extension of
the Jurong industrial estate and the creation of smaller estates in Kallang
Park, Tanjong Rhu, Redhill, Tiong Bahru and Tanglin Halt. The Employment
Act and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act were passed in 1968 to
promote industrial peace and discipline among the workforce.
The Economic Development Board was reorganized in 1968 and the Jurong
Town Corporation and the Development Bank of Singapore were set up in
the same year In 1970, the Monetary Authority of Singapore was
established to formulate and implement Singapore's monetary policies.
In 1979, after the shock of two oil crisis, the Government started a program
of economic restructuring. This was achieved by modifying education
policies, expanding technology and computer education, offering financial
incentives to industrial enterprises and launching a productivity campaign.
Public housing was given top priority. New towns sprang up and Housing
and Development Board apartments were sold at a low cost. To encourage
home ownership, Singaporeans were allowed to use their Central Provident
Fund savings to pay for these apartments.
With the British Government's sudden decision in 1967 to withdraw its
armed forces from Singapore by the end of 1971, Singapore set out to build
up its own defence forces. The Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute
was established in 1966 and compulsory national service was introduced in
1967. A Singapore Air Defense Command and a Singapore Maritime
Command were set up in 1969. In August 1967, Singapore joined Indonesia,
Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand to form the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations.
Singapore entered the 1970s as a politically stable state with a high rate of
economic growth. The one-party Parliament that emerged from the 1968
general election became the pattern, with the PAP winning all seats in
1972,1976 and 1980. In the 1984 and 1991 general elections, the PAP won
all but two and four seats respectively.
On 28 November 1990, a new chapter opened in Singapore's modern
history Goh Cheok Tong became the second Prime Minster of Singapore
when he took over the office from Lee Kuan Yew who resigned after having
been Prime Minster since 1959.