An Extraordinary Life in an Extraordinary Time

“It is a child of my own and bids fair to be one of the most important (colonies) and at the same time one of the least expensive and troublesome which we possess. Our object is not territory but trade: a great commercial emporium”
— Sir Stamford Raffles

Raffles was unlike most other employees of the British East India Company. He did not come from money or nobility, but through his diligence and hard work he was able to rise through the ranks. However, he never forgot his own vision while climbing the greasy pole in the company that once ruled an empire.

His greatest legacy might be the birthing of Singapore however he was also responsible for a lot of other remarkable achievements. He rediscovered Borobudur and the Prambanan temple in Java. Napoleon halted to have a chat with him. He was quoted by Karl Marx in his seminal work ‘Das Kapital’. No small feat even for someone who routinely rubbed shoulders with Kings and Queens.

Colonialism or colonialists cannot be condoned, however individuals must be judged according to the time period they functioned in. Raffles was not a bad man. He cared for those he conquered and genuinely wanted to improve their lot. This was in conflict with expanding the empire and creating profits for the firm but then life is full of contradictions.