Sir Stamford Raffles - A Manufactured Hero?
By Nadia Wright University of Melbourne
Presented to the 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Melbourne, 1-3 July 2008.
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) was an extraordinary man. A hard working official of the East India Company, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Java and later of Bencoolen on Sumatra. As well, he was a scholar, whose History of Java earned him a knighthood, and a naturalist who was a co-founder of the London Zoo. He is, however, better known as the founder of Singapore. Since the first book-length biography of Raffles appeared in 1897, he has been the subject of more than sixteen biographical works. All of these, bar H. F. Pearson’s This Other India, eulogize Raffles, carefully
crafting him into a seemingly unassailable hero.
In the first part of this paper I examine how Raffles has been manufactured into a hero, and in the second consider why, and then the consequences of this valorisation. I suggest that four techniques have been interwoven to construct the image of a hero: a rags to riches story has been invented; some facts have been exaggerated and others minimized, usual happenings have been re-cast as unusual and Raffles has been glorified at the expense of others.