Penang Story Lecture: Raffles – Myths and Reality

Penang Story Lecture: Raffles – Myths and Reality by Nadia Wright

Talk and Afternoon Tea held on 21 July 2013 (Sunday) at China Tiger, 25 & 29 China Street, George Town, 10200 Penang.

Raffles tea talk FA2

Raffles Revealed

Sir Stamford Raffles remains a much revered figure. Arguing that his aggrandised reputation was created by his own writing and his biographers, Nadia Wright refutes five entrenched myths: his ‘poor’ background; his ‘self-made’ career; his choice of Singapore, his abhorrence of opium and his need to dismiss Farquhar. 

Sir Stamford Raffles remains a much revered figure, especially in Singapore where his memorialisation dominates the cityscape. Nadia Wright explains how his biographers have crafted Raffles into an icon, and refutes five of the many myths that abound about him. She queries his poverty- stricken boyhood and the associated claim that he was forced to curtail his education to support his widowed mother and his siblings. The claim that Raffles rose through hard work and not patronage is also re-examined. Nadia challenges the wide spread belief that Raffles had chosen Singapore as a potential site well before sighting the island, and explains Raffles’ preferred sites. She refutes the common belief that Raffles was opposed to the opium trade and the introduction of opium and gambling licenses, demonstrating Raffles’ support of both opium trading and the introduction of license. Finally Nadia refutes the story that Raffles was forced to dismiss William Farquhar because of his disobedience and incompetence. Instead she reveals Farquhar as an efficient, far sighted administrator whose dismissal Raffles deceitfully engineered. After re-examining East India Company documents, Raffles’ correspondence plus contemporary newspapers, diaries and letters, Nadia reveals a very different Raffles to the benevolent visionary depicted in popular memory.

About Nadia Wright

Dr Nadia Wright is the author of the book, Respected Citizens: The history of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (2003). Originally from New Zealand, Dr Nadia Wright graduated with an MA in History from Otago University, then settled in Melbourne where she taught Secondary School English. Nadia spent the mid-1980s in Singapore, where she gained an MA at the National University of Singapore and began researching the Armenian community there. Returning to Australia, Nadia continued her research culminating in her book on the Armenians and another she co–authored on the Vanda Miss Joaquim Orchid. In 2012, Nadia was awarded her PhD from Melbourne University with a thesis challenging the accepted roles of Raffles and Farquhar in Singapore’s founding.

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Organised by Penang Heritage Trust

Sponsored and supported by China Tiger