Singapore history essentially begins in the second century AD. That was when the earliest known settlement was established. Since then, the country has gone from a sleepy outpost to a vibrant Southeast Asia business hub. On the whole, its resident population of approximately five million people enjoys a high standard of living, which reflects the success of the country’s relatively free and business-friendly economy. Singapore is more than just a good place to live or do business, however. It also a popular travel destination, welcoming millions of visitors on an annual basis.
Early History of Singapore
The second century settlement that was established in what is now modern-day Singapore was known as Temasek. Visited on a regular basis by Chinese merchants, Temasek eventually became an outpost for the Srivijaya Empire, which was based on the island of Sumatra and reached its zenith between the ninth and 13th centuries AD. The Srivijayas were responsible for giving Singapore its name. They called it Singapura, after one of their leaders claimed to have seen a lion on its shores. Singapura translated to the Lion City. Eventually, the Srivijayas were overtaken by another regional power, the Majapahits. What is now Singapore then became a part of the Sultanate of Johor. During this nearly 400-year period, the island fell into relative obscurity, due in part to friction that was caused by Portuguese raiders. Singapore would eventually rise from its slumber, however. Among those who inspired its awakening was the distinguished British statesmen, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826).
Founding of Modern Singapore
In 1819, Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived in what is now Singapore. His intentions were to develop the southern part of the main island into a British trading post. Charging him with this responsibility was the British East India Company. On February 6, 1819, Raffles achieved his goal, signing a treaty with the senior Johor minister, Temenggong Abdu’r Rahman. In return for being allowed to set up a trading post in Singapore, the British East India Company would provide the Sultanate with an annual payment. Singapore quickly became a successful port, and in 1824, another treaty was signed and the island became a British possession. Raffles, it should be noted, contributed significantly to the expansion of the British Empire and is credited with founding modern Singapore. This explains why he is often referred to as the "Father of Singapore." Among the things that are named after him is the famous Raffles Hotel.
Straits Settlements & Crown Colony
In 1826, Singapore became part of the Straits Settlements, which were a group of British territories in the Southeast Asia region. Controlling these territories early on was the British East India Company. They would eventually become a British Crown Colony in 1867. Between the initial arrival of Raffles and the island’s establishment as a Crown Colony in the 1860s, Singapore saw its population grow from approximately 1,000 people to more than 80,000. Many immigrants came to work at the rubber plantations that had been established on the island in the 19th century. Among the countries that these immigrants hailed from were China and India, which helps explain modern-day Singapore’s mixed population. In the late 1800s, Singapore became a major center for rubber exports. It also gained economic support from its largely entrepot trade industry. Aiding in its business-related successes were such things as the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal and the establishment of steamship travel. The Suez Canal provided a link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea and put Singapore in a prime position along the Europe-Asia trading route. Steamship travel made trips to Singapore less dependent on trade winds.
Post War & Independence
Singapore wasn’t affected all that much by World War I. This significant global calamity simply didn’t spread into the Southeast Asia region. World War II was a different story, however. On December 7, 1941, Japan did more than just drop bombs on Pearl Harbor. Its forces also landed in southern Thailand, invaded the Philippines and Hong Kong, and bombed Singapore. This initial bombing of Singapore was followed by a Japanese invasion of the island on February 8, 1942. The British were unsuccessful in holding off their invaders, and from 1942 to 1945, Singapore fell under Japanese occupation. This was a very difficult time for Singapore’s multiethnic people. Japan ruled with a very harsh approach, often exacting the most punishment on the country’s Chinese population. Among other things, mass executions were common.
Japanese rule over Singapore came to an end when Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945. The British were back in control and went to task helping Singapore rebuild and revitalize. The initial failure of Britain to protect Singapore hadn’t been forgotten by Singapore’s people, however, and after World War II, the island started to look towards independence. By 1959, Singapore had become a largely self-governing state within the British Commonwealth. In 1963, it declared independence from Britain altogether and became part of the Federation of Malaysia. This association with Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak didn’t last very long. Just two years later, Singapore was removed from the Federation of Malaysia and gained independence as the city-state Republic of Singapore. From there, the country ascended to become a major world business center and has a shimmering skyline to go with its busy ports. Singapore also developed into a popular tourist destination and has the world-class hotels to prove it.