William Farquhar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Major-General William Farquhar
1st Resident of Singapore
In office
6 February 1819 – 1 May 1823
Appointed byStamford Raffles
MonarchGeorge III (1760–1820)
George IV (1820–1830)
Succeeded byDr. John Crawfurd
6th Resident of Malacca
In office
MonarchGeorge III (1760–1820)
Preceded byWillem Jacob Cranssen, Dutch Governor
Succeeded byJan Samuel Timmermann Thijssen, Dutch Governor
Personal details
Born(1774-02-26)February 26, 1774
Newhall, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Died11 May 1839(1839-05-11) (aged 65)
Early Banks, Perth, Scotland
Resting placeGreyfriars Burial Ground, Perth, United Kingdom
Margaret Loban
(m. 1828⁠–⁠1839)
Domestic partnerAntoinette Clement (1795–1823)
RelationsJustin Trudeau (5th-great grandson)
Childrenwith Antoinette Clement:
  • Arthur Farquhar (son)
  • Esther Asther Farquhar (daughter)
  • Baby Farquhar (unknown) (died in infancy)
  • Elizabeth Caroline Farquhar (daughter)
  • Catherine Dorothy Farquhar (daughter)
  • Andrew Farquhar (son)
with Margaret Loban:
  • William Grant Farquhar (son)
  • Margaret Amelia Farquhar (daughter) (died in infancy)
  • Margaret Farquhar (daughter)
  • Amelia Farquhar (daughter)
  • Agnes Farquhar (daughter)
  • Mary Jane Farquhar (daughter)
MotherAgnes Morrison
FatherRobert Farquhar
ResidenceEarly Banks, Perth, Scotland
ProfessionColonial administrator

Major-General William Farquhar (/ˈfɑːkər/ FAH-kər; 26 February 1774 – 11 May 1839) was a Scottish employee of the East India Company, and the first British Resident and Commandant of colonial Singapore.


Early life[edit]

Farquhar was born in Newhall, Aberdeenshire, near Aberdeen in 1774 as the youngest child of Robert Farquhar and Agnes Morrison, his father's second wife.[1] His brother, Arthur, two years his senior, rose to the rank of rear admiral in the Royal Navy, and received a knighthood for his distinguished services during the Napoleonic Wars.

Farquhar joined the East India Company as a cadet at the age of 17. Shortly after arriving in Madras on 19 June 1791, he was promoted to a low-rank commissioned officer of the Madras Engineers on 22 June 1791. Two years later, on 16 August 1793, he became a lieutenant in the Madras Engineers.


Farquhar was Chief Engineer in the expeditionary force which took Malacca from the Dutch on 18 August 1795. He spoke Malay and was popularly known as the Rajah of Malacca. He kept a Malaccan-French mistress, Antoinette "Nonio" Clement, with whom he had at least six children, one of which died while still an infant. Their eldest daughter Esther Farquhar married Capt. Francis James Bernard who became a prominent part of early Singapore. On 1 January 1803 he was promoted to the rank of full captain.

From 1802 he acted as Resident of Malacca, and was made a full major in Corps on 26 September 1812, before he was officially appointed Resident and Commandant of Malacca in December 1813; a position he held for several years, in charge of both civil and military offices, until the Dutch returned in September 1818. During his tenure here he assisted in missions around the region, including the British invasion of Java led by Governor-General Baron Minto and Sir Stamford Raffles in August 1812.

An engineer, his reputation was established by his long and successful term as Resident of Malacca, of which he was given charge when it passed into British hands from the Dutch. A task given him by the British Government was to demolish all the structures left by the former occupants; he blew up the fortifications with gunpowder but spared some of the other buildings, showing great intelligence.


With his long Malayan experience and an intimate knowledge of Riau-Lingga politics, Major Farquhar was given the task to help Sir Stamford Raffles find a settlement on Singapore island. He helped negotiate the provisional agreement of 30 January 1819 with the local chieftain Temenggong Abdul Rahman; and the more formal Singapore Treaty of 6 February 1819, which Raffles signed with the Temenggong and the Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah, confirming the right for the British to set up a trading post. On the same day, Farquhar, accompanied by a few Malaccan Malays, had to climb up the hill, known as the Bukit Larangan. He drew up the first gun and set up the post to hoist the Union Jack flag on top of the hill, marking the birth of Singapore as a British settlement.

Raffles appointed Farquhar as Singapore's First Resident to develop the colony according to a specific plan Raffles had drawn up. Raffles left Singapore on the following day and Farquhar was left to manage the colony when Raffles left, an absence eventually lasting four years. He was appointed the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore, 1819–23.

Farquhar took a more laissez-faire approach, which suited the local traders who had followed him there. In his new post, he quickly set about clearing the plain on the northeast bank of the Singapore River. Word of this new trading post soon spread and Singapore became a thriving cosmopolitan town. Communication with Raffles in Bencoolen and the East India Company in Calcutta were so poor that for more than three years Singapore developed on her own with Farquhar at the helm.

On 9 May 1821, Farquhar was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Despite his many positive achievements in the formative period of Singapore's development, he adopted measures in his administration that conflicted with Raffles' instructions, notably in allowing the erection of houses and go-downs on the Padang and on the nearby banks of the Singapore River. His justification was that in the rapidly expanding settlement 'nothing is heard in the shape of complaint but the want of more ground to build on'.[citation needed]

However, when Raffles returned in October 1822, he was furious to discover his plans had been neglected and that moreover local vices, such as the trading of opium and slave-trading, were being tolerated. He then dismissed Farquhar, who first refused to leave and later sued Raffles for tyrannical behaviour.

Stabbing of Farquhar[edit]

On 11 March 1824, Sayid Yasin, a Muslim merchant from the established Malay community in Singapore, stabbed Farquhar as he walked in his gardens. Sayid was prevented from completing his task only by the timely arrival of Farquhar's servants, who killed the assailant immediately. The stabbing was not fatal.

The European settlers assumed immediately that Sayid must have been acting in the name of the Temenggong Abdul Rahman, but that was not true. Sayid and Farquhar then had a semi-private dispute; when Sayid was proven unable to pay his debts, Farquhar sent him to gaol. That fate was humiliating to Sayid and so he sought revenge.

Raffles argued that an attack on an official should be met with an exemplary punishment and called for Sayid's corpse to be put in chains in an iron cage and exhibited publicly at Tanjong Malang for a fortnight. Sayid's grave at Tanjong Pagar, however, would soon become a shrine and remained a place of pilgrimage for many years, making many Europeans think that Raffles had endangered their lives by needlessly antagonising the Malays.[2]

Departure from Southeast Asia[edit]

The conflicts which arose during Raffles' final stay in Singapore in 1821–23, led to Farquhar's dismissal on 1 May 1823, to be succeeded as Resident by Dr John Crawfurd without the knowledge of Farquhar himself. He remained in Singapore after that for a few months.

At a farewell dinner with the principal merchants and British inhabitants on 27 December 1823, Lt Col William Farquhar was presented with a plate valued at 3000 sicca rupees as a farewell gift. The Chinese community of the settlement gifted Farquhar with an ornate silver epergne bearing crests, a Latin inscription, and the hallmark "1825".

Shortly after, he finally departed from Singapore for Malacca, Penang and Calcutta en route back home to England. Farquhar's popularity with the Asian and the European community of Singapore was attested to by Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, in his Hikayat Abdullah.

One example was the moving account of Farquhar's departure from Singapore at the end of December 1823, which was confirmed by a report in one of Calcutta's newspapers, which states that on that day as he left, he was accompanied to the beach by most of the European inhabitants of the settlement as well as by 'a large concourse' of Asians of every class.

As a compliment to him, the troops formed a guard-of-honour from his house to the landing place, and he embarked with the customary salute to his rank. Then many Asian boats accompanied him to his ship, the Alexander, and as they sailed, some of the Siamese vessels fired salutes to him. Similar welcomes and tributes also awaited him up the Straits, in Malacca and in Penang.

Further dispute with Raffles[edit]

After his arrival in London in 1824, Farquhar wrote to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, complained of his unjust removal from office by Raffles, and requested the reinstatement of his command of Singapore. He described Singapore as "a settlement formed at his own suggestion and matured under his personal management", and asked the Directors to "appreciate those feelings of interest excited in his mind in regard to a Settlement selected and founded by himself."

When the Directors referred this Memorial to Raffles, he dismissed Farquhar's claim as peremptorily as he had dismissed Farquhar from office in April 1823. Raffles replied: "On the credit assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar for having suggested the establishment of Singapore, this is the first time I ever heard of the circumstance, and on reference to the public records I find nothing to support it. A regard to truth compels me to deny in broad terms that Colonel Farquhar ever suggested, or, to my knowledge, knew or stated anything with regard to the formation of a Settlement at Singapore, until I communicated to him the authority with which I was invested, to form a Settlement there."

In Farquhar's brief rejoinder to Raffles' reply, in April 1825, he omitted reference to Singapore and to his claim, and the Court of Directors finally ruled against him in November 1825, refusing his request to be reinstated.

Raffles commented in a letter to his sister: "It was my wish poor Man that he should be let off as easily as possible, but he seems to have failed in all he attempted, and if he has not been so severely handled as he might have been he has me to thank for it -- for certainly he stands on no better footing than he did before he made his Appeal."

Retirement and death[edit]

Oil on canvas, c. 1830

Farquhar settled in Perth, Scotland, in late 1826, where he bought two large recently completed Georgian houses (one for his brother, a naval captain) and built a billiard hall for the entertainment of his many friends. He married Margaret Loban on 7 April 1828, and had six children with her, including one daughter who died in infancy. Farquhar was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1829.

In 1830, Farquhar challenged certain statements made by Lady Sophia Raffles, the widow of the late Stamford Raffles who had died on 5 July 1826, in her book Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, particularly in the government of Java, 1811-1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies, 1817-1824.[3] He asserted that "She very modestly and candidly allows (her late husband) the sole and exclusive merit of having established and brought into commercial importance the new settlement of Singapore, which is styled his Settlement."

Farquhar published an article in which he contended that he had "at least a large share in forming that establishment" and that, having stated all the circumstances, he would "leave the public to judge on whether Lady Raffles can fairly claim for her husband the sole and exclusive merit of having formed the settlement of Singapore."

On 17 August 1833, Farquhar drafted the Deed of Settlement for his former mistress Antoinette "Nonio" Clement, to whom he bequeathed his house and contents in Kampong Glam, together with an annuity of sp350 paid half yearly in advance.[4] In 1837, Farquhar was promoted to the rank of major-general.

William Farquhar died on 11 May 1839 at age 66 in his home, Early Banks, in Perth, Scotland. He has a mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Perth. On his tomb, there is the following inscription in block capitals: "Sacred to the Memory of Major General William Farquhar of the H.E.I.C. Service and Madras Engineer Corps who served in the East Indies upwards of 33 years. During 20 years of his valuable life he was appointed to offices of high responsibility under the civil government of India having in addition to his military duties served as Resident in Malacca and afterwards at Singapore which later settlement he founded. In all the stations which he filled he acquired honour to himself and rendered service to his country. He departed this life at Early Bank, Perth, on the 11th of May 1839, highly respected and deeply regretted by all who had the happiness of his acquaintance."[5]


Farquhar Street, a former street in Singapore, was named after him. This street was located in the Kampong Glam area between Beach Road and North Bridge Road. It was expunged in 1994 due to street realignment and no longer exists.[6]

Lebuh Farquhar (Farquhar Street), another street in Penang, Malaysia is mistakenly thought to be named after him. It is actually named after Robert Townsend Farquhar (no relation), Lieutenant General of Penang from 1804-05.[7]

In 1993, the silver epergne, which William Farquhar received from the Chinese community before his departure from Singapore on 27 December 1823, was acquired by the National Museum of Singapore from his descendant Captain David John Farquhar Atkins, for S$52,000.[8][9]

Through his eldest daughter Esther Asther Bernard (née Farquhar), Farquhar is a fifth great-grandfather of Justin Trudeau, the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada, and fourth great-grandfather of Margaret Trudeau, onetime wife of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the 15th Prime Minister of Canada.[10]

Natural history drawings[edit]

A watercolour drawing of a zebra dove (Geopelia striata) perched on a purple mangosteen tree (Garcinia mangostana), from the William Farquhar collection of natural history drawings

Between 1819 and 1823 Farquhar commissioned unidentified Chinese artists to illustrate local flora and fauna. This project resulted in 477 watercolours of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects found in Malacca and Singapore. These paintings played a pivotal role in revealing the region's biodiversity to Western naturalists, and are interesting in their blending of the stylised oriental manner with the realism of western art.

The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, showing 141 of these illustrations, was published in 1999. A volume containing prints of all 477 works in the Farquhar collection was published by Editions Didier Millet and the National Museum of Singapore in 2010.[11]


  • Brazil, David. Insider's Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International, 2001. National Resource Library.

Further reading[edit]

  • The William Farquhar collection of natural history drawings, Singapore: Goh Geok Khim, 1999
  • Solomon, Eli (1996), William Farquhar's life in the Far East : a chronology, Singapore: Singapore Resource Library, National Library Board
  • Wright, Nadia H. (2017), William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles' Shadow, Penang, Malaysia: Entrepot Publishing


  1. ^ Cornelius-Takahama, Vernon; Tan, Joanna HS (2011) [2008], "William Farquhar", Infopedia, Singapore: National library, archived from the original on 5 February 2014, retrieved 9 April 2016.
  2. ^ "The British Base and Prison on the Island of Singapore".
  3. ^ http://eservice.nlb.gov.sg/data2/BookSG/publish/6/6dd159de-811f-4012-9b43-01676a9c49a7/web/html5/index.html?opf=tablet/BOOKSG.xml&launchlogo=tablet/BOOKSG_BrandingLogo_.png
  4. ^ Hendrikse, Dingeman. "Antoinette NONYA Clement (1780-1852) » Purvis Farquhar » Genealogie Online". Genealogie Online. Archived from the original on 18 May 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  5. ^ "Farquhar". www.postcolonialweb.org. Archived from the original on 8 November 2010. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  6. ^ Savage, Victor R.; Yeoh, Brenda (15 June 2013). Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. p. 122. ISBN 9789814484749.
  7. ^ See also Webster, Anthony. British expansion in South East Asia and the role of Robert Farquhar, Lieutenant Governor of Penang, 1804-5. J. Imp. & Common. Hist., 23(1), 1995, 1-25.
  8. ^ "Silver epergne".
  9. ^ Singapore, National Library Board. "William Farquhar - Infopedia". eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Archived from the original on 12 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  10. ^ "Mystery of Margaret Trudeau's family tree resolved". Ottawa Citizen. 24 January 2008. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  11. ^ "Singapore Sights". Archived from the original on 22 February 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2009.
Political offices
Preceded by
Willem Jacob Cranssen
as Dutch Governor of Malacca
British Resident of Malacca
Succeeded by
Jan Samuel Timmermann Thijssen
as Dutch Governor of Malacca
New creation Resident of Singapore
1819 – 1823
Succeeded by
Dr. John Crawfurd