The earliest known settlement on Singapore was in the second century AD. It was an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya empire, named Temasek (‘sea town’). Between the 16th and early 19th centuries, it was part of the Johor Sultanate. In 1613, Portuguese raiders burnt down the settlement and the island sank into obscurity for the next two centuries.
In 1819, Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived and signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor on behalf of the British East India Company to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. In 1824, the entire island became a British possession under a further treaty with the Sultan and the Temenggong. In 1826, it became part of the Straits Settlements, under the jurisdiction of British India. Singapore became the capital of the Straits Settlements in 1836. Before Raffles arrived, there were around 1,000 people living in Singapore, mostly indigenous Malay community, and 20-30 Chinese. By 1860, the population exceeded 80,000, with over half of the population being Chinese. Many immigrants came to work at rubber plantations; and, after the 1870s, the island became a global centre for rubber exports.
A cheering crowd welcome the return of British forces, 1945
During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded British Malaya culminating in the Battle of Singapore. The British were defeated, and surrendered on 15 February 1942. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. The Sook Ching massacre of ethnic Chinese after the fall of Singapore claimed between 5,000 and 25,000 lives. The Japanese occupied Singapore until the British repossessed it in September 1945, after the Surrender of Japan.
Singapore’s first general election in 1955 was won by the pro-independence David Marshall, leader of the Labour Front. Demanding complete self-rule he led a delegation to London but was turned down by the British. He resigned when he returned and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock, whose policies convinced Britain to grant Singapore full internal self-government for all matters except defence and foreign affairs.
During the May 1959 elections, the People’s Action Party won a landslide victory. Singapore had become an internally self-governing state within the Commonwealth, with Lee Kuan Yew as the first Prime Minister. Governor Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode served as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (“Head of State”), and was succeeded by Yusof bin Ishak who in 1965 became the first President of Singapore. During the 1950s Communists, mostly supported by the Chinese-speaking group, with strong ties to the trade unions and Chinese schools, carried out an armed struggle against the state, resulting in the Malayan Emergency and later, the Communist Insurgency War. The 1954 National Service Riots, Chinese middle schools riots and Hock Lee bus riots in Singapore were all linked to the Communists.