Raffles and Marsden


This was going to be the best blog post ever.  Well, best post since the last one anyway.

I was going to include some photos of Fort Canning Park, in Singapore, which is near where I’m staying (yes, another work trip).

Photo: Adventures in Biography

Photo: Adventures in Biography

And then I was going to mention how this park in the heart of downtown Singapore is where Raffles’ original house was built, on a small hill overlooking the river.

I hoped to say something witty about how plain old Thomas Raffles started using his middle name Stamford only as he became grander.

I may have then added something terribly profound about the enormous trees in the park, that were surely ancient in Raffles’ day.

Photo: Adventures in Biography

Photo: Adventures in Biography

Then I planned to amaze with a fact that clearly illustrated how small was the world of imperial England in the early 1800s: Raffles corresponded with a friend of Elizabeth Macarthur‘s about his house:

We have lately built a small bungalow on Singapore Hill where, though the height is inconsiderable, we find a great difference in climate. Nothing can be more interesting and beautiful than the view from this spot. The tombs of the Malay Kings are close at hand, and I have settled that if it is my fate to die here I shall take my place amongst them: this will at any rate be better than leaving my bones at Bencoolen…

It all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  I thought so too, although I did down that last Singapore Sling pretty fast…

Then I foolishly spent two minutes doing some actual research.  Ah.

It turns out (at least according to Wikipedia, that well-known font of historical accuracy) that the letter quoted above was written to William Marsden, English orientalist, linguist, numismatist and pioneer in the scientific study of Indonesia.  Not to Samuel Marsden, the flogging parson and husband to Elizabeth’s friend Betsy.

William, not Samuel.  Ah.

There went my genius blog post; disappeared in a puff of historical accuracy.  Back to the bar to commiserate, methinks…

Photo: Adventures in Biography

Photo: Adventures in Biography


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