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Singapore - History

In relative terms, Singapore has a fairly new and recent history. There isn’t much documentation of its early years and a couple hundred years go by where there really wasn’t any documentation at all. Still, it has ties to the British Empire and Malaysia which helped put it on the map, so to speak.

Singapore was once a colonial outpost of Great Britain. Since then, it has grown from a fishing village to a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Although it has had inhabitants since the 14th century, the first village was not recorded until about 1880 years ago. In 1959 it became self-governing and it gained its independence from Malaysia in 1965.

The first settlement that we know of was established in the second century AD. At that time, it was an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya. Its name was Temasek which meant “sea town” and it was a part of the Sultanate of Johor between the 16th and 19th centuries. However, the settlement was destroyed by Portuguese raiders in 1613 and for the next few hundred years Singapore disappeared from history.

Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company first established a trading post on Singapore Island in 1819 and in 1826 it became part of the British colony of the Straits Settlements. Before he got there, there were about 1,000 inhabitants in Singapore. The majority of these individuals were indigenous with some Chinese and Malays. However, by 1860, there were more than 80,000 inhabitants and more than half of these were Chinese. Most of the immigrants came to seek employment at the rubber plantations. Indeed, Singapore would eventually become known as a center for rubber exports.

By 1832 Singapore was attracting immigrants from India, China, and all other parts of Asia by the thousands. In 1922, it became the main British naval base in East Asia and in 1942 it fell to Japan in World War II during the Battle of Singapore. The British were defeated at this time and the Sook Ching massacre took place and affected the ethnic Chinese. It is estimated that as many as 25,000 lives were lost.

Singapore again fell under British rule in 1945 when Japan was defeated. In 1946, it became its own separate crown colony. In the 1950s, an armed struggle broke out amongst the Communists and this resulted in the Malayan Emergency and the Communist Insurgency War. In a little more than ten years later, Singapore became self-ruled in 1957. Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister when self-government was attained in 1959. The People’s Action Party won the 1959 elections in a landslide and Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode was the first Head of State. In 1965, Yusof bin Ishak became the first President.

In 1963 Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya, Sabah (North Borneo), and Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia. However, it pulled out of the Federation of Malaysia due to political and ethnic tensions in 1965. It gained its independence in 1965 as the Republic of Singapore. All individuals who were present at that time gained citizenship if they so desired. In 1970 it joined the non-aligned movement and in 1971 the last British military forces were withdrawn. Goh Chok Tong was elected as Prime Minister in 1990 and during his reign the country saw the SARS outbreak, terrorist threats, and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, became the third Prime Minister in 2004.

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