Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826)
Autograph letter signed (incomplete, lacking the opening page and salutation) [to William Taylor Money], n.p. [Bencoolen, Sumatra], n.d. [1819/1820], 4 pages, 4to, on a bifolium (splits in folds with part loss of letters in 5 words, repaired with tape). Provenance. The manuscript was discovered in a collection of letters addressed to William Taylor Money.
The final portion of a letter addressed to W.T. Money, Member of Parliament and a prominent member of the Clapham Sect, to whom Raffles describes his activities in Sumatra and offers his congratulations on his correspondent's election as a director of the East India Company.
'Pending the references which have been made on all points I am of course remaining perfectly neutral and quiet and for the present I cannot perhaps be better than in an out of the way place like Bencoolen. I however am not idle in other respects. I am inquiring into the institutions and particulars of the people as well as into the resources of the country, and I am happy to have it in my power to report that I find much - very much - to interest and occupy my attention. The abolition of the old system of forced deliveries and of all Port duties has been attended with the best effect. Trade is increasing, free cultivation is commencing and the inhabitants of the interior are now seen at Bencoolen bringing down the Gold and Capica(?) of the mountains for the production and import of the Court'.
Raffles was appointed Governor of Sumatra in 1818, with the task of making the East India Company's previously unrewarding investment there profitable. The present letter confirms his first unfavourable impressions. 'No place could have been worst chosen for a settlement than Bencoolen and it never can become of much importance - but I am nevertheless doing what I can for it'. His reforms included the abolition of restrictions on pepper, the principal crop, leading to greatly increased productivity. The first half of his botanical and zoological collections was forwarded to Joseph Banks in March 1820 and Raffles discloses that Banks has written in disgust of the company's 'unhandsome treatment' of him in refusing to send a protg to Sumatra.
It was as Governor of Sumatra that Raffles hoisted the British flag in Singapore in February 1819. Bencoolen brought him personal tragedy, for four of the five children of his second marriage died there, as well as his wife's brother. The East India Company remained unpersuaded of the profitability of the settlement and Sumatra was left to the Dutch in 1825.