Founding Fathers in a Nutshell

Mr Lee Kuan Yew is most well known as Singapore’s first Prime Minister and the man who lead the country to independence. He is also considered the Father of Modern Singapore, and served as  prime minister for over 30 years. But in the early days when Singapore was struggling to gain independence and then to stand on its own as a newly independent country, Mr Lee had a team of brave men to worked alongside him. They are considered the ‘founding fathers’ of Singapore.  Here’s a quick profile of them in a nutshell.

Singapore Founding Fathers LSB - Copy

Toh Chin Chye
As Deputy Prime Minister, he was most well known for being responsible for creating Singapore’s national symbols including the Singapore flag and the Coat of Arms. He later became the Minister for Science & Technology (1968-1975) then the Minister for Health (1975-1981) and retired in 1988. When he passed away in 2012, he was honoured with a state funeral.

Goh Keng Swee
Mr Goh is considered the economic architect of Singapore. As Minister of Finance, he invited many foreign companies to invest in Singapore to set up businesses here, which created jobs for Singaporeans and helped the country industrialise. Later as Minister of Defence, he set up the Singapore Armed Forces and made national service compulsory for all Singaporean men. After being Minister of Finance in the first cabinet, he became Minister for the Interior and Defence (1965-1967), then back to being Minister of Finance (1967-1970), Minister for Defence (1970-1979), Minister for Education (1979 -1984), and finally as a Deputy Prime Minister (1973-1984). He retired after that, and passed away in 2010. He was given a state funeral.

Sinnathamby Rajaratnam
Better known as S. Rajaratnam, he is best remembered as being Singapore’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs. When Singapore became independent, he had the job of getting the new country recognised all over the world. He put Singapore on the international stage by helping Singapore get into the United Nations, and helped establish ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). He also steered Singapore through during the Vietnam War and the terrible period of Konfrantasi. Mr Rajaratnam wrote the Singapore Pledge which students continue to recite every morning all over the country. Mr Rajaratnam was Minister for Foreign Affairs in Singapore (1965-1980), Minister for Labour (1968 – 1971), Deputy Prime Minister (1980-1985) and Senior Minister (1985-1988). He retired in 1988 and passed away in 2006 and was given a state funeral.

Ong Pang Boon
In the early days, Singapore was not as orderly or safe as it is now. Organised crime, secret societies, gambling dens, prostitution and corruption was common. As minister for home affairs, Mr Ong, with the police, cleaned up the city, went after the secret societies and organised crime, closed down the vice dens and went after corruption, turning Singapore into the orderly, lawful state it is now. When he was Minister of Education (1963-1970), he made second language compulsory in schools, as he believed it was important to Singapore’s survival.  He later became Minister without Portfolio (1970-1971), Minister for Labour (1971-1981), Minister for Communications (1983), and Minister for Environment (1981-1984). He retired from politics in 1988.

Othman Wok
As Minister for Social Affairs (1963-1965, 1968-1977), he had to look after the issues of the poor and disadvantaged. He set up the Singapore Council of Social Service (now National Council of Social Service) and later the Volunteer Social Service Bureau. He did a lot for the Malay community too, setting up the Mosque Building Fund (MBF), where Muslims contribute a small sum from their monthly salary to build mosques in new towns. He also helped set up MUIS which handles Muslim affairs. From 1977 – 1981, he was Minister without Portfolio and Ambassador to Indonesia. He retired in 1981. Many people may not know that he wrote and published a few horror story books after he retired, including Malayan Horror: Macabre Tales from Singapore and Malaya in 2004.

Lim Kim San
Mr Lim was Singapore’s first Minister of Finance, and he over the years, he was also Minister of Defence, Environment, Communications, and  National Development. But he is most well known as ‘Mr HDB’. In Singapore’s early days, most people were living in terrible conditions – in slums and squatters without electricity or running water. So when the government set up the Housing Development Board (HDB), he volunteered to run the HDB without pay for the first few years. During that time, the HDB built so many flats for Singaporeans, it averaged one every 45 minutes. He also made it such that Singaporeans could afford to buy their own homes. He retired from politics in 1980 and died in 2006.

EW Barker
Mr Barker drafted the papers for Separation from Malaysia, and was the first to put his signature to them. He was also Singapore’s longest serving Law Minister from 1964 to 1988. Since Singapore’s independence, he helped develop Singapore by overseeing the housing, and was a driving force behind the building the first National Stadium in Kallang. He also set up the Preservation of Monuments Act, that allowed historical buildings to be preserved. He retired in 1988 and passed away in 2001.

Hon Sui Sen
Mr Hon served Singapore for 44 years of life, first in the civil service then as a minister. As a minister of finance in the early years, he helped Singapore industrialise and grow its economy. Under him, lots of factories sprang up in Jurong, creating jobs for lots of people. He was also instrumental in turning Pulau Blakang Mati, a fortified island used by the British army, into Sentosa, an island for tourists and Singaporeans to enjoy themselves. He was Finance Minister from 1970 until he died in 1983, making him one of the longest serving Finance Ministers in the world.

(Source: Singapore Infopedia NLB. PIcture credits: Straits Times)

William Farquhar — The Other Founder of Singapore

Everyone knows Stamford Raffles as the Founder of Singapore. But in all his life, he only spent 8 months at the longest stretch on our little island. Raffles may have had the grand plans, but it was William Farquhar who stayed on and ruled in Singapore. He worked with the people here and took Singapore from the sleepy fishing village it was to the commercial hub of his time, almost 200 years ago.

William Farquhar, The First Resident and Commandant of Singapore

Born in Scotland, he joined the East India Company as a young man, and spent many, many years in the East. He could speak fluent Malay, and knew the local customs well. He was friendly to everyone – the foreigners and locals alike, and was very well liked. Farquhar was married a lady called Antoinette Clement, the daughter of a French officer and Malay woman. Farquhar and Antoinette had six children together. He was known in his later years in Singapore to have worn a sarong at home instead of western clothes.

By the time he landed in Singapore with Raffles on 28 January 1819, Farquhar had already spent 15 years as the Resident and Commandant of Malacca and was, as you can guess, very familiar with people and culture here. It was he who who discussed the agreement in Malay with the rulers of Singapore to set up a trading post here. (You can see him signing the agreement on page 13 of The Little Singapore Book.) Soon after, Raffles left Singapore while Farquhar stayed on as the First British Resident and Commandant of Singapore. He had the tough job of building up and developing the little island.

It wasn’t easy.

Raffles had declared Singapore a free port, which meant Farquhar could not collect taxes from the merchant ships  which came to Singapore to buy and sell goods. Even though the great ships from all over the world sailed in to trade, all that business couldn’t provide Farquhar with money carry out Raffles’ grand plans to turn Singapore into a modern city with all the facilities needed like roads and buildings, drains and canals.

He asked the senior officers (ie. his bosses) in Calcutta, India, for help, but they didn’t want to send money for Singapore. It was so far away and as yet unimportant. Raffles himself was little help as he was in Bencoolen and the postal service was slow and unreliable.

What was Farquhar to do? He needed to get things done. He was given his orders, but he wasn’t given  any money or means to earn it, to carry get the job done. He had no choice but to dig into his own pockets to pay for some of the expenses in building up Singapore. In such a difficult situation, he allowed certain not-so-pleasant activities to take place in Singapore, so that he could raise money for the island. Even though Raffles had said from the start they were not to be allowed, Farquhar let people run gambling dens, cockfighting, sell opium, arrack and even slaves! He could tax all these which gave him the money to build the much-needed roads and public works for the island.

Under his rule, High Street, the first road in Singapore, was built. Thick jungles were transformed into profitable gambier, coconut, and nutmeg plantations. As more and more people arrived to live and work here, there soon emerged residential areas with timber houses and wide verandahs, godowns by the Singapore River and many thriving businesses.

By 1820, Singapore had become one the most important trading ports in Southeast Asia!

Singapore’s Philanthropists: Hospitals for the Poor

Over a hundred years ago, many immigrants in Singapore had to work really hard. Some became rich and were very generous with their money. Instead of keeping it to themselves, they shared their success by building hospitals and schools so that others, especially the poor, could make use of them and make their lives better too. These generous people are called ‘philanthropists’. You see, unlike now, there were not many places you could go for help in old Singapore — especially if you were poor.

The six buildings you see on page 16 of The Little Singapore Book are just a few examples of the buildings and organisations built by these philanthropists. Two of them are hospitals for the poor, and they are still around today.

Thong Chye Watermarked JPG (2)

The Thong Chye Medical Institution was started as a free clinic almost 150 years by a group of Chinese immigrants. Traditional Chinese physicians or doctors there took care of the sick free of charge! Lots of rich merchants and businessmen donated money to help run this free hospital, and lots of poor people got the help they needed. One of the biggest donors was a man called Gan Eng Seng. (A school is named after him too.)

Even though it no longer runs out of the beautiful old building which it used to occupy along Eu Tong Sen Street, Thong Chai Medical Institution is still around today and continues to provide free medical care to the poor, thanks to the generous philanthropists from a long time ago!

Pauper's Hospital Watermark JPG

Another hospital that helped the poor was the Chinese Pauper’s Hospital. It is more than 170 years old, making it one of the oldest hospitals in Singapore. Most people know it today as Tan Tock Seng Hospital. It was first built at Pearl’s Hill, but had a move a few times over the years before it arrived at its current location. It is named after Tan Tock Seng, a rich Hokkien merchant who gave money and land to build this hospital in 1844. But many people may not know that other rich merchants also helped to build the hospital, like his own son Tan Kim Cheng, and Syed Sharif Omar al-Junied, a wealthy Arab spice trader, who also donated land for the hospital!

Did you know?
Hospitals in 19th century Singapore were very different from the hospitals now. Can you imagine that a very, very long time ago, many patients would run away from the hospital so that they could expose their sores and beg for money along the roads? To prevent them from doing that again, these misbehaving patients would be caned as punishment! That surely would not have helped the patients get well sooner! Aren’t you glad things are not like that anymore? We sure are!