Brief History of Modern Singapore

This page contains some background information of modern Singapore – its heritage and cultural history.

13 Century

  • Sang Nila Utama landed on the island and founded a settlement calling it “Singapura”, meaning “Lion City” in Sanskrit.
  • It was known as Temasek (Old Javanese for ‘Sea Town’) and in Chinese as 淡马锡 (Danmaxi) before then.


  • 28 Jan – Sir Stamford Raffles took notice of Singapura as a port for the British empire
  • 6 Feb – Sir Stanford Raffles and Major William Farquhar made a treaty with Sultan Hussein in Singapura to build a free trade port, giving birth to modern Singapore

File:Plan of the Town of Singapore (1822) by Lieutenant Philip Jackson.jpg
Plan of the Town of Singapore (1822) by Lieutenant Philip Jackson


  • By then, immigrants and migrants moved to Singapore to enjoy the free trade and jobs. Early settlers consist of:
    • Straits Chinese (Peranakan) who has been living around the region working as merchants,
    • Chinese coming directly from China with the majority being Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, and Foochow working as coolies/majie
    • Indians, with some as merchants and most as civil servants and soldiers from British empires, along with Indian convicts to work as labourers
    • Malays, some already living in Singapura, others from around, along with Muslim pilgrims
    • Others include Bugis, Javanese, Balinese, natives of Bengal and Madras, Parsees, Arabs, and Caffrees (Africans)
  • Tan Tock Seng, a Peranakan Chinese arrived in Singapore in 1820s from Melaka became a wealthy merchant and philanthropist
  • Major William Farquhar was left in-charge of the settlement after Raffles left, and to supplement income, vices such as slave trading, gambling, cock fighting, opium trade, which anger Raffles greatly
  • Raffles spent a total of nine months in Singapore between 1922 to 1923. He introduced a town plan (seen above), modern law and founded Singapore Institution (Raffles Institution)


  • Thian Hock Keng temple is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple. It was originally a small joss house before being rebuilt in 1839. “It was visited by Chinese immigrants giving thanks to Ma Zu (Goddess of the Sea) for their safe voyage.”


  • Tan Tock Seng founded Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844 for the poor


  • Singapore became a Crown colony in 1867 along with Melaka and Penang.


  • The growth of the hawker trade and coffee shops by the Hainanese population


  • Japanese occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945 (see book: Wartime Kitchen: Food and Eating in Singapore, 1942-1950)
  • 1 April 1946 – Straits Settlements was dissolved and Singapore became a Crown Colony with a civil administration headed by a Governor separate from Malaya


  • 16 September 1963 – The formation of Malaysia consisting of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore
  • 9 August 1965 – Expulsion of Singapore, the formation of the Republic of Singapore
  • 7 April 1967 – Introduction of the Singapore Dollar

Further Reading:
Singapore Trivia: The Firsts and Lasts (in Everyday Life). Remember Singapore. 23 Nov 2013.

Singapore’s Vanished Markets and Hawker Centres. Remember Singapore. 27 Aug 2012.

History SG. National Library Board. Accessed 1 Jun 2017.

Hong Suen Wong. Wartime Kitchen: Food and Eating in Singapore, 1942-1950. Editions Didier Millet, 2009.