Singapore has been known by a plethora of names through out its history, which is one of the reasons why the earliest accounts of its origins are sketchy at best. Chinese historical accounts refer to a region called Pu-lou-chung, roughly translated as “the island at the tip of a peninsula.” Temasek is the earliest reference to what’s now known as Singapore. Temasek was an early settlement inhabited by people who apparently had trading relations with China. Before long, the settlement came under the control of the Sumatra based Srivijaya Empire. It was under the Srivijayas that the island was christened with its present name, albeit incorrectly. One of the Srivijaya leaders alighting at the island during a thunderstorm thought he saw a lion and proceeded to name the island “Singapura” or “the city of the lion.” Medical tourism vacationers will be tickled to know that experts have since debunked his account – it couldn’t possibly have been a lion since lions have never populated these parts. In the 16th century, Singapore passed into the hands of the Sultan of Johur, under whose control it stayed until the British came calling in 1819.
British Occupation and the Raffles Story
The British East India Company, always on the lookout for newer trading ports, entrusted one of its officers Sir Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant Governor of Bencoolen with the responsibility of finding a new port though which they could establish supremacy over the Straits of Malacca. Raffles, a veteran of the area, had his sights set on the “city of the lion” and on 29th January 1819, landed at Singapore and proceeded to sign a treaty with the Sultan to develop the island as a trading post. In 1867 Singapore officially became a part of the Royal Crown.
Raffles didn’t stick around to participate in the development of the island as a success story. He entrusted the administration to William Farquhar under whose able command the island quickly became a strategic business and commercial hub. For someone who is almost venerated in Singapore as the founding father of the island, Raffles was an absentee landlord. His last visit to Singapore came in 1822, only 3 years after his “founding,” and that too as a stopover on his way back to England, post-retirement. Raffles in fact had a pretty unspectacular career in the East India Company and died a penniless man in London, ravaged by syphilis. Singapore, however, credits him for much of its success, and you’ll find scores of statues and landmarks dedicated to him on your medical tourism vacation.
In 1941, the Japanese, after bombing Pearl Harbor, occupied Singapore and what followed are widely considered some of the darkest days in the island’s history. When the Japanese surrendered, Singapore reverted back to its colonial status until 1959 when it was granted internal self-governance.
In 1963, Singapore joined the Malaysian federation, but was expelled two years later when then-Prime Minister Lee Yuan Kew refused to allow Malays special economic privileges that would have been detrimental to the interests of the ethnic Chinese population. On August 9, 1965 Lee, who for long held a dream of a united Malaysia and Singapore, announced the formal expulsion from the Malaysian federation and the establishment of an independent Singapore.
Today Singapore is one of the most prosperous nations in the world with a per capita income that’s on par with many Western countries. It is the world’s busiest port and remains a prominent, economic, commercial, and medical tourism center.