Raffles' "Little Child"

Tuesday, 21 June 1887 - Singapore

Singapore has a unique history. It was a British Colony, but the majority of colonists were not Europeans, as in Australia or Canada, but Asians. It was from the start one of the most multi-ethnic cities in the world. And from its start it was also one of the fastest growing. It is a city that will become a nation because of its uniqueness.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
In 1818, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Governor of Bencoolen on western Sumatra, convinced his bosses at the East Indian Company, that Britain needed a new base in the region. All the other ports were controlled by the Dutch, who levied high tariffs on the British, who were forced to sail through the Strait of Melaka to get from India to China.

After studying several maps, Raffles decided the island off the southern tip of Malaya would be perfect. Singapore Island was about half-way between India and China, and centrally located in Southeast Asia. Most importantly the Dutch had ignored it. For that matter so had the Sultan of Johar who supposedly owned it.

In 1819 Raffles landed on the southern end of Singapore Island to find a tiny fishing village at the mouth of a river. The rest was thick jungle. However he knew that there had once been a port here, named Singapura (Sanskrit for “Lion City.”) Nothing was left after the Portuguese had destroyed it two hundred years before. This was indeed the perfect site for a port.

Map of Singapore (sorry it's in German)
Raffles asked the Sultan of Johar, Tengku Rahman, for permission to settle on the island. The Sultan, not wanting to anger the Dutch, refused. Raffles knew all the local gossip. Tengku Rahman’s eldest brother, Tengku Hussein, was living in exile. Their father had died when the eldest brother was away, and the youngest took the opportunity to seize power. After all, daddy had failed to name his heir.

Raffles smuggled Tengku Hussein into Singapore and offered to recognize him as the true Sultan of Johar and ruler of Malay if he would give the British permission to set up a trading post. He would also pay him a yearly rent. Tengku Hussein signed the treaty and became Sultan of Johar. Better a puppet king, than no kingdom at all.

As for the natives, Temenggong Abdu'r Rahman, the local leader, had helped Raffles with his plan. He had heard tales of Singapore’s glorious past, and was not adverse to seeing it again. He had also been promised a yearly stipend.

Singapore was not to be some quick and dirty temporary outpost. Raffles had great plans for her. He envisioned a prosperous, modern city. His first order was that this was to be a free port--no tariffs, no taxes and open to all.

Raffles had to return to Bencoolen. He left Major William Farquhar in charge. Farquhar took the idea of free port a bit too far, ignoring slave markets, gambling, opium dens, cock fighting and brothels. He did however tax the illegal operations by having them buy “licenses.”

When Raffles returned in 1822 he was happy to see population was over 5,000. Merchants had flocked from all over with the promise of free trade. He was also unhappy to see the how wild and wooly the place had become. Stabbings in the street were common. The police could do little to stop it, since they were usually the first victims. Raffles fired Farquhar and set about cleaning up the place. He called Singapore his “Little Child” and took her best interests to heart.

From the very beginning Malay culture was to be respected as were those of any colonists as long as their customs "shall not be contrary to reason, justice or humanity." Just about every conceivable religion has had a place of worship here from early on. Tolerance is the key word.

I think if you walk around Singapore long enough, you will run into just about every nationality in the world. Malayans now come in third, out numbered by the Chinese and Indians. Even among them you have various cultures. But everyone buries their differences. The British cooperate with the “uncivilized,” the Chinese with the “barbarians,” the Muslims with the “infidels,” and the Hindus with the “casteless.” And all because tolerance and cooperation is good for commerce, and commerce is the foundation of Singapore.

In 1867 Singapore became unhappy with the East Indian Company, who was having problems running a city that had grown to over 82,000. So it became a Crown Colony. Instead of being run by accountants, graduates of Oxford and Cambridge now took the reins. They learned to read and write Chinese to better serve their wards.

Most civil service jobs are filled by Indians, already acquainted with the British way of doing things, or Peranakan Chinese. The Peranakans are merchants that have spent generations in Malay before Singapore was even a glimmer in Raffle’s eye. They are educated and adaptable, and seem to like the British way of doing things.

Raffles Square, Singapore
Then in 1869, things really took off. The Suez Canal was opened, taking 5,000 miles off the trip from Europe. Singapore became one of the largest ports in the world. I’m not sure what the population is in 1887, but I do know it will be 181,602 in 1891.

In 1963, Singapore will leave the British Empire, and again join with Malaya. Two years later they will separate. It will become evident Singapore is already becoming a totally separate culture that will have little in common with Malaya. In less than 30 years after Independence Singapore will go from being a third world country to becoming a modern, wealthy nation.

How did they do it? By following Raffles dream. Of course they updated it a bit but they stayed on the same path of tolerance and commerce.

Which is why the University of Singapore has sent me here. They are not ashamed of their colonial roots, but rather proud of them. Why not? The Asian colonists had as much a hand in building Singapore as the British, maybe more. Some of the colonial buildings will be saved even as the island will become covered with skyscrapers. And Raffles is still venerated as their Founding Father. I have been sent here to cover the unveiling of his statue, next Monday, the 27th of June, 1887. I came early to get a lay of the city.

If Raffles could jump ahead even the 200 years he had hoped his city would survive, he would be shocked by all the skyscrapers and the end of the British Empire. But I don’t think he would be disappointed with his “Little Child.” She grew up to do her “daddy” proud.

Singapore about 200 years after its founding


What I Had For Lunch

20 June 2658

I am “over the pond” on my way to the Bohemia, New York and the Institute of Time Travel, mulling over today’s events. I don’t know if I should even put this on my blog--it’s all too embarrassing. But perhaps I should as a warning to all professionals who get caught up in their work too much.

I returned last Thursday from 1891 and the French Riviera, spent Friday at the University of Monaco, and then Saturday at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis. Sunday I got up early and went to my office at the History Faculty Building to do paperwork. I had to have the custodian let me in since the building was closed. I for once was grateful that my office did not have a window, for it was such a lovely day outside, perfect for punting on the Cam River that runs through the campus.

Punting on the Cam

I was in such a rush today because I had to give a lecture in the morning and then I was off to Long Island where I had a time machine to catch. The lecture went well. However, I got a real dressing down from one of the attendees afterwards.

Usually after a lecture, people will come up and ask me questions, or just want a closer look at my frock coat. It was after these curious folks had left that a menacing figure stepped from the shadows.

“Wendell Abercrombie Howe!” the irate tigress growled. “I have to attend one of your bloody lectures just to see you?”

“Mum?” I sometimes think mothers only give us middle names so they use them against us when they are mad.

She came at me shaking her finger like it was a pistol. “I swear Wendell, I wish I could toss you over my knee and give up a spanking, or at least make you go stand in the corner.”

I looked about nervously hoping no one was witnessing this. “W-w-what d-did I-I do?”

“Why didn’t you come visit us or at least call yesterday?”

“I’m sorry. I was just in a hurry to all my work done and get ready for my next project. I’m expected at the Institute this afternoon.”

“Expected by who? Queen Victoria the first?”

“Of course not. I would never be allowed in Her Majesty’s presence, although I have had tea with Queen Victoria the fifth not long ago.”

Mum did not look impressed. “But you couldn’t have tea with your own father? We waited all day for you.”

“You were expecting me? I didn’t say I was coming.”

“No, we just assumed you would at least call on Father’s Day.”

“Father’s Day? Yesterday was Father’s Day?” I felt sick.

“Yes, Wendell. You are usually in the past on Father’s Day, but this year you had no excuse.”

“No, I don’t, except I lose all track of time in this business. Last account I had it was early September 1891. No wonder you want to beat me. I am so sorry, Mum.”

“Your father didn’t say anything, but I know he was hurt. You are his only child after all. The old Wendell--our Wendell--would never forget Father’s Day.”

Poor Mum. She and the rest of the family never got over losing their Wendell to some stuffy Victorian caricature. Ingraining is always hard on the families of temporal anthropologists. Many families wash their hands of us and treat us as though we were dead. As for us, the person we once were feels more like a reincarnation from a previous life, rather than this one. With the carefully regulated low birthrate, and so many of us being only children, this has got to be hard on our families.

I felt the urge to throw myself at her feet and beat my head on the ground, but Victorian restrain would never allow it. I reached out and took her hand and held it in both of mine. “Dearest mother, please forgive me. I wish I had a time machine of my own, I would go back to yesterday and make this right.”

I felt especially guilty that I had taken a break and treated myself to a bicycle ride yesterday. I could have spent that time with my father. Truth was I rode about the oldest parts of the campus, pretending I was back in the 19th century.

“Why are you in such a hurry to get back into the past, Wendell? Can’t you take a couple of days off?”

“To be honest, Mother, I don’t feel comfortable in the 27th century anymore. I haven’t for a very, very long time. The 19th century is home now. It’s where I belong.”

“I know, and it scares me.” Then she forced a smile. “Your family has been history professors for generations now. Military families, back when they had wars, expected to lose sons to battles. The Howes have lost a son to History.”

I almost argued with her, then realized she was right. “Hopefully not completely. Please tell me how to make this right? Perhaps I could manage lunch today. I’ll send my luggage on ahead with the documentation.” The Institute of Time Travel insists on going through all our luggage to make sure we don’t take anything out of period. I try to buy as much as possible in the Field and keep careful records of the when and where I bought an item to prove to the twits at the Institute that they indeed had things like umbrellas and teapots in 1887.

Mum called Dad and made arrangements for lunch. We met at the local Curry Shop. They had vindaloo for lunch. I ate humble pie.


314 Asteroids as of Last Night

Wednesday, 2 September 1891 - Nice, France

Nice Observatory in Nice, France
Last night I visited the Nice Observatory high above the city atop Mount Gros. It is privately funded and was started by the banker Raphaël Bischoffsheim. Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, designed the main dome. This is one of the highest observatories in the world and also has one of the largest telescopes.

Nice Observatory's very nice telescope

Henri Perrotin
also known as Joseph Perrotin
I really came to meet the astronomers here. Henri Joseph Anastase Perrotin, now the director, is famous for his observations of Mars, as well as discovering six asteroids. He has two assistants, both twenty-seven years old.

Stephanie Javelle he has been here since 1888 and will observe 1431 objects, 95% of which are new. He will also serve as inspiration for H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. In 1894 he will report seeing a strange light on Mars. We aren’t sure what it was, but it lit a fire under Wells imagination. He will name one of the characters in the novel “Lavelle” and no one believes that was a coincidence.

Perrotin’s six asteroids are impressive, but his second assistant has discovered six asteroids so far this year! In fact number six was last night--asteroid 314 Rosalia. That makes twenty-one asteroids for Auguste Charlois since he started working here in 1887. In 1893 he will discover a whopping twenty-four.

Just this year the observatory has started using astrophotograhy that allows more objects to be seen than could be found with the naked eye. (Sounds like Charlois was doing pretty well with just his naked eye.) It’s a technique perfected very recently by Max Wolf at the University of Heidelberg.

Charlois and Wolf are in competition to see who can find the most asteroids. Charlois is way ahead right now. He will eventually find ninety-nine asteroids in all. It would have been one hundred but 433 Eros was discovered the same night by Carl Gustave Witt who announced it to the press first. Hard to say who really found it first. But Witt only found two asteroids, so we will let him have Eros.

Wolf will eventually beat Charlois with two hundred finds, but Wolf will outlive him by twenty-two years. In 1910, when Charlois was only forty-six, he will be murdered by his former brother-in-law who was angry that he remarried. Odd thing to murder someone for, if you ask me. Murder seldom makes much sense. The scoundrel will be shipped off to New Caledonia for a life of hard labor.

But Charlois is only twenty-seven now, and a rising star among astronomers. (Erm, no pun intended.) I think Perrotin is maybe a smidge jealous (and who can blame him) but Charlois is doing hat tricks for the home team (that’s “hitting home-runs” for you Yanks.) I don’t think Perrotin would want to lose either of these sharp-eyed young men.

I know Charlois will discover four more asteroids this month, but it was still exciting to watch. I will always remember 314 Rosalia as “my” asteroid. All right, I was sitting quietly in the corner being careful not to bother anyone, but I suppose I did help in my small way. I did fetch coffee.

A list of asteroids found between 1801 and 1923.
Notice A. Charlois dominates the 1890s.

Photo of 298 Baptistina
298 Baptistina, discovered just last year, 9 September 1890, by Charlois, is believed to be the largest remnant of a much larger asteroid broken up when a smaller body hit it. One of these chunks fell to Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! (At least that's the current theory. No temporal anthropologist wants to go back and check it out.)


The Man Who Opened Cannes

Wednesday, 19 August 1891 - Cannes, France

I believe I have mentioned all the British tourists on the French Riviera? The coastal towns are full of villas built by the wealthy of great Britain. Today I visited what was probably the first--villa Eleonore-Louise here in Cannes, France.

Lord Brougham
The villa was built by Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux. Lord Brougham was a prominent politician and served as Lord Chancellor 1830-34 under King William IV and Prime Minister Earl Grey. Lord Brougham supported education, abolition, legal reforms and made Great Britain a better place.

In 1834 he brought his daughter, Eleonore-Louise, to the Riviera after doctors told him to take her to warmer climes. The poor dear was suffering from “consumption,” as tuberculosis was called then. In the 19th century there was no known cure, save rest, fresh air, and sunshine--which occasionally worked.

In truth, Lord Brougham was actually trying to get to Nice, then part of the Italian Riviera. Unfortunately there was a cholera outbreak and his lordship was detained in Cannes, France waiting for the quarantine to be lifted. He fell in love with the little fishing village and decided to bring Italy to it. He bought a large piece of property on the edge of town and built an Italian villa which he named for his daughter.

Villa Eleonore-Louise
Sadly Eleonore died soon after in 1839. Still it is a lovely spot to spend ones last days. Lord Brougham spent the next 30 winters here at this estate. He died here in 1868 at the age of 89 and was buried at the local cemetery.

Now Lord Brougham did more than just build a nice villa. He wrote to the folks back home that he had been “enjoying the delightful climate of Provence, its clear skies and refreshing breezes, while the deep blue of the The Mediterranean stretched before us. The orange groves perfumed the air while the forest behind, ending in the Alps, protected us from the cold winds of the north."

Who could resist such a sales pitch? British aristocrats came to visit his villa. Soon aristocrats all across Europe, all the way to Moscow, began coming to Cannes and the surrounding towns.

Cannes Advertisement
At first people came for their health. I imagine more than one “consumption” victim had asthma rather than tuberculosis. Getting away from the cold, damp and very smoggy British cities would have “cured” them. Soon people were coming just for the pleasure of the area.

The railroad arrived in Cannes in 1863 and things really took off. Hotels sprang up like mushrooms. Wealthy aristocrats built winter villas in droves. Wanting to outdo their neighbors, some were built in the style of Russian Trianons and Indian palaces. Gardeners began to bring exotic foreign plants like mimosa and palm trees. The poor fishing villa was now a prosperous tourist destination.

Cannes Statue to Lord Brougham
Cannes knew who to thank. Soon after Lord Brougham’s death, they erected a statue in the center of town to him. He not only brought in tourists, but helped promote several building projects such as the harbor and the railroad. He is looked upon as a “founding father.” Well, he did “find” Cannes and helped the rest of Europe find her, too.

By the way, the Brougham Carriage was not named in Lord Brougham's honor, like Earl Grey tea was named after Earl Grey. Lord Brougham designed this popular carriage himself  that became a model for some early horseless carriages. One of his minor accomplishments.