Thomas Stamford Raffles, later Sir Stamford Raffles, was one of those nineteenth century renaissance men whose multifaceted impact on the British empire in Asia was profound.

He was born in 1781 near Jamaica (apparently on board a ship moored off the coast), and joined the East India Company as clerk at the tender age of 14. By all accounts he was clever and ambitious, and had a facility for languages. By 1804, he was assistant secretary to the colonial president of Prince of Wales Island in what was then Malaya. (Malaya is now called Malaysia, of course, and the island is known as Penang.) By 1811 he was Lieutenant Governor of Java, and was soon promoted to Governor of Bencoolen (now Sumatra). In 1819 he founded Singapore, having negotiated with local Malay leaders to allow the British to establish a settlement on the island in return for military support for the Sultan. Raffles died in 1826 at the young age of 44. There is a famous statue commemorating him in Singapore.

Raffles was interested in the cultural and natural world around him. His facility with the Malay language made him indispensible to the British. He was the first European to see the fabulous structure at Borobudur, and thus is credited with having "discovered" or "revealed" the immense ruin. He was fascinated by the flora and fauna of lush Asia, and, as was fashionable at the time, collected live and dead specimens of plant and animal life, which he shipped to Britain. He apparently raised a sun bear cub which would join his family for dinner, dining on mangoes and champagne. He founded the London Zoo, and was the first president of the Zoological Society of London.

Much, but not all, of this information, including the anecdote about the sun bear, can be found at
The page is hosted by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, so the focus is on the flora and fauna angle. There's a stuffy looking painting of him reproduced there too, if you're interested.

Raffles has had quite the posthumous treatment here in the small island of Singapore, with close to a hundred firms, buildings and roads named after him.

And yet, despite all that, only a very small group of people know that his full name is Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles.

With thanks to tdent for several amendments.

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