Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, FRS (Born at sea off the coast of Jamaica, 6th July 1781 – London, England, 5th July 1826)
Today we meet a British statesman at the close of his life, when the sun had very definitely set on his successes. Known as "the Father of Singapore", Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded a city that grew far beyond its boundaries into the modern Republic of Singapore. A driving force in the Empire, a strategist, businessman, administrator and pillar of the establishment, Raffles also found the time to champion an institution that exists to this day, London Zoo.
Raffles had spent years away from England, travelling the furthest reaches of the world and serving as Governor and administrator in several lands on behalf of the East India Company. His health had never been robust and the years of travel and tropical climes exacerbated his problems until he decided to return to England and settle there once and for all. Travelling with Raffles was his second wife, Sophia Hull, his only surviving child, Ella, having been sent back to England some years previously. His first wife, Olivia Mariamne Devenish, and four other children, had all died during the years spent overseas.
After a year spent travelling from Singapore, the fragile couple retired to Cheltenham where they remained for several months as their health recovered enough to rejoin the social whirl of London. Finally, in the winter of 1824, they began hosting illustrious gatherings in the capital at their new home in Berners Street. With his political ambitions sparked by this change of lifestyle, Raffles began to consider the possibility of taking a parliamentary seat but instead he found himself embroiled in a bitter feud with Major William Farquhar, a sparring partner from their days in Singapore, when the men jostled for power and influence over the city. Indeed, Farquhar had never forgiven Raffles for removing him from his post as 1st Resident of Singapore, a position he was forced to forfeit thanks to what Raffles saw as his lazy, immoral ways in office.
Brushing aside the complaints and criticisms of Farquhar, who accepted a military promotion in return for letting the matter rest, Raffles' political interests waned and he began to devote more time to his passion for the natural world. Eventually he founded the Zoological Society of London and the London Zoo, happily accepting the position of president in 1826. However, there was little time for him to celebrate these achievements as Farquhr was not the only person to have a beef with Raffles and he found himself required to pay over £20,000 in restitution for mistakes made during his career in the east.
This sudden reversal of fortune was a body blow for Raffles and he left London and moved to his country estate, Highwood, where his already frail health went into terminal decline. On the day before he was due to celebrate his birthday, Raffles died of a brain tumour at the age of 44. His estate was forfeit to the East India Company to settle his debts and his wish to be buried at St. Mary's Church, Hendon, was denied by the vicar, Theodor Williams, who objected to Raffles' anti-slavery stance as his own family had made their money in that trade.
Although a memorial tablet was finally put in place in 1887, Raffles' body seemed to have disappeared. However, fate took another turn in 1914 when the Father of Singapore's remains were found within a vault at the church. With restoration work done on the building throughout the 1920s, he was finally laid to rest within its walls, with a new memorial plaque laid to honour his memory.