The other Raffles

He was manipulative, says one new book; another strips away the myth without diminishing him

A new book by British author and journalist Tim Hannigan, titled Raffles And The British Invasion Of Java, offers a vastly critical picture of the man. -- PHOTO: MONSOON BOOKS

It is not uncommon to hear Indonesians say that their country would likely have been far better off today had it been colonised by the British rather than the Dutch, but few are aware that, for five years in the early 1800s, the British were in charge of Java and left a legacy that continues to rankle.

In August 1811, a 12,000-strong army from the British East India Company – split almost evenly between European and Indian sepoy regiments – invaded the Dutch colony while Britain was at war with Napoleonic France, both an ally and occupier of Holland.
The soldiers landed in what is north Jakarta today, and moved swiftly to subdue resistance from Dutch holdouts and local rulers across Java.

Heading this enterprise was Thomas Stamford Raffles, who became lieutenant-governor of Java at the age of 30. He would set up home in today’s Bogor, and later go on to found modern Singapore.

The story of Raffles has been overwhelmingly positive – he is largely regarded as a hero and an enlightened man who also wrote a two-volume History Of Java and “discovered” the ninth-century Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur.