Raffles and the Golden Opportunity: from Governing Java to Founding Singapore
Lecture by: The Hon. Victoria Glendinning, CBE, FRSL
Location: Jardine Penthouse, 48/F Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central
In view of the likely popularity of this lecture, if you would like to attend, please would you reply stating the number of tickets you would like to book, so that we are able to ensure sufficient seating; there is no need to pay for your tickets in advance.
Complimentary Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm
The Royal Geographical Society is delighted to welcome the distinguished historian Victoria Glendinning to Hong Kong, to speak on "Raffles and the Golden Opportunity: from Governing Java to Founding Singapore". In this lecture, she tells the extraordinary story of Sir Stamford Raffles, FRS, the best-known colonial adventurer in South-East Asia, serving as Governor of both Java and of Bengkulu in Borneo, and becoming the founder of Singapore.
In 1819, Sir Stamford raised the British flag on a small jungle-covered island and established a settlement which has become the city state of Singapore. He had also been Governor of Java and of Bengkulu in west Sumatra, Borneo. That is not all that he did in the Archipelag Raffles was one of the most distinguished ethnologists and natural historians of his era, amassing huge collections from South-East Asia. Had he done nothing else, he would have been famous as a scientist, for which he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Victoria Glendinning, however, argues that the reality of Sir Stamford Raffles has been submerged by his image and his name. Born with no social advantages, he grasped at opportunities and strove to realise his visions. He became the ambitious entrepreneur of his own ideals and a romantic imperialist. His vision, perhaps unattainable, was of an Archipelago with the ancient indigenous rulers restored, but all under the benign rule of the British. The East India Company though contained and finally rejected him, while reaping the benefits of the success of Singapore.
Raffles was energetic, resilient and precipitate in his behaviour. His way was to do something first and seek official approval afterwards. In Java he prioritised the improvement of the conditions of the village cultivators over making an immediate profit, which did not endear him to the East India Company. He was passionately anti-slavery and an ‘enlightenment' man, though sometimes inconsistent in his enlightenment.
Victoria Glendinning also speaks on her detailed study of Raffles's personal life. He had great charm, and the only people he could not get on with were military men. He was sustained by no strong religious faith, but had a loyal and loving heart, and both his wives were remarkable women. After he was recalled from Java, on leave to England, his fabulous collections caused a stir at the Royal Society and other scientific institutions, and he was knighted by the Prince Regent. Ultimately, she argues that Raffles was not a genius but, like all ambitious visionaries, he had a streak of genius.
The Hon. Victoria Glendinning was educated at Millfield and read French and Spanish Literature at Somerville College, Oxford. She has had a distinguished career principally as a biographer but is also well known as a critic, broadcaster and novelist. She has published some 10 biographies including of Edith Sitwell, which won both the James Tait Black Award and the Duff Cooper Prize, Vita Sackville-West, which won the Whitbread Prize for Biography, Rebecca West, Anthony Trollope, which again won her a Whitbread Prize for Biography, and most recently "Raffles and the Golden Opportunity". She is a frequent reviewer of books for newspapers in the UK and abroad, appears on the radio and television, and is a frequent speaker at Literary Festivals worldwide.
Victoria Glendinning was President of English PEN, of which she is now Honorary Vice-President, and is Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature. She has been a judge of many literary awards and was Chairman of the Judges of the Booker Prize for 1992. She is on the Councils of the Society of Authors and of the London Library, and is a Trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation. She is an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford. She has been awarded a CBE and has four Honorary Doctorates.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this event, which is HK$150 for Members and HK$200 for guests and others including the complimentary drinks reception.
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