Remembering Sir Stamford Raffles, founder and first President of ZSL.
July is the anniversary month of both the birth and death of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, he was born July 1781 and died July 1826.
A brief history
This painting hangs in the Council Room in ZSL's Main Offices in Regent's Park. The subject is Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Born in 1781, Raffles had an adventurous life: he was Lieutenant-Governor of Java, is credited with founding modern Singapore (though the island was occupied discontinuously since at least the 14th century), and had the enormous, foul-smelling, rarely flowering plant Rafflesia arnoldi named after him. On his return to England, Raffles set up the Zoological Society of London in 1826, becoming its first President. Sadly he died unexpectedly the same year.
The portrait was painted in 1817 by James Lonsdale (1777-1839) and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818. It was presented to ZSL in 1946 by Mr A Spencer Moore.
History of Java
The book shown in the painting is the History of Java written by Raffles.
Raffles was a determined collector and scholar, enthusiastically researching all aspects of natural and cultural history, civilisation and languages in the countries which are now Indonesia and Malaysia. His History of Java, while today considered to be a less than accurate account of the island and its history, was an important text when first published in 1817.
ZSL Library holds a second edition of History of Java published in 1830 and a separate volume of maps and plates. Chapter 1 does contain an account of the animal kingdom in Java but Raffles' natural history role whilst in Java seemed to be as a patron, collector of specimens and commissioner of illustrations. His patronage of the work of Thomas Horsfield was of major importance. As a result of this patronage, Horsfield’s discoveries and specimens went to Britain. He published Zoological researches in Java, and the neighbouring islands.
Honouring his legacy
Following the death of Raffles in 1826 his wife, Lady Sophia Raffles wrote a biography, Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. &c. particularly in the government of Java, 1811-1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies, 1817-1824, with details of the commerce and resources of the Eastern Archipelago, and selections from his correspondence / by his widow. Published in London, 1830.
Sophia Hull was born in Millman Street, London, on the 5th May 1786. She met Raffles in Cheltenham in August 1816 and they were married in February 1817.
Sophia accompanied Raffles on his voyage to Bencoolen (today's Bengkulu) in Sumatra. Her first child was actually born on board the ship during the journey; curiously, Raffles himself had been born at sea. Sophia spent seven years in Bengkulu with Raffles, intrepidly travelling with him on many dangerous treks.
In the ‘Memoir’ Sophia uses his letters and her recollections to illustrate her husband’s achievements in Southeast Asia, including the founding of a trading post on the island of Singapore. She also records the many tragedies that hit the couple: the death of four of her five young children, the illnesses and deaths of their friends and colleagues, and the terrible loss of all their possessions and Sir Stamford’s papers and specimen collection in a fire on board ship, just as they were about to depart for England in 1824.
The couple had a few happy years at home in England, but after only nine years of marriage Raffles died, shortly after founding the Zoological Society in 1826.
Lady Raffles wrote this book in memory of her husband and his achievements and had it printed at her own expense. She also paid a substantial amount of money for the life-sized statue of Raffles in Westminster Abbey. She also edited and published a second edition of the History of Java by Raffles, and brought out a second revised edition of the 'Memoir' in 1835. She was the first woman to become a Fellow of ZSL as women were admitted as `Lady Fellows’ from 1827 onwards. Lady Raffles died on 12 December 1858.
This marble memorial plaque was situated below the bust of Sir Stamford Raffles, in the recess above the clock, over the central doorway in the Old Lion House at ZSL London Zoo. The plaque is now located in ZSL Library whilst a reproduction of the bust can be seen in the entrance lobby to ZSL's Offices at Regent's Park. The Lion House was replaced by the Lion Terraces which opened in 1976, this in turn is being replaced by the exciting new development Land of the Lions which will open next year.
With thanks to Stephen Murphy at SOAS.
Books mentioned above
All the books mentioned above can be viewed in ZSL Library and will be displayed in the Reading Room during July 2015 as well as the memorial plaque. At other times please make an appointment to see them as they form part of our `special collections’:
- History of Java / by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, 2nd ed - London, Murray, 1830
- The history of Java. Antiquarian, architectural, and landscape illustrations of the history of Java / by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles - London, Bohn, 1844
- Zoological researches in Java, and the neighbouring islands / by Thomas Horsfield - London : Kingsbury, Parbury, & Allen, 1824
- Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. &c. particularly in the government of Java, 1811-1816, and of Bencoolen and its dependencies, 1817-1824, with details of the commerce and resources of the Eastern Archipelago, and selections from his correspondence / by his widow. Published in London, 1830