I need some help understanding this poem about Colonel William Farquhar and the founding of Singapore.Colonel William FarquharHow well the sculptor understood him, putting him on a pedestal,...

I need some help understanding this poem about Colonel William Farquhar and the founding of Singapore.

Colonel William Farquhar

How well the sculptor understood him,
putting him on a pedestal,
arrogantly standing, weight on one leg, arms folded,
eyeing the river with obvious self-satisfaction.

I grant you, he had the idea -
always one for ideas was Raffles -
but who made it reality?

Who lifted his reams out of the mire
of the mangrove and the mudflats
despite the dammed humidity
and the petty racial bickering
and the endless problems
raising money from Calcutta?

Whose sweat stains the plans,
whose fingerprints mark the foundations
on which this city was built?
Mine, and an army of others!

Anonymous servants of the mother
country and the Company,
sweating out details and deadlines
while Raffles romped about the region.
Yes, while he made his reputation
it was we who were making Singapore.

1. What is Farquhar's impression of Raffles? Refer closely to the poem in your answer.
2. Who does he attribute Singapore's development to?
3. What is the tone of the poem?

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carol-davis's profile pic

carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

To best understand the poem, it is necessary to examine the history between the two men involved.  In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles, a British statesman and diplomat, appointed Colonel William Farquhar as Singapore's first citizen to develop the colony with plans that Raffles had created.  Farquhar, an extremely intelligent engineer, was left to manage the colony while Raffles left for a four years absence.  In his new position, Farquhar quickly set about clearing the north-east bank of the Singapore River. Soon the new city began to flourish under Farquhar's leadership.  Sir Raffles and the East India Company in Calcutta did not communicate with Farquhar for more than three years.  When Raffles returned to Singapore, he was furious to discover his plans had been neglected; in addition, he felt there was a laxity in supervision over drugs and slavery.  Raffles then dismissed Farquhar.  At first, Farquhar stood his ground; eventually,  he chose to sue Raffles for overstepping his authority.  Because of the conflicts which arose during his last four years of leadership, Raffles himself was dismissed and replaced.  Today, the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles stands looking out at the Singapore River from the South Bank with the acknowledgement: "Father of Singapore."

The first stanza of the poem refers to this bronze statue of Raffles, sculpted by Thomas Woolmer.  The actual statue has the subject standing tall with arms crossed with an air of authority.  The poet uses more bitter words for the statue: "arrogantly standing," and "...obvious self-satisfaction."

The voice of the poem is Farquhar who is reliving the events during the time that Raffles was away.  Raffles receives credit for having the idea for building Singapore, but little else.  The poet asks the questions, "Who made the reality?" referring, of course,  to Farquhar.

In the third stanza, the poet itemizes the hardships that Farquhar had to endure in completing the building of the city. 

Who lifted his reams out of the mire

of the mangrove and mudflats

despite the dammed humidity?

Apparently, the work was hard, the climate harsh, and the finances scarce.

The fourth stanza carries on with the idea that Farquhar and his workers, "an army of others," erected the city.  Through his engineering ability and despite the difficult circumstances, Farquhar stands ready to receive accolades for the now bustling city.

In the fifth stanza, the voice of the poet brings climax to his argument.  Farquhar wonders where was Raffles when the city was being stabilized and what he was doing when it was constructed. According to the poet, Raffles was out making a reputation for himself.

The tone of the poem is bitter and angry.  Intending on elevating Farquhar to the stature of "Builder of Singapore," the poet disparages the fact that Raffles took the credit for creating the city.  Who won the battle?  It is Raffles' statue that stands on the banks of the river.



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