Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/168

This page has been validated.

ducts of the soil and the history and languages of the people. Early in 1812 he despatched an expedition for the reduction of the rich metalliferous island of Banca, and by the end of June the whole of Java submitted quietly to British rule.

The system pursued by the Dutch had been to farm out the internal administration of the island to native chiefs or regents, who paid to the government a certain portion of the produce of the soil, and furnished it with a certain quantity of forced labour, and in return were allowed to treat the land as their own, and its cultivators almost as their slaves. The result was bad alike for governors and subjects. Having obtained during the first two years of his governorship ample statistical evidence of the value and capabilities of the different districts, Raffles, following out Lord Minto's instructions, abolished the system of forced labour, feudal dues, and direct contributions in kind, and substituted leases, originally for very short terms, by which the actual cultivator became the direct beneficiary of the fruits of his labour. The regents were at the same time compensated for the loss of their rights. The internal police of the island was provided for by utilising native institutions, which, though hardly known by the Dutch, had existed from time immemorial, while at the same time its supreme control was in the hands of Europeans, and not of native chiefs. He introduced trial by jury with the simplest possible forms of judicial procedure. In his opinion, the Malay races, when treated with sympathy, were of all Eastern peoples the easiest to rule; but if they met with ill-usage or bad faith, few were so ferocious or untrustworthy. He accordingly refused to surround himself with guards or escorts, made himself at all times accessible to those who had business with him, and was rewarded by seeing his government increasingly peaceful and prosperous. But, despite the extraordinary influence which he gained over the people of Java, it is doubtful whether he was well advised in making his drastic change in the system of landholding; it embarrassed his government while it lasted, and scarcely justified itself by its results.

Early in 1813 Raffles and General Gillespie, the commander of the forces in the island, engaged in a dispute which soon became acute. Raffles desired to reduce the number of European troops in order to save expense; Gillespie insisted that the number must be maintained. Raffles was supported in his view by Lord Minto, who further proved his friendship by appointing him in June 1813, before quitting India, to the residency of Fort Marlborough at Bencoolen, Sumatra, as a provision in case the island of Java should not be permanently retained as part of the East India Company's territories. The last two years of his governorship were troubled and only partly successful. The uncertainty as to whether Java would continue a British possession after the conclusion of peace tied his hands. He was hampered by the extreme scarcity of specie and the great depreciation of the paper currency, and the execution of the change in the system of landholding was a troublesome and laborious task. To retire a portion of the paper currency he sold, on his own authority, a quantity of public lands—a course approved by Lord Minto under the circumstances, but undoubtedly a serious and costly alienation of public property, which was condemned by the court of directors. Shortly after Lord Minto had quitted India, Gillespie presented to the governor-general in council a general and sweeping indictment of nearly the whole of Raffles's administration, and his ultimate exoneration by the court of directors from personal misconduct, though complete, was obtained only after much laborious explanation and anxious suspense. Meantime the restoration of Java to the Dutch had been resolved upon, in spite of remonstrances which Raffles addressed to the Earl of Buckingham in August 1815, both officially and privately. The convention was signed on 13 Aug. 1814, though it was not until August 1816 that the restoration actually took place. In 1815 Raffles was somewhat summarily recalled. His incessant daily activity, stated to have lasted from 4 A.M. till 11 P.M., in a trying climate had greatly impaired his strength; and, not content with the labours of his office, he was constantly engaged in acquiring that knowledge which made him one of the first authorities on all matters scientific, historical, or philological connected with the eastern seas. He had visited nearly all the remains of sculpture to be found in Java (cf. Wallace, Malay Archipelago, 1890, p. 80). He was indefatigable in his journeys about the island, constantly and lavishly entertaining the European colony, Dutch as well as English. To add to his depression, in 1815 he lost his wife, the widow of W. Fancourt of Lanark, a resident in India, whom he had married in 1805. His pecuniary circumstances would have rendered it very advantageous to him to take up his appointment at Bencoolen on quitting Java, but he was advised that his health made his return to Europe imperative. He sailed from Batavia on 25 March 1816. His ship called at St. Helena, where he was