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Where Are the Places in Singapore Related to Sophia Raffles?


By Rosie Milne, Finder Blogger: The Herstory Buff, author of Olivia & Sophia


The Finder‘s latest online contributor just published Olivia & Sophia, a historical novel about Stamford Raffles’ adventures, as seen through the eyes of his two very different wives and she tells us what they were like.

Each woman was intelligent and inquisitive, but otherwise they were very different. Olivia was a sexy and scandalous beauty; Sophia was a pious, stalwart, adoring wife and mother. Here’s an overview of Sophia’s life.

Olivia and Sophia cover


Sophia was a lady

Sophia and Tom Raffles married in London, in February 1817. A few months later, in May, Raffles was knighted by the Prince Regent, and from then on he was known in public as Sir Stamford Raffles. When her husband became a knight, Sophia became a lady: Lady Raffles. In October, she sailed with Raffles to Sumatra, where he was to take up a post as the governor of Bencoolen. The ship they sailed in was named in her honour, thus Lady Raffles sailed east on the Lady Raffles!


Sophia was the first European woman to explore the jungles of Sumatra

Raffles had to make journeys of diplomacy to Sumatran courts and Kingdoms in the heavily forested interior of the island. Sophia went along with him, she thus became the first European woman to explore the jungles of Sumatra. She endured great hardship on her adventures, and she was regarded with awe by the local people she encountered, who did not think she could survive in the forest. Few of these people had ever seen a white woman before, and many of them thought she was not human at all, but some kind of supernatural being.


Sophia was notably fertile

Sophia presented Raffles with four children in very quick succession, and with a fifth a little while later. Her first child, Charlotte, was born on the Lady Raffles, off the coast of South Africa. Her second, Leopold, was born while she was travelling about with Raffles. Four of her children were delivered by a botanist, not a doctor, with only her children’s nanny in attendance. It is possible that during the birth of her fifth child, Flora, she was given chloroform. If so, she was one of the earliest women ever to receive this painkiller – it did not become common until after it was administered to Queen Victoria, in 1853. 


Four of Sophia’s five children died on Sumatra

In the early 19th century, Europeans did not know how to protect themselves, or their children, from the many diseases and fevers they encountered in Asia. Adults and children alike dropped like flies. There was an outbreak of cholera on Sumatra in the summer of 1821, and Raffles and Sophia’s son, Leopold, fell victim to it. Six months later Charlotte, and another son, Cooksey, also died. Then, in 1823, their youngest daughter Flora, died in infancy. Only one child, Ella, survived to adulthood. Alas, she died in England, when she was 19, on the eve of her engagement to her suitor.


Sophia became used to hardship and tragedy.

In addition to her children’s deaths, Sophia had to cope with losing nearly all hers and Raffles’ possessions in a shipwreck, on their voyage home from Asia to England, and then, when they arrived in London, with their near ruin in the financial panic of 1825.


Sophia secured her husband’s fame

Sophia adored Raffles, and when he died, one day short of 45, in 1826, she was left bereft. She collected some of his surviving letters and papers into a volume she published as Memoir of the Life and Public Services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. This made much of his founding of Singapore, and it became the basis of his later fame.

Historic Raffles House on Fort Canning Hill Park Singapore

Sophia spent about six months in Singapore. She and Raffles lived in a bungalow on what was then called Government Hill – Fort Canning. You can see a reconstruction of their bungalow in the park today. She would have been familiar with the mouth of the Singapore River, in the areas around what are now Empress Place and Boat Quay. Mount Sophia is in all probability named in her honour.  


You can buy Olivia & Sophia at Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City, or at any other bookshop with a good selection of English-language books.


About Rosie Milne

Rosie Milne has recently published Olivia & Sophia, a historical novel exploring the life of Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, through the eyes of his two very different wives. She writes a weekly blog for the UK’s Telegraph about life in Singapore, and reviews fiction for Asian Review of Books. She also runs Asian Books Blog. Her earlier novels are How To Change Your Life, about an editor of self-help books who tries to follow the advice in a self-help book, and Holding The Baby, which examines different attitudes to motherhood.


More from Rosie Milne

Who Was Olivia Cassivelaun Fancourt and What’s Her Connection with Singapore?


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