A Rich Heritage
Sir Stamford Raffles, Supporter of the Bible Mission
An appeal for Bibles by soldiers drew the immediate attention of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) to Java back in 1813. This request brought about the introduction of the Society’s work to the then Lieutenant Governor Stamford Raffles.
BFBS resolved to send 500 Dutch Bibles, 1000 Testaments, 300 English Bibles and 500 English Testaments to Raffles with a letter, in the care of three missionaries from the London Missionary Society (LMS). The letter dated 22 November 1813 requested that “His Excellency will have the goodness to give directions that they be placed in the hands of proper persons to distribute the same….”
On 10 March 1814, Rev William Milne from LMS, who later assisted Rev Dr Robert Morrison with the complete translation of the Chinese Bible, arrived in Java. Milne had the opportunity to meet Raffles and secured his help to “do all they consistently could to forward” his cause. Raffles even granted him the use of the Government Press. Raffles’ support for the work led to him being appointed as the President of the Java Auxiliary Bible Society on 4 June 1814.
As the Lord would have it, Raffles’ interest in supporting the work increased when he returned to England in 1817. He had the opportunity to correspond with the Society even more. Letters from our Society archive showed that Raffles was all for supporting the Malay translation work and he personally leaned towards a preference for the translation to low Malay.
Upon his return to the region as Governor of Sumatra, Raffles personally offered to bring Bibles with him. He wasted little time in setting up an office there, becoming the first President of the Sumatra Auxiliary Bible Society in 1818.
Rev Dr Robert Morrison, Pioneer of the Bible Mission Work in Singapore
We thank God for His Sovereign hand that guided Raffles to establish the settlement in Singapore in 1819. Just four years later, it was reported to BFBS that,
“Dr Morrison has communicated … the cheering information, that 1,000 Chinese New Testaments had just been applied for by the missionaries of a new settlement formed at Sincapore in the year 1819.”
This started the Bible mission work in Singapore and one could also say, the distribution of Chinese Scripture here.
BFBS granted Morrison and other missionaries in Malacca the 1000 pounds needed to print the Chinese Scriptures.
Singapore’s Strategic Location for the Storage of Bibles
The work of distribution of Bibles grew rapidly due to Singapore’s strategic location. By 1825, it was recognised that a Bible depot was needed to store and facilitate the distribution of the Scriptures to the region. The early Bible depot was moved to several places, until it found its permanent home in 1907 at Armenian Street.
Bible Mission History Woven Together with Singapore’s Institutions
Both Morrison and Raffles were pioneers in many different areas, including education. In April 1823, Raffles spoke to Morrison about his vision for a ‘Sincapore Institution’ and convinced the latter to move the Anglo Chinese College from Malacca to Singapore. What was not often written about was the motivation both these men had behind the setting up of this centre of learning – it was to advance the Bible mission.
‘India beyond the Ganges and Eastern Asia, at no former period seems to have been pregnant with greater changes than at present … we should look out whether a knowledge of the languages and characters of the people ought not to be cultivated, in order that we may have Agents prepared to act whenever safe openings occur. Instead of one or two persons learned in Chinese should we not at least have a dozen? The Siamese and Cochin-Chinese are populous and I am not away that any Protestant Missionary has ever been among them.’
- Statement of Sir Stamford Raffles as reported in the 22nd Annual Report of the British and Foreign Bible Society (1826), p 122
Raffles reported the formation of the Sincapore Institution with its aim for the ‘cultivation of the language in Eastern Asia’. This Institution was to become Raffles Institution and a library, with the collection of books and papers that would spawn into our National Library.
We see Morrison’s desire to spread the good news from the following report in BFBS’ documents.
‘The Anglo Chinese College is about to be removed from Malacca to Sincapore, a situation which will afford several facilities for the distribution of Scriptures; for by the many native vessals which visit that port, copies may be sent to Cochin-China; and, perhaps, to Japan itself.’
- 20th Annual Report of the British and Foreign Bible Society (1824), p. lviii
These two men also advocated strongly for a permanent Agent to be sent to Singapore to advance the Bible Society’s work here. While an Agent was not appointed until 1882, the work continued to flourish as it was not dependent on any one person. The early Bible mission work was supported by men and women from various parts of the body all working in unity to spread the good news through the work of translation, publishing, distribution, literacy programmes and engagement.
It is heartening to see that by God’s grace, 190 years later, the work of The Bible Society of Singapore continues today, not only to make the Word Available (through Translation and Publishing) and Accessible (through Distribution and Literacy Programmes) but also to show that the Word is Credible (through Engagement and Advocacy).