When Raffles landed in Singapore there were groups of Malays, Chinese and Orang Laut living on the island. They were later joined by many other immigrants who came to Singapore. The immigrants included Malays from neighbouring countries, Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Eurasians and others like the Armenians.
The Malays were "pushed" to leave their homeland due to several reasons. Some Malays from the Malay Archipelago came because they could not find work in their homeland. Others came to Singapore to escape from the war-torn areas in Sumatra, Java and Malaya. Life in these war-torn areas was unsafe.
Others came because they missed their relatives who were in Singapore. Often, they brought their families with them. The Arabs came because they were looking for better trade opportunities than what they had had in their homeland.
In the 19th century, the people of India experienced many hardships. The population was increasing very rapidly and there were not enough jobs or food for everyone. The situation was made worse by long periods of drought when the farmers' food crops failed and famine resulted. Life was very difficult, especially for the poor. Large numbers of Indians left their homeland to look for work and a better life elsewhere. Many of them came to Singapore. Amongst them were also some who came to trade.
In the 19th century, the Chinese in China also faced many difficulties. There was a shortage of good farmland. This situation was made worse as the population increased very rapidly. With the shortage of fertile land, especially in South China, not enough food could be produced for the growing population.
Droughts and floods made life even harder. In China itself, there was also disorder and unrest as the people were trying to overthrow the corrupt Qing government. To make things worse, China was at war with countries like Britain, France and Japan during the 19th century.
Many Chinese had heard of opportunities in Southeast Asia (known as Nanyang to them), so they decided to go there to look for work and a better life. Singapore was one such place in Nanyang that could offer the Chinese migrants an opportunity to make a better life for themselves.
In the early 19th century, there were many factories in Britain that produced goods such as cotton cloth, woollen goods and glassware in large quantities. The British could not sell all these goods at home. They had to search for new markets to sell the large quantities of factory-made goods. China and Southeast Asia were two places where such markets for British goods existed. This search for new markets to sell British goods was the reason why many British merchants came to Singapore to set up trading companies after a British settlement had been set up here.
As a British settlement, Singapore served as a trading centre where British traders could sell their goods to people throughout Southeast Asia. At the same time, the British could buy things like spices from the Malay Archipelago and send them back to Britain to be sold. However, not all Europeans came here for the purpose of trade alone. Many officials from Britain were sent here to work in the government departments.
When European men came to the East, some of them married Asian women, and their descendants were called Eurasians. Eurasians are people of mixed European and Asian parentage. Most of the Eurasians in Singapore came from Melaka, Penang and India. As most of them could speak and write English, many were sent here to work in the government offices and trading companies. Others came here to look for jobs. The Armenians came from Armenia, a small country east of Turkey. The Armenians who came to Singapore were mostly merchants and traders.
After Raffles had founded Singapore, he left his assistant, Major Farquhar, in charge of the new settlement. In order to let as many people as possible know about the new British settlement of Singapore, Farquhar sent messages to his friends in Melaka. He also stationed a British official on St. John's Island, situated at the south of Singapore, to tell the captains of passing ships about the new settlement.
Soon, news of the founding spread, not only to neighbouring countries, but also the countries as far away as India and China. Traders and shippers were attracted to Singapore because it was a free port, which meant that they did not have to pay any customs duties or taxes on goods they brought into, or out of, Singapore.
As the port grew, large numbers of people from the Malay Archipelago, Southeast Asia, India, China and other parts of the world flocked to Singapore to trade or to look for work. The immigrants were also attracted to Singapore because there was no war here. At that time, they came in large numbers because the British allowed immigrants to come and go as they pleased. In this manner, Singapore in the 19th century was like a magnet which attracted many immigrants.
At first, most of the immigrants, except the Malays, did not intend to stay very long in Singapore. Most of them made their way here to escape the problems and difficulties in their homeland. Many of the Chinese and Indians hoped to save enough money here so that they could return home a success.
To them, Singapore was not their homeland. Rather, they thought of their homeland as the country they had come from. However, many of them eventually settled down here and made Singapore their new home.