History of Raffles Institution

1st April 1823

Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore, makes public his idea – to establish an educational institution for three purposes.

Firstly, it was to educate the sons of the higher order natives. Secondly, it was to afford the means of instruction in local languages to children of the East India Company. Thirdly, it was to collect the scattered literature and traditions of the country, so as to understand the laws and customs, with a view to helping the people.

The above-mentioned three-fold aim of the institution is outlined by Raffles himself.

A meeting is held at Raffles’ residence on Government Hill. The meeting is convened to discuss the founding of the Institution. Present are Rev R Morrison, Rev R Hutchings (the founder of Penang Free School), Sultan Hussein Mohammad,  Temenggong Abdul Rahman, and all leading members of the community.

At this stage we must remember that there is still no solution to the dual claim to Singapore, though negotiations  were in progress then. But Raffles probably realises that his stay in the East is drawing to a close and this is his last act in the settlement of his own making.

8th April 1823

The first lease of land of 600 feet by 1140 feet is granted. The site is the present Raffles City and it includes the grounds of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, right up to the present grounds of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

10th April 1823

Another 28 acres is granted.

5th June 1823

Stamford Raffles performs the foundation ceremony.

Golden rupees and Spanish dollars are placed in a wooden box which is later embedded in the ground. A twelve-gun salute is fired when the box isealed. Raffles names that which is to rise on that foundation – “Institution”This heralds the beginnings of English education in Singapore that is to stand it and its people in good stead as it develops into a port of international importance and repute.


The first building rises.

20th November 1828

The Trustees hold a meeting to discuss the conflict between them and the colonial government. Apparently, nothing comes of this meeting and everything is temporarily abandoned. For nearly 8 years from this date Raffles’ aspirations lie buried beneath the crumbling Institution building.

1st August 1834

The school starts to function under the auspices of Singapore Free Schools Society in a very poor building in High Street, under the charge of J H Moor. The school has 50 students in all.

9th August 1839

The Singapore Institution Free Schools Society hands over all funds and property to the Trustees. This transfer marks the real beginning of the control of the educational policy of the Institution by the Trustees. J H Moor is retained as the HeadMaster. He, therefore, becomes the first head of the Institution.

September 1839

The school moves to the Bras Basah building. There are 102 Chinese, 51 Malay and 46 Indian students. The first of the wings is completed.


The second wing is completed.


Rev J T Dickenson succeeds Moor but ill-health robs the Institution of his valuable services and he returns to America after a headmastership of only 6 months.

J C Smith assumes the post of Headmaster, a position he holds until 1852.

4th March 1844

A new wing in the Bras Basah building is allotted to the new Girls’ School – the fore-runner of Raffles GirlsSchool. The GirlsSchool opens with 11 girls, including 6 boarders.


The School has an enrolment of 274 boys in 3 divisions: The Upper, the Middle and Lower and the Infant divisions. The GirlsSchool has 19 girls. 32 students live as boarders in the Institution.

20th March 1857

Gas is installed in the school to assist in the teaching of Science.


In 1868, or a little earlier, the School’s name is changed from “Singapore Institution” to “Raffles Institution“, in honour of her founder.


The school enrolment is 410, and R W Hullett becomes the first Principal of RI. (His predecessors have all been called Headmasters.) Hullett serves as Principal for 36 years, during which RI makes remarkable progress. Hullett is fondly remembered as the Grand Old Man” of RI. ThSchool’s Library (the oldest in Singapore) and one of the games Houses is named after Hullett.


The King of Siam sends 17 boys to RI. To provide hostel accommodation for the 17 Siamese boys, the GirlsSchool moves out of RI to a house in BraBasah Road (the site of the present-day Raffles Hotel).


The Girls’ School moves again, this time to d’Aimeida’s House in Beach Road.


Construction of a new building for the GirlsSchool on Institution land (near Bras Basah/North Bridge Road junction) begins.

23rd July 1883

The GirlsSchool moves to the new building within the Raffles Institution grounds.

July 1885

The Higher (Queens) Scholarships Examinations are held in RI (for the first time in Singapore). This leads to the formation of the Special Class in RI for potential Queen’s Scholars of Singapore. The Special Class is the forerunner of Rl ‘s pre-university classes and of the Raffles Junior College.

31st March 1886

The first issue of Rafflesian(then a fortnightly paper) makes itappearance.

22nd May 1887

The first ever Athletic Meet is held on the school fieldThe first awards of school colours are made.


The Cadet Corps (today’s NCC) is formed.

1st January 1903

1903 sees a turning point in the history of RI. This year, the school which was originally in the charge of the Trustees, comes under government control. Thus RI becomes a government school.


All primary classes have been phased out.


CM Phillips becomes the first Rafflesian to assume the post of Principal of Raffles Institution. During his 15 years as Principal, the school expands rapidly.


The last wing of the school is added.


The First World Was sees the departure of several European Masters.


A Bishop takes over as Principal. During his 10 years as Principal, significant developments take place in the School. This period sees the introduction of new clubs, societies and games in the school.

28th April 1923

The pride that the old boyshave for the school leads to the birth of the Old Rafflesians’ Association (ORA). The object of the ORA is to encourage interaction amongst former students and to increase their interest in their Alma Mater. Sir Song Ong Siang is elected the first President of the ORA.


Raffles Institution celebrates her 100th Anniversary.

19th December 1924

The first School Exhibition is held.


The Girls’ School moves out of the RI premises to its new home in Queen Street.

April 1931 January 1932

G C Davies heads RI.

15th February 1932 D W Mcleod takes over as Principal. lt is he who begins the practice okeeping an attendance register for all teachers to sign in upon arriving in school. He is also credited with the introduction of the school assembly, an occasion where the entire staff and pupils gather as one big family to be warned, reminded of the school rules or to listen to and applaud the many outstanding achievements.


The school occupies Victoria School in King George’s Ave (now Peoples’ Association HQ) so that repairs to the century-old buildings can be made.

18th December 1940 – 1945

H R Holgate arrives from New Zealand to take over as Principal.

February 1942 – 1945

The school is used as a hospital for injured British troops and after the surrender, it serves as a military camp for the Japanese.

August 1945 October 1946

RI is used by the British Royal Air Force as a transit camp.

8th November 1945 6th May 1946

RI functions at St Joseph‘s Institution, as an afternoon school.

6th May 1946

The school moves to Monks Hill School and functions in the morning.

20th June 1946

F L Shaw takes over as the first “substantive” Principal after the war. Under his leadership, RI returns to its own premises in Bras Basah Road. The schools enrolment is 443 boys. Shaw does a wonderful job in restoring the school to its original glory, after the ravages of the war.

December 1947

E H Wilson takes over as Principal. He is well-liked by Rafflesians and he does a great deal to promote sport in the school.

4th May 1950

Dr Lim Boon Keng, a distinguished Old Rafflesian, officially opens thHullett Memorial Library.

1951 – 1954

P F Howitt becomes Principal.


A Post Certificate class, with a definite syllabus leading to the Higher School Certificate (HSC) Examination, is formed. This marks the resumption of preuniversity education in RI, after the Special (Scholarship) classes were suspended prior to the Second World War.


Rafflesians sit for the full HSC Examinations for the first time.


John Young takes over as Principal and raises the academic standards of the school. Young is the last of the expatriate Principals.


The first post-war Science Exhibition is held.


After a long line of European principals, V Ambiavagar is the first Asiato be confirmed to the post. He is held in high esteem by Rafflesians for hiefficiency, devotion to duty, determination and able administration.


E W Jesudason takes over as Principal and leads the school with dedication and enthusiasm and feeds the dynamic force of this Institution, breathing his spirit into its every activity. Under his leadership the School’s morale and its image are raised to a high degree. Among other innovations, he gives the School its school song, “Auspicium Melioris Aevi”.


Philip Liau becomes Principal of RI. An able and effective administrator he stuck by his guns and his staff, under all circumstances. During his 12 years of principalship, RI not only maintains but enhances its reputation as the premier school in the Republic, in spite of vigorous competition from the newly established junior colleges. Philip Liau makes a tremendous effort to ensure that the new RI at Grange Road is welllaid out in beautifully landscaped surroundings, with a unique architectural design and with excellent facilitiesHe strives hard to see that the School‘s morale and the Rafflesian Spirit arnot diluted in any manner during the uprooting of the School from Bras Basah Road and its replanting in Grange Road.

He founds the RI Art Club in 1955 and also designs the present uniform for the RI Military Band. Beyond doubt, he is one of the most outstanding Principals of RI.


The first President of our Republic, lnche Yusof lshak, himself an old Rafflesian, in his speech at the ORA Dinner, informs all present that the school will move from its crumbling buildings to modern and more spacious quarters.


At the school’s 145th Founder‘s Day, the Minister for Law and National Development, Mr E W Barker, an old Rafflesian, announces that RI has been allotted 13.7 acres at Grange Road for the new Raffles Institution campus. Work on the new RI starts in October this year when Admiralty House is demolished to clear the new site at Grange Road.

20th May 1970

lnche Mohd Ghazali, Political Secretary to the Ministry of Education and an old Rafflesian, presents a picture of the Earth taken from the moon to RI for being the Top Science School, calculated on the Cambridge Science Results of many years. The Earth was photographed by astronaut Thomas Stafford (of Apollo 1~ fame) and presented to the President and the people of Singapore by US Vice-President Spiro Agnew, early this year.

March 1970

The earthworks commences even while the plans are still on the drawing board.

10th March 1972

In an atmosphere of solemnity and dignity, the school flag is hauled down for the last time at Bras Basah Road and handed over to the Oldest Rafflesian Mr Tan Cheng Siang. Before the first school assembly at Grange Road, Mr Tan Cheng Siang (whose family have been old boys for 5 generations), brings the school flag as a symbol of the bridge spanning the old and the new. At 12 noon, for the first time, a new sound fills the school grounds at Grange Road – it is the school song. As the school flag goes up, it is caught by an awakening wind and it streams out proudly.

3rd June 1972

The 149th Founder‘s Day is the first to be held in the new premises at Grange Road.

5th June 1972

The junior students officially vacate the crumbling yet dignified schoobuildings at Bras Basah Road.


Raffles Institution celebrates her 150th Anniversary.

28th July 1973

The Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, an old Rafflesian, opens the new premises of Raffles Institution in a simple and dignified way. The new buildings and ancillary facilities cost nearly $3.2 million. Mr Philip Liau, the Principal, announces the plans for the construction of an 8-lane 50 metres swimming pool.

1st August 1975

Ideal Homes officially hands over the Swimming Complex. RI has the honour of being the first government school to enjoy a swimming pool complethat fulfills all the requirements as laid down by FINA. The total cost of the complex exceeds $800 000.

29th October 1976

Mr E W Barker, who allotted the site for the new RI and appropriated the additional piece of land for the swimming pool, opens the RI Swimming Pool Complex.

1st January 1978

A K Sigamoney assumes duty as Principal.

February 1979

Fire destroys the RI Gymnasium-Canteen building. The firemen, unable to locate a suitable water point, use water from the Swimming Pool. The Canteen functions temporarily in the basement of the school building.

March 1980

The Gymnasium-Canteen building is completely restored.


The School struggles hard, once again, to retain her prestigious pre-university division, but when it becomes clear that it is a losing battle, RI accepts the proposal to transfer its pre-university division to Paterson Road (the former Institute of Education campus) in 1982 to form the nucleus of Raffles Junior College. The School celebrates the 200th Anniversary of the birth of her Founder, and tearful farewells are held for the departing pre-university students and teachers .

1st January 1982

Rl’s pre-university division (49 teachers and hundreds of Rafflesians) itransferred to the Paterson Road campus and the new Raffles Junior Collegewith the same motto, anthem, school colours, school uniform and other symbols as RI , is formed. R W Mosbergen becomes the first Principal of the new RJCRI at Grange Road becomes a pilot full-day school with all its classes, from Secondary 1 to 4, in the same session.

Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College jointly celebrate their 160th Anniversary. A combined Food and Fun Fair, Open House and Concert are part of the elaborate celebrations.

The Class of 1983 scores 100% GCE 0 Level passes for the first time in the history of RI.


The fullday school scheme is scrapped and RI returns to the double sessiosystem.

The Ministry of Education selects RI and RGS as centres for the newlestablished Gifted Education Programme. This underlines the confidence the MoE has in the Rafflesian schools.

The Class of 1984 secures 100% GCE ‘O’ Level passes for the second time. The Class of 1984 gives RI her best results in living memory.


A total of 9 National Gold Medals are won. Mr Sigamoney retires as Principal of RI. During his 8 years as PRI, Mr Sigamoney improves on the alreadimpressive academic results. Sports are widely encouraged. Despite thformation of the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools in 1979, RI still continues to be the premier school with outstanding achievements in the classroom and on the field. Eugene Wijeysingha becomes the new headmaster of RI.


Wijeysingha proposes RI to become an independent school, with an independent Board of Governors to manage and develop the school, formulate its own policies, recruit teachers and set its own fees. These proposals come in the wake of Education Minister Tony Tan’s call to nurture an innovative and thinking society, and strike a resonant chord with the Ministry of Education.


RI becomes independent in 1990.

26 May 1990

On 26 May 1990, an independent RI moved to its Bishan campus. Reluctant as the school was to lose its Grange Road campus, its limited grounds made expansion impractical or prohibitively costly. In 1989, the Ministry of Education had offered the premises for what was to have been the Bishan Junior College, to RI. It was the perfect solution, especially after the government built an additional block of 16 classrooms at no cost to the School.


Eugene Wijeysingha retired at the end of 1994 after presiding over some of the most significant and transformative moments in RI’s history since Hullett 90 years before. He was succeeded by Tan Tiek Kwee, a former principal of Victoria School.


Wong Siew Hoong takes over from Tan Tiek Kwee.


The Raffles Programme is introduced in 2004 in conjunction with RJC. That year, RGS also offers the Raffles Programme with its pupils moving straight into RJC. This programme, a variation of the Ministry of Education’s Integrated Programme, allows the more capable students to skip the GCE ‘O’ level and move straight to the GCE ‘A’ level. This makes a lot of sense since almost all of RI’s students would invariably end up in ‘A’ level classes.


RJC moves from its Mount Sinai campus, to Bishan, beside RI. Bob Koh Chin Nguang becomes the principal of RI.


In 2008, approval is obtained from the Ministry of Education to re-integrate RI with RJC, and in the following year, the integrated school is once again Raffles Institution, as it has been before 1982. Lim Lai Cheng becomes the first female Principal of RI.


Chan Poh Meng, an old Rafflesian, who studied at the Bras Basah Campus, becomes Principal of RI.

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