The earliest written record of Singapore was a Chinese account of the 3rd century, describing the island of Pu Luo Chung, probably a transliteration of the Malay Pulau Ujong, "island at the end" (of the Malay peninsula.) The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) contains a tale of a prince of Srivijaya, Sri Tri Buana (also known as Sang Nila Utama), who landed on the island sometime during the 13th century. Catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, he decided to found a settlement called Singapura, which means "Lion City" in Sanskrit. It is unlikely that there ever were lions in Singapore, though tigers continued to roam the island until the early 20th century. Recent excavations in Fort Canning might suggest the use of ancient Singapore as a trading post for transactions between the Phoenicians and the Malay and Chinese.
The Chinese traveller Wang Dayuan, visiting the island around 1330, described a small Malay settlement called Dan Ma Xi, containing a number of Chinese residents
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Malay archipelago was gradually taken over by the European colonial powers, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese at Malacca in 1509. The early dominance of the Portuguese was challenged, during the 17th century, by the Dutch, who came to control most of the region's ports. The Dutch established a monopoly over trade within the archipelago, particularly in spices, then the region's most important product. Other colonial powers, including the British, were limited to a relatively minor presence.
In 1818, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was appointed as the governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. Raffles believed that the British should find a way to replace the Dutch as the dominant power in the archipelago, since the trade route between China and British India, which had become vitally important with the institution of the opium trade with China, passed through the archipelago. Furthermore, the Dutch were stifling British trade within the region; the British were prohibited from operating in Dutch-controlled ports, with the exception of Batavia, where unfavourable prices were imposed. Raffles reasoned that the way to challenge the Dutch was to establish a new port in the region. In 1818, Raffles managed to convince Lord Hastings, the governor-general of India and his superior at the British East India Company, to fund an expedition to establish a new British base in the region. The island of Singapore seemed to be a natural choice. It lay at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, near the Straits of Malacca, and possessed an excellent natural harbour, fresh water supplies, and timber for repairing ships.
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