The People of Singapore When Sir Stamford Raffles sailed up the Singapore River in 1819, he found a settlement of some 150 people living along the banks. As the British turned Singapore into a thriving free port, immigrant settlers soon came from China, India, the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian islands. Among the first to be attracted by the opportunities in Singapore were the inhabitants (mainly Malays and Chinese) of the older settlement of Malacca. Another major group of early arrivals were Indonesian traders and laborers, among them Javanese, Bugis and Balinese. Indian connections with modern Singapore began from the first day Naraina Pillay (an Indian trader from Penang), together with 120 Indian soldiers and several assistants, arrivaed as part of Raffles’ entourage.