THE DUKE OF PUDDLE DOCK: In the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles By Nigel Barley (Penguin, $118) IF the English are to be branded eccentrics, then there is proof here that the characteristic can be handed down a couple of centuries and survive intact. The subject of this whimsical book was one of the colonial brand; Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore and London Zoo, ruler of Java, discoverer of the world's largest parasitic flower (a metre wide, it smells of rotten carrion), dreamer of a greater empire from one hopeless, fly-bitten settlement to another along the Indonesian coast. Wherever he set foot, in the employ of the East India Company at the time of Dutch supremacy in the Spice Islands, there were schemes to hatch, Dutch or French noses to tweak and local inhabitants to be shown the error of their ways. The rewards for all this were thin: a knighthood, yes, and recognition for some enthusiastic scientific field work, but he was also sacked as Governor of Java and met an early death at the age of 44 in London in 1826. Two hundred years later another Englishman, Nigel Barley, has been on his trail, following as the secondary title of The Duke of Puddle Dock suggests, in the footsteps of the great man. While that in itself may not appear an eccentric thing to do, Mr Barley's way of doing it must have kept the British reputation intact, at least in the eyes of many of the people he met along the way. Mr Barley comes well-qualified for the task. Anthropologist and British museum employee, he has written on Indonesia before and speaks Indonesian, a skill which stood him in good stead as he wandered from Penang to Malacca, on to Jakarta and Yogyakarta, to Bengkulu on the Sumatran coast, over to the island of Nias, to Singapore of course, and finally back to London to close the story of Raffles' life. He intersperses his own history lessons with short passages from the few books written about Raffles, the surviving memoirs of the man himself and Mr Barley's own impressions of the places he inhabited. It is here that he goes a little awry. The danger with this kind of book is that the author can come off second best and, frankly, Mr Barley's experiences of mucking in with a Balinese football team and lodging with a bunch of builders from Lombok pale somewhat when compared with tales of battles, intrigue and exploration in the Indonesia of the 1800s. And what, you wonder, did some of his hosts make of this obsession with a man long dead and largely forgotten in many of the spots he visited? For all that, Nigel Barley appears a self-effacing man and that comes over in his writing. The Duke of Puddle Dock (the title comes from an aunt's jibes at Raffles' social pretensions) makes a charming addition to the chronicles of British eccentricities in the East, old and new.