The Book That Almost Didn’t Happen

By John Henry Moor’s reckoning, the book he published in December 1837 was beset with failures. Notices of the Indian Archipelago, and Adjacent Countries had been intended as the first part of a magnum opus that the Singapore newspaper editor had grandly announced in 1835. Moor’s goal was to print a massive compendium comprising two volumes: one compiling reprints of articles first published in…

Anglo-Dutch Political Shenanigans

Among the 19 letters held in the Rare Materials Collection of the National Library is one from Stamford Raffles to his business agent and friend, John Tayler, a London-based East India merchant. Interesting, this is also the first letter by Raffles that the National Library acquired in 1987. This handwritten letter is slightly unusual in the sense that it reveals Raffles’ private thoughts to…

Raffles’ Letters Of Intrigue

Singapore was almost not founded by Stamford Raffles. Four letters that detail Raffles’ passionate defence to establish a British trading outpost on the island in 1819 offer insight into the objections he faced from the Dutch as well as his own British masters. Written between 1820 and 1823 to Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, the letters reveal the lengths that Raffles…

Celebrating a Centenary

On 7 August 1918, residents in Singapore would have woken up to read an unusual notice in their morning paper: an invitation to contribute interesting stories of their island over the last 100 years. The public call, issued in The Straits Times, sought to gather useful and relevant information so that an official history of the civic, public and social life in Singapore since Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819 could be compiled.

A Portuguese Map of Sincapura

Originally drawn in 1604, Discripsao chorographica dos estreitos de Sincapura e Sabbam. ano. 1604 (Chorographic Description of the Straits of Sincapura and Sabbam 1604 A.D) is one of the earliest maps to depict pre-colonial Singapore, and more importantly, identifies recognisable names of places – Sunebodo (Sungei Bedok), Tanamena (Tanah Merah), Tanion Ru (Tanjong Rhu) and an island called Blacan Mati (Pulau Blakang Mati or Sentosa) – along its eastern coast.1 Borschberg, P. (2010).

In Aid of the Motherland

Fundraising activities can tell us a lot about the people in need and those who raise the funds for them. A rare publication titled Singapore Tong Seok Dramatic Association Charity Performance for the Shantung Relief Fund (星洲通俗白话剧团演 剧筹赈山东惨灾会特刊), commemorating a fundraising performance that took place in early 20th-century Singapore, gives us a glimpse of exactly that: how a brutal military clash between Chinese and Japanese troops…

The First Directory

A publication dating back to the mid-1800s provides a glimpse into pre-war Singapore – the people who lived there during this period and their livelihoods. Apart from the newspapers, The Straits Times Almanack, Calendar and Directory was one of the most useful sources of information about people at the time as it contained the names of the principal residents in Singapore and their professions. Published…