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Vol 11 Issue 4

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The National Library Board wins hearts (and minds) around the world with its SG50 Gift of Books initiative. Amelia Tan has the details.

British colonial administrator John Crawfurd once wrote that the Chinese in 19th-century Southeast Asia have a “propensity to form secret societies [that] has sometimes proved inconvenient”. But on the whole “they are peaceable subjects”, he added, and in the event of a foreign invasion, “their cooperation might certainly be relied on by a British government”. This and other nuggets of information about colonial Southeast Asia are recorded in A Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands & Adjacent Countries, Crawfurd’s last scholarly publication before his death in 1868. Crawfurd, who was first posted to Penang in 1808 and served as Singapore’s second British Resident from 1823 to 1826, was one of a small school of colonial officials who industriously studied the local languages and cultures of the areas they governed and then published their observations. Their efforts provided the earliest reliable documentations of the region, laying the foundation for modern Southeast…

The National Library’s newest exhibition, “From the Stacks”, presents highlights of its Rare Materials Collection. Chung Sang Hong explains why you should not miss this event.

Long before the advent of modern communications and transportation systems, merchants in 19th-century Singapore relied on the humble newspaper to track shipping arrivals and departures. As the movement of cargo, people and mail was key to the island’s rise as a maritime port, the Singapore Chronicle‘s chief task was to disseminate commercial information and news.

The year 1914 brought with it the devastation of World War I, and the beginning of widespread food shortages and hikes in food prices. The expatriate community in Malaya was not spared either, but one woman’s passion for cooking – documented in a compilation of 420 recipes – helped numerous expatriate women in the region prepare flavourful meals for their families on their shoestring budgets. The National Library Board wins hearts (and minds) around the world with its SG50 Gift of Books initiative. Amelia Tan has the details. First published in 1920, the book, titled The “Mem’s” Own Cookery Book: 420 Tried and Economical Recipes for Malaya, was written by Mrs W. E. Kinsey, the wife of British expatriate William Edward Kinsey. Her recipes were based on local ingredients, and came with notes on prices and where the ingredients could be bought more cheaply. This made the book a lifesaver for hapless foreign mems – the term used by…

The Peranakan Museum in Armenian Street is probably the best place to go if you want to learn about the origins, history and culture of Singapore’s fascinating Straits Chinese or Peranakan community. But there was no such museum or repository of information more than a century ago. And so for the most part, people looked to a book written in 1879 by Jonas Daniel Vaughan, in which the social customs, religious practices and recreational activities of the Straits-born Chinese in British Malaya are described. Titled The Manners and Customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements, the book is part of the Ya Yin Kwan Collection that was donated to the National Library in 1964. At barely 120 pages long, Vaughan’s work cannot be described as exhaustive. In fact, his writings have been criticised as rambling and uneven, with an obvious ethnocentric bias typical of the expatriate writing of the time. Despite its limitations, however, the book offers a useful glimpse of Baba Chinese culture during British colonial rule in the 19th century. And, as a first-hand…

The horrors of the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) in Singapore can be read in any number of history books. But few are likely to be as candid or visceral as a series of cartoon books published after World War II in 1946. Titled Chop Suey, the four volumes of illustrations by the artist Liu Kang offer a rare insight into how people in Singapore were persecuted and tortured by the Japanese during the Occupation years.

Shortly after Stamford Raffles established a British trading outpost in Singapore on 6 February 1819, missionaries began arriving here in hopes of spreading Christianity to the people.The first of these missionary groups was the London Missionary Society (LMS) – a non-denominational Protestant society founded in 1795 in England – which sent a missionary named Samuel Milton from Malacca to Singapore. Milton was later joined by another missionary, Claudius Henry Thomsen, who brought with him a small printing press and a few employees. Thomsen most likely translated the Sermon on the Mount into Malay. The Sermon is the longest and one of the most often quoted teachings of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. The translation by Thomsen is one of the earliest extant Malay publications printed in Singapore. It is a small booklet printed by S. C. Mission Press in 1829 – “S. C.” refers to the Singapore Christian Union, which was formed by Protestant missionaries in Singapore. For the first few years, S. C. Mission Press was managed by Milton, but he…