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Quite ironically, the most detailed account of Stamford Raffles’ momentous arrival in Singapore was captured by a man who was not even there. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, better known as Munshi Abdullah, gathered reports from those present to piece together a version of the events that occurred during Raffles’ first arrival to Singapore on 29 January 1819. This landmark narrative is included in his autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, or Stories of Abdullah, one of the most important records of the socio-political landscape in Singapore, Malacca and the southern Malay kingdoms of Johor and Riau-Lingga at the turn of the 19th century. Written in Jawi – modified Arabic script used to write the Malay language – between 1840 and 1843 and published in 1849, the book is considered compulsory reading among scholars of Malay literature and culture and is the most renowned of Abdullah’s works. Until the 1970s, it was used as a textbook in every Malay school in Singapore. Born in Malacca in 1797, young Abdullah studied under the best Malay scholars in his hometown and read all…

Travel guides are more than just books that tell you about interesting sights in a destination, or where to eat, and how to get from one place to another. As a guidebook becomes worn and dated over time, it turns into a bona fide history book, providing valuable insights into the past. This is exactly what Handbook to Singapore has become: a history book of sorts documenting life in the colony in the late 19th century. As travel became increasingly popular towards the end of the 1900s, guidebooks were published to fill a gap in the market. Sensing the need for one, Reverend George Murray Reith, resident minister of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore wrote a handy guide for visitors to the island. Printed in 1892, Reith’s Handbook is one of the earliest tourist guides to Singapore. Although by no means the first guide about the island to be published, it was certainly the best of its kind at the time; earlier guidebooks such as The Stranger’s Guide to Singapore…