Level 13, Rare Gallery
National Library Building
This gallery is open to public during scheduled guided tours only. Please refer to Golibrary for tour dates.

The Rare Collection Gallery

The Rare Collection Gallery showcases treasures from the National Library’s Rare Materials Collection of valuable research materials on Singapore and Southeast Asia. Comprising over 15,000 books, journals, manuscripts, maps, photographs and ephemera, many of the items in the collection were inherited from the National Library’s predecessors – the Singapore Library (1844–1874) and the Raffles Museum and Library (1874–1960). The collection is also further enhanced by recent donations from institutions and individuals.

The items on display are regularly refreshed to highlight the various interesting artefacts from the Rare Materials Collection, and is open for viewing during organised public tours. Currently on display are early European accounts of Southeast Asia, which contain descriptions of the places, peoples, culture, languages and natural history of a region once known by a variety of names accorded to its cities and kingdoms.

The history of Java

Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781 – 1826)
London, 1817

Stamford Raffles describes the various dances that were performed by both females and males. S’rimpi, bedaya and rong-geng were dances presented by females, while gambuh, niutra and beksa were undertaken by males. Though more popular in the western part of Java, Rong-geng was a dance that could be found in many towns and was performed during festivities and celebrations.

Rong-geng dancers were also singers and usually belonged to an itinerant group of dancers and musicians. As rong-geng was a public dance, the dancers were often perceived as sexually permissive. However, some dancers went on to have accomplished careers, amassing considerable wealth, while others married local petty chiefs. Often, these marriages did not last and the women would return to dancing.

Views in Burma

Joseph Moore

Fredrick Marryat (1792-)

London, 1825-1826

This work was produced by Fredrick Marryat, an officer in the British Royal Navy as well as an author, and Joseph Moore, a lieutenant in the British Army. This portfolio of 18 views was dedicated to the directors of the British E.I.C.

Scenes from this work include some of the earliest views of Rangoon, depictions of British operations in Burma (present-day Myanmar) in the 19th century, as well as military actions during the first Anglo-Burmese war (1824-1826).

The hand-coloured aquatint shows the Shwedagon Pagoda, also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda, located in Rangoon (Yangon). It was used by the British in 1824 during the war.


A voyage to and from the island of Borneo, in the East Indies …

Daniel Beeckman

London, 1718

Daniel Beeckman was the captain of an English merchant ship that traded under the British E.I.C. This book records his observations and experiences during his travels to Southeast Asia, especially Borneo, from 1713-1714. Beeckman described Borneo in detail, giving an account of the indigenous people and their customs, as well as the island’s produce and ports. Beeckman noted the revival of British trade in Borneo after the destruction of the British trading post in 1714 by the Banjarese of southern Borneo.

He also documented the animals he saw in Borneo; his record of the orangutan (meaning “Man of the Woods” in Malay) is thought to be one of the earliest. He opined that the orangutan was more handsome than some of the natives he had seen. Beeckman had bought an orangutan as a pet for six Spanish dollars but it died after seven months.