11 November 2021
After nearly two centuries of obscurity, some 120 natural history drawings of the flora and fauna of Singapore and the region from the early 19th century have finally been published in a new book. Until recently, few people were aware of these precious illustrations, made with the involvement of two French naturalists between 1818 and 1820, as they were part of a museum collection in Paris.
The book presents the works of Pierre-Médard Diard and Alfred Duvaucel, whom Sir Stamford Raffles – Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen at the time – had hired to document the natural history of this region. The illustrations in Diard & Duvaucel: French Natural History Drawings of Singapore and Southeast Asia are accompanied by essays and captions by contemporary curators and scientists in the field.
The book is being launched on 12 November 2021 by the National Library Board (NLB) and the Embassy of France in Singapore in partnership with Epigram Books, with support from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore, and TotalEnergies Foundation.
The book is available for reference at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and for loan at selected public libraries. It is also on sale at Epigram’s online store (epigrambookshop.sg), Epigram Bookshop’s pop-up at 267 Beach Road, and all major bookstores.
Book launch to celebrate the completion of Diard & Duvaucel
In celebration of the successful completion of Diard & Duvaucel, NLB will be holding a book launch on 12 November 2021 at The Pod, National Library Building.
A panel discussion at the book launch will feature local and international natural history experts who will address historic and current biodiversity issues:
Pre-recorded video message
"We are proud to work very closely with the Embassy of France in Singapore to bring to Singaporeans a collection of relatively unknown natural history drawings from the famed French naturalists Pierre-Médard Diard and Alfred Duvaucel,” said NLB’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ng Cher Pong. “This cultural collaboration adds to the corpus of Singapore stories and NLB will continue to reach out to key partners for more such enriching collaborations as part of the LAB25 (Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025).”
Ambassador of France to Singapore, Mr Marc Abensour said, “I am particularly proud to present this new book that illustrates how deeply rooted the cooperation between France and Singapore is. The drawings of Diard and Duvaucel were rediscovered at the initiative of the Embassy of France in Singapore and brought to the attention of the public for the first time at the 2019 edition of the vOilah! France Singapore Festival, on the occasion of the Bicentennial commemoration of Raffles' arrival on the island. Diard & Duvaucel is the result of a very fruitful and long-term collaboration between the National Library Board, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Singapore and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris."
The Origins of Diard & Duvaucel
Pierre Médard Diard and Alfred Duvaucel were two young French naturalists – possibly the first Frenchmen to be part of Singapore’s early history – who accompanied Raffles when he set off from India in December 1818 on a mission for Britain’s East India Company to explore what is now Southeast Asia. Their role was to collect specimens of fauna and flora for research.
During their time in the region, the pair amassed a massive collection of some 2,000 specimens and numerous illustrations drawn by unnamed local artists. These drawings were of animals and plants the Frenchmen encountered in Singapore and what are now Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as further away in India and Bangladesh. Over their lifetimes, Diard and Duvaucel sent a large amount of material back to France, of which 117 drawings now reside at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. In 2019, the museum granted NLB permission to put up the digitised version of Diard and Duvaucel's drawings on NLB’s BookSG portal for public access.
Diard & Duvaucel is one of two collaborations between NLB and the Embassy of France in Singapore, the second being the Mapping the World: Perspectives from Asian Cartography exhibition which will be open for six months from 10 December 2021 to 8 May 2022 at Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building. The collaborations are in conjunction with vOilah! France Singapore Festival, which runs from 3 November to 10 December 2021.
Please refer to the Annex for selected images of the natural history drawings featured in the book.
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About National Library Board
The National Library Board (NLB) nurtures Readers for Life, Learning Communities and a Knowledgeable Nation by promoting reading, learning and history through its network of 27 public libraries, the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore. NLB also forges strategic partnerships that encourage awareness, appreciation and greater discovery of Singapore's history through its rich collections on Singapore and the region.
NLB achieves excellence through innovation, focusing on citizen engagement and co-creation, resource and digital innovation. This creates learning opportunities, greater access to library resources, services and archival collections, as well as a continual development of innovative library spaces. Established on 1 September 1995 as a statutory board, NLB is under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).