Raffles Library and Museum (1942-1945)

Singapore Infopedia


The Raffles Library and Museum was taken over by the Japanese and renamed Syonan Hakubutsu Kan during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 15 February 1942 to 12 September 1945.1 Vulcanologist and geologist, Professor Hidezo Tanakadate headed the institution from February 1942 to September 1942, followed by Marquis Yoshichika Tokugawa, a relative of the Japanese emperor,2 and Yata Haneda (Dr).3 Despite a three-and-a-half-year occupation by the Japanese, only minimal losses were suffered by the library and museum.4 After the Japanese surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel G. Archey of the British Military Administration took over the directorship of the library and museum on 6 September 1945.5

The Raffles Library and Museum was converted into a Regimental Aid Station by the British and Australian armies during the Japanese invasion in February 1942.The library building suffered damages on its northwestern wall and rooftop during the invasion.7 Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 after a fortnight of battle and was renamed Syonan-to, meaning “Light of the South”.8

On 18 February 1942, the assistant director of the Botanic Gardens in the Straits Settlements, E.J.H. Corner, with support from Governor Sir Shenton Thomas, met a group of Japanese scientists and nobles with the intention of protecting the invaluable collections of the Botanic Gardens, library and museum.9 He was later enlisted by Hidezo Tanakadate, a vulcanologist and geologist of Tohoku Imperial University in Sendai10, to assist him in re-establishing the library and museum.11

Syonan Hakubutsu Kan
The gardens, library and museum came under the Department of Education during the war.12 On 29 April 1942, the Raffles Library and Museum was re-opened to the public as Syonan Hakubutsu Kan.13 The directorships of the gardens, library and museum were taken over by Professor Hidezo Tanakadate.14 On 1 September 1942, the supreme consulting advisor to the Nippon Military Administration and civil governor of Malaya, Marquis Yoshichika Tokugawa (who was related by marriage to the emperor of Japan), was appointed as the president of the Syonan Museum and Gardens,15 while Tanakadate worked under him.16 This continued until the end of 1942, when Professor Kwan Koriba took over as the director of the gardens, and Yata Haneda (Dr) became the director of the museum.17

The Popular Library, an exclusive lending library that served only the Japanese, was opened at the ground floor of the annexed St Andrew’s School, next to the Raffles Museum, on 2 February 1943. It held only Japanese books and magazines.18 The library also had a reference section that supported research work on the region.19  However, Tanakadate was ordered to return to Japan on suspicion of being a pro-European supporter in June 1943.20 Marquis Tokugawa also retired and left Singapore in mid-1944.21

In the initial days after the fall of Singapore, Tanakadate helped to protect the collections at the gardens, library and museum by putting up “Do not enter” notices at their doors to prevent looting.22 By March 1942, the library collection had increased to 40,000 books.23 This was made possible due to the assistance of I. Asahi, custodian of enemy property and secretary to the municipality.24 He granted permission for abandoned books to be gathered and transferred to the library.25 Among the abandoned materials collected were records of the Eastern Bureau of the League of Nations as well as books from libraries of civil service departments, attorney-general’s offices and private collections.26 Besides books, efforts were made to preserve works of historical value at the museum,27 while valuable materials, such as the letters of Sir Stamford Raffles and the golden kris of Malacca, were also safely hidden.28 The statue of Raffles was moved to the museum on 11 September 1942, where it remained until the end of the war.29

The library suffered minimal losses during the Japanese Occupation.30 It was looted of some 500 reference books.31 This was negligible in comparison with the Penang Library, which lost half of its 30,000 volumes and the Perak Library that lost the bulk of its geological collection.32

Library usage
The library was patronised mainly by the Japanese and European staff from the Department of Information, which created propaganda for the Japanese invasion of India and Australia.33 More than 13,000 volumes were also circulated to civil internees at the Maxwell Road Customs House and prisoners-of-war at Changi Prison.34 Among these volumes were prayer books, hymnals, music sheets and children’s books.35

Japanese surrender
On 2 September 1945, the Japanese army surrendered to the Allied forces on board the USS Missouri.36 The Union Jack flag was raised at the museum by Chief Clerk Quan Ah Gun on 5 September 1945, marking the end of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.37 On 6 September 1945, Lieutenant-Colonel G. Archey of the British Military Administration assumed directorship of the library and museum.38


Heirwin Mohd Nasir

1. K. K, Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 80. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB])
2. Seet, Place for the People, 84.
3. E. J. H. Corner, The Marquis: A Tale of Syonan-To (Singapore: Heinemann Educational Asia, 1981), 109 (Call no. RSING 959.57023 COR-[HIS]); “Research Workers Meeting in Syonan,” Syonan Shimbun, 6 September 1943, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Seet, Place for the People, 75.
5. Seet, Place for the People, 85.
6. Seet, Place for the People, 79.
7. Seet, Place for the People, 79.
8. Gretchen Liu, Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819‒2000 (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 1999), 259. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
9. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore's Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Services, 1991), 197. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
10. Seet, Place for the People, 80.
11. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 30; Seet, Place for the People, 78.
12. “Syonan to Be Centre of Scientific Research in Malayan Archipelago,” Syonan Shimbun, 27 June 1942, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Seet, Place for the People, 80.
14. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 34; Syonan to Be Centre of Scientific Research.”
15. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 105–08; Seet, Place for the People, 84.
16. “Marquis Tokugawa New Director of Syonan Museum,” Syonan Shimbun, 5 September 1942, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 109; “Research Workers Meeting in Syonan.”
18. Seet, Place for the People, 85; “Popular Lending Library for Public of Syonan,” Syonan Shimbun, 15 September 1942, 4; “Research Section Included in New Syonan Library,” Syonan Shimbun, 4 February 1943, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Popular Lending Library for Public of Syonan”; “Research Section Included in New Syonan Library.”
20. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 100; Seet, Place for the People, 83.
21. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 109.
22. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 31; Gretchen Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887-1987 (Singapore: The Museum, 1987), 55. (Call no. RSING 708.95957 LIU)
23. Seet, Place for the People, 82.
24. Seet, Place for the People, 81.
25. Seet, Place for the People, 81.
26. Seet, Place for the People, 81–82.
27. “Syonan Museum Is on “Must See” List of Every Sailor,” Syonan Shimbun, 4 September 1942, 4; “British Civic Treasures in Syonan Being Preserved,” Syonan Shimbun, 10 September 1942, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 36; Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 56.
29. “Statue of Founder Removed to Museum,” Syonan Shimbun, 13 September 1942, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 118.
30. Seet, Place for the People, 75.
31. Seet, Place for the People, 75.
32. Seet, Place for the People, 79.
33. Seet, Place for the People, 80.
34. Seet, Place for the People, 83.
35. Seet, Place for the People, 83.
36. Lee Geok Boi, Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese 1942–1945 (Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 1992), 268. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])
37. Corner, Tale of Syonan-To, 146; Seet, Place for the People, 85.
38. Seet, Seet, Place for the People, 85.

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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