Monday, March 2, 2009


Building plan of City Hall

Ensconced within the National Archives, this blueprint was the work of municipal architect F.D. Meadows. Then known as the Municipal Building, City Hall was constructed from 1926 to 1929 and housed departments in charge of services such as water, electricity, gas, roads and street lighting.

The Singapore stone

A fragment of a large boulder about 3m high and 3m wide that originally stood at the entrance of the Singapore River, near present-day Fullerton Hotel.

Believed to date as far back as the 10th century, it bore an inscription which remains undeciphered to this day.

East Javanese-style gold ornaments

Housed in the National Museum, these precious artefacts, including an armlet and rings set with diamonds, were found at Fort Canning Hill in 1928 by labourers working on a reservoir.

The relics are proof that the island was under the political and cultural ambit of the East Java-based 14th-century kingdom of Majapahit.

Glass plate negatives by Percy Reginald Hill

A notable donation last year to the National Library from the family of the late Percy Reginald Hill, who worked as a chartered accountant in Singapore and Malaya during the early 20th century.

From photographs by Mr Hill, the 60 glass plate negatives show scenes of daily life in early Singapore and Malaya.

Portrait of Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham

Done by renowned artist John Singer Sargent in 1904, the portrait (left) of the first Resident General of the Federated Malay States adorns the National Museum and is a legacy from the Raffles Museum, its predecessor.

Singapore's national treasures - March 1 2009

Raffles' letters, books and paintings among heritage items
By Tan Dawn Wei

Among what could be deemed artefacts from once-sleepy olde Singapore would be the letters penned by Sir Stamford Raffles.

Imagine if these had been looted, auctioned to foreign buyers, and lost to the country forever.

Indeed, recent anger in China centred on the sale of two imperial Chinese cultural relics looted during the second Opium War in 1860. Last Wednesday, despite China's protests, the bronze rat and rabbit sculptures were sold by auction house Christie's for 28 million euros (S$55 million) to unidentified bidders at a Paris auction.

While Singapore is a young nation, what few artefacts it has are precious still.

Some of the Raffles Letters might have been looted if not for quick-witted action by its keepers. When Japanese soldiers occupied Singapore during World War II, private homes, businesses and public institutions were looted.

But keepers at the then-Raffles Library and Museum hid historical valuables. Sir Stamford's letters, for instance, were hidden in the museum's rafters.

Still, not much is known about what other cultural relics are still here - or out there.

'It could take years to compile a list,' said Dr Kevin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

The National Heritage Board (NHB), which runs Singapore's main museums and is responsible for collecting, preserving and displaying the country's heritage assets, said it does not have ready information about Singapore's cultural relics in foreign hands.

But many heritage items important to Singapore are safely here, thanks to successful acquisitions.

A sizeable and rare collection of Raffles' letters, books and artefacts came back to Singapore after it was put up for sale by London-based rare books dealer Maggs Bros on behalf of an anonymous seller.

Prominent businessman Tang Wee Kit of the CK Tang family snapped up this precious collection in two separate sales in London in 2004 and 2005, forking out £560,000.

In 1995, Mr Goh Geok Khim, founder of stockbroking giant, GK Goh Securities, bought a collection of 477 paintings accumulated by William Farquhar, Singapore's first Resident.

He donated the collection, worth $3 million then and purchased through Sotheby's, to the then-Singapore History Museum.

The National Library Board (NLB) has also bought four letters, signed by Raffles, from the open market for an undisclosed sum.

Neither NHB nor NLB would divulge their acquisition budgets. But it has been reported that the total acquisition budget for all the museums was $3million in 2007.

According to NHB's annual report, its acquisitions from government and non-government grants amounted to $5.6 million in the last financial year while donations were valued at $2.3 million. It now has more than 100,000 artefacts, either bought, donated or on loan.

The library has a rare materials collection with more than 6,000 items, mostly 19th- and early 20th-century publications issued by Singapore's earliest printing presses.

'We do our due diligence, when acquiring important items, by checking to ensure that they are not stolen, for example, on Interpol's stolen art register, and also declaring our interest to acquire, to the heritage authorities in the country of origin,' said Dr Kenson Kwok, director of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

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