Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum



Located at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) was formerly known as Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR). Serving as a biodiversity museum, it houses the Zoological Reference Collection – which was known originally as the Raffles Collection, and the collection of the NUS Herbarium. The museum is open to the public and researchers.1

Background
There is no consensus on the origins of the LKCNHM. Some had traced its roots back to 1823 when Stamford Raffles (Sir) established the Singapore Institution as an educational institution. Others insist the museum was conceived in 1849 when the Singapore Institution proposed for a Singapore Museum after it received a special gift of coins from Temenggong Ibrahim of Johore. There are also many who picked 1887, the year the Raffles Library and Museum building (now National Museum building) was opened.2 For administrative and legality reasons, LKCNHM chose 16 December 1878 as its official establishment date. This was the day when the Raffles Societies Ordinance was passed to make the Raffles Library and Museum a public institution.3

Regardless, the natural history collection of LKCNHM was formerly referred to as the Raffles Collection or the Raffles Natural History Collection. It is now known as the Zoological Reference Collection. Over the years, the collection had grown in size, diversity and scientific value. This occurred especially after Nicholas Belfield Dennys (Dr) was appointed acting librarian and curator of Raffles Library and Museum in 1877.4

From 1877 to 1887, Dennys started the trend of building the museum’s natural history collection through public contributions.5 Some of the animal specimens he received included a python, a racehorse, a tiger, an orang-utan, a buck, and a leathery turtle. He also acquired two small collections of birds, a collection of Sarawak Lepidopetra (moths and butterflies), and a small collection of shells. To organise these specimens, Dennys separated them into a display collection for show, and a reference collection for scientific research and study. By the time Dennys stepped down in 1887, the Raffles Library and Museum had moved to what is today the National Museum building.6

The natural history collection continued to grow under Dennys’s successors. When Karl Richard Hanitsch (Dr) was the museum’s curator (1895–1908) and later director (1908–1919), the first guide to its natural history collection was published. Titled Guide to the Zoological Collections of the Raffles Museum, Singapore, it was released in December 1908 with the aim of getting students interested in the collection. In addition, Hanitsch made improvements to the displays by updating and replacing ageing specimens, adding glass displays or railings to protect the specimens from dust and touch, finding proper ways to store specimens that were not in used, and tagging the specimens. Further, he acquired the funds needed to build a new extension to house the rapidly growing collections.7

By 1908, the museum’s natural history collection had earned a reputation of being one of the best among the Asiatic museums at the time, especially its collection of insects and indigenous mammals like the orang-utans and dugong. In the years running up to the Japanese Occupation, the natural history collections continued to expand through donations. For instance, in 1934, the museum received a collection of many thousands of spiders from H. C. Abraham. This was then followed by a collection of marine forms in 1935 from Henry George Keith and Edward Banks from Borneo. In 1939, Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill, who would join the museum after the war as curator and then director, added a collection of frigate birds and crustaceans from the Christmas Islands.8

Post-war developments
The collection largely survived the Japanese Occupation. This was attributed to a direct order from the Japanese prime minister to preserve the collections and content of libraries and museums, as well as actions taken by Japanese administrators, Yoshichika Tokugawa, Professor Hidzeo Tanakadate, Yata Hameda and Kwan Koriba, who shared a deep interest in the collections of the Raffles Library and Museum.9

After the British returned, the Raffles Library and Museum was re-opened to the public on 23 October 1946. Under Director Michael Tweedie, Curator of Zoology Gibson-Hill and Curator of Anthropology Hubert Dennis Coolings, the museum returned to its pre-war routine of maintaining and growing the collections. It also published its research, which included Gibson-Hill’s famed natural history study “Notes on the Sea Birds Breeding in Malayan Waters” in 1950.10

Removal from the National Museum
The Raffles Library and Museum underwent a major overhaul in 1957 when it was separated into Raffles Library and Raffles Museum. The museum was then renamed National Museum in 1960 and placed under the Ministry of Culture. The new museum inherited all the collections belonging to the Raffles Museum. These included the ethnological and the natural history collection, as well as the collection of art works and historical artefacts of Singapore and the region. In addition, a decision was made to mobilise the museum for nation-building. This shift meant that the National Museum would concentrate more on history, culture, and anthropology rather than natural sciences. The natural history collection was thus removed from the National Museum, and transferred to the Singapore Science Centre, a new institution conceived in 1970 to promote science and technology.11

While the Singapore Science Centre took in the display collection of mounted specimens, it did not show a keen interest in the reference collection and was considering selling it off at one point.12 The reference collection was eventually transferred to NUS (University of Singapore at that time) and placed under the Department of Zoology in 1972, where it became known as the Zoological Reference Collection.13

In cold storage
Due to limited space at its Bukit Timah campus, the university could neither store nor display the collection, which amounted to some 126,000 specimens.14 Consequently, in the following 14 years, the specimens were shuttled in wooden crates to a storage facility at Ayer Rajah, different departments in the university, and the Nanyang University library. Each move took several months and required at least 40 lorries.15

As a result of the frequent transfers and poor storage conditions, many specimens were damaged during this period.16 It was only due to the efforts of curators and custodians, including Yang Chang Man, the chief curator of the zoological reference collection (1972–2004),  that the collection was not permanently disposed of. Despite the lack of working space, scientists continued to visit the collection, including then Prince Akihito of Japan, an ichthyologic researcher. Other museums overseas had also offered to receive in part or purchase the entire Raffles Collection.17

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
In 1987, the NUS moved to a permanent home at Kent Ridge, where the collection was stored in custom-designed airtight compactor systems in a controlled humidity environment with 24-hour air-conditioning.18 In 1998, a decision was made by NUS to set up RMBR to manage the collection.19 The research centre, which was under the Department of Biological Sciences, would not only have a public display gallery to showcase the collection, but would also provide support for research and outreach programmes.20

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
In May 2009, the museum held an open day as part of the International Museum Day. The event attracted over 3,000 visitors, a record single-day turnout as compared to the 400 visitors it had received the previous year.21 This prompted calls for a larger facility that would be able to showcase more of RMBR’s collection and accommodate a larger number of visitors.22

In 2009, NUS announced plans for a full-fledged museum to house RMBR’s collection.23 Shortly after the announcement, NUS received a donation of S$10 million towards the new museum from an anonymous group.24 This was followed by others including S$25 million from the Lee Foundation. Construction of the new museum began in January 2013, and was completed in April 2015.25 Thereafter, RMBR was renamed Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM).26

Collections
Besides the Raffles Collection, the Zoological Reference Collection also incorporates other collections from NUS and Nanyang University. The collection serves primarily as a depository of reference specimens, accommodates visiting researchers, and it utilises modern facilities for preservation and storage. With its listing of over 560,000 catalogued lots and over a million specimens in total, the collection is one of the largest of Southeast Asian animals in the region.27

In addition, a herbarium was established in 1955 at the university as a teaching resource and museum for the plant species collected by staff and students engaged in botanical research.28 Today, it documents the botanical resources of Southeast Asia by preserving evidence of its surviving plant diversity. The collection contains about 30,000 flowering plant specimens, including 155 wet orchid specimens, 1,660 ferns, 700 mosses, 100 liverworts and 1,235 marine algal specimens.29

The LKCNHM also has a Culture Collection with about 2,000 strains of fungi and bacteria. Maintained by the university’s Mycology and Plant Pathology Laboratory, it supports research on fungal enzymes, fungal chitosan, fungal aero-allergens and mycorrhizae.30

Research
The LKCNHM conducts research through regular surveys, expeditions and collaborative work on biodiversity and ecology in the Asia-Pacific region, covering the terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms. Academic links have also been established with more than 170 scientists from universities, museums and research institutes in over 30 countries.31

The museum’s research areas include ecological studies of reefs and mangroves and the bio-geography of Southeast Asia. Its long-term research objectives include, among others, the documentation of biodiversity in Singapore and the region, answering key ecological questions pertaining to the tropical rainforest, and establishing a regional database for biodiversity research.32

Inherited from the Raffles Museum’s predecessor publications originating from 1928, the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology is peer-reviewed and specialises in Southeast Asian biodiversity.33 Available on LKCNHM’s website, the bulletin is published twice a year with supplemental material issued at intervals.34

Public gallery and education
The main gallery of LKCNHM has 15 zones that traces the history of life on earth. Besides the main gallery, there is the heritage zone, which showcases the biological treasures the museum has accumulated over the years, as well as the “Singapore Today” zone, which features the geology of the island and conservation work by national agencies. Amongst of the most popular exhibits of the museum are the three diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons, nicknamed “Prince”, “Apollonia” and “Twinky”.35

The museum also works with other organisations on the publication of nature guidebooks and reference texts, and offers educational programmes and workshops to schools and other establishments.36

Toddycats! programme
Originally set up for NUS undergraduates in 1999, the Toddycats! programme promotes conservation, education and research to the public. It conducts guided tours in the museum, nature and heritage trails, as well as public seminars and outreach events. It also organises partnership programmes with other organisations interested in the field of biodiversity, and coordinates coastal clean-up events.37



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. National University of Singapore. (2016, January 14). About the museum. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/lkcnhm/aboutlkcnhm
2. National University of Singapore. (2016, January 14). About the museum. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/lkcnhm/aboutlkcnhm; National Museum. (2017, January 10). The Building. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from National Museum website: http://nationalmuseum.sg/about-nms/the-building
3. National University of Singapore. (2016, January 14). About the museum. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/lkcnhm/aboutlkcnhm; Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
4. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. xvii–xviii, 21–22. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN); National University of Singapore. (2016, January 14). About the museum. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/lkcnhm/aboutlkcnhm
5. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 22–27. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
6. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 22, 26–27, 29–31, 38, 39. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
7. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 54, 55–57, 62, 64–66. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
8. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 69, 90. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
9. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 98–100, 107–108. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
10. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 107, 111–113, 118. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
11. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 121, 130–135. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
12. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 137, 142–144. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
13. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 144, 149. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN); The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
14. The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, pp. 1–2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
15. The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
16. The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
17. Sharp, I. (1989, January 8). The stuff of life. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
18. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 147, 171 and 187 (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN); The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
19. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 183. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN); The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN)
20. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 182–183. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN); The museum that almost never was. (2001, June 15). Raffles Museum newsletter, 1, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 069.095957 RMN); Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (2017, January 10). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
21. Tan, D. W. (2010, January 24). $10m gift for natural history museumThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 200–201. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
23. Ng, P. (2009, June 5). Plans to expand museum at NUS. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Tan, D. W. (2010, January 24). $10m gift for natural history museumThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Tan, K. Y. L. (2015). Of whales and dinosaurs: The story of Singapore’s natural history museum. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 206, 214–215. (Call no.: RSING 508.0745957 TAN)
26. National University of Singapore. (2010, July 22). “Singapore's Natural History Museum at NUS Gets a New Home”. New Hub – NUS’ News Portal. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from National University of Singapore website: http://newshub.nus.edu.sg/pressrel/1007/100722.php
27. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (n.d.). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
28. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (n.d.). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 2. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
29. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). SINU herbarium. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/herbarium-sinu/sinuintro
30. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (n.d.). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 2. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
31. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (n.d.). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
32. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. (n.d.). Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research [Brochure]. Singapore: Author, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS EPHE O645)
33. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). History of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/rbzhistory/history
34. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). History of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/rbzhistory/history
35. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). About the museum: Public gallery. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/lkcnhm/aboutlkcnhm
36. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). Books by the museum. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/nhmpublications/museumbooks; National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). Education workshops and programmes. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/education/workshops
37. National University of Singapore. (2017, January 10). Volunteer with us. Retrieved 2017, June 28 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/volunteer/toddycats2015



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Wildlife
Zoological museums--Singapore
Nature>>Plants
Organisations
Arts>>Art museums, collections and exhibitions
Nature>>Animals
Science and technology>>Biology>>Biodiversity
Plants
Biodiversity--Southeast Asia--Research
Natural history museums--Singapore