Eric R. Alfred



Eric Ronald Alfred (b. Johor, Malaya–)1 is a zoologist who became the first Malayan-born curator of zoology of the Raffles Museum (now known as the National Museum of Singapore) in 1956. He later served as acting director of the National Museum between 1967 and 1973,2 and helped set up the now defunct Singapore Maritime Museum in 1974.

Education
Alfred was a student at Batu Pahat Government English School in Johor.3 In 1949, he passed the Cambridge local examinations and went on to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Malaya in Singapore (now the National University of Singapore ). Alfred graduated with a honours degree in zoology in 1956,4 before obtaining his Master of Science degree from the same university in 1965.5


Career at the National Museum
In August 1956, Alfred joined the Raffles Museum as its curator of zoology. With the government civil service implementing a policy of ‘Malayanisation’, Alfred was the first of two local graduates to be appointed as a curator that year, a position that had previously been dominated by expatriates. The other local graduate was Christopher Hooi, who joined the museum as the curator of anthropology a week after Alfred.6


At the Raffles Museum, Alfred worked closely with Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill,7 the last expatriate director of the museum and the previous curator of zoology. In 1960, the museum was renamed the National Museum and came under the charge of the Ministry of Culture. A number of permanent secretaries from the ministry headed the museum as acting directors8 before Alfred was appointed its acting director in 1967.9 He had just returned from a year-long attachment at the British Museum (Natural History) in London and the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie of Leiden, the Netherlands.10

During his tenure as acting director of the National Museum between 1967 and 1973, Alfred continued the tradition of the museum as a research institution despite a lack of funds and staff. He also expanded the reach of the museum by starting a children’s natural history section and involving science teachers and children in museum activities.11

Alfred was actively involved in the research and expansion of the museum’s zoological collection, especially its fish collections.12 Having written his dissertation on freshwater fishes in Singapore, he continued collecting fish specimens in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands among others. Alfred’s collecting efforts in Singapore were significant for including rivers and streams that were later redeveloped or concreted over,13 and these specimens were detailed as part of his 1966 publication The Fresh-water Fishes of Singapore.

Between 1958 and 1971, Alfred published several papers on fishes and other zoological topics in numerous scientific publications, including the Bulletin of the Raffles Museum; Bulletin of the National Museum, Singapore; Malayan Nature Journal; and Federation Museums Journal.14 In recognition of his work in the field, a fish (Parosphromenus alfredi15) and a lizard (Alfred’s Blind Skink, Dibamus alfredi16) are named to honour Alfred.

In addition to his research, Alfred also started educational programmes to make the museum more relevant to the public. In 1961, he served on a government-appointed committee comprised of science educators to make recommendations for an upcoming science and industry museum.17 The Singapore Science Centre was eventually set up in 1977. To reach out to the public, Alfred also held a series of public talks on the role of the museum in science education and conducted courses in taxidermy for the Science Teachers’ Association.18

While working in the Raffles Museum, Alfred developed an interest in Malay watercrafts. He attributed the growth of this interest to his director Carl Gibson-Hill’s personal research on the Malay perahu or sailing craft, and a 1958 field trip to study turtles nesting on the coasts between Kuantan and Kota Bahru.19 Alfred’s attachments to the British Museum and Rijksmuseum also contributed to his interest in the perahu.

Departure from the National Museum
In 1972, the government decided that the National Museum would focus on the history, arts and ethnology of Singapore and Southeast Asia, instead of its previous encyclopedic scope.20 The Natural History Collection, including the fish collection to which Alfred had contributed significantly, was in danger of being broken up and disposed of,21 before eventually being transferred to the National University of Singapore’s science faculty.22 The collection was renamed the Zoological Reference Collection and is to be housed within the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which is under construction as of 2014.23

After a stint at the Ministry of Culture, Christopher Hooi returned to the National Museum in 1973 on a permanent basis as its director.24 Alfred then reverted to his previous role as curator of zoology.25 The following year, he left the National Museum and was appointed curator at the Singapore Maritime Museum.26

Career at the Singapore Maritime Museum
The Singapore Maritime Museum, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, was located in Sentosa and managed by the Port of Singapore Authority. Serving as a centre showcasing the maritime history of Singapore, the museum’s exhibitions comprised a variety of maritime items such as miniature ship models, full-sized boats, navigational charts and tools as well as artworks.27

As curator of the Maritime Museum, Alfred continued to advocate the use of museums in education. He participated in the 1979 Seminar on Non-formal Education in Singapore by co-authoring an article on how museum exhibits, tours and public film screenings could be utilised for educational purposes.28

Besides working as curator of the Maritime Museum, Alfred served in a number of advisory roles. In 1980, he was on the Museum Development Committee, which was responsible for charting the direction of the National Museum after 1985.29 In 1988, he was appointed to serve on the Coin Advisory Committee to advise on coin design and other related matters.30

Continued research
Alfred continued to pursue his interest in Malay watercrafts and ports. He completed his Master of Letters at the Institute of Malay World and Civilization in the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, with a dissertation on 20th-century Malay perahus of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand.31 At the same time, Alfred was also involved in the planning and establishment of the Galeri Pengangkutan Air at Pulau Beram, Pekan, in 1997.32


Family33
Wife: Irene Alfred nee Vairakiam (deceased).
Sons:
Raymond Alfred and David Alfred.



Author
Fiona Tan



References
1. Nathan, S. R. (2011). An unexpected journey: Path to the presidency. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 155. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 NAT-[HIS])
2. Kow-Tan, S. K., & Tan T. P. (Eds.). (1987). Bibliography (1874–1987): National Museum, Singapore. Singapore: The Museum, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 016.0699 KOW-[LIB])
3. Batu Pahat Government English School. (1950, March 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. 156 pass BA and BSc examinations. (1956, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Alfred, E. R. (1978). Systematic studies of the fresh-water fishes of Singapore. [Microform]. Singapore: University of Singapore, Microfilm Services Dept, p. i. (Call no.: RCLOS ALF)
6. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1992, November 23). Oral history interview with Christopher George Liang Yin Hooi [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001382/06/01, p. 9]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7.
Ng, P. K. L, Corlett, R. T., & Tan, H. T. W. (Eds.). (2011). Singapore biodiversity: An encyclopedia of the natural environment and sustainable environment. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, p. 133. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 SIN)
8. Liu, G. (1987). One hundred years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887–1987. Singapore: The Museum, p. 62. (Call no.: RSING 708.95957 LIU)
9. Kow-Tan, S. K., & Tan T. P. (Eds.). (1987). Bibliography (1874–1987): National Museum, Singapore. Singapore: The Museum, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 016.0699 KOW-[LIB])
10. Ng, P. K. L, Corlett, R. T., & Tan, H. T. W. (Eds.). (2011). Singapore biodiversity: An encyclopedia of the natural environment and sustainable environment. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, p. 133. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 SIN)
11. Liu, G. (1987). One hundred years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887–1987. Singapore: The Museum, p. 62. (Call no.: RSING 708.95957 LIU)
12. Sharp, I. (1989, January 8). The stuff of life. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (n.d.). Fish collection. Retrieved from National University of Singapore, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/2014-03-19-23-22-27/fishes
14. Kow-Tan, S. K., & Tan, T. P. (Eds.). (1987). Bibliography (1874–1987): National Museum, Singapore. Singapore: The Museum, pp. 26–29. (Call no.: RSING 016.0699 KOW-[LIB])
15. Kottelat, M., & Ng, P. K. L. (2005). Diagnoses of six new species of Parosphromenus (Teleostei: Osphronemidae) from Malay Peninsula and Borneo, with notes on other species. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 13, 101–113. (Call no.: RSING 591.05 RBZ)
16. The Reptile Database. (n.d.). Dibamus alfredi. Retrieved from The Reptile Database website: http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Dibamus&species=alfredi
17. Museum as aid to education. (1961, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Association News. (Sept 1966). Scientas: Bulletin of the Science Teachers' Association of Singapore, 1(2), 8, 10. (Call no.: RCLOS 507 STB)
19. Alfred, E. R. (2008). The 20th century Malay perahus of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand [Unpublished Masters dissertation, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia], p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 387.220959 ALF)
20. Liu, G. (1987). One hundred years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887–1987. Singapore: The Museum, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 708.95957 LIU)
21. Sharp, I. (1989, January 8). The stuff of life. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Liu, G. (1987). One hundred years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887–1987. Singapore: The Museum, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 708.95957 LIU)
23. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (n.d.). Zoological Reference Collection. Retrieved from Lee Kong Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/index.php/collections
24. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1992, November 23). Oral history interview with Christopher George Liang Yin Hooi [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001382/06/01, biodata page]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
25.
Kow-Tan, S. K., & Tan, T. P. (Eds.). (1987). Bibliography (1874–1987): National Museum, Singapore. Singapore: The Museum, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 016.0699 KOW-[LIB])
26. Campbell, W. (1974, September 15). Of matters maritime. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Campbell, W. (1974, September 15). Of matters maritime. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Non-formal education seminar. (1979, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bhathal, R. S., & Tian, N. I. (Eds.). (1980). Non-formal education in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, pp. 45–46. (Call no.: RCLOS 370.95957 SEM)
29. Move to boost museum’s historical materials. (1980, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 8; Holmberg, J. (1985, May 26). Unveiling the home of our heritage. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Coin panel advisers. (1988, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Alfred, E. R. (2008). The 20th century Malay perahus of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand [Unpublished Masters dissertation, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia]. (Call no.: RSING 387.220959 ALF)
32. Alfred, E. R. (2008). The 20th century Malay perahus of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand [Unpublished Masters dissertation, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia], p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 387.220959 ALF)
33. Obituary: Irene Alfred nee Vairakiam. (2003, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 21 July 2014 and correct as far as we are able to 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
Personalities