The Singapore Institution Library (1823-1843)


The Singapore Institution Library grew out of Sir Stamford Raffles vision for an educated Singapore. Upon the founding of Singapore, one of Raffles' early initiatives was to set up an institution of learning and along with it, the means to collect and preserve the treasures of the region. This was the genesis of the National Library with its history closely tied to that of the Singapore Institution (later Raffles Institution) and the National Museum. The library remained a part of the Singapore Institution until two decades later, when calls for a public library led the collection to be renamed the Singapore Library.

On 1 April 1823, Raffles called for a meeting to consider setting up a Malayan college, a process which included transferring the Malaccan Anglo-Chinese College to Singapore. The proposal was supported by Robert Morrison (Dr), a founder of the Malaccan Anglo-Chinese College and a noted missionary and educationist. The resulting birth of the Singapore Institution also led to a call for a library and museum as "a means of diffusing knowledge" to both the Chinese and Malay students equally.

This vision for education was supported by funding from various segments of new Singapore with Raffles himself giving $2,000 from his personal funds, and the Sultan and the Temmenggong contributing $1,000 respectively.

On 15 April 1823, J. Maxwell, Secretary to the Board of Trustees, was put in-charge of setting up the library and museum in the absence of Morrison who was originally slated as the first Librarian of the General Library. With Raffles' sudden departure on 9 June 1823 due to illness, differences with the new Resident, John Crawfurd, and the apathy of the Trustees, the drive for establishing an institution of learning and the library soon flagged.

It would be more than a decade before mention of the library and museum was made again with a memorial fund set up in 1836 ten years after the
death of Raffles to rebuild the school which Raffles first envisioned. A room upstairs, in the completed Singapore Institution Free School, was set aside for the Library and Museum. By the mid-1830s, it was reported that books were being circulated amongst the students at the School Library. Although mainly a school library, with free access to students, teachers and donors to the Institution, lending privileges could be extended to the public for a monthly subscription of 25 cents. This was the start of Singapore's first subscription library. By the mid-1840s, the Singapore Library was established as a recognised institution within the school.

1 Apr 1823 : Raffles called a meeting with Robert Morrison (Dr), educationist and missionary, and Reverend Hutchings, chaplain of Prince of Wales Island. After the meeting, Raffles made public his proposals for an institution of learning.
8 Apr 1823 : The Singapore Institution obtained its first lease for land along Victoria Street (then known as Rochore Street) and Bras Basah Road (then known as College Street).
5 Jun 1823 : Raffles laid the foundation stone for the Singapore Institution prior to his departure. However, the building remained incomplete as Lt Philip Jackson had underestimated the cost of the effort to build the school.
May 1827 : The Free Press reported that the building was nearing completion. The school was occupied and began operation by the end of that year. However, the facilities proved inadequate and for more than a decade, the building remained dilapidated.
1 Jan 1836: The Monument Fund in memory of Raffles was established and the moneys channelled to complete the Institution which Raffles first conceived.
12 Dec 1837 : The Singapore Free Schools move from High Street to the Institution. The library within this educational institution had 392 volumes and its collection was greatly utilised by the students.
30 Apr 1838 : Ramasamy (sometimes spelt Ramsammy) Pillay was hired as a library assistant at $4 a month.

Bonny Tan


Seet, K. K. (1983). A place for the people (pp. 6-16). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 027.55957 SEE)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 427-438, 520-523). Singapore: Oxford University Press.

(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Wijeysingha, E. (1989). The eagle breeds a gryphon: The story of the Raffles Institution 1823-1985 (pp. 18-70). Singapore: Pioneer Book Centre.
(Call no.: SING 373.5957 WIJ)

Raffles Institution Archives and Museum. (2002). 
The humble beginnings. Retrieved May 24, 2004, from

The information in this article is valid as at 2002 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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