Raffles Library and Museum building (1887–1960)

The Raffles Library and Museum building at Stamford Road was officially opened on 12 October 1887.1 During its initial years, the library occupied the right wing on the ground floor of the building, while the museum occupied the first floor.2 The library and museum were administered as a single entity under one roof until 1955 when there was an administrative separation of the museum from the library.3 In 1960, the library moved into its own building adjacent to the museum.4

Background
In 1874, the Singapore Library, which was then a proprietary library, became a public library under the management of the colonial government. Combined with a new museum, it was renamed the Raffles Library and Museum. It moved from rooms in the lower floor of the Town Hall (now Victoria Theatre) to more spacious rooms on the upper floor. However, it soon became apparent that the space provided was grossly inadequate for the effective running of the library and museum. The library was overcrowded and there was no space for the display of museum specimens. Some artefacts even had to be packed away to make way for the expanding library. The collecting of specimens was also scaled down and limited to those that were resistant to destruction by insects. In view of the unsatisfactory conditions, the Committee on Library and Museum, and members of the public appealed to the government to erect a permanent establishment for the library and museum, which it had pledged to build in 1875.5


However the government did not have the means to fund the project, so it offered the first and second floors of the new wing of the Raffles Institution as a temporary measure. Thus, from 26 December 1876 to 22 January 1877, the library and museum moved into its new quarters which were twice the size of the former premises. With more space, the library was able to classify and organise its collection by subject, while the museum was able to embark on its building-up programme.6

While it was felt that the new premises would have sufficient space for both the library and museum for at least a few years, the building was soon found to be unsuitable for museum purposes. Enormous amounts of red dust that was injurious to museum specimens permeated the building. Before long, the museum also ran out of space. This spurred calls for the government to provide the library and museum with a proper building. However, the government maintained that it did not have the budget, and proposed that the bulk of the funds be raised through public donations instead.7

New building at Stamford Road
With no government funding in sight, the committee attempted to raise money for the new building through public subscriptions in 1879. However, little progress was made. It was only in 1882 that a new building was finally commissioned by the government. The newly appointed governor, Sir Frederick Weld, had supported the use of government funds, recognising that it was not feasible to depend on private donations. The colonial engineer, Henry McCallum, was tasked to draw up the estimates. His early proposal, which entailed a budget of $130,000, was rejected as it was deemed too costly. He cut down the scale and style of the building and submitted a revised plan with a reduced budget which was accepted in 1882. The foot of Fort Canning was chosen as the site of the new building despite initial concerns that the hill would dwarf the building and make it appear less grand. However, the fears were unfounded as McCallum’s design, which was a blend of neo-Palladian and Renaissance architectural styles, integrated well with the surrounding landscape.8

In 1884, local contractor Chan Ah Quan was appointed to carry out the building of the structure at a cost of $61,000. Work commenced the same year. However, the task proved too daunting for him and another contractor See Ah Tock had to take over its construction. The building was finally completed and opened in 1887. The structure consisted of an internal rotunda crowned by a 90-foot high dome.9

The opening
The long-awaited opening of the new Library and Museum took place at 5 pm, on 12 October 1887. Amid much fanfare, the building was officially opened by the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Frederick Weld, and the event was attended by senior government officials and prominent local citizens.10 The collections were moved into the building from 24 December 1887 to 7 January 1888.11

During its initial years, the library occupied the right wing of the ground floor, while the left wing housed the librarian’s private room, a meeting room for the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and a storage room for museum specimens. The first floor of the building was allocated to the museum for the display of its ethnological, geological, mineralogical, zoological and botanical collections. It also included the living quarters of the curator and librarian.12

Alterations to the building
Unfortunately, the new building was plagued with many problems. The library and museum suffered from mould, white ants, red dust, sparrow nests and the chronic lack of space. In 1900, a proposal was made to erect a new building for the museum on land originally earmarked for the Diamond Jubilee Memorial Hall. However, the plan, costing $270,000, did not receive support from the Legislative Council and was eventually dropped. Instead the Council voted for a less expensive option of a building extension. The budget for the extension was approved in 1904 and construction commenced the same year. The annex was built as a parallel block behind the existing building. It was completed in 1906 and opened to the public in 1907. The ground floor of the new block was shared by the library and the museum, while the first floor was reserved for the display of the museum’s zoological collection.13


In 1911, the space for the library was enlarged when the rooms in the east (left) wing of the original front block were merged into two large rooms. The Reference Library and the fiction collection shifted into the refurbished east wing while the non-fiction collection occupied the west (right) wing.14

In view of the expanding collections, the museum and library applied to the government for more space in 1913. A proposal for a separate library building was initially accepted but later abandoned in favour of a wing extension of the rear block, in the direction towards Tanglin. The construction of the new wing began in 1914 and was completed in 1916. The library collections were then transferred from the old front block to the new wing of the rear block. This new wing became known as the library wing. The vacated rooms in the original building were then converted for the museum’s use.15

In 1920, the museum and library submitted another proposal for a new library building. Though the plan was approved, no progress was reported. Instead a less ambitious plan of another building extension to the rear block was submitted and accepted in 1923. Construction of a new wing, in the same size and design, to the library wing began in 1924. The extension, known as the south wing, was completed and opened in 1926. The new space was used by both the museum and library. With this addition, the museum and library building was now proportionally symmetrical.16

Move-out of library
Though museum and library continued to function in the same building in the ensuing years, hopes for an administrative and physical separation of the two institutions persisted. In 1955, the administration of the museum was finally disassociated from that of the library. In 1960, the library moved into its own building adjacent to the museum.17

Later developments
Since 1960, the building has remained under the purview and use of the National Museum. The building was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.18 From 2003 to 2006, the building underwent extensive redevelopment which included restoration works and the addition of a modern building extension.19

Timeline
26 Dec 1876–22 Jan 1877: Library and Museum move from Town Hall to new wing of the Raffles Institution.
12 Oct 1887: Official opening of Raffles Library and Museum at Stamford Road by Governor Weld.20
Oct 1904–mid 1906: Rear block extension built.21
Aug 1914–Aug 1916: Library wing extension built.22
1924–1926: South wing extension built.23
1955: Administrative separation of museum from library.24
1960: Library moves into its new building adjacent to the museum building.25



Author

Chan Fook Weng 



References
1. “Opening of the New Library and Museum,” Straits Times, 13 October 1887, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Gretchen Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum: Singapore 1887–1987 (Singapore: National Museum, 1987), 13. (Call no. RSING 708.95957 LIU)
3. Raffles Museum (Singapore), Annual Report 1955 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1956), 1, 11. (Call no. RCLOS 069.095957 RAF)
4. “Raffles Library Moving,” Straits Times, 17 October 1960, 5; “New Raffles Library Is Now Open,” Straits Times, 3 November 1960, 4 (From NewspaperSG); K. K. Seet, A Place for the People (Singapore: Times Books International, 1983), 120. (Call no. RSING 027.55957 SEE-[LIB])
5. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 542–45, 548–49, 551 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1876), 2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 19–21; Seet, Place for the People, 27; Gretchn Liu, In Granite and Chunam: The National Monuments of Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, 1996), 39 (Call no. RSING 725.94095957 LIU); “Legislative Council 28th March 1874,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 9 April 1874, 5; “Untitled,” Straits Observer (Singapore), 24 September 1875, 2; “A Bill to Provide for Permanent Establishment of a Public Library and Museum,Straits Observer (Singapore), 29 October 1875, 2; “Thursday 28th October,” Straits Times, 30 October 1875, 3; “Legislative Council,” Straits Times, 26 February 1876, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Seet, Place for the People, 28; Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1876), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); “Shorthand Report of the Legislative Council,” Straits Times, 18 March 1876, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1877), 1, 3 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1878), 2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1879), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1881), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); “Summary of the Week,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 6 July 1878, 1; “Wednesday 21st August,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 24 August 1878, 8; “Untitled,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 7 February 1879, 3; “Topic of the Day,” Straits Times Overland Journal,7 February 1879, 2; “Summary of the Week,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 12 April 1879, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Raffles Library and Museum,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 12 April 1879, 5. (From NewspaperSG); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 551; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39–40; Seet, Place for the People, 37–38; Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 23.
9. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 13 December 1884, 5; “Opening of the New Library and Museum,” Straits Times, 13 October 1887, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 9, 23.
10. “Opening of the New Library and Museum.”
11. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1887), 2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874)
12. Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 13.
13. Liu, One Hundred Years of the National Museum, 24, 28–30; Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1893 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1894), 1–2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1896 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1897), 6 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1897 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1898), 3, 8 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1898 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1899), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1900 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1901), 8 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1903 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1904), 6 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1904 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1905), 8 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1905 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1906), 8 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1906 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1907), 4 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1907 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1908), 4 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874)
14. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1911 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1912), 5 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1912 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1913), 2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874)
15. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1913 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1914), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1914 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1915), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1916 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1917), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39.
16. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1920 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1921), 2 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1924), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1926 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1927), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39.
17. Raffles Museum (Singapore), Annual Report 1955, 1, 11; “Raffles Library Moving,” Straits Times, 17 October 1960, 5; “New Raffles Library Is Now Open,” Straits Times, 3 November 1960, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Seet, Place for the People, 120.
18. The Preservation of Monuments Order 1992, S. 56/1992, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 1992, 235–36. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
19. Sarah Ng, “Grand Old Dame Sparkles Again,” Straits Times, 16 April 2006, 14; Clara Chow, “National Museum Opens After $132M Makeover,” Straits Times, 8 December 2006, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Opening of the New Library and Museum,” Straits Times, 13 October 1887, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1904, 8; Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1906, 4; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39.
22. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1914 (Singapore: Raffles Library and Museum, 1915), 1 (Call no. RRARE 027.55957 RAF; Microfilm NL3874); Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1916, 1; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39.
23. Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1923, 2; Raffles Library and Museum, Annual Report 1926, 2; Liu, Granite and Chunam, 39.
24. Raffles Museum (Singapore), Annual Report 1955, 1, 11.
25. Raffles Library Moving”; “New Raffles Library Is Now Open”; Seet, Place for the People, 120.


Further resources
A. N. J. Van de Hoop, The Raffles Museum Singapore ([s.l.]: [s.n.]). (Call no.: RDLKL 069.2095957 VAN)

Gracie Lee, “Collecting the Scattered Remains: The Raffles Library and Museum,” BiblioAsia (Apr–Jun 2016)

 

Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore) and Preservation of Monuments Board, Singapore, National Museum Preservation Guidelines (Singapore: The Preservations of Monuments Board, 1993). (Call no. RSING 363.69095957 NAT)


The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

Subject
Libraries
Museums--Singapore
Libraries--Singapore