100 rare items on display at NLB's new exhibition on colonial Singapore

From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.
From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.
From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.
From the Stacks: Highlights of the National Library will showcase over historical 100 artefacts for the first time.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

In 1820, Sir Stamford Raffles wrote the first of four letters to the British East India Company, persuading them to establish a trading post in Singapore.

In the letters, Raffles went to great lengths to passionately defend the island as a strong regional trading hub.

This convinced his superiors of the island's potential, and thus began Singapore's colonial history as a maritime port under British rule.

The letters are among some 100 historical artefacts on display at the National Library Board's "From the Stacks" exhibition. The stacks refer to the shelves where the library's rare materials collection is displayed, which is usually not open to the public, making this the first time most of these items are being showcased.

"I think these are important products of our early history that allow us to reflect the kind of life that Singaporeans were living... and really gives us a useful insight in the early days of Singapore's history, " said Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, at the exhibition's official opening on Friday (Jan 29).

Dating from the 18th and the 19th century, the items were selected for their rich heritage value and reflect community life in Singapore during colonial times. These include a tourist guidebook to Singapore from 1982 written by a resident Presbyterian minister, and a physical copy of the first newspaper, the Singapore Chronicle, from 1833 - which listed tea and French silk handkerchiefs as imports at the time.

Some of the quirkier items on display include a book of traditional British nursery rhymes such as "Ba Ba Black Sheep" translated to Malay, and one of the earliest cookbooks here, "The Mem's Own Cookery Book", which has recipes such as "cream of ginger" and "remains of cold meat".

Some of the exhibits have accompanying interactive screens, which allow viewers to digitally flip through the pages of the old documents and enlarge the text. Headphones with audio recordings of the content are also available, as well as an activity booklet for children.

Said National Library head of exhibitions, curation and rare collection Tan Huism:"With these books, you can see into the mind of the author, which you can't with an object.

"So you not only get a sense of what he was thinking, but also the culture he was in, his perspective, his world view - which might be quite unusual from our perspective today."

As part of the exhibition, a series of heritage talks will be held during the exhibition period of Jan 30 to Aug 28. Free guided tours in English and Mandarin start from Feb 20, and curator-led tours will be available on one Friday each month.

chiaytr@sph.com.sg