33rd Asean Summit

Trudeau traces family links to Singapore at Fort Canning

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sending a video text of his maternal great-great-great-great-grandmother Esther Farquhar Bernard's memorial plaque to his son at Fort Canning Park yesterday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sending a video text of his maternal great-great-great-great-grandmother Esther Farquhar Bernard's memorial plaque to his son at Fort Canning Park yesterday.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

After two days of meetings with several business groups and foreign leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to Singapore took a more personal turn.

Yesterday, the 46-year-old visited Fort Canning Park, taking a short walk across the grounds to the brick walls where a memorial plaque of his maternal great-great-great-great-grandmother Esther Farquhar Bernard is placed.

She was the daughter of Major-General William Farquhar, the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore, and Antoinette "Nonio" Clement, a Malaccan woman of French-Malay descent.

Bernard had a grandson who emigrated to British Columbia, said Mr Trudeau, who spent a few minutes gazing at the plaque of his ancestor, before stooping down to take a video.

Later, he was presented with a plate bearing a drawing of a kingfisher from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings from the National Museum of Singapore, and shown the memorial plaque of William Clark Farquhar, a grandson of Maj-Gen Farquhar.

"It was a very touching moment to see the history of my family, to appreciate all the criss-crossing, weaving links that make up each of our stories," said Mr Trudeau.

Fort Canning Hill has a special connection to Maj-Gen Farquhar, who climbed up the hill and hoisted the Union Jack when he arrived with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

 
 
 

At a dialogue with National University of Singapore students, Mr Trudeau drew laughs when he, in response to a student who said he was "very good-looking", replied: "It is the Singaporean blood."

But he was not entirely joking when he painted a historical perspective of Maj-Gen Farquhar, who shaped Singapore as a trading post between 1819 and 1823, as the more important figure in its history.

"I am not horribly biased, I will defend my fifth-time great-grandfather," quipped Mr Trudeau.

Maj-Gen Farquhar had been dismissed from Singapore in 1823 after a bitter quarrel broke out between him and Sir Stamford, said an article on the National Archives of Singapore site.

"He was banished by Raffles after a few years for having been too close to the locals and allowing gambling, and allowing them to keep more of the cultures and traditions than the British and Raffles wanted. When he was banished, the harbour was apparently filled with little boats and people lining the shores to say goodbye."

Plans are under way to tell the rich history of Fort Canning Park. This year, 18 trees were planted in the soon-to-be Farquhar Garden.

When completed next June, it will include plants originally grown by Maj-Gen Farquhar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2018, with the headline 'Trudeau traces family links to Singapore at Fort Canning'. Print Edition | Subscribe