The first idea for a museum in Singapore was birthed from a meeting convened by Raffles in 1823. It finally took shape in 1849 as the Singapore Library-Museum located at Singapore Institution, later renamed Raffles Institution, at Bras Basah Road.
In 1863, the Library and Museum moved to the Town Hall, today’s Victoria Theatre. It was then handed over in 1874 to the colonial government, who appointed a committee to oversee the formation of the Raffles Library and Museum.
Colonial Engineer Henry McCallum was appointed to design a dedicated building for the Museum, and his final plans were submitted in 1882. The rotunda and neo-Palladian façade remains a highlight of the National Museum today.
Work on the building began in 1884, where the foundation was laid at the foot of Fort Canning. The Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Frederick Weld, may be seen standing to the right of the foundation stone.
The Raffles Library and Museum building was opened on 12 October 1887, in the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. Officiating the ceremony was outgoing Governor Sir Frederick Weld, who delayed his departure to attend the opening.
The growth of the Museum’s collections meant that its original building soon proved inadequate. Work on a parallel block extension was completed by 1906, an officially opened on 13 February 1907 – the first day of Chinese New Year.
The Museum’s ethnological gallery included a wide selection of Malayan, Javanese and Dyak related artefacts. Smaller galleries in the Museum showcased its botanical, geological and numismatic (coin) collections.
Further extensions to the building were added in 1916 and 1926. This photograph shows the new Library wing in 1916, known today as the Stamford Office which houses the National Museum’s staff.
The major expansions of the Museum took place under R. N. Hanitsch, Director of the Museum from 1895–1919. He embarked on a major reorganisation, and steered the Museum in the direction of scientific research.
The Museum’s zoological collection also included gifts from Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, who presented an elephant that he had personally shot. The showcase in the photograph’s foreground features a tiger also donated by the Sultan.
Year 1942 to 1945
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, the Museum was renamed Syonan Museum. This group portrait includes Museum President Marquis Tokugawa (seated, centre) and Director Dr Yata Haneda (seated, right).
After WWII, the Museum grew as a repository for Singapore’s history. This 1953 photograph shows the newly acquired painting View from Mount Wallich at the entrance hall on the left. It remains on display today at the Museum’s Singapore History Gallery.
The museum separated from the library. It was renamed National Museum to reflect its new pivotal role in nation building.
Up till the early 1970s when it was transferred to Malaysia, the suspended Indian Fin whale skeleton was a highlight of the Museum. The whale was found near Melaka in 1892, and had been displayed in the Museum since 1907.
The National Museum became part of the National Heritage Board (NHB). The Singapore History Museum is housed in the historically-rich National Museum building.
Commencement of the National Museum of Singapore’s redevelopment project. The Rivertales exhibition at Riverside Point was launched in August to help the Museum maintain its presence.
The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the new Museum was held at the National Museum site on 25 November. First public announcement of the redeveloped museum as the National Museum of Singapore.
On 28 November, the structural completion of the building was celebrated through the Topping-Off Ceremony.
Closure of the Rivertales exhibition and the Singapore History Museum at Riverside Point from 6 March.
From April to November 2006 - Preview Season
December 2006 - Official Opening of the National Museum of Singapore.