History in the Building at the National Museum of Singapore

I find buildings interesting, not the rectangular glass and concrete blocks which plague cities world-wide, but buildings that have a story. The building may demonstrate thought in its design or it may have been a place where people made stories which changed their society at the time or which we are interested in today.

The building housing the National Museum of Singapore is one of those buildings. On the weekend we travelled through the concrete and glass buildings that dominate the roads of Singapore and there it was – a statement of Singapore’s British colonial past.

White building with dome on top.

The National Museum of Singapore.

It was opened in 1887 and has been extended and modified several times since. Most recently it was closed for over three years in the early years of this century for extensive renovation and expansion.

I have lost my camera in the last few weeks (I’m trying to be stoic about it) so I have to use my phone for photography. This building is interesting to photograph.

two staircases leading up from the viewer

The substantial twenty-first century additions have been thoughtfully connected with the nineteenth century building.

polished wooden floor buttressed by white stone balustrade and covered by a glass roof.

“…one of the world’s largest outdoor self-supporting glass structures ever constructed”, says the National Museum of Singapore website.

But there has been no attempt to hide some new modifications.

Ventilation outlets? On a dark grey wall.

We saw an exhibition of photographs and then dived down into the bowels of the building to visit the Singapore History Gallery. This is an excellent exhibition for people like us who are new to this history. There are two trails to follow, the ‘events’ trail and the ‘personal stories’ trail. Hubble decided to orientate in the island’s history through the events trail. I decided to take the ‘personal stories’ path, attracted by the promise of hearing the stories of people who are not normally heard in traditional history.

We separated and immersed ourselves in the past. An essential device is the free audio-visual guide that is handed to all visitors upon entering the Gallery. It is one of those round your neck, punch in the numbers devices that are in so many museums and galleries now. The device is essential in the Singapore History Gallery because the traditional practice of placing brief descriptions next to artefacts has been completely dropped.

The two trails are woven together by common areas connecting the paths. At these points a visitor can change trails if they wish. I managed to see both trails for the early nineteenth century period.

There is a lot to absorb for the visitor. We had been at the Museum for three hours and both of us felt that we could not absorb any more. As Hubble said, we will probably have to visit it several times before we can finish it.

At home later I was delighted to discover the Friends of the Museums. I have moved a lot in my life having lived in all four eastern states of Australia. The longest I have lived in one abode is five years. One of the important things I have learned from all this moving is to join clubs and other organisations as soon as possible.

Friends of the Museums looks great – free entry, special programs, tours and other goodies to learn more about the history of the area. I can’t wait to join!


11 thoughts on “History in the Building at the National Museum of Singapore

  1. Visiting the National Museum of Singapore was a highlight of my trip for The British Empire and the Great War conference in February. I loved the Singapore History Gallery too (but took the Events path!), and was especially struck by the permanent Food gallery in the older part of the building. Food is so essential to travellers’ experiences of countries, and of course to everyday life as well, but doesn’t seem to get much of a run in museums. It was wonderful to learn more about such a food-centred culture through, well, food.


    • It sounds like I’ll be spending hours in the museum. That food gallery sounds interesting. They also seem to have an emphasis on photography which I am looking forward to exploring.

      What WWI stuff should I be exploring in Singapore (even if it is not Singapore related)?


      • Thanks for the link to that museum. I have to attend to household affairs before I can really get into finding out more about Singapore’s history, but I have found a museum that I think not many people would know about. Looking forward to visiting it.


  2. In our four days we didn’t get to that museum … So much to see … But we did go to the Singapore Art Museum which I really loved. It and the building. Also loved the Botanic Gardens … Though the humidity!!


    • Carrying around water is essential, especially in the Botanical Gardens. The humidity has not hit me in the stomach like when I first visited here. We were living in Hobart then. I suppose that is because we have since lived in Far North Qld so we have experienced humid living.


      • That’s good then. As a Queenslander I’ve experienced humid living and just know it’s not for me. It just doesn’t agree with me. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve travelled very little in SE Asia.

        BTW I wrote a post on my blog .. In July … About our visit to the Art Museum.


      • There are soooo many blog posts from blogger friends that I have missed in the last few months. As you can imagine it has been hectic and I have had to be very disciplined with my time. I must read your series on early twentieth-century Australian writers.

        I have read your post, ‘The meeting of art and literature, at the Singapore Art Museum‘ which was very interesting. This place certainly seems to be one for people who enjoy museums.


      • Oh I know, Yvonne. We’ve travelled a lot this year – as well as short trips to Thredbo and Southern Highlands, we’ve had 10 days in Singapore-Koh Samui, three weeks in North America and 10 days in Port Macquarie. I feel like the year must surely be near the end! Anyhow, as a result I’ve been very behind reading too – hence only finally getting to your news now (though Elizabeth had of course told us about your having to give up AWW).

        As for the the series on early Aus writers, I’m planning another one for this Monday. I’m enjoying them – though my research is light on, not the depth you’re doing.


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