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Singapura (1299 – 1818)

The oldest rock formations in Singapore date back to the Paleozoic Era. Prehistoric tools discovered in Western Singapore and on Pulau Ubin – an island off mainland Singapore’s north-eastern coast – suggest that a settlement may have existed from as early as several thousand years ago.

The earliest written records to mention Singapore describe it as a thriving port in the 14th century. The Chinese traders called it Danmaxi (Temasik or Temasek). The Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals) called it Singapura. The port was connected by trade and politics to not only the Malay Archipelago but also Siam (Thailand), China and India, and was possibly ruled by an elite class who lived on what is now Fort Canning Hill. Commonly traded items included ceramics and hornbill casques.

Visit our gallery to learn about the lives of Singapore’s earliest inhabitants and see the unearthed artefacts that survive to this day.

Singapore History Gallery

Crown Colony (1819 – 1941)

In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles and Major William Farquhar arrived in Singapore. They struck a deal with the local Malay rulers to set up a British trading port, which Raffles declared would be “open to ships and vessels of every nation free of duty, equally and alike to all."

Traders and ships came bearing their wares from as far away as Arabia and Africa. Migrants flocked to the island, bringing with them their unique customs and ways of life. Singapore became a Crown colony under the British Empire in 1867 and continued to grow and flourish. By 1919, Singapore was a modern city, boasting the second largest dry dock in the world and modern conveniences such as electricity, motorcars, and international telegraph and telephone connections.

Learn about key historical figures and how they helped transform Singapore into the centre of trade in Southeast Asia. You can also catch glimpses of the early migrants’ lives, and explore a replica of the opium dens that many Chinese immigrants used to frequent.


Syonan-To (1942 – 1945)

After the first World War, the British outfitted Singapore with coastal guns, a naval base and an air force poised to thwart any threat from the sea. Singapore was deemed impregnable: the “Gibraltar of the East”.

On 8 December 1941, Singapore experienced war for the first time when the Japanese bombed the city. Japanese forces invaded Singapore from the relatively unprotected north, swiftly overwhelming British defenses and capturing the island. Singapore was placed under military occupation and renamed Syonan-To, “Light of the South” in Japanese.

Under Japanese occupation, Singapore’s population suffered food and fuel shortages, disease, and – at its worst – harassment, violence and killings by Japanese forces. The occupation finally ended when Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945.

Trace the unfolding of key events and explore a wide range of military artefacts from World War II, including weapons, uniforms and a replica of a Japanese tank. Discover life under the Japanese Occupation through our collection of wartime personal belongings, photographs and documents, and learn how people responded with resourcefulness and fortitude during this difficult period.

Singapore History Gallery

Singapore (1945 – present)

A wave of decolonisation began to sweep through Asia and Africa after World War II. In 1959, the British granted Singapore self-government, and the first general election for a fully-elected government was held. The People’s Action Party (PAP) emerged victorious, and its leader, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s first Prime Minister. Following a merger and then separation from Malaysia, Singapore became a fully independent nation on 9 August 1965.

Over the next two decades, Singapore’s new government had to tackle the challenges faced by the growing nation: from unemployment and housing shortages to maintaining racial and religious harmony. It took bold steps to introduce industrialisation, encourage foreign investment and tourism, provide affordable public housing and education, and clean up the environment.

Through vintage objects and media from the early years of independence, discover the key developments that helped to turn Singapore into the nation it is today.

Singapore History Gallery

Highlights

majapahit-armlet-earrings

Majapahit armlet and earrings

A gold armlet found at Bukit Larangan, otherwise known as Fort Canning. It was discovered in 1928. The armlet bears the face of a kala, a demon of Hindu mythology associated with immortality and a common motif featured on Javanese temples. Gold, 14th century.

singapore-stone

Singapore Stone

Singapore’s earliest inscribed artefact. This is the only known surviving fragment of the Singapore Stone, which was once located at the mouth of the Singapore River. Sandstone, 10th – 14th century.

silver-epergne

Silver epergne

This silver epergne was presented to William Farquhar, the first British Resident of Singapore. It was a parting gift from the Chinese community when he left the island in 1823. Silver and glass, 1824.

The-Esplanade-from-Scandal-Point

The Esplanade from Scandal Point

An oil painting by John Turnbull Thomson, who served as the first government surveyor in Singapore from 1841 to 1853. Oil on canvas, 1851. Gift of Mrs F. G. Hall-Jones.

Singapore-from-the-Rocky-Point

Singapore from the Rocky Point

This wash drawing from the Houghton Album is the earliest surviving depiction of Singapore, painted at the time Raffles first set foot on the island. Grisaille on paper, 1819.

Vinyl-record-Majulah-Singapura

Vinyl record of Singapore’s national anthem, “Majulah Singapura”

"Majulah Singapura" – which means 'Onward Singapore' in Malay – was originally composed by Zubir Said for the City Council to commemorate the 1958 reopening of the Victoria Theatre following renovation works. Vinyl and paper, 1960s.

Singapore History Gallery

L1 Singapore History Gallery
04 Apr 2023 - 02 Jan 2029
Daily from 10am to 7pm | Last admission at 6.30pm
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