The Raffles walkabout

9 07 2010

The black statue of modern Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, which stands in the shadow of the beautiful clock tower which I have always seen as the Big Ben of Singapore belonging to the wonderful building which houses the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall in Empress Place, has always been one of the things that I have a fascination for in Singapore. The statue would be one of the things I would always make a point of seeking out whenever my parents ventured to the area, be it to visit the government offices housed in the Empress Place Building next door, to visit an exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall which now is used as the Victoria Concert Hall, or to make use of the car park in Empress Place for a walk down the Esplanade. I had referred to Raffles and the statue of our modern founder as “Stir” Stamford Raffles in my early childhood, and somehow imagined that it stood guard over the Victoria Memorial Hall. It seemed like they were always one and it never occurred to me that they weren’t always together.

The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles that I held a fascination for as a child.

The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall (formerly known as the Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall) in Empress Place, where the black statue of modern Singapore's founder is located at.

A close-up of the statue.

It therefore surprised me when I learnt later in life that the statue wasn’t always were I thought it had been all along. Its original location was right smack in the middle of the Padang, strange as it may seem, facing the sea. Based on the infopedia article on the statue, it was placed there on Jubilee Day, which was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria at the Padang. The undignified location in the middle of a sports field called for a respectable location to be found and it was only on the occasion of Singapore’s centenary celebrations in February of the year 1919, that it was relocated to its present location and placed with a grand semi-circular colonnade. The colonnade disappeared at the end of the Japanese occupation, during which the statue was moved. Popular belief has it that the Japanese had intended for it to be melted for the bronze that it was made of and we are very fortunate that it wasn’t eventually, being placed back in its location after the war.

The Statue of Stamford Raffles at its original location on the Padang (c. 1914) - the Hotel de L'Europe where the old Supreme Court Building now stands can be seen in the background to the right of the statue (from an old postcard).

Original location of the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles on the Padang, with St. Andrew's Cathedral in the background (from an old postcard).

Postcard of Empress Place in 1950 showing the statue back in its position without the colonnade (Courtesy of Mr Low Kam Hoong)

It is interesting to see that the original 123 year old black statue isn’t actually the statue of Raffles that attracts most attention these days. This honour belongs to a copy of it, a white statue of polymarble made from a cast of the black statue. This stands by the Singapore River near Empress Place at a spot which marks what is believed to be Raffles’ original landing site, placed in 1972 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore, and draws hordes of tourists to it. For me, there is nothing like the original, the black statue that I used to know as “Stir” Stamford Raffles.

Tourists are attracted to the white statue of Raffles' by the river, placed to mark Raffles' landing site on the banks of the Singapore River, not the original 123 year old statue.

It's no fun being a statue!




12 responses

9 07 2010

I think the tourists are attracted to the bird on top of Raffles.

9 07 2010
The wondering wanderer

Perhaps they are Icemoon! 🙂 But I guess the bigger draw would be that it is where the landing site is believed to be.

12 08 2010
Victor Koo

I don’t know why but birds seem to always like to stand on the head of statues.

13 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

🙂 That’s the burden of being a statue I suppose … it’s also common to see bird droppings decorating the upper parts on the many statues that I have seen!

12 08 2010
Malcolm Young

It’s interesting to see on the PICAS website some photos of the white polymarble statue at Boat Quay. There are some that show the building of a space-frame (not sure if that’s the correct term) that was built above and around this statue in the mid 1970s. There was lighting suspended from this space-frame, shining down on the statue. I have a book written about SE Asia, with a chapter, that included a photo of this statue with the space frame. So it would be interesting to find out when and why it was removed.

13 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, now that you mentioned it … I do recall that there was what you referred to as a “space-frame” that was over the statue during the early days … I am not sure why or when it was removed, but it did take attention away from the statue …

12 08 2010
Victor Koo

Hi Malcolm, it is a pleasant surprise to “meet” you again on Jerome’s blog.

I think the “space-frame” that you are referring to should be called a colonnade – a semi-circular one. Regarding when and why it was removed, I have extracted the following relevant portion from a friend’s research paper which throws some light on this:

“After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942, the statue was removed and placed in a museum storeroom. In 1946, after the liberation from the Japanese, Governor Sir Franklin Gimson ceremoniously reinstated it but without the colonnade which was destroyed during the war.”

13 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Victor, I think the statue that Malcolm was referring to would be the white one at the landing site … there was this open metal framework that was erected over it early on …

13 08 2010
Malcolm Young

Hi Victor,
Yes, it has been a while. Good to touch base again.

As mentioned above, yes I was referring to the white statue that was erected in 1972. The spaceframe comprised of (probably aluminium) tubular sections, and was essentially used to support some lighting that shone on the statue. It’s main purpose was probably as an architectural feature.

There are around 4 photos of the statue on the PICAs website, taken in 1972 when the statue was being erected. It looks as if the spaceframe was erected at the same time. A link to one of these photos is:

I have a book at home (around 500 pages) written about SE Asia, and published in the mid 1970s. It contains a 40 page section on Singapore. In this section, there are many colour photos, several of which I’ve never seen published anywhere else, including the internet. There is a photo of the statue, probably taken around 1972-1975, and for memory the spaceframe was painted red. Hope that is of some help.

14 09 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Malcolm, I have asked a friend who is with the Singapore Tourism Board and she has checked around with her colleagues. Unfortunately nobody seems to remember and there aren’t any records to suggest why the frame was removed, or when it was removed.

14 08 2010

the original black raffles, opening ceremony with the colonnade intact.
the only difference about Victoria theatre at the back was that in the past there were no aircon. so no windows, columns were everywhere. Today the one we saw were fitted with windows to insulate the theatre with aircon, and also added the soundproofing to prevent people from recording outside the theatre.

15 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for the very informative input and the link to the wonderful photo Louis! Much appreciated! 😀

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