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!