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N. Sivasothi,
a.k.a. Otterman,
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Since 1998 with origins from OneList.

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Fri 24 Jul 2009

What did the old Raffles Museum natural history collections look like?

Category : heritage

Hunters and Collectors: The Origins of the Southeast Asian Collection
Hunters and Collectors25 Jul 2009 - 21 Sep 2009
@ Special Exhibitions Gallery, Asian Civillisations Museum, Empress Place

ACM - "Take a journey from the islands of Indonesia to the jungles of Borneo through the stories of people who ‘hunted’ and collected some of the artefacts found in ACM’s Southeast Asia collection today. 

The exhibition features six early collectors, ranging from explorers and naturalists to businessmen and missionaries, who travelled in Southeast Asia. Their adventures, passions and personalities are told through their collections.

Much of their collections found their way to Singapore’s first museum - the Raffles Library and Museum. Established in 1849, it was founded primarily to study the region’s exotic flora and fauna.

The exhibition recreates the old museum, with its cabinets of curiosities, rich ethnographic collection and natural history specimens ranging from rare butterflies, a pair of soaring Christmas Island birds to a leopard poised to pounce!"

The Asian Civillisations Museum borrowed specimens from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research for this exhibition and so you can get a feel of what an old natural history museum felt like. Well, amidst modern air-con comfort of course. We enjoyed the exhibition and besides seeing the old museum specimens in a large hall for once.

The gleaming sliver artefacts were trouble in the old days and even in the 60's the museum was burgled for this glinting metal. I finally saw the face and learnt the story of William L. Abbott who, in 1899, shot an otter in Langkawi - the search for that specimen led me to the Smithsonian, where most of his natural history material ended up. Some tribal material was donated to Raffles Museum and eventually ended up at ACM and is on display.

The collection featured many gleaming keris' and parangs which would satisy a ninja warrior! Gerald Gardner also spent time learning local supernatural stories and maintained this life-long preoccupation by starting a school of witchcraft and wizardry when he was back in England. He hired a resident witch to whom he eventually donated his school.

An exchange of letters between M.W.F. Tweedie and Tom Harrison form the backfrop for the section on the latter in which they discuss the people of the region.

Talks offered in relation to this exhibit
Free admission to the talks @ Ngee Ann Auditorium, ACM

"Collective consciousness: Feeling and Fieldwork," by Nigel Barley
Sat 15 Aug 2009: 2pm - 3.30pm
The popular author and former curator of The British Museum will review some of the odd relationships between collectors and their collections, ranging from Stamford Raffles in Java to the British navy in Africa. Drawing from his own experience, he will illustrate some of the ways in which people and objects become fatally entangled.

"An Orientalist's Treasure Trove," by Bonny Tan.
Thu 20 Aug 2009: 7:30-9.00pm
Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill was the last expatriate director of the Raffles/National Museum. A keen naturalist and dedicated scientist, his directorship straddled the British and Malayan era. Reference librarian Bonny Tan of the National Library Board was involved in the publication of a collection listing Gibson-Hill's library.

"Birth of a Museum," by Clement Ong.
Sat 12 Sep 2009: 2.00pm - 3.30pm
The curator of this exhibition explores the birth of the collection tradition in the15th and 16th century and the difference in individual and museum collections from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries.

Posted at 6:09PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news