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8 Oct 07
It's Farquhar vs Raffles
Channel News Asia 24 Sep 07
National Museum holds exhibition of Farquhar's collection of paintings
SINGAPORE : William Farquhar has long been associated with Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore.
But the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore was also a naturalist and explorer.
His legacy of documenting nature is finally coming to the forefront, thanks to a new exhibition which is part of the National Museum's 120th anniversary celebrations.
This is the first time all 477 paintings of nature, commissioned by Farquhar, are being exhibited.
This collection is considered vital since a huge collection of nature paintings by Raffles sank in the ocean while on the way home to England.
Farquhar commissioned two artists - believed to be from China - to paint and document the new flora and fauna he came across at that time.
Some of the species had imaginatively been given an interesting makeover on canvas.
Iskander Mydin, Deputy Director, National Museum of Singapore, said: "Along the way, there was interplay of imagination, realism and Chinese artistic style. I think Farquhar would have accepted that, because the primary purpose was to have these things recorded first of the natural environment."
The recognition came much later. Iskander Mydin said: "... Farquhar was associated with these discoveries and he did write about them, but because of a delay in publishing these accounts, Raffles who read about these accounts, then got to write his own accounts and got it published in London and as a result got his name associated with these animals."
A distant relative of William Farquhar - a woman called Margaret Trudeau - was here last week and she was moved to tears by the exhibition.
She had just found out she is related to Farquhar while taking part in a reality TV show in Canada last month. She is also the ex-wife of a former Canadian prime minister.
Empire of Nature - The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings - runs till October 21st. - CNA/ch
Today Online 8 Oct 07
It's Farquhar vs Raffles
The rivalry between Singapore's founding fathers rages to this day, witnessed by Mayo MArtin at the National Museum
WHAT: EMPIRE OF NATURE
WHEN: UNTIL OCT 21
WHERE: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE
TICKETS: $5 at the National Museum
It's a tale full of petty rivalries, intrigue, ruthless ambition and missed chances to rival any period melodrama on TV. And it all takes place inside a museum.
That's how Iskander Mydin, senior curator of the National Museum, describes Empire of Nature, an ongoing exhibit of natural history drawings that date back almost 200 years.
At the centre of it all is the man who commissioned the drawings: William Farquhar, the first Resident and Commandant of Malacca, and later on, of Singapore.
That man, Mydin said, was not a mere "sidekick" of founding father Sir Stamford Raffles but a fierce rival — at least in the world of natural science and history.
The exhibit, comprising 477 natural drawings of flora and fauna — most of which were native to Malacca, and done by two Chinese artists from 1819 to 1823 — is the biggest collection of natural history drawings from that period. It is the first time that the whole collection is on exhibit since 1827, when it was donated by Farquhar to the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) in London.
In 1993, philanthropist G K Goh acquired the collection for $3 million from the RAS. He donated it to the National Museum in 1996, where it is now considered a national treasure.
It's a national treasure that would have sunk into obscurity had Raffles' own collection of over 2,000 drawings survived when Raffles' ship caught fire on his way back to England.
But that freak accident is only the tip of the iceberg when it came to these two men's saga of bickering.
Iskander, 50, said that Raffles, who is credited for founding the London Zoo, wanted to be recognised as a premier naturalist and had the tendency to do so at all costs — like laying claim to Farquhar's discoveries. These included the black hornbill, the dugong, the malkoha (a kind of bird) and the tapir.
Farquhar would send his drawing and account to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, but Raffles would inevitably read the account and claim it for his own by sending these to London where he was well-connected.
In the world of natural history, Farquhar is "completely overlooked", said Iskandar. "This exhibit is an attempt to portray the underdog of early modern Singapore."
That underdog, he added, was a very eccentric one.
Farquhar stayed in Malacca for 15 years and had six children with his Malay wife — and kept a private zoo at his official residence, which included a tiger cub, a black panther, a wild dog, a porcupine, a monkey and a baby tapir.
"There were reports that the tapir would come and eat scraps of food off the dining table," Iskander said.
During that time, he was called Rajah Melaka and is mentioned a lot in Malay historical literature. "He knew Malacca like the back of his hand."
Iskander added that when he went to Singapore, Farquhar was "well-loved and respected by the locals", accepting their quirks like cockfighting and gambling, activities that left Raffles "aghast".
The rivalry between the two reached the depths of pettiness when Raffles complained how Farquhar wasn't wearing his uniform properly.
The conflict between the two did not end when they both returned to England in mid-1820s, where Farquhar unsuccessfully challenged Raffles' claim to be the founder of Singapore.
"They did not reconcile up to the very end," said Iskander, adding that when Raffle's wife published a memoir about her husband, there was no mention of Farquhar.
Ironically, the "competition" between the two continues until today.
As Empire of Nature, also part of the Fort Canning Spice Trail, is being held at the National Museum, there's another exhibit halfway around the world — at the Liverpool Central Library — on the life of Raffles. It's called The Spice Of Life.
Related articles on Singapore: general environmental issues
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