Treasured drawing collection of Singapore's founder is saved

  • 5 April 2007

The Art Fund has helped the British Library to purchase an exceptionally important collection of botanical, zoological and topographical drawings and watercolours owned by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles - the founder of Singapore.

The drawing collection, valued at around £400,000, was purchased with the help of a £114,814 grant from The Art Fund. Additional funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) is best known today as the founder of Singapore, and for the world-famous Raffles Hotel that was named after him. However, his deepest passion was probably the study of natural history. He was the founder and first president of the London Zoological Society and London Zoo, and gave his name to the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, a genus of parasitic flowering plants.

Raffles was Lieutenant-Governor of Java (1811-1815) and Governor of Bencoolen (present-day Bengkulu) in Sumatra (1818-1824), and while he was there he commissioned hundreds of detailed botanical and zoological drawings and watercolours, as well as many studies of the area’s geography and local people by British, Dutch and Asian artists.

In February 1824 virtually all Raffles’ personal possessions, including hundreds of paintings, drawings and a menagerie of live animals, were destroyed when the ship taking them back to England, the Fame, caught fire. Over the next three months Raffles immediately set about rebuilding his lost collections, including commissioning new copies of the natural history drawings. It is these drawings which now form part of the Raffles Family Collection which has been purchased by the British Library.

The collection is available to researchers in the British Library, and will go on display later in the year.

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