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Nature Contained

Environmental Histories of Singapore

Timothy Barnard

Publication Year: 2014

How has Singapore’s environment—and location in a zone of extraordinary biodiversity—influenced the economic, political, social, and intellectual history of the island since the early 19th century? What are the antecedents to Singapore’s image of itself as a City in a Garden? Grounding the story of Singapore within an understanding of its environment opens the way to an account of the past that is more than a story of trade, immigration, and nation-building. Each of the chapters in this volume—focusing on topics ranging from tigers and plantations to trade in exotic animals and the greening of the city, and written by botanists, historians, anthropologists, and naturalists—examines how humans have interacted with and understood the natural environment on a small island in Southeast Asia over the past 200 years, and conversely how this environment has influenced humans. Between the chapters are travelers' accounts and primary documents that provide eyewitness descriptions of the events examined in the text. In this regard, Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore provides new insights into the Singaporean past, and reflects much of the diversity, and dynamism, of environmental history globally.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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Timothy P. Barnard

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pp. x

Any book, particularly an edited volume, requires the unseen efforts of many people. The editor and all of the authors wish to express our appreciation to the numerous staff in libraries, archives and other depositories for their help in gathering materials. The institutions consulted for this book range...

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An Introduction

Timothy P. Barnard

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pp. 1-8

Singapore is a small nation-state, an island, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Located at the southern end of the Melaka Straits, it has always been a strategically located entrepôt for funnelling goods between South and East Asia as well as within Southeast Asia. The trade that flows past Singapore...

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Source 1: John Crawfurd’s Singapore: An Excerpt from A Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries (1856)

John Crawfurd

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pp. 9-16

SINGAPORE, correctly SINGAPURA, from the Sanscrit singa, lion, and pura city. This is the name of an island, which with the exception of a single village of poor and predatory Malay fishermen, and that only formed in 1811, was covered in a primeval forest down to the 6th day of February, 1819, and is now the fourth in rank of...

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Chapter 1: Singapore’s Changing Landscape since c. 1800

Tony O’Dempsey

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pp. 17-48

At the time of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrival in 1819, the island of Singapore was not totally pristine. Although there had been a significant trade port in Singapore in the 14th century, over the subsequent 400 years small groups of orang laut (sea people), who occupied the coastal...

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Source 2: The Tiger Club: Excerpts from Accounts of Tigers in 19th-Century Singapore

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pp. 49-54

We have this week to report three deaths from Tigers, both in the immediate vicinity of cultivated lands. One occurred at Tanling where a Chinaman was the victim—his body was recovered by his friends, and, as usual, buried without any intimation being given to the Police of the cause of his death. It coming to the knowledge of the Deputy Magistrate that a body had been buried under rather suspicious circumstances he...

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Chapter 2: Tigers of Colonial Singapore

Timothy P. Barnard and Mark Emmanuel

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pp. 55-80

In 1835, a theodolite—a tool for measuring the angles of horizontal and vertical planes—lay unclaimed on the side of a road under construction some six kilometers outside the main port of Singapore. This particular theodolite was of tremendous value to George David Coleman, the first Government...

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Source 3: Wallace’s Singapore: An Excerpt from The Malay Archipelago (1869)

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pp. 81-84

Few places are more interesting to a traveller from Europe than the town and island of Singapore, furnishing, as it does, examples of a variety of Eastern races, and of many different religions and modes of life. The government, the garrison, and the chief merchants are English; but the great mass of the population is Chinese, including some...

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Chapter 3: Wallace in Singapore

John van Wyhe

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pp. 85-109

The great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) spent eight years collecting natural history specimens throughout what are now Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia from 1854 until 1862. During this period, he collected 125,660 specimens of insects, birds, mammals, and shells...

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Source 4: Visiting the Botanical Gardens: Excerpts from Fox’s Guide to the Botanic Gardens (1889)

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pp. 110-114

The Botanical Gardens, Singapore, situated in the district of Tanglin, are about three miles from the town. The Gardens proper cover an area of about 66 acres, of which about 10 acres are original jungle. With one or two exceptions, this is the only piece of original jungle left on the Island. Although it necessarily gives a very poor impression of the dense jungles in...

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Chapter 4: The Environmental Relevance of the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Nigel P. Taylor

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pp. 115-137

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the most intact historical designed landscape of any size in Singapore. Although it is an institution that has been present in Singapore for over 150 years, it remains one of the most popular attractions in the city-state. Between April 2012 and March 2013...

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Source 5: Regulating the Wildlife Trade: Excerpts from Report of the Wild Animals and Wild Birds Committee, Singapore, 1933

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pp. 138-144

On July 25, 1933, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman visited all the licensed premises for the housing of wild animals and a note of this visit was prepared as follows:—...“The licences, except in one case (60 Rochore Road) do not differentiate between the classes of animals and birds, and it is reasonable to presume that premises, ordinarily used only for domestic birds might, under these licences, be used for the housing...

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Chapter 5: The Beastly Business of Regulating the Wildlife Trade in Colonial Singapore

Fiona L.P. Tan

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pp. 145-178

In 1993, Robert Kwan, chairman of the National Council on the Environ-ment, characterized the illegal trade in wildlife as a “blot on Singapore’s record.” This “blot” remains into the new millennium. As recent as 2005, according to reports, Singapore continued to be a “hub for illegal wildlife...

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Source 6: A Whale’s Tale: Excerpts from The Annual Reports of the Raffles Museum and Library, Newspaper Accounts and Visitors’ Memories

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pp. 179-183

Mr. Justice Wood, Mr. Harwood, the Acting Attorney-General and Mr. Rodesse returned by the Sea Belle from Malacca yesterday. A large whale, some 35 feet long, was seen by the Bengkalis on their last trip to Muar, the animal having been stranded on the beach near the Kesang River, nine miles to the north of Muar. Hearing that there was a strange animal spouting water a little...

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Chapter 6: The Raffles Museum and the Fate of Natural History in Singapore

Timothy P. Barnard

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pp. 184-211

Natural history museums are often quite perplexing. They come from a different era, with their glass cases of stuffed animals and pinned insects that obsessively explain taxonomic classifications. These classic institutions, through their display of unique plant and animal life and placing it within a...

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Source 7: Agricultural Production in Singapore: Excerpts from Annual Reports of the Primary Production Department, Ministry of National Development from the 1970s and 1980s

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pp. 212-215

The year 1970 saw steady progress and expansion in all fields of activity of the Primary Production Department. Efforts were channelled to further increase the efficiency of animal production in the Republic and maintain the status of self-sufficiency in pigs, poultry and eggs. Studies on various aspects of intensive forms of animal production were also carried...

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Chapter 7: Agriculture and the End of Farming in Singapore

Cynthia Chou

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pp. 216-240

The principal aim of the British venturing into Singapore in 1819 was to set up a trading post for the English East India Company. The island was regarded as possessing few natural resources and no products worthy of export. The larger geographic features of the island, however, were appealing...

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Source 8: “Wildlife and Singapore”: An Assessment from the 1980s

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pp. 241-244

There is a prevailing view in Singapore that since Singapore has not much wildlife of its own left to protect, issues such as wildlife conservation are none of its concern. Indeed, this view was recently expressed officially, in writing, to the Singapore Branch of the Malayan Nature Society, in a letter from the Ministry of Trade and Industry, attempting to explain why Singapore had not yet signed the Convention...

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Chapter 8: The Nature Society, Endangered Species, and Conservation in Singapore

Goh Hong Yi

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pp. 245-275

In 2006, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong articulated the official stance of the government with regard to nature and its role in the Singaporean worldview at the annual Clean and Green Week when he stated, “Leafy trees, colourful blooms and clean waterways are features that set Singapore apart...

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Source 9: “And That Was Good”: A Brief History of the Greening of Singapore

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pp. 276-280

A tree planting campaign was ordered by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew today to help bring rain. The target: 10,000 a year. The Government will plant 5,000—along new roads, on traffic circuses, in housing estates, school grounds and parks … The Premier estimated that only one tree was planted for every 10 felled for building sites. To prevent vandalism...

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Chapter 9: A City in a Garden

Timothy P. Barnard and Corinne Heng

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pp. 281-306

The nation-state of Singapore in the early 21st century consists of a bit more than 700 square kilometers. It hosts one of the highest population densities in the world, and is home to modern, high-rise residences and office buildings, all connected through a vast network of roads and...


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pp. 307-320


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pp. 321-322


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pp. 323-328

E-ISBN-13: 9789971698072
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971697907

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 8 images
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: New