Raffles’ Ark Redrawn – Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles is a great book I picked up on a trip to the British Library earlier this year. It has beautiful reprints of the drawings made by anonymous Chinese artists hired by Raffles and his colonial peers, but what’s more interesting is the references to Penang in HJ Noltie’s research into these drawings.
Penang features large in Raffles’ path in natural history. His first menagerie was in Penang, when he was posted as Assitstant Secretary (1806-1810), and that zoo included a Siamang. It is from here that he continued his love for keeping exotic animals in Malacca, Java and Sumatra. It was also in Penang that Raffles would have come across Mrs Janet Hutton’s collection of natural history drawings (Penang, c. 1805), the wife of Thomas Hutton, a Malay translator to the government. (Hutton Lane is presumably named after Thomas Hutton.) And historians presume that Mrs Hutton’s collection would have inspired Raffles to start his own later on in his life.
Another collection which probably also inspired Raffles’ is William Farquhar’s, first governor of Malacca (1803-1811) and first Resident of Singapore (1819-1823). And here I got William Farquhar confused with Robert Townsend Farquhar of Penang, governor of Penang from 1804-05, when I first heard about the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History drawings being shown in a permanent gallery at the National Museum in Singapore.
The two Farquhars aren’t related to each other, apparently. (Anyway, for those whose interest is piqued about the two Farquhars: Will had a falling out with Raffles and got sacked from his post in Singapore in 1823 and returned to Scotland after, it looks like; while RT went on to become the first governor of Mauritius from 1810 to 1823).
Anyhow, William Farquhar’s collection of 477 drawings, gifted to the National Museum of Singapore, is now on display, some 20 at a time at a permanent gallery. This would be the closest place where we can see some original drawings of the Natural History type as practised by the colonials in Asia. (I do feel kinda sorry for Farquhar because he never got his just dues for his role in the founding of Singapore and am convinced that it’s because his name is much harder to pronounce compared to Raffles’).