Pioneering individuals and key design elements

Profiles of Pioneering Individuals

Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854)

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, also known as Munshi Abdullah, arrived in Singapore from Melaka in 1819. He was an influential teacher and writer who was widely recognised as the “Father of Modern Malay Literature”.

Abdullah was the first writer to depart from the traditional Malay literary style by writing in simple, colloquial Malay. He wrote realistic accounts of events based on his own experiences and those of others. His autobiography Hikayat Abdullah (The Story of Abdullah) was written between 1840 and 1843, and first published in Jawi script in 1849. It contains one of the most detailed records of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore and provides an invaluable account of other important pioneering figures, as well as, Singapore’s development in trade and commerce, infrastructure, population and culture. In the late 1830s, Abdullah taught at the Singapore Institution Free School (renamed Raffles Institution in 1868).

Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956)

Henry Nicholas Ridley arrived in Singapore from England in 1888. He was the first Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1911, and laid the foundation for the rubber industry in Malaya.

Ridley researched extensively on the commercial possibilities of rubber trees and refined the latex extraction method from the “herring-bone” rubber-tapping technique which existed in Ceylon. His method allowed latex to be harvested from rubber trees at regular intervals without damaging them, and allowed the extraction of latex for over 20 years without the need for replanting. He also developed good agricultural practices that shortened the time to maturity from 10 to five years. He promoted rubber to all planters tirelessly, published articles on rubber, and presented displays on rubber at horticultural shows.

Through his efforts, Singapore was among the first to establish rubber plantations in 1898 and benefited from the rubber boom in the early 1900s.

Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961)

Tan Kah Kee came to Singapore from China in 1890 and rose to prominence as an outstanding community leader and philanthropist who set up schools and donated generously to education.

Tan was a strong advocate of education. He helped to set up schools like Tao Nan (in 1907), Ai Tong (in 1912), Chock Hock Girls’ School (in 1915), Nanyang Girls’ School (in 1918) and Nan Chiao Girls’ High School (in 1947). Tan led the movement to establish Nanyang Chinese High School in 1919, the first Chinese secondary school in Singapore and the first institution of higher learning in Southeast Asia to be set up by the Chinese community. The school was one of the first to accept Chinese students regardless of their dialect affiliation and background. He also donated generously to two English-medium institutions, Anglo-Chinese School and Raffles College (which became the National University of Singapore).

P. Govindasamy Pillai (1887-1980)

P. Govindasamy Pillai, popularly known as PGP, came to Singapore from India in 1905. He was a devoted volunteer and philanthropist who contributed significantly to temple-building and community welfare.

Pillai is most remembered for his philanthropy in Singapore. He donated a large sum to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple’s redevelopment works in the early 1960s. He also contributed generously to the construction of a new home for the Ramakrishna Mission. The Mission, which was part of the Ramakrishna Movement, aimed to alleviate the sufferings of people, and Pillai often volunteered his time at the Mission. Pillai also donated to other institutions like the Gandhi Memorial Hall and Indian Association.

Teresa Hsu Chih (1898-2011)

Teresa Hsu Chih came to Singapore in 1963. She was an inspiring social worker and humanitarian who devoted her life to caring for the destitute and aged sick, and is remembered not only for her contributions to society but also for her positive attitude towards life.

Born in China and trained as a nurse in London, Hsu arrived in Singapore in 1963 and became the matron of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital. Two years later, she founded the Home for the Aged Sick, one of the first homes for the elderly sick in Singapore. After retiring as matron of the Home in 1983, Hsu continued to care for the poor and needy in her own capacity and through Heart-to-Heart Service, a non-profit, informal direct-help service that she established. Through the programme, she visited those under her charge, usually the single elderly and needy families, and provided them with cash allowances and food. She remained tireless in her humanitarian work even after turning 100 years old. She lived to a ripe old age of 113 years.

Alice Pennefather (1903-1983)

Alice Edith Wilhelmina Pennefather, better known as Alice Pennefather, was a pioneering sportswoman who won numerous honours in badminton, tennis and hockey. She participated in the Singapore National Badminton Championships and emerged as the women’s singles champion in 1931, 1932, 1934 and 1937, women’s doubles champion in 1931 and mixed doubles champion in 1947 and 1951.

Pennefather also won the Singapore Ladies Tennis Championship in 1936, 1937 and 1938 and was the first non-European woman champion since the women’s singles event was started in 1933.

Pennefather was an advocate for sports. She was active in the Girls’ Sports Club (GSC), formed in 1930 to encourage young women to participate in sports. Pennefather also excelled at hockey. From 1931 to 1958 (except during the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945), she was the club’s hockey team captain. Under her exemplary leadership, the hockey team became one of the top teams in Singapore.

Adnan Saidi (1915-1942)

Adnan Saidi, a lieutenant of the Malay Regiment’s 1st Battalion, is best remembered as a war hero who fought with utmost valour in the Battle of Pasir Panjang in World War II.

He was entrusted with the defence of Pasir Panjang Ridge, which was the last British bastion before Alexandra, where their main ammunition and supplies, military hospital and other key installations were located. In the Battle for Pasir Panjang (13-14 February 1942), though grossly outnumbered and undersupplied, Adnan motivated his troops to fend off the Japanese.

As Adnan and his troops retreated to Bukit Chandu (Malay for Opium Hill), they showed utmost courage and determination, taking up hand-to-hand combat when their ammunition ran out. Even after Adnan and his men were overpowered, he resisted heroically and refused to surrender.

Adnan was posthumously awarded with medals for his courage and a memorial plaque was erected at Kent Ridge to commemorate the valour of Adnan and his men. The memory of Adnan lives on at Kranji War Memorial where his name is etched on the main memorial column wall of the Kranji War Cemetery.

Ruth Wong Hie King (1918 – 1982)

Ruth Wong Hie King was widely regarded as a leading educationist who transformed teacher training and raised the professionalism of teachers.

In 1969, Ruth Wong joined the Ministry of Education as the Director of Research. She was concurrently the first female principal of the Teachers’ Training College (TTC), whose programmes she upgraded. The TTC eventually became the Institute of Education (IE) (now known as the National Institute of Education) in 1973 and she was appointed its inaugural director.

A visionary educationist, Wong restructured the teacher training curriculum and introduced a multi-disciplinary approach to teacher training in Singapore. She was also a strong advocate for collaborative learning, the use of objectives and research-based assignments to replace examinations. Her reforms had a dual focus of building the teacher’s professional competence as well as the student’s personal growth.

For her contributions to education Wong received many honours and awards during her 44-year career, including the Isabella Todd Memorial Prize and the Sir John Porter Scholarship at Queen’s University.

Key Design Elements

Mr Yusof Ishak (1910-1970)

The front of the note features the portrait of Singapore’s first President, Mr Yusof Ishak.

Yusof Ishak was appointed as the Yang di-Pertuan NegaraThe Yang di-Pertuan Negara was a post created to replace the governor as Singapore’s head of state in preparation for self-governance. (Head of State) on 3 December 1959 after Singapore was granted self-rule that year. When Singapore gained independence on 9 August 1965, Yusof Ishak became the first President of Singapore, a post he held until his death on 23 November 1970.

As the Yang di-Pertuan Negara and later the President, Yusof Ishak contributed significantly to Singapore. His values and beliefs in meritocracy, multiculturalism and modernisation underpinned Singapore’s success through the nation-building years and left a lasting legacy with the nation.

Throughout his life, Yusof Ishak actively promoted multiculturalism. He reached out to bridge differences among the various communities to foster trust and confidence in the new nation. He was a shining beacon during the dark days of the 1964 communal riots. Following Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, he engaged citizens to reassure them despite the uncertainties, and promoted a national identity based on multiculturalism to instil confidence in the future of Singapore.

Yusof Ishak was committed to the education of the young. He visited schools and encouraged students to make the most of their opportunities to improve themselves and their education. Being a firm believer that education was of critical importance, Yusof Ishak encouraged students to work hard and to spread education throughout the region.

Yusof Ishak also laboured tirelessly to raise the level of voluntary work and welfare organisations in Singapore. He encouraged Singaporeans to organise themselves into welfare organisations to help those who are in need. He was the patron of many voluntary societies, such as Singapore Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance Brigade, and the Young Women’s Muslim Association.

National Gallery Singapore - Former Supreme Court and City Hall

The National Gallery Singapore is a progressive visual arts institution which oversees the world’s largest public collection of modern art in Singapore and South East Asia. The Gallery was opened on 24 November 2015 and is housed in two national monuments – Former Supreme Court and City Hall, which have played a significant role in Singapore’s history.

Reflecting Singapore’s unique heritage and geographical location, the Gallery creates dialogues between the art of Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world to foster and inspire a creative and inclusive society. It works with international museums to jointly present Southeast Asian art in the global content, positioning Singapore as a key node in the global visual arts scene.

The Gallery has won several awards, such as being the first museum in Asia to receive the Children in Museums Award by the European Museum Academy and Hands On! International Association of Children in Museums and the “Best Theme attraction” at TTG Travel Awards 2017.

Former City Hall

The former City Hall was known as the Municipal Building. The building was constructed from 1926 to 1929 and housed all the municipal departments. It was subsequently renamed City Hall in 1951, when Singapore was granted city status by King George VI.

The building bore witness to Singapore’s colonial past, the Japanese Occupation (1942-45), and other significant milestones in its journey to independence. In 1992, it was gazetted as a national monument.

During the Japanese Occupation, the Municipal Building was opened to the public for shelter from air raids. After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, the building became the municipal headquarters of the occupying forces. It was also there that the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command, Louis Mountbatten, accepted the surrender from General Seishiro Itagaki of the Imperial Japanese Army on 12 September 1945.

The former City Hall was also the site where the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and his eight cabinet ministers were sworn in, forming the first fully elected government in Singapore. This followed the victory of the People’s Action Party in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election.

It was also in the former City Hall where Mr Yusof Ishak was sworn in as Singapore’s first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State) on 3 December 1959. The state anthem, state crest and state flag were unveiled to the public there.

On 16 September 1963, Lee Kuan Yew recited the Proclamation of Malaysia from the steps of the former City Hall, announcing the end of colonial rule and the formation of the Federation of Malaysia with Singapore as a member state.

After Singapore became a sovereign state on 9 August 1965, the former City Hall housed various government offices such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and offices of the Judiciary. It was also the venue for swearing-in ceremonies of high government office-holders.

Today, the building and the adjacent former Supreme Court form the National Gallery Singapore.

Former Supreme Court

The former Supreme Court building, which was constructed between 1937 and 1939, was the seat of Singapore’s highest court from 1939 to 2005. The building was the site where many of Singapore’s landmark cases were tried, including war crime trials of members of the Japanese Imperial Army in 1946 after World War II.

The former Supreme Court was the last grand Neoclassical building constructed in Singapore before the Second World War. It is distinctive for its copper dome, tympanum sculptures featuring the personification of Justice, and bas-relief porch panels depicting scenes of early Singapore. The building was gazetted as a national monument in 1992.

Today, the building and the adjacent former City Hall form the National Gallery Singapore.

Singapore River

In 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an agent of the British East India Company, first landed in Singapore on the banks of the Singapore River. His goal was to establish a new port for the British. On 6 February 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor signed a treaty that gave British East India Company the right to set up a trading post in Singapore.

The Singapore River was a trading emporium and centre of commerce. Singapore’s free port status and strategic location attracted all types of sailing craft, from the region, as well as, those plying the trade routes between India and China. The river-port’s waterways and quays were hubs of economic activity as boats plied its waters, loading and unloading their goods for import or re-export.

Boat Quay, a river embankment on the south bank of the Singapore River, was the first to have offices, warehouses, godowns and jetties built along its banks in 1823. The developments continued to expand up the river, along the banks of Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay, and later even upstream. The east bank of the river and Forbidden Hill (today’s Fort Canning) were mainly used by the Government, while the southwest tip at the river’s mouth was used as a defence point.

Today, the Singapore River is also known for its role in tourism. It is now a popular nightlife district and venue for many public activities such as the Singapore River Festival.