Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles
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Sir Stamford Raffles' Statue, sculpted by Thomas Woolner, is a popular icon of Singapore. The statue depicts Raffles, standing tall, arms folded, with an aura of quiet assurance. It was installed on Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887 at the Padang and relocated to the Empress Place during the Centenary Celebrations on 6 February 1919.
The statue was the work of the famed sculptor-cum-poet Thomas Woolner. The blackened 8 ft figure in bronze was nicknamed orang besi or "iron man". The statue was unveiled by Sir Frederick Weld, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, on Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Day on 27 June 1887. A little known detail was added by Woolner at the base of the statue. Here he had traced a map depicting the area around the Straits of Malacca and Raffles having his foot over British Malaya. The statue originally stood at the Padang, facing the sea, between St Andrew's Road and Connaught Drive. However, it was often struck by flying footballs or used as a seat for a vantage view of a field game at the Padang, so the authorities felt a more respectable location was required.
Thus, for Singapore's Centenary Celebrations, the statue was moved to the front of the Victoria Memorial Hall on 6 February 1919. A semi-circular colonnade of the Italian Doric order framed the statue and in front of it was laid a marble-lined pool with fountain jets. Two rows of flower vases around the pool added colour to the classical setting. The statue was placed such that it looked toward the assumed place of Raffles' original landing at the mouth of the Singapore River. It was also carefully positioned axially with the centre of the clock tower of the Victoria Hall.
During this move, the base of the statue was found to be supported by a rod which went through one leg of the statue. The corrosion which occurred around it was duly repaired before the move. A tablet was placed at its plinth, recognising the special importance of Raffles in Singapore for the Centenary Celebrations. Raffles' Arms and the Knight's motto were engraved on a bronze shield placed at the base of the granite pedestal. A cast of the statue's head was also made for a bust to be located at the Raffles Museum and Library. This bust is not the same as the plastercast replica of Chantrey's bust of Raffles, which was also located at the Raffles Museum and Library.
World War II
In mid-September 1943, the statue was removed to the Syonan Museum (Raffles Museum). Some later suggested the Japanese had intentions to melt it for the war effort. Although report showed that the colonnade and flower vases remained intact during the Japanese Occupation, they were not to be found after liberation. However, the statue remained unmolested and was reinstalled at the Empress Place in 1946.
In June 1953, during Queen Elizabeth's coronation celebrations, the fountains were started again for just this one time. However, the colonnades and the flower vases have never been replaced.
Albert Winsemius, an economic advisor to Singapore in the 1960s, was credited for seeing that the statue stayed as a symbol of developed Singapore. According to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the statue would stand as a "symbol of public acceptance of the legacy of the British and could have a positive effect" in Singapore's future development.
A plaster cast of the original was used to recast a polymarble copy which now stands at the side of Empress Place, marking what is believed to be Raffles' landing site. It was erected on the 150th anniversary of Singapore's founding. There is also another statue of Raffles at the Westminister Abbey, posed seated in a thoughtful stance.
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(Call no. RSING 959.57 RAM)
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Singapore is indebted to Winsemius: SM. (1996, December 10). The Straits Times, Home, p. 32.
Statue of founder removed to museum. (1942, September 13). The Syonan Times, p.4.
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Raffles' statue repaired. (1989, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 32.