Singapore Botanic Gardens
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Sir Stamford Raffles established the first Botanic Gardens in Singapore in 1822 along the slopes of Fort Canning Hill. With Nathaniel Wallich as the first superintendent of the gardens, plants indigenous to Singapore were cultivated and their suitability as cash crops evaluated. This government effort saw the closure of the experimental gardens in 1829. A public effort followed between 1836 to 1846 which saw a seven acre plot at the foot of Fort Canning Hill being cultivated. Only in 1859 were the grounds at Tanglin, where currently the Botanic Gardens stand, given for the development of a public garden.
The first Botanic Gardens, initiated by Raffles, was located on the slopes of Government Hill (now known as Fort Canning Hill). Its purpose then was the experimental cultivation of plants, such as nutmeg and clove, to evaluate their economic value and suitability as cash crops. It occupied 58 acres and was supervised by Nathanial Wallich (Dr), a Danish surgeon and naturalist who had previously been the Superintendent of the Royal Gardens in Calcutta. However, it proved to be too expensive to upkeep and was abandoned in June 1829.
On 24 May 1836, the Agricultural and Horticultural Society was formed and one of its initial action was to call for the government of that day to encourage agriculture and its development. This appeal led to a grant of seven acres of land around the foot of Fort Canning Hill. However, by 1846, the society became defunct.
The present Botanic Gardens, located in Tanglin district, was set-up by a revived Agri-Horticultural Society in 1859. The 23-ha plot was acquired from Hoo Ah Kay (Whampoa), an influential businessman. Lawrence Niven, a supervisor of an adjoining nutmeg plantation was enlisted to develop the area into a pleasure garden. Roads, terraces and a bandstand were constructed in the Gardens. Almost the entire original layout designed 142 years ago remains today. The Gardens expanded with the acquisition of additional surrounding land. A zoo was added to attract more visitors. The role of the Gardens then was mostly recreational. Growing financial difficulties finally forced the management of the Botanic Gardens to be handed over to the Colonial Government In 1874.
The Gardens assumed a more scientific and economic role with the appointment of Kew-trained botanists and horticulturists as administrators of the grounds. Under their directorships, the Botanic Gardens was again tasked with the study of new plant species for commercial exploitation; and also with hybridising experimentation, especially with orchids. Thus, the Gardens became well known for introducing and promoting many plants of economic value to Southeast Asia, especially the Para rubber tree by Henry Ridley, the father of the region's rubber industry; and the hybrid orchid.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the role of the Gardens was geared more towards satisfying the recreational needs of Singaporeans. Many of the Gardens' amenities and visitor attractions were improved while under care of the Parks and Recreation Department.
On June 1990, the Singapore Botanic Gardens came under the management of the National Parks Board. A Redevelopment Master Plan was drawn up to provide new and improved public amenities, research infrastructure and training facilities. It was to be carried out in three phases spanning 1990 to 2005. Today, the Gardens house over 2,700 species and hybrids, a collection of 650,000 specimens of dried and pressed plants and a comprehensive 22,000-volume library. This makes it one of the most important centres for plant taxonomic and biodiversity research in the region, apart from a recreational and educational attraction for local and international visitors alike.
Kiew, R., & Ian M. T. (2001). Singapore Botanic Gardens: A souvenir guide. Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 580.735957 KIE)
Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (pp. 63-79). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)
Tay, E. P., et. al. (1989). A pictorial guide to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore: Singapore Botanic Gardens.
(Call no.: RSING 580.7445957 PIC)
Tinsley, B. (1983). Singapore green: A history and guide to the Botanic Gardens. Singapore: Times Book International.
(Call no.: RSING 580.7445957 TIN)
Tinsley, B. (1989). Visions of delight: The Singapore Botanic Gardens through the ages.
(Call no.: RSING 580.74459597 TIN)
The purest of human pleasures. (1998, November). The Expat Magazine, 18-26.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 E)
National Parks Board. (n.d.). History: Singapore Botanic Gardens. Retrieved January 15, 2003, from
Paradise found: journeys through noble gardens of Asia. (2008). (pp. 98-101). Kuala Lumpur: Cross Time Matrix.
(Call no.: RSEA 712.5095 PAR)
Wan, M. H. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 142-143). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)
The information in this article is valid as at 2001 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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