Black-capped Kingfisher, Malacca, early 19th century, watercolour on paper.
The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings consists of 477 watercolours of flora and fauna indigenous to Malacca, Singapore and the Malayan Peninsula. It was commissioned by Major William Farquhar between 1819 and 1823, when he was the first Resident of Singapore.
This extensive collection is one of a kind in the environmental history of the Malay peninsula during the early 1800s. The drawings were designed to be scientifically accurate, with each of the drawings sporting the scientific name of the specimen depicted, alongside the common name in Jawi Malay and English. It is generally accepted that they were painted by Chinese artists of the Canton school of export painting. The collection had been handed down in its entirety to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It was put up for auction in 1993, and acquired by Singaporean benefactor, Goh Geok Khim, who then donated it to the National Museum of Singapore.
The black-capped kingfisher is depicted with its wings fully spread, about to land or take off from the branch it sits on. It is a common bird in Singapore, often first observed as a quick flash of blue diving into Singapore's waterways for a meal.
This is an extract from "The Singapore Story through 60 objects" written by Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board. This article was first published in Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019 by Culture Academy Singapore.
Learn more the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings in this video series.