Peacock Flower

  • Peacock Flower
Peacock Flower
S$ 120.00
Item Code : FA111
Availability: In Stock
William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings

William Farquhar’s unique Natural History Collection, compiled during his years as Commandant and Resident of Malacca between 1803 and 1818, documents the flora, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects of Malacca in 477 beautiful watercolours.  They were executed by Chinese artists who endeavoured to strike a balance between their more stylised artistic tendencies and their commission to produce realistic and accurate renditions of their given subjects.  The resulting synthesis, born of Chinese artistic tradition and Western expectations, serves only to render these exquisite watercolours all the more charming.
When the paintings were made, they were a descriptive exercise in what was then known as natural philosophy.  This enjoyed great popularity in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries, among both scientists and amateurs alike, indeed a knowledge of the subject and the various other branches of natural history was then considered an important part of a liberal education.
Farquhar, like Raffles and other gentlemen in the overseas employ of the East India Company, pursued his interest in the subject with a passion, and the Company’s blessing.  The Company, itself one of the largest collectors of natural history drawings, realised the economic and medicinal value of plant and animal products and actively encouraged their officials to pursue their interests in natural history.
Farquhar corresponded with museums, botanic gardens and eminent naturalists throughout the realm, including Marquis Wellesley, Governor General of India (1798-1805), sending them drawings, detailed descriptions, bones, preserved animal specimens and plants.  Accurate drawings and the collection and preserving of specimens played a vital role in the classification of natural history, particularly in bringing unknown foreign species to the attention of Western science.
During his time in Malacca, Farquhar made a number of important zoological discoveries, among them the Malayan tapir, binturong, banded linsang, bamboo rat and moonrat.  He also kept a large menagerie at Government House which included a leopard, a wild cat, a wild dog, a porcupine, a cassowary, a binturong, a tapir, various monkeys, and a tiger, which had been caught as cub, as well as many different types of birds, in which he had a particular interest.
When in January 1819, Farquhar set sail from Malacca to serve as Singapore’s co-founder and first Resident, his Collection accompanied him.
In December 1823, Farquhar, whose benevolent administration greatly contributed to Singapore’s early success, departed Singapore for London, with his Collection.  On 17th November 1827, Farquhar presented his treasured collection to the Royal Asiatic Society.  This, the only substantial collection of natural history drawings ever given to them, remained more or less undisturbed in their library until 1937, when six of the eight volumes were loaned to the British Museum.  These were returned in 1991 for valuation, when the Society, then facing a fall in income, decided to sell the entire Collection, which was then offered for sale by Sotheby’s in October 1993.
Mr Goh Geok Khim, a stockbroker by profession, also a lover of nature and publisher of this Limited Edition, felt very strongly that Singapore was where the Collection belonged. “When the Farquhar Collection was put up for auction by the Royal Asiatic Society through Sotheby’s, I felt immediately that this exquisite set of watercolours deserved to come home.  For years it had been kept in pristine condition on London, but was seen by only a small member of scholars.  Most people who would have been intrigued by its contents did not even know of its existence.  Before the auction it was feared that speculators might bid of the Farquhar Collection, breaking it up for sale as separate sheets.  It would certainly have been profitable to do so, but from the first my intention was to keep the collection intact, available especially to future generations in Singapore and Malaysia”.
Thus, in 1994, Farquhar’s Collection returned to Singapore with Mr Goh, who, in 1996, officially donated it to the Singapore History Museum, where it is displayed in the gallery dedicated to Mr Goh’s father, Goh Seng Choo.
Mr Goh and publishing consultant Goh Eck Kheng, then brought together a select group of experts to do justice to the collection in published form: Dr John Bastin, a world authority on early Singapore history whose biography, William Farquhar; His life and Interest in Natural History, is the most authoritative to date; Dr Ivan Polunin, whose taxonomy of the collection and engaging captions enrich our appreciation and understanding of the subjects; and Kwa Chong Guan, who outlines the framework of Natural History Drawing in the East Indies.  With the publication of this superlative Two Volume Limited Edition, The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, the definitive cataloguing of this unique and priceless Collection is at last complete.