Galleries at the Library

Did you know that ISEAS Library houses galleries? All of them are open to the public during the Library’s opening hours. In this post, we highlight two galleries.

The Archaeology Unit Gallery

The Institute’s Archaeology Unit (AU) was formed in 2010 as the first formal archaeological body in Singapore. Now part of the Temasek History Research Centre at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, it carries out excavations in Singapore and the region.

The Archaeology Unit Gallery was set up in 2016 to showcase the AU’s work. It highlights artefacts and archaeological work in Singapore and Cambodia in collaboration with APSARA Authority, bringing to light finds from a wide range of time periods, from prehistoric times to the contemporary.

As the Singapore River was the lifeblood of early Singapore, artefacts from its banks bear witness to Singapore’s rich history. Empress Place, at the mouth of the Singapore River, was the heart of the colonial quarter. In 2015, prior to the redevelopment of the lawn at the Victoria Theatre, the AU found large quantities of ceramics dating back to the 14th century. Similarly, at the site of the former Supreme Court and City Hall building (now the National Gallery Singapore), a large-scale archaeological rescue excavation in November 2010 uncovered artefacts such as ceramics from the 14th century, including fragments of decorated tableware.

14th-century ceramics unearthed at the site of the present National Gallery Singapore

Although Sentosa is now known for being a tourist and leisure destination, it was used as a military base during World War II with a number of military forts such as Fort Siloso and Fort Serapong [i]. The gallery features artefacts from different time periods, including an artillery shell from 1942 and an ammunition box from the 1960s.

A six-inch artillery shell from the Battle for Singapore (1942) from Fort Serapong
Ammunition box from the Konfrontasi period in the 1960s

As the AU Gallery highlights, far from being a quiet fishing village, Singapore had a very long and rich history at the crossroads of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

The Yusof Ishak Gallery

To mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in 2014 that a new mosque and professorship would be named after Yusof Ishak, and that the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) would be renamed the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. [ii]

The Yusof Ishak in Pictures: Life and Times of Singapore’s First President exhibition gallery was opened on 12 Aug 2015 by his widow Puan Noor Aishah on the 104th anniversary of his birth. The gallery highlights the achievements and contributions of Inche Yusof, particularly his role in nation-building as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara (1959-1965) and, upon Singapore’s independence, its first President (1965-1970).

Born on 12 August 1910 in Padang Gajah, Perak, Yusof bin Ishak and his family moved to Singapore when he was in his teens. He first studied in Victoria Bridge School (now Victoria School), enrolling in Raffles Institution in 1924. He was an outstanding student, one of only 13 students in the prestigious Queen’s Scholarship Class, and active in many sports.

He was no slouch outside of class either. In the National Cadet Corps he displayed the leadership qualities that would later elevate him to high office; he was the first student ever to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He also showed an early interest in journalism, co-editing his school magazine The Rafflesian.

Inche Yusof would later join the Warta Malaya newspaper as a journalist in 1932. In 1939, he worked tirelessly to raise funds to establish the Utusan Melayu newspaper, gaining a reputation as a tough but industrious newsman in his 20 years at the paper. [iii] He also served on various government committees in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Malayanisation Commission which examined how the British Colonial Service could be transformed into a localised public service staffed primarily by Malayans. [iv]

The Commission’s 1956 report looked into overhauling the Civil Service for self-governance

In 1959, Singapore was granted self-governance and the new office of Yang di-Pertuan Negara would replace the Governor of Singapore as head of state. Newly-elected Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had previously served as a legal advisor to Inche Yusof and Utusan for many years, and knew that he was a principled man “who could be trusted to fill the post with correctness and integrity” (p. 102) [iii]. In December 1959, a few months after being appointed chairman of the Singapore Public Services Committee, Inche Yusof was made Yang di-Pertuan Negara. He subsequently became the newly-independent republic’s first President upon its separation from Malaysia in 1965.

In 1967, when his second term in office was about to end, Parliament unanimously re-elected him as President. At the debate, Lee Kuan Yew said:

“Inche Yusof and his wife, Puan Noor Aishah, have graced the Istana for eight years. He has discharged his constitutional duties with devotion and dignity and has won the respect and confidence of the people. With his wife, they have been patrons of Singapore society, the arts, sports, the numerous charities of our expanding society. The burden of these duties was undertaken by them with natural grace.” [v]

Parliament of Singapore Hansard, Election of President of Republic of Singapore, Vol. 26, 30 November 1967.

In 1968, Inche Yusof’s health began to decline. He passed away at the age of 60 on 23 November 1970 due to heart failure.

Perhaps his approach to being head of state was first echoed in the Malayanisation Committee’s final report of 1956, published when he was a Committee member and just a few years before he assumed office:

“Malayanisation of the Public Service can only be a success if all concerned regard it as an expression of patriotic service. Local officers must not consider this an opportunity for self-advancement but rather an opportunity for self-sacrifice. They should not expect to see an end to all their problems but rather a beginning to many greater problems and they must face the new problems and difficulties that will arise with courage and determination to do their duty in spite of the sacrifices they will be called upon to make.” [vi]

p. 343, Final Report of the Malayanisation Commission.

Further reading

For more on the early history of Singapore and Southeast Asia:

For more on Inche Yusof Ishak:


[i] Ng Keng Gene, “Fort Siloso to become a national monument: 7 things to know about the coastal fort,” The Straits Times, January 19, 2022,

[ii] Prime Minister’s Office, “Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally 2014 Speech (English),” Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, August 17, 2014,

[iii] Norshahril Saat, Yusof Ishak: Singapore’s First President (Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, 2015). ISEAS Library Call No.: DS610.73 Y9N86 

[iv] Melanie Chew, A biography of President Yusof bin Ishak (Singapore: SNP Publishing, 1999). ISEAS Library Call No.: DS610.73 Y9P92 V.1

[v] “Election of President of Republic of Singapore,” Official Reports – Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Volume no. 26, Sitting no. 7, November 30, 1967,

[vi] Malayanisation Commission, Final Report of the Malayanisation Commission (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1956). ISEAS Library Call No.: JQ1063 A61S61

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