I dropped by Singapore’s National Museum yesterday to see a rare piece of Americana. The Revere Bell.
The bell was donated by Maria Revere, daughter of Paul Revere. She was married to the first American consul in the island (Balestier road was named after him). She wanted it to be tolled every night to let the sailors know that it’s time to return to their ships. Those guys must have been causing trouble during those days.
Paul Revere, was not only a well known silversmith of his time but also legendary patriot, one of the founding fathers of his nation. His “Midnight Ride” is an enduring story of patriotism during the American revolution. It has been mentioned countless times in American pop culture. My favorite nerd rock band Weezer even has a song titled “the British are coming”. These are the words Revere shouted that night when he rode on a horseback to warn his people.
There’s a popular portrait by John S. Copley, depicts Revere rubbing his chin with his right index finger while holding a silver teapot. It is said to convey the message of Revere and his silversmith business. He looks like a youn Jack Black if you’re to ask me.
The Revere Bell is the only one that was made in the United States that was exported. That’s how rare the relic is. The US embassy for a time became its home. It was brought to Singapore when Paul Revere was no longer around (he died 1818) but with it came his legendary name and reputation.
I’ve been to the National Museum of Singapore a total of three times. It never fails to amaze me. In all my visits I learn something new. The architecture and style of the old neoclassical colonial building is in itself a museum piece.
I would recommend first time or even regular Singapore visitors to see it. It has the most essential historical information about the island. From its precolonial epoch to its modern history.
If you’ve heard of the fabled Singapore Stone, a piece of it is in the museum. It used to be a large stone that protruded at the mouth of the Singapore river. It had inscriptions that experts has not yet deciphered. Many believes these were old Sumatran text. The legend was that the strong man “Badang” hurled the stone in its place. It was revered for a long time, until the British (for their ships to be accommodated) blew it into pieces!
I like the permanent exhibit, it walks you through different epochs in Singapore’s long storied history. There’s the “Modern Colony” where the lifestyle of the educated and moneyed class is presented: a study desk made of solid wood with side cabinets, a mobile wardrobe trunk from the 1st commercial store in Singapore (John Little, recently closed shop). Spectacles and glasses made of brass and alloy. High society was into dances back then, the clubs was buzzing and its clubbers wore gorgeous dresses (exquisite “cheongsum” with floral motif) and expensive suits (layered western clothing, yes, in the tropics!).
The exhibit about the Japanese occupation (Surviving Syonan) is an interesting presentation. While it’s a brief interlude that lasted for only 3 years, it had a lasting impact on the colony and its citizens. In the exhibit are some curious propaganda materials. The Japanese went full blast with it. They placed propaganda everywhere: art, music, theatre, films, books and radio. They even had a compulsory Japanese language subject in school. And if the campaign had succeeded the current Japanese language schools would not be in business!