The Esplanade at Scandal Point

Excerpt from By the Tale of the Dragonfly

John Turnbull Thomson’s painting now lies today in modern Singapore’s National Museum called The Esplanade from Scandal Point (1851). The painting was previously displayed at Raffles Museum which has now closed down. It depicts a story about that period of time when John Turnbull Thomson (1821-1884) was the Government Surveyor for the Eastern Settlements. His painting represents the residents of Singapore relaxing at the Padang, a Malay word for ‘flat field’. Singapore’s founder under the British was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826). It was Raffles who wanted this padang to be reserved for recreational use. The painting also shows what the colonial part of Singapore town looked like during British rule in 1851. Scandal Point is a small hill at the edge of the Padang and most likely acquired its name over many years in part due to it being a news gathering place for the local gossip. The painting also shows a family group with the man holding a spear representing the orang laut or sea gypsies, some say maybe the original inhabitants of the island. The term Orang Laut in the literally sense means "Sea People", sea nomads and even sea gypsies. They were one of the earlier immigrants who settled along the coastline of Singapore island during pre-colonial days. The orang laut community typically lived off a long dwelling boat, known colloquially as sampan panjang, or "long boat".

The National Museum of Singapore is the oldest museum in Singapore, with its history dating back to 1849, when it was started as a section of a library at Singapore Institution originally called the Raffles Library and Museum. After several relocations, in 1887 it moved to its permanent site at Stamford Road in the Museum Planning Area. Between 1993 and March 2006, it was known as the Singapore History Museum; it was given its present name in 1965.