Of Whales and Dinosaurs: The Story of Singapore's Natural History Museum

$25.00 SGD $32.00 SGD

By Kevin Y. L. Tan, Prologue by Peter K. L. Ng

Officially established in 1878, the natural history collection originally housed at the Raffles Museum now has more than 560,000 specimens in its care, one of the largest collections of Southeast Asian plants and animals. Dedicated to scientific research and education, the museum was reincarnated as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in 2015, closing the loop on its remarkable 127-year history.

But beneath the sleek exterior of the museum's new, modern building lies a saga of struggle and change. That the collections survived at all through the multiple challenges of the nineteenth century, the disruption of World War Two, and its potential disintegration in the face of Singapore's modernization is nothing short of miraculous. This book is not only an institutional history of the museum but also recounts the frustrations, tenacity, and courage of the numerous individuals who battled officialdom, innovated endlessly, and overcame the odds to protect Singapore's natural history heritage.

The book features 108 historical photographs and natural history illustrations printed in full colour throughout.


"Kevin Tan's book about the evolution of Singapore's natural history museum is remarkable and highly readable, and heralds the beginning of the new museum’s success."
Professor Tommy Koh, Honorary Chairman of the National Heritage Board

"Of Whales and Dinosaurs provides a solid introduction to Singapore's natural history collection, and to the island-state's often fraught relationship with its heritage and environment."
Jennifer R. Morris, National University of Singapore

"Of Whales and Dinosaurs will have great appeal to academics all over Asia interested in the detail of how this amazing collection has endured and also to Singaporeans keen on natural history."
Stephen Joyce

"Tan’s study provides readers with a concise, empirically rich, and very accessible history of Singapore’s museum of natural history."
Andreas Weber

"...Tan provides a fascinating history that will be of interest to anyone interested in the founding and development of museums and their collections."
Peter Davis


Kevin Y. L. Tan was born and educated in Singapore. He graduated with LLB(Hons) from the Faculty of Law of the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1986 and obtained his LLM (Master of Laws) and JSD (Doctor in the Science of Law) at Yale Law School. From 1986 to 2000, he taught at the Law Faculty at NUS and started his own consultancy in 2000. Beyond his university duties, he has been active in many organisations, notably the Heritage Society of Singapore. He has also published widely in his areas of specialization and has written and edited some 30 books on the law, history and politics of Singapore.


Publication Year: 2015
304 pages, 230mm x 160mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-855-3, Hardback
ISBN: 978-981-4722-13-1, Paperback


NUS Press