"Chronicle of Singapore" - Book Review
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The "Chronicle of Singapore" by Peter Lim available at  Select Books  in Singapore.
Mr Peter Lim, 71, who headed the 40-member team behind Chronicle and who is the former editor-in-chief of The Straits Times Press, said: 'It is not a history book in the conventional sense. Histories are notoriously subjective, depending on who they are written and commissioned by. We claim that this is objective, as objective as the newspapers that reported the events first'.
The reports in the book present a slice of life as well as history, arranged chronologically and presented in newspaper style.
Between the covers of this unique and weighty volume is a galaxy of sidelights on the events and people which made up the Singapore of the last 50 years. Each inset extract or photograph is taken from (dated) issues of the English daily, Straits Times. The selection interweaves personalities, major and minor events, trivia, and commentary on matters high and low. With a finale of cartoons and an overview essay.
An excerpt of the Forward by S. Dhanabalan, Chairman, Editorial Advisorial Board:
"That is the true value of Chronicle. It is not history as recorded by historians, or recollections fondly or forlonly recounted by individuals, with time softening the harshness of the event. It is experience lived and felt as it happened, without any distortion or discoloration caused by fading memory or second thoughts".
"The Singapore story has been told many times, in many ways, from different perspectives, some objectives, some highly coloured by ideology or prejudice, some plainly misperceived".
The Straits Times
Dec 17, 2009
1959-2009 CHRONICLE OF SINGAPORE: FIFTY YEARS OF HEADLINE NEWS
Editor-in-Chief: Peter H. L. Lim
Publisher: Editions Didier Millet, in association with the National Library Board, 2009
FIFTY years ago to the month, Yusof bin Ishak was sworn in as the first local head of state, an event that formally marked Singapore's attainment of internal self-government. All who lived through that era may have some memory of the celebrations that followed the Dec 3 inauguration of the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, but our memories would be tempered and reconfigured by time. Unless we had kept a diary, we would have no reminder of what exactly we may have thought on Dec 3, 1959.
Newspapers are a society's diary of its social memories. The Straits Times and Didier Millet are to be congratulated for compiling this chronicle of Singapore's past 50 years from the pages of The Straits Times. As Mr S. Dhanabalan, chairman of the editorial advisory committee, notes in his foreword, the extracts of the reports are 'not history as recorded by historians, or recollections fondly or forlornly recounted by individuals with time softening the harshness of the events. It is experience lived and felt as it happened, without any discoloration caused by fading memory or second thoughts'.
The Chronicle attempts to capture the mood of each year from 1959 to now. The task of selecting the events that defined the mood of each particular year must have been difficult. For 1959, for example, the big event was obviously the People's Action Party's landslide victory in the May 31 elections. But what were the other events that defined 1959?
Did they include the introduction of an hourly parking fee of 20 to 40 cents in Raffles Place and its surrounding carparks, an event that emptied the carparks because motorists refused to pay? This may sound quaint to us today, but it was a big issue in 1959.
The book recalls an earlier compilation of newspaper reports some 80 years ago. Its author was Charles Burton Buckley, a leading member of the British community in Singapore then. In 1884, he persuaded 32 others to join him in investing money to restart the old Singapore Free Press, Singapore's leading newspaper for more than 30 years until it closed in 1869. Buckley contributed a weekly column to the Free Press based on summaries and extracts from the earlier run of the newspaper. This column of anecdotal history proved popular and Buckley ran it for the next 20 years. In 1902, the columns were compiled as An Anecdotal History Of Old Times In Singapore: 1819-1867.
Anecdotal History continues to make for fascinating reading, though academic historians may criticise Buckley for his selection and his focus on what were arguably minutiae. For example, he notes in his chapter on 1840 that on Jan 14, the British Brigand called at Singapore en route to China, but a day later, off Pedra Branca, its master, Captain McGill, was murdered by two of his crew members.
Another example: Buckley begins his account of 1858 with a report that 'at seven o'clock on the morning of 19th November, the Queen's Proclamation of 1st September, by which Her Majesty took upon herself the direct government of her Indian dominions, was read by the Governor'. He then goes on to describe the celebrations that followed, but nowhere mentions that the proclamation was a consequence of the dissolution of the East India Company on Sept 1. Nor does he mention the 1855 Indian Mutiny, which precipitated the company's demise.
The same comment can be made of the Chronicle Of Singapore. For example, it reports that in January 1961, an ex-cabaret supervisor, charged with murdering her boyfriend, was administered a 'truth drug' sodium pentothal. Administered by Professor Arthur Gordon Ransome, the leading clinical doctor of the day, the drug did not work in getting the accused to recall what happened. Prof Ransome had to admit that it 'sometimes works and sometimes doesn't'.
This focus on domestic developments gives a flavour of how Singapore was developing. But, as with Buckley's Anecdotal History, this comes at the expense of reporting on external events affecting Singapore. Thus the parade on Oct 31, 1971 marking the end of Britain's defence presence in Singapore is not reported, nor, more importantly, is the impact of the British withdrawal on Singapore's economy.
However, like Buckley, the Chronicle will continue to be consulted many years from now. For a younger generation of Singaporeans who did not live through the 1959-2009 era, this will be a useful reference. An added advantage of the Chronicle is that it includes a DVD of rare film and news footage interspersed with historic photographs that make the summaries of the news reports come alive.
Chronicle of Singapore is then a wonderful diary of the last 50 years of our memories of the island nation. It reminds us of what we lived through.
The writer is attached to the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, and the History Department of the National University of Singapore.
I once worked with Professor Arthur Gordon Ransome for about 30 years ago at the former Norris Block (clock-tower block) of the General Hospital, Singapore.
It remembered an anecdote of an 'amah" (female attendant known officially as 'Medical & Health Attendant") told me about Prof Ransome got crazy on cold head.
It was a hot sunny day that Prof Ransome opened up his fridge at the clinic and kept his head in the freezer for about 20 minutes to cool himself ...hahaha! He wasn't Prof Ransome's mad, I told the 'amah'. He was the personal experience of the unusual British humour style, tropical heat.  Prof Ransome the jolly good fellow.