Close to the entrance of the Singapore History Gallery at National Museum of Singapore is a rock-shaped display case. Many walk past it without pausing for a thought but inside is one of the most significant and mysterious artefacts from Singapore’s past, the Singapore Stone.
Mystery at the River
The Singapore Stone is part of a sandstone boulder that once stood at the mouth of the Singapore River. It was first discovered by labourers who were clearing trees in the area in June 1819. When the men first came across the stone, they were so frightened by it that they would not go back to clearing the land.
At that time, it was observed that the rock had about 50 lines of inscriptions in an undecipherable script. It was believed that that the writings dated back to the Majapahit era. This cryptic stone attracted the attention of personalities such as John Crawfurd, the Resident of Singapore, and James Prinsep, an Asiatic scholar.
In 1843, the rock was blown up on the orders of the acting settlement engineer Captain D.H. Stevenson to widen the mouth of the Singapore River and make room for the construction of Fort Fullerton. Fragments of the stone were then salvaged by Lieutenant-Colonel James Low who had opposed the blasting of the rock. Three of these fragments were later sent to the Royal Asiatic Society’s museum in Calcutta, India for analysis.
In 1918, the Raffles Museum and Library, predecessor of today’s National Museum of Singapore, requested for the return of the sandstone slabs. In the end, one fragment was returned. This is the fragment which is now on display at the National Museum of Singapore and is known as the Singapore Stone.
Singapore Stone of Legend
The inscriptions on the Singapore Stone have never been deciphered but they point to the existence of early settlement and civilisation in Singapore during the 12th to 14th centuries.
One of the legends surrounding the Singapore Stone comes from the tale of 14th century strongman Badang. According to the Malay Annals, in a show of strength during a competition, Badang took a huge stone and threw it to the mouth of the Singapore River.
Till today, mystery surrounds the enigmatic Singapore Stone. It stands on display at Singapore History Gallery, silently guarding the secrets inscribed into it.