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An Old Acquaintance Not Forgotten -
The Foundation Stone for the Unbuilt Monument Honouring Early Founders of Modern Singapore

By Julia Chee, Deputy Director Oral History Centre

On 18 January 1970, during the foundation-laying ceremony of a memorial for early founders of modern Singapore, President Yusof bin Ishak said:
“...A hundred and fifty years ago, Singapore began its history as a multi-racial society. It was then a swampy, barren island dotted with a few fishing villages. The British bought this inhospitable but strategically valuable island to consolidate their imperial power in this part of the world. Sir Stamford Raffles, its founder...therefore threw open the doors of Singapore to immigrants from all parts of the world. -to the adventurers, to the ambitious and to those who wanted to make a new life for themselves because life was mean and bare in their original homelands. The early immigrants who came largely from China, India, Ceylon and Indonesia were largely anonymous humble folk... There are the names of devoted administrators who contributed much towards the modernisation of Singapore even though their goal was consolidation of colonial power. But we have heard very little of the great contributions made by the anonymous mass of immigrants without whose efforts, sacrifices and personal tragedies there would have been no modern Singapore. That is why we are building this memorial. It carries no great names. In fact, it has no names at all. It is for all men and no man. It is not for the Chinese, the Indian, the Indonesian, the Eurasian or any other single race. It is for all who in one way or another helped to create a modern multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual Singapore”.

Launch of Foundation Stone
President Yusof addressing the audience outside Fullerton Building. Fullerton Road was closed on the morning of 18 Jan 1970 to all traffic for the ceremony

Foundation Stone in construction
President Yusof spreading cement over the top of the brick base structure before laying the Foundation Stone

The idea for the memorial was mooted by the Alumni International Singapore in 1969, when Singapore celebrated 150th anniversary of founding by Stamford Raffles. The AIS was a body set up to represent the old boys of tertiary educational institutions from eleven countries which had gathered in Singapore to commemorate the milestone occasion. A sum of $250,000 was to be raised for the memorial to be located at the Queen Elizabeth Walk. However, due to insufficient funds, it was never built.

The Foundation Stone was originally erected along the waterfront side of Collyer Quay because that was the first site where many of our forefathers disembarked when they came to Singapore. It was moved to the Pedestrian walkway opposite Fullerton Building in 1994 due to construction works for Esplanade Bridge. In January 2000, it was relocated to the National Archives when the authorities had to make way for road works and development in the Fullerton area.

Foundation stone black and white

Foundation Stone closeup
Left: The Foundation Stone across Fullerton Building
Right: Gracing the entrance to NAS lobby from Jan 2000 to Jun 2010

The 1 ½ tonne granite stone supported by a brick base structure is inscribed with the following text in four official languages:

“This Foundation Stone of the Monument
in Tribute to
The early founders of Singapore
was laid by
Inche Yusof Bin Ishak
The President of the Republic of Singapore
on the 18th Day of January 1970”

The Foundation Stone stood for the last 10 years fronting the entrance to the National Archives’ Lobby Gallery until it was moved back to its original home at the Fullerton Building in May 2010, the present Fullerton Hotel. The Foundation Stone will be showcased and cared for as part of The Fullerton Heritage Gallery and the larger Fullerton Heritage initiative managed by the hotel.

In a speech by Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Ag Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts at the opening ceremony of the Fullerton Heritage Gallery on 8 July 2010, he shared on how the Foundation Stone will continue to be significant:

“Today, we witness an admirable initiative by The Fullerton Heritage in showcasing Singapore’s history through the launch of The Fullerton Heritage Gallery. Supported by the National Heritage Board’s Heritage Industry Incentive Programme, the Gallery will help bring to life the rich history and heritage of The Fullerton Heritage precinct, and mark the progress of an area that has always been an important cornerstone in our country’s history.

The return of the Foundation Stone is equally significant. Mooted by the Alumni International Singapore and originally erected outside the Fullerton Building in 1970 by the late Mr Yusof bin Ishak, the first President of the Republic of Singapore, the Foundation Stone for the proposed monument, which is intended to pay homage to our many forefathers who built this land, will now be returned to its rightful place. Bringing the Stone back to the waterfront will make it more accessible to visitors and enable them to get a better understanding of Singapore’s early history.

Ultimately, no monument can pay a more fitting tribute to our early forefathers than the vibrant city and impressive skyline that we enjoy today. This is the best testament to the blood, sweat and toil of our forefathers. This living city that we continue to develop and grow is the most appropriate tribute to the noble contributions of our early founders.”