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Yusof bin Ishak - The Republic of Singapore’s First Head of State

By Kevin Khoo, Assistant Archivist

Portrait photograph of President Yusof Ishak, late 1960s

A distinguished journalist who founded the Utusan Melayu in 1939, Yusof bin Ishak (1910 -1970) became Chairman of the Public Service Commission of Singapore in 1959 at the invitation of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister. After the PAP won the 1959 election and Singapore achieved self-government, Yusof bin Ishak was appointed the Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore, or Head of State, and when Singapore gained independence on 9 August 1965, Yusof bin Ishak became the first President of the Republic of Singapore.

Yusof bin Ishak was President during one of the most tumultuous periods in Singapore’s history, when the young Singapore nation struggled for economic survival and was divided by racial conflicts. Yusof bin Ishak contributed significantly to containing the latter challenge by steadfastly promoting multi-racialism in Singapore. He went out of his way to interact with people of all races to help restore trust and confidence amongst the different ethnic groups during the 1964 race riots. His appointment as President also convinced Singaporeans of different races that citizenship did not depend on the color of their skin, but on their contributions to their shared homeland and their merit as individuals. President Ishak passed away in November 1970 and was buried at the Kranji State Cemetary

Why is this collection valuable?

The photographs donated by Puan Noor provide invaluable personal information about Yusof bin Ishak’s life and Singapore. They tell us about the places he visited and the people he met. They are also suggestive of his personal interests and aesthetic tastes. More broadly they provide additional documentation on Singapore and the life of its people in the 1950s and 1960s. They are thus of great potential use to future biographers of Yusof bin Ishak and to historians of Singapore’s development and society in general.

Collection Highlights

1. Photograph of Yang di-Pertuan Yusof bin Ishak and his wife Puan Noor Aishah at the Istana, early 1960s. The Yusof Ishak collection includes rare high quality colour photographs of President Yusof Ishak from as early as 1957.

Source: Yusof Ishak Collection

2. This picture was taken during a visit by President Yusof Ishak to the Jurong Industrial Estate in the 1960s, and reflects the President’s avid interest in photography.

Source: Yusof Ishak Collection

3. These pictures were personally taken by President Yusof Ishak during his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1963. The Yusof Ishak collection contains many photographs that the President shot himself.

Source: Yusof Ishak Collection