Singapore Bicentennial 2019 – A Note to Remember

The Singapore Bicentennial commemorative $20 note was launched in June 2019, marking Singapore’s long 200 years of journey in becoming a vibrant city and a nation. It also pays tribute to the many generations of Singapore’s forefathers, who arrived from different lands, sank roots here and laid the foundations for modern Singapore.

The back of the commemorative note features the faces of eight pioneers who had made significant contributions to the various aspects of Singapore’s nation building, including defence, philanthropy, social works, education, sports and others. The eight pioneers were Munshi Abdullah, Henry Nicholas Ridley, Tan Kah Kee, P. Govindasamy Pillai, Teresa Hsu Chih, Alice Pennefather, Adnan Saidi and Ruth Wong Hie King.

Munshi Abdullah (1797-1854)

The Malacca-born multilingual Munshi Abdullah came to Singapore as Sir Stamford Raffles’ secretary and interpreter in 1819. An expert in Malay, he taught the language to Raffles and many other foreigners. Munshi Abdullah was the first local Malay to have his works published. His autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, completed in 1843, became an important source of information depicting Singapore’s society and culture in the 19th century. The road Munshi Abdullah Avenue, located at Ang Mo Kio’s Teacher’s Estate, was named after him.

Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956)

Henry Nicholas Ridley was Singapore Botanic Gardens’ first director, arriving at Singapore in 1888 for his appointment which lasted until 1911. During his stay, Henry Ridley explored much of Malay Peninsula for botany specimens, but his greatest contributions were his tireless research in improved tapping of latex and promotion of rubber trees as a valuable commercial commodity. This largely led to Singapore and Malaya’s booming rubber trades in the early 20th century, earning Henry Ridley his distinguished reputation as the father of the rubber industry. Ridley Park was named after him in 1923.

Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961)

Tan Kah Kee was a prominent local businessman in the early 20th century, with investments in various industries such as rubber, newspapers, rice, manufacturing and shipping. Although his business empire was later severely impacted by the Great Depression, Tan Kah Kee remained a well-respected community leader and philanthropist. A firm advocate of education, Tan Kah Kee contributed to the establishment of many schools in Singapore, including Tao Nan, Ai Tong and Nanyang Girls’ Schools. He also led Singapore’s, as well as China’s, war efforts against the Japanese during the Second World War. Downtown Line’s Tan Kah Kee MRT Station was named in honour of him.

P. Govindasamy Pillai (1887-1980)

Successful South Indian businessman, property owner and philanthropist P. Govindasamy Pillai first came to Singapore in 1905 as a poor youth, slogging at a provision shop for years. When the shop closed down, Govindasamy Pillai took a leap of faith and bought over it with his savings and borrowed money. The Second World War made him lost almost everything, but he was able to revive his business after the war and further expanded it to Johor and Malacca. Govindasamy Pillai’s contributions were well-remembered, especially his generous donations to Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and welfare organisation Ramakrishna Mission.

Teresa Hsu Chih (1898-2011)

Born in China to a poor family, Teresa Hsu and her family moved to Penang after her father had abandoned them. With no formal education, she managed to gain knowledge by joining the children’s classes at the convent she worked in. In 1933, she left to work in Hong Kong, learning English and typing at night. After the war, Teresa Hsu, at age 47, studied nursing at London, and participated in voluntary services to help the poor and needy. She arrived at Singapore and founded the Home for the Aged Sick in 1965. Singapore’s Mother Teresa continued her selfless and tireless efforts in helping the impoverished and destitute even after she became a centenarian in the 2000s.

Alice Pennefather (1903-1983)

Alice Pennefather – her full name was Alice Edith Wilhemina Patterson – was one of Singapore’s pioneering sportswomen, winning multiple badminton championships in Singapore and Malaya from the 1930s to 1950s. Equally good in tennis, she was crowned champion of the Singapore Ladies Tennis for three consecutive years in the late 1930s. The all-round Alice Pennefather also captained the Girls’ Sports Club hockey team from 1931 to 1958. During its 50th anniversary in 1980, the Sports Club hailed her as “The Grand Old Lady of Sport”. She was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

Adnan Saidi (1915-1942)

A war hero, Lieutenant Adnan Saidi led his Malay Regiment’s 1st Battalion men in the defence of Singapore during the Second World War. Born in Selangor, Adnan Saidi joined the Malay Regiment in 1933 and was posted to Singapore in 1941 to defend Pasir Panjang. At the intense Battle of Opium Hill (Bukit Chandu) on 13 February 1942, Adnan Saidi and his men put up fierce resistance against waves of Japanese attacks. Outnumbered and undersupplied, the brave troop fought to the last man. Adnan Saidi was captured and brutally tortured, before killed by the Japanese. His valour and loyalty would always be remembered in history.

Ruth Wong Hie King (1918-1982)

Singapore’s pioneering educator, Ruth Wong Hie King was credited with the revolutionary transformation of teacher training in Singapore. As the first woman principal of the Teachers’ Training College (later became Institute of Education) in the early seventies, Ruth Wong introduced a disciplined approach to the training of new teachers and enhanced their curriculum. This greatly aided in the professional competence of the teachers and indirectly improved the growth of the students under their charge. Singapore’s educational standard of teachers and students, as a whole, had therefore risen significantly.

Published: 29 June 2019

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