The Singapore Botanic Gardens was an exemplary site for colonial botany. Scientists sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew worked in the institution – founded in 1859 – to identify Southeast Asian flora while also acclimatizing foreign species to support efforts to promote plantation agriculture in the region. The work undertaken in the Gardens ultimately influenced the economic and social development of the colony, and transformed the ecology of the region, particularly after H.N. Ridley led efforts to identify and popularize a variety of techniques related to the cultivation of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis). Although it was founded relatively late in the colonial period, the role it played in imperial botany continues to have a legacy in the 21st century.
Timothy P. Barnard is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore, where his research and teaching focus on the environmental and cultural history of island Southeast Asia. He is the author of several monographs and edited books on the environmental history of Singapore, including Nature’s Colony: Empire, Nation, and Environment in the Singapore Botanic Gardens (2016) and Imperial Creatures: Humans and Others Animals in Colonial Singapore, 1819-1942 (2019).