SINGAPORE – After two days of meetings with a few business meetings and Asean leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first trip to Singapore took a more personal turn.
On Thursday (Nov 15), the 46-year-old visited Fort Canning Park, taking a short stroll over the grounds to the brick walls where a memorial plaque of his great-great-great-great-grandmother Esther Farquhar Bernard has been put.
She is the daughter of Major William Farquhar, the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore from 1819 to 1823, and Antoinette “Nonio” Clement, a Malaccan lady of French-Malay descent.
Mr Trudeau spent a few minutes looking at the plaque, before stooping down to take a video with the plaque that he sent to his relatives.
He was given a plate bearing an illustration of a kingfisher from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings from the National Museum of Singapore, and shown the memorial plaque of another relative – William Clark Farquhar, a grandson of Major Farquhar.
“It was a very touching moment to see the history of my family, to appreciate all the criss-crossing, weaving links that make up each of our stories,” said Mr Trudeau.
Fort Canning Hill likewise has a special association with Major Farquhar.
When he first arrived here with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, he had climbed up the slope and hoisted the Union Jack.
At a discourse with National University of Singapore students earlier in the day, Mr Trudeau drew laughs when he mentioned a historical perspective that suggested that Major Farquhar, who formed Singapore as a trading post between of 1819 and 1823, was more important in building up Singapore.
“I’m not horribly biased, I will defend my fifth-time great-grandfather,” quipped Mr Trudeau, mentioning how Major Farquhar had been dismissed from Singapore in 1823 after a bitter quarrel broke out between him and Sir Stamford Raffles.
“He was banished by Raffles after a few years for having been too close to the locals and allowing for gambling, and allowing them to keep some more of the cultures and traditions than the British and Raffles wanted.
“When he was banished, the harbour was apparently filled with little boats and people lining the shores to say goodbye to him in memory. It was a neat piece of history,” said Mr Trudeau.
He included that it was his mom, Mrs Margaret Trudeau, now 70, who had discovered the historical association when she was approached by producers of a Canadian TV program highlighting acclaimed Canadians following their genealogical roots, and traveled here to learn the details.
Mrs Trudeau’s journey of discovery, covered in a 2008 Canadian TV program, uncovered that Major Farquhar’s daughter Esther married a British armed force officer in 1818, yet he later left her. The show said she had a tough life in Singapore, bringing up five children and dying at 41 years old, almost penniless.
In an interview in 2007, Mrs Trudeau said she generally felt that she had Asian roots, as a result of an interest for Buddhism and Confucianism.
The National Library assisted with her research and her ancestor’s grave was found.
“We certainly know a lot about the Sinclairs (her maiden name), but very little about my mother’s side. And I feel very much that Esther has entered into my spirit,” she said.
Plans are as of now in progress to reestablish the rich history of Fort Canning Park. Prior this year, 18 trees were planted in the soon to-be Farquhar Garden.
When completed in June next year, it will assume control over the current Stamford Green, and will include plants initially grown by Major Farquhar.