Raffles Hotel uniform top, Singapore, 1930s.
Collection of the National Museum of Singapore.
The Raffles Hotel began life as a large old bungalow known as Beach House in the early 1830s, built by Robert Scott. Over the years, Beach House was leased out to families and changed ownership several times before the lease was acquired by the Sarkies Brothers in September 1887. The Sarkies Brothers were Armenians with roots in the Persian city of Isfahan (in present-day Iran). They had made their way to the East Indies (Southeast Asia) via the city of Calcutta (today's Kolkata) in then-British India.
Raffles Hotel opened its doors for operations on 1 December 1887. Under the Sarkies, Raffles Hotel grew into a grand oriental hotel, with new buildings added to accommodate rising demand for luxury travel. By the 1910s, the Sarkies Brothers were at the pinnacle of their success, having established some of the most profitable and successful hotels in Southeast Asia, including the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang and the Strand Hotel in Yangon. Over time, the hotel consistently improved with the use of modern systems and needs (such as an elevator, tennis lawn etc). This uniform top which has the word "ROOM" sewn on the left side, would have been worn by a room service staff at the hotel in the colonial days, judging from the buttons on the uniform which has the words "Raffles Hotel, Malaya" engraved on them.
This is an extract from "The Singapore Story through 60 objects" written by Kennie Ting, Director, Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum & Group Director of Museums, National Heritage Board. This article was first published in Cultural Connections Volume IV 2019 by Culture Academy Singapore.