Richard Eric Holttum was appointed Assistant Director of Gardens, Straits Settlements and arrived in Singapore in 1922. His appointment was made by the Colonial Office in London with advice of the Director, Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. The Director of the Singapore Botanic Garden at that time was Mr. I. H. Burkhill who retired in 1925. At the tender age of 30, Holttum became Acting Director, later becoming Director when the position could not be filled. In 1928, together with 2 prominent orchid growers, Mr. John Laycock and Mr. Emile Galistan, he co-founded the Malayan Orchid Society (now called OSSEA-Orchid Society of South-East Asia.)
Flower shows had been held annually at the Botanic Gardens from1884 until 1900 when it stopped. This was revived some 30 years later when the orchid society resumed this important event by holding the first show from 27-28th March 1931 at the YMCA, Orchard Road. During 1933-37, the shows included orchids and non-orchids and had been so far, organised by an ad-hoc committee on each occasion.
Holttum felt that the show needed greater definition, so together with a new horticulturist Mr. John Nauen, he gathered a group of people whom he felt might be interested in taking on this responsibility. An inaugural meeting took place on 4th June 1936.
The first General Meeting of the Society took place on 22nd June 1936 at 5.30 pm at the Director’s House, Botanic Gardens, when 32 members were present and Mr. Holttum became the first president. Archdeacon Graham White was Vice-president and Nauen became Secretary. Though they did not feel ready to immediately undertake the responsibility of planning the annual flower shows, Nauen became the Society’s representative on the committee for the flower show in 1937. The society felt these events were important in promoting local interest in horticulture. Like today, the society had monthly events, mostly in members’ gardens.
The Japanese occupation from 1941 shifted the emphasis from horticulture to agriculture for survival. During this period, Holttum was allowed to continue his work at the Botanic Garden. We lost amongst the contributing members, Graham White in 1939 and J. Nauen, who perished building the Thai-Burma railway in 1943.
From January 1948, normal activities gradually resumed and the society was revived with the help of many people. And it is to this day that some of our older members cherish their membership to the society, as it is a society that had come through a tumultuous period in history.