The idea to form a company “for the purpose of affording greater facilities for the repairing of vessels” was first proposed by a group of men comprising F. Davidson, C. H. Harrison, C. H. H. Wilson, J. K. Smith, S. Gilfillan, Syed Abdullah, Pochajee Pestonjee, Wei Kow, G. H. Brown, C. Puttfarcken, G. Cramer, Th. Wagner, J. Watson, George Lyon, J. Cameron, R. Riley, J. Fisher, Ong Kew Ho, Thomas Scott, C. P. Lalls and Tan Kim Cheng in a meeting that took place on 1 September 1863. The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company was eventually formed to construct a larger graving (dry) dock on the west side of Tanjong Pagar. The company became the first local joint-stock association of its kind when it officially registered under the Limited Liability Act on 29 September 1864.
The land selected for the construction of the company’s first dock was Lease No. 1581. Along with the dock, wharves were also proposed to enable ships to berth alongside the dock and be stripped while waiting for their turn to enter the dock. The engineer in charge of the dock project was George Lyon, who was later replaced by W. J. du Port. The wharves were completed in August 1866. Then Governor of the Straits Settlements Harry St. George Ord officially opened the dock on 17 October 1868, naming it Victoria Dock.
The company’s workshop was recognised as “one of the most complete in the East”; it was equipped with boiler and blacksmithing facilities as well as a foundry. The company also owned a saw mill and timber yard. However, little shipbuilding was done by the company although it occasionally built small vessels of up to 70 horsepower, and produced engines and boilers that they installed for customers.
The initial years saw little profit in docking services, but the company managed to survive on profits earned from their wharves. The popularity of the wharves prompted the company to almost double the length of each wharf to 1,450 ft (442 m) within two years of their opening. Continuous expansion took place by extending the wharves to the east and west of the dock as well as by buying over existing wharves such as those belonging to the Borneo Company in 1885. By 1905, the line of wharves owned by the company came up to 6,659-feet-long (2,030 m).
The opening of the Suez Canal, however, changed the fortune of the dock due to an increase in the number of ships travelling to the East. By 1876, the company decided to build another dock to meet growing demand. Completed in 1879, the second dock, named Albert Dock, was sited 275 ft (84 m) to the east of Victoria Dock. In 1899, the company’s amalgamation with the New Harbour Dock Company (formerly known as the Patent Slip and Dock Company) brought two more docks under its control, thereby increasing profits to $1 million. From then on, the company controlled Singapore’s entire shipping business through ownership of the whole wharf frontage from one end of New Harbour (now known as Keppel Harbour) to the other.
Congestion at the port soon led to complaints over the company’s inability to handle the increased shipping traffic. Hence, the period between 1900 and 1904 saw many abortive attempts by the company to expand facilities in order to meet growing demands. A report prepared by the new managing director, J. R. Nicholson, in consultation with engineering firm Son & Matthews, revealed that the company would need to spend £1.53 billion to build new facilities and improve current ones. The company’s directors decided to approach the Straits Settlements government for a $10-million loan. Concerns that an important industry in Singapore would be monopolised by a private enterprise prompted the government to expropriate the company.
On 7 April 1905, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Ordinance was passed in the Legislative Council, empowering the government to proceed with expropriation and arbitration. On 1 July the same year, the Straits Settlements government, through the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board, took over the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company Limited. On 1 July 1913, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board became the Singapore Harbour Board, and subsequently the Port of Singapore Authority on 1 April 1964.
1. Bogaars, G. (1956). The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, 1864–1905 (p. 121). Memoirs of the Raffles Museum, 3 [Microfilm: NL 10999]. Singapore: Government Printing Office. Call no. : RCLOS 959.51 BOG; Rumney, J. (1991). The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. In W. Makepeace, G. E. Brooke & R. St. J. Braddell (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, p. 1). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]; The past fortnight. (1863, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 119–120; Rumney, 1991, p. 2.
3. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 121–122.
4. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 128, 140, 143.
5. Du Port, W. J. (1866). Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, Limited, Singapore: Engineer’s report with plan of the work (p. 5) [Microfilm: NL 2550]. London: Printed by Waterlow.
6. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 128–131.
7. Bogaars, 1956, p. 129; The Tanjong Pagar Dock Co. Ltd. (1890, June 18). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Bogaars, 1956, p. 130.
9. Bogaars, 1956, p. 123; The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company Limited. (1869, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Bogaars, 1956, p 196; The Tanjong Pagar Dock Co. Limited. (1885, January 28). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Bogaars, 1956, p. 205.
12. Bogaars, 1956, p. 130.
13. Topics of the day. (1879, May 7). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Bogaars, 1956, p. 130; Straits Times Overland Journal, 7 May 1879, p. 2; Docks. (1883, December 8). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 192, 197; Tanjong Pagar Dock Co. Ltd. (1900, January 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Bogaars, 1956, p. 130.
17. Bogaars, 1956, p. 198.
18. Bogaars, 1956, pp. 204–234.
19. Coode, Son & Matthews. (1904). Tanjong Pagar Dock Company (p. 19) [Microfilm: NL 7400]. London: Coode, Son & Matthews.
20. Straits Settlements. (1906). Correspondence respecting the expropriation of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company Limited (pp. 5, 13, 15) [Microfilm: NL 28998]. London: Printed for H.M.S.O. by Darling & Son.
21. Straits Settlements. (1926). Ordinances enacted by the governor of the Straits Settlements with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council thereof in the year, 37 [Microfilm: NL 4456]. Singapore: Govt. Print. Off.
22. Page 7 Advertisements Column 4: The Tanjong Pagar Dock Co., Ltd. (1905, July 4). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. 80 years ago. (1994, April 22 (20)). The Straits Times, p. 69. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; State of Singapore. Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement. (1964, April 2). The Port of Singapore Authority Ordinance 1963: Date of Commencement (Sp. S 56, p. 105). Singapore: Govt Print. Off. Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SGGLS.
The information in this article is valid as at March 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.