Pearl's Hill


Pearl’s Hill is an enclave in the Outram area bounded by the Central Expressway, Outram Road, Eu Tong Sen Street and Upper Cross Street.1 Initially the location of Chinese-owned gambier plantations, the hill was first called Mount Stamford, after Sir Stamford Raffles. Its current name is taken from Captain James Pearl, the owner and commander of the Indiana, the ship in which Raffles sailed from Penang in January 1819 on the expedition that culminated in the founding of Singapore.2 Colonial institutional buildings located here have included the Seamen’s Hospital (predecessor of the Singapore General Hospital), the first Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Outram Prison (also known as H. M. Jail), and the Upper and Lower Barracks of the Sikh contingent of the Straits Settlements Police.3

History
In the early days of Singapore, the yet unnamed hill was the location of gambier plantations owned by the Chinese, some of whom had occupied and settled there before the arrival of Raffles in 1819. Captain Pearl had been looking to settle down in Singapore, liked the look of the hill, and began acquiring plot after plot on the hill from the gambier planters until he owned the entire hill in 1822. When one of the Chinese owners took a long time to make up his mind to sell, Pearl gave him a barrel of rum in exchange for his land. Pearl then built his house on top of the hill, and Chinese and Malay workmen cleared the slopes and grew pepper vines for him.4


Pearl called his hill Mount Stamford, as a compliment to Raffles. However, when Raffles heard how the hill had been acquired without his approval, he ordered its repossession by the government. Although he quickly relented and accorded ownership of the hill back to Pearl, the disgruntled captain renamed the hill after himself after the incident. In 1828, Pearl’s agents sold the hill back to the government for Rs 10,000 (Indian rupees) after he had retired to Europe, but his name has remained associated with this hill.

Key features
The hospitals

At the eastern foot of Pearl’s Hill, the Chinese Pauper Hospital (present-day Tan Tock Seng Hospital) was designed and built by John Turnbull Thomson from 1844 to 1846. Next to the hospital, Thomson had also designed and built Seamen’s Hospital, the fourth general hospital in Singapore, from 1844 to 1845. The hospital buildings at Pearl’s Hill were commandeered in 1858 by the government and military authorities as temporary barracks for the European Artillery Corps, brought to Singapore from India to man Fort Canning after the 1857 Indian Mutiny. Consequently, the Chinese Pauper Hospital (CPH) was moved to Balestier Plain, and Seamen’s Hospital was moved to the Kandang Kerbau district. The European Artillery stayed at the Pearl’s Hill barracks until Fort Canning and its barracks were constructed in 1861. It was only upon the completion of Fort Canning that the authorities discovered that Pearl’s Hill overlooked Fort Canning Hill from a greater height. In order to ensure that enemies could not attack Fort Canning from Pearl’s Hill, the Chief Engineer brought up a Chinese coolie force and cut off the top of Pearl’s Hill.6

The barracks7
The barracks on Pearl’s Hill were used for some years as the Commissariat Store and Arsenal, and then as barracks for the European police (1908) and Sikh police (1914). By the late 1920s, the barracks had consisted of about 13 separate blocks, erected nearly 100 years ago and housing unmarried Sikh policemen, while married Sikh policemen were living in wooden sheds at the corner of Havelock Road. In the early 1930s, the Straits Settlements government embarked on one of the most extensive facilities building schemes in the history of the Singapore Police Force. By 1934, the new Upper Barracks had been erected on the original site of the CPH on Pearl’s Hill Terrace, to house the married Sikh policemen. Meanwhile, the new Lower Barracks had been built at Eu Tong Sen Street over part of the People’s Park that was acquired specifically to house the non-married Sikh policemen. Both barracks were designed in the neo-classical style that was popular in the 1930s for major government buildings, and were constructed of reinforced concrete.

The five-storey Lower Barracks was an imposing sight in its time as it towered over the low-rise shophouses in Chinatown, which were mostly two or three storeys tall. The three-storey Upper Barracks was one of the longest pre-war civic buildings at 160 m in length, and being perched higher on the hill, it dominated the Chinatown landscape at a time when skyscrapers were yet to be constructed in the vicinity. The Upper and Lower Barracks served as the quarters of the Sikh contingent until the latter was disbanded in 1946.

Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, the Ministry of Interior and Defence (predecessor of Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs) was housed in the Upper Barracks until the late 1970s. In 1948, the Police Radio Division moved into the Lower Barracks and the top floor was used to house the Operations Room. For years, it was from Pearl’s Hill that police response to public calls and emergencies was coordinated. Both barracks were occupied by government agencies until 2001, when the last occupants – the Singapore Police Force (Upper Barracks) and the Criminal Investigation Department (Lower Barracks) – moved to New Phoenix Park at Irrawaddy Road and the new Police Cantonment Complex at New Bridge Road, respectively. Both barracks were put up for lease in 2007 as office space, and gazetted as conservation buildings in 2008.

The apartments
Completed in 1976, the 38-storey Pearl Bank Apartments, with its unique horse-shoe shaped design, was then the tallest residential building in Singapore. Designed by pioneering post-Independence Singapore architect, Tan Cheng Siong, it was located at Pearl Bank Road, on the government’s first land-sales site launched exclusively for residential development in 1969. Tan was charged to fit the maximum number of apartments within the small triangular hill-top site. As a result, the Pearl Bank Apartments houses the largest number of units contained in a single block in Singapore: 272 apartments and eight penthouses.8

Tucked behind Pearl Bank Apartments, on a 45-metre-tall knoll, is a belt of lush greenery called Pearl’s Hill City Park. Perched on the hill top park is a medieval fortress-like structure which is the Pearl’s Hill Reservoir, a high-level service reservoir built in 1898 to supply drinking water to Chinatown. Today, it remains the main source of freshwater supply to Chinatown, and is one of 13 service reservoirs in Singapore gazetted under the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act (Chapter 256).9

Prison and park
The western slope of Pearl’s Hill once housed the infamous Outram Prison, or H. M. Jail. Built in 1847 by Charles Edward Faber from plans by J. T. Thomson, the prison was demolished in 1968 and replaced by Outram Park, a residential cum shopping complex built by the Housing and Development Board in 1969.10 This complex was later demolished under the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, with residents and shopkeepers relocated to Cantonment Road in 2001.11

At the foot of Pearl’s Hill, on Eu Tong Sen Street, was an open space after it was taken over by the municipality in 1889. It was then the only public park apart from the Esplanade. It later became the People’s or Pearl’s Market with outdoor stalls, but the market was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1966. The People’s Park Complex, built in 1970, stands on this site today.12

Variant names
Chinese names: chin-chu sua in Hokkien, and chan chὒ shan in Cantonese, both literally mean “Pearl Hill”.13



Author

Chris Tang



References
1. Tee, H. C. (2003, June 29). A hidden emerald. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. London: University of London P., pp. 47–49. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS]); Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
3. Tee, H. C. (2003, June 29). A hidden emerald. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 494–495. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
4. Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. London: University of London P., pp. 47–52. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
5. Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. London: University of London P., pp. 47–52. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
6. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 494–495. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Hall-Jones, J., & Hooi, C. (1979). An early surveyor in Singapore: John Turnbull Thomson in Singapore, 1841–1853. Singapore: National Museum, pp. 62–63. (Call no.: RSING 526.90924 THO); Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL]); Tan Tock Seng’s Hospital. (1897, March 11). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2; When lepers roamed Singapore streets. (1956, May 5). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Murfett, M. H., et al. (2011). Between two oceans: A military history of Singapore from 1275 to 1971. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 85. (Call no.: RSING 355.0095957 BET)
7. Governor opens the new Sikh police barracks. (1934, December 20). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2; Big police programme. (1929, May 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Pearl’s Hill. Retrieved 2016, October 1 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=PERHL; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Upper & lower barracks. Retrieved 2016, October 1 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8LqVADXi_T8J:https://www.ura.gov.sg/services/download_file.aspx%3Ff%3D%257B6A384123-21C5-482A-91CB-D819F30F267E%257D+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=sg; Jarman, R. L. (Ed.). (1998). Annual reports of the Straits Settlements 1855–1941 (Vol. 6). Slough, UK: Archive Editions, pp. 81, 567. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 STR-[AR]); Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
8. Low, C. (2006, September 2). The puzzle on Pearl’s Hill. The Straits Times, p. 16; Ng, D. (2007, April 30). Ugly monster. The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1995). Outram planning area: Planning report. Singapore: Author, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN); Tee, H. C. (2003, June 29). A hidden emerald. The Straits Times, p. 2; Teo, C. W., & Lee, M. (2007, February 18). Singapore nostalgia in one day. The Straits Times, p. 53. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 328–329. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Republic of Singapore. (2006, June 27). Government gazette. Subsidiary legislation supplement. Protected Places (No. 4) Order 2006 (S. 357/2006). Retrieved 2016, October 1 from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=40c31894-89e8-4e27-aa6b-946e00fa3a18;page=0;query=CompId%3A18e140e1-cee1-4490-a52d-4567ff3c54cd%20ValidTime%3A20150201000000%20TransactionTime%3A20150201000000;rec=0
10. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 184. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Tee, H. C. (2003, June 29). A hidden emerald. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 19. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN-[RFL])
11. More flats for hilly Outram. (2003, March 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 185. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
13. Firmstone, H. W. (1905). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay PeninsulaJournal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42, 120–121. (Call no.: RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)



The information in this article is valid as at 2002 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.

 

Subject
Street names--Singapore
Events>>Historical Periods>>Founding of Modern Singapore (1819-1941)
Streets and Places
Hills
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings