Pearl's Hill

Pearl's Hill a.k.a. Mount Stamford hill, located in the Central Region of Singapore and at 56.4 ha, is the largest sub-zone of the Outram area. Initially the location of Chinese-owned spice plantations, the hill was first called Mount Stamford, after Sir Stamford Raffles. Its current name is taken from Lt. James Pearl, Commander of the Indiana who bought the hill in 1822. Institutional buildings located here have included the Seaman's Hospital, Tan Tock Seng's Pauper Hospital, and Pearl's Hill Prison a.k.a Outram Road Gaol or H. M. Prisons.

In the early days of Singapore, the yet unnamed hill was the location for spice plantations owned by the Chinese, some of whom must have occupied and settled here before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. In May 1822, Lt. James Pearl, Captain and owner of the Indiana, began acquiring several plots on the hill from certain Chinese gambier planters until he owned the entire hill. His house was built on top of the hill and Chinese and Malay workmen cleared the slopes and grew pepper vines for him. He called his hill Mount Stamford as a compliment to Sir Stamford Raffles. Lt. Pearl's agents sold it back to the Government in 1828, for Rs 10,000 (Indian Rupees), after he had retired to Europe, but the name Pearl's Hill continued to be used. Before that, some of the soil from this hill was used to fill the mudflats of Commercial Square in 1825, with the help of the first batch of convict labourers transported to Singapore. Government Surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, in the mid-1850s estimated that Pearl's Hill was 170 ft high.

When Fort Canning was completed in 1861, it was discovered that the height of Pearl's Hill was higher, and stood in the trajectory of the guns mounted at Fort Canning. To correct this, a military engineer simply cut off the top of Pearl's Hill. In 1889, the Municipality took over Pearl's Hill.

The first Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the fourth Pauper's Hospital established in Singapore, had its foundation stone laid on 25 July 1844 in the presence of Resident Councillor, Thomas Church. It was not used until 1849. By 1854, the building had extensions for the Hospital Surgery or Apothecary's House, designed by John Turnbull Thomson, the architect of the original Tan Tock Seng Hospital building. In 1857, the Government acquired the building, and in 1860, the hospital moved to Balestier Plain. The Seaman's Hospital was completed in 1845, also designed and built by John Turnbull Thomson. Both hospitals of classical designs with imposing facades of columns rising the height of the buildings, were erected side by side at the base of the hill. In 1857, after the Indian Mutiny, the colonial government took over the buildings and Pearl's Hill, for military purposes, and the hospitals were transferred to other locations.

Apart from spice plantations on the hill, sago factories were situated on the flat ground near the base of Pearl's Hill. The first factories were small rough sheds, processing raw material imported mainly from Sumatra. In 1849, there were fifteen Chinese and two European sago factories in Singapore. There was much money to be made from this trade, so many sago factories became permanent brick structures, employing twenty to thirty men. The processed sago was exported to Europe or India and commanded a high price.

At the foot of the hill, on Eu Tong Sen Street, was an open public park. It later became the People's or Pearl's Market with outdoor stalls which unfortunately was destroyed by fire in 1966. The People's Park Complex stands on this site today. Pearl's Hill Reservoir, then known as a 'High Service Reservoir', built in 1898 and completed in 1904, with a water storage capacity of 6 million gallons, is still the main source of fresh water supply to Chinatown today. In the recent past, the Police Operational Headquarters was located at Pearl's Hill Terrace. This had also housed the Operations Command, Radio Division, Criminal Investigation Department, Public Affairs, and Police National Service Headquarters. For a while the Ministry of Interior and Defence (today's Ministry of Defence) was located here, after Singapore became a Republic in 1965. The Central Narcotics Bureau have their own building behind Pearl's Centre on Eu Tong Sen Street.

Completed in 1976, the impressive and imposing Pearl Bank Apartments may have been the tallest residential building in Singapore and possibly Southeast Asia. The 37-storey hollow, 3/4 cylindrical tower has the largest number of apartments contained in a single block. Located in Pearl's Hill Road, this is the first all-housing project in the Urban Renewal Department of the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) 'Sale of Sites' programme, carried out in 1969. On the Chin Swee Road foot of Pearl's Hill, are Pearl's Hill School, Landmark Tower, San Centre and Manhattan House. In the midst of all this, on top of the hill, stands 8.4 ha Pearl's Hill City Park, the 'green lung' of the area. Pearl's Hill is today part of Outram Estate

Variant Names
Chinese names: In Hokkien, Lau-ia-keng khau; and in Cantonese, Ma-miu kai both mean "Pearl Hill" or "Clothing-box street" (there were a large number of box-makers in this street).

Vernon Cornelius

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 507, 573). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1996). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 102). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 915.957 EDW)

Hall-Jones, J. (1979 ). An early surveyor in Singapore: John Turnbull Thomson in Singapore, 1841-1853 (pp. 43, 56, 62, 63, 81, 87). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: SING 526.90924 THO)

Lee, E. (1990). Historic buildings of Singapore (p. 5). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: SING 720.95957 LEE)

McNair, J. F. A. (1899). Prisoners their own warders (p. 34). Westminster: A. Constable.
(Call no.: RCLOS 365.95957 MAC)

Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore (pp. 47-52). London: University of London P.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 PEA)

Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore's heritage: Through places of historical interest (pp. 65, 67, 68). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 SAM)

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now (pp. 102, 339, 340, 351, 404, 503). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 TYE)

Further Readings
Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart (pp. 240-241). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 BRA)

Ramachandra, S. (1961). Singapore landmarks, past and present (p. 42). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 RAM)

Singapore guide and street directory: With sectional maps (pp. 26, 27). (1972). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57)

Singapore street directory and guide (pp. 13, 16, 19). (1957, April). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57)

Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1995). Outram planning area: Planning report (pp. 7, 17, 19). Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN) 

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.

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

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