Singapore Club



The Singapore Club was an exclusively European, all-male club established in 1862. It admitted only the elite of society, predominantly European tycoons and top British civil servants.1 It was housed in lavish premises in the Fullerton Building when the building opened in 1928.2 Subsequently renamed the Town Club and later the Singapore Town Club, it moved out of the Fullerton in 1959. The club was located in  several locations after that, including Boat Quay.3 The operational status of the club is unknown as at 2000.

Early history
Set up in 1862, the Singapore Club membership comprised those in the top echelon of Singapore’s mercantile community and bureaucracy. Being the most exclusive of European institutions, the men-only club only admitted the tuan besar (European bosses), managers of mercantile firms, and those who could sign per pro (meaning one or two of the more senior men allowed to authorise documents on behalf of the manager or managing director). Such was the privilege associated with the club that admission meant entering into a small class of colonial aristocracy. The Singapore Club also had senior professional men, lawyers and others in their restricted circle of members.4


The Singapore Club was originally located on Beach Road. Its pioneering members include William H. Read, Thomas Braddell, C. H. Harrisson, Captains Protheroe and Tireman (military officers), and A. Schreider (Behn, Meyer and Co.). In 1869, the club moved to De Souza Street and later to Raffles Place, where John Little and Co. used to be. The move to Fullerton Square was made possible after it was decided in 1865 that the batteries at Fort Fullerton would be relocated to Blakang Mati (today’s Sentosa) and Pulau Brani, and the fort demolished as a result.5

The demolition of Fort Fullerton created a plot of vacant land fronting Fullerton Square. In 1876, the government leased the site of the old Fort Fullerton to the Chamber of Commerce and Singapore Exchange for 99 years for constructing a building to house the two organisations and the Singapore Club. The Chamber of Commerce and Exchange, known as the Exchange Building,6 was completed in 1878 and officially opened in 1879. Housed within its premises, the Singapore Club hosted the St Andrew’s Ball as its first function in its new premises.7

Pre-World War II and Japanese Occupation
In 1919, Singapore was in a euphoric mood in anticipation of the colony’s Centenary Day. The government launched grand projects to showcase Singapore’s one century of progress.8 The Fullerton Building was the biggest of the projects, housing the General Post Office, Chamber of Commerce, Marine Offices and Singapore Club.9


In 1922, during the planning stage of the construction, it was reported that the Singapore Club would occupy 33 percent of the building’s space; in the basement, ground, first, second, third and fourth floors. In June 1926, the Singapore Club moved into its temporary quarters in the Fullerton Building.10 However, its tenancy in Fullerton Building was questioned because the Fullerton had been built on public funds and should therefore house public offices, not an exclusive private club whose members represented only a small portion of the society.11

The Fullerton Building was officially opened on 27 June 1928 by Governor Hugh Clifford.12 The Straits Times newspaper report of the event contains the following on the Singapore Club:

The Singapore Club will now stand in comparison with any club in the East, and its members are occupying premises which are fully worthy of the senior club in the city. The club commences on the first floor... On the second floor... is the main portion of the Club. The floors are paved with Tampines marblette tiles, made on Singapore Island, are the electric light fittings are of brass. The Club bar, which is 200 feet long… looks out over Fullerton Road, and usually enjoys a delightful sea breeze. The reading room and library open out from the bar, and also three small cardrooms. The billiard room, which holds six tables, is a striking achievement… Facing Battery Road is the dining room, with accommodation for 200 persons, …
13


The club’s new premises had more than 30 bedrooms on the third and fourth floors, with most rooms located on the upper floor and with a view of the harbour. The Fullerton was deemed to be the club’s private hotel.14


When Singapore was bombed during World War II, the club’s bedrooms became the refuge for Governor Shenton Thomas and his wife.15 During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), the club was home to the senior officers of the Japanese Imperial Army, led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.16

Postwar
Even in the mid-20th century, the Singapore Club was still considered exclusive. Former President S. R. Nathan, who used to work at the Fullerton as a seaman’s welfare officer with the Marina Department at the time, described the club to be a place for the “Holy of the Holies”. As he remembered it, the club was symbolic of British commercial interests and dominance. With Singapore’s self-rule attained in 1959 and its imminent independence, however, the days of the colonial Singapore Club were numbered.17

In January 1960, the Singapore Club vacated its home in the Fullerton Building to make way for government offices.18 The newly formed Economic Development Board then occupied part of the club’s former premises. By this time, the Singapore Club was also known as the Town Club.19 In 1973, the club – since renamed Singapore Town Club20 – moved to Straits Trading Building on Battery Road.21 In 1988, the club dropped its “men only” tradition and allowed female guests at its lunch for the first time.22 In April 1992, the club made history again by admitting its first female member, merchant banker Rosie Gan.23

In 1993, the Singapore Town Club moved from the Straits Trading Building to Boat Quay. It occupied three conserved shophouses with a view of the Singapore River.24 To finance its S$3-million Boat Quay clubhouse, the club formed a public company and invited its members and the public to subscribe to its shares.25 In 1993, a member paid S$3,000 to join the club, followed by a monthly fee of S$120.26 By 1997, the club had shed its quiet and low-key image for a vibrant and spunky one to attract younger members. Its bas boasted live music and a revamped menu.27

The operational status of the Singapore Town Club is unknown as at 2000.28



Authors

Joshua Chia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Lim, S. J. (1996 May 3). Grand dame gets a makeover. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 130, 145. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
3. Singapore Club (1861) to move. (1959, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 22; Toh, E. (1993, April 23). Singapore Town Club to move to Boat Quay. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 312. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Peet, G. L. (1985). Rickshaw reporter. Singapore: Eastern University Press, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 070.924 PEE); Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, p. 103. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]); Yeo, K. S. (1989, September 24). Where doors are closed to women. The Straits Times, p. 12; No sir, it’s a man’s world no more. (1989, September 24). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, p. 98. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]); Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 312. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
6. National Archives of Singapore. (1900s). The Singapore Club [Image of Photograph] [Online]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 312. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 101–102. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
8. Davies, D. (1956, December 2). 100 years after the landing. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. National Heritage Board. (2015, December 7). Former Fullerton Building. Retrieved 2017, April 20 from Roots website: https://roots.sg/Content/Places/national-monuments/former-fullerton-building
10. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 129, 132. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
11. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 130, 145. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
12. Changing Singapore. (1928, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore Club. (1928, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 132, 145–146. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
15. Lim, S. J. (1996, May 3). Grand dame gets a makeover. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 140, 146. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]); Lim, S. J. (1996, May 3). Grand dame gets a makeover. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
[17. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, pp. 143, 146. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
18. Singapore Club (1861) to move. (1959, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 22; More offices for govt. use. (1960, January 13). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, p. 146. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]); Chamber site: Govt. explains. (1951, June 19). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Town Club. (1971, July 28). New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton. Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, p. 146. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]); Toh, E. (1993, April 23). Singapore Town Club to move to Boat Quay. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Ho, S. (1992, April 26). Merchant banker breaks into all-male club. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Ho, S. (1992, April 26). Merchant banker breaks into all-male club. (1992, April 26). The Straits Times, Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Toh, E. (1993, April 23). Singapore Town Club to move to Boat Quay. The Straits Times, p. 48; Singapore Town Club. (1995, May 7). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Ho, J. (1994, March 24). Club forms company to sell shares. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Toh, E. (1993, April 23). Singapore Town Club to move to Boat Quay. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lum, M. (1997, September 29). Now more vibrant club at night. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Social clubs. (2000, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2000 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
Whites--Singapore--Societies, etc.
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Organisations>>Associations
Organisations