G. D. Coleman



G. D. (George Dromgold) Coleman (b. 1795, Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland–d. 27 March 1844, Singapore) was Singapore’s pioneer colonial architect. He became the first Government Superintendent of Public Works when he was appointed in 1833. Coleman planned, surveyed and built much of early Singapore, shaping the course of Singapore’s architectural development and early urbanisation.1

Early life
Coleman was born in Drogheda, County Louth, in Ireland. His exact date of birth cannot be ascertained as the records are no longer available. His mother’s family, the Dromgolds, and his father, James Coleman, were well-known merchants in County Louth. Coleman’s middle name is rendered in various ways – Drumoole, Drumgoole and Drumgolde. It was inaccurately transcribed as Doumgold on his memorial tablet at the Old Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning Hill, but the correct Anglicised version is Dromgold.

There are no records indicating that Coleman received his architectural education in Ireland as his name was not found in the professional registers there.3 In 1815, at the age of 19, he left Ireland, practising first as an architect in Calcutta, then moving to Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1820.

Accomplishments
In June 1822, Coleman left Batavia for Singapore, where he waited four months for Stamford Raffles to return from Bencoolen (now Bengkulu), Sumatra. In the meantime, he designed a Residency House on speculation, which impressed Raffles, who then asked him to design a garrison church. Coleman received payment for both designs, and Raffles built the Residency in November 1822 at the top of Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), now Fort Canning Hill. The building, completed in January 1823, was later called Government House. The design of the garrison church, which was submitted on 7 November 1822, was approved shortly after, but it took more than 10 years before Coleman built this first church for the European community in Singapore.

Coleman was appointed the first Government Superintendent of Public Works on 19 October 1833, a position that concurrently made him Superintendent of Convicts.6 In this new position, he constructed North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road.7 His skills as an architect are reflected in the construction of a number of well-known buildings with a particular slant toward the Palladian and Georgian architectural styles. His notable achievements include the construction of many iconic buildings. Some of these are still around today, such as the Old Parliament House (now called The Arts House); Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator; Caldwell House, which was purchased by Father Jean-Marie Beurel for the establishment of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (today part of CHIJMES); and two remaining monuments at Fort Canning Cemetery.

In spite of his extensive duties and professional activities, Coleman took on additional responsibilities as a publisher with William Napier, establishing The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser newspaper, first published in October 1835.9
    
Coleman left for Europe on 25 July 1841 and also visited his hometown in Ireland. He went to London where he married Maria Frances Vernon on 17 September 1842.  However, Coleman was no longer happy in Europe and returned with his wife to Singapore on 25 November 1843, with plans to remain a permanent resident on the island. On 27 December the following month, Mrs Coleman gave birth to their son. Coleman soon fell prey to a fever brought on by exposure to the sun and passed away on 27 March 1844.10

Coleman was probably one of the oldest residents in Singapore at the time of his death.11 His “inconsolable” widow later married William Napier on 5 October 1844, and Napier adopted Coleman’s infant son.12 Coleman Street and Coleman Bridge in Singapore are named after Coleman.13

Timeline
14

1815: Goes to Calcutta and practises as an architect at Fort William.
1820: Spends nearly two years in Batavia (capital of Dutch Indies in Java) as a surveyor of large sugar plantations in the interior. Also designs private buildings and sugar mills, and erects machinery for sugar milling.
1822: Arrives in Singapore in June and designs a Residency House on speculation, which Raffles builds in November 1822, completing it in January 1823. 
1823: Raffles departs from Singapore for the last time in June, and Coleman goes back to Java around the same time. He stays there for nearly two-and-a-half years, where he constructs large embankments and reservoirs for the irrigation of rice land, surveys sugar plantations and develops schemes for buildings on sugar estates.
1825: Returns to Singapore because of trouble between the Dutch and Javanese.
1826: Given his first important commission in January  to design a large Palladian house for David Skene Napier. He also designs and builds a palatial brick residence for merchant John Argyle Maxwell.
1827: Gains employment  as a Revenue Surveyor in June.

1828: Designs and builds his own residence, Coleman House, at 3 Coleman Street. Demolished in December 1965, the site is now occupied by the Peninsula Shopping Centre.
1829: Conducts the first topographical survey of Singapore, including the islands forming the new harbour, and the shoals, slopes and heights of the hills along the coast. The survey was drawn and printed by J. B. Tassin in 1836 as the first comprehensive “Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore”. 
1833: Takes up appointment as the first Government Superintendent of Public Works on 19 October. 
1834: Designs the Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator.  

1835: Designs and builds the first St Andrew’s Church. The church was demolished in 1852 and on the site now stands the St Andrew’s Cathedral.
1836: Presents plans and cost estimates in May to complete the central building of the Singapore Institution, first built by Philip Jackson in 1823.
1840: Designs a bridge with nine arches (later called Coleman Bridge). Also designs and builds a house for H. C. Caldwell that becomes part of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in 1852. 
1841: Leaves Singapore on 25 July for Europe and then London, after 15 years of continuous work on the island.
1842: Marries Maria Frances Vernon in London on 17 September.
1843:  Returns to Singapore via Calcutta, arriving on 25 November.  Mrs Coleman gives birth to their son on 27 December.
1844: Dies on 27 March and is buried at the Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning.

Family15
Wife: Maria Frances Vernon, whom he married on 17 September 1842.
Daughter: Meda Elizabeth Coleman, born to Tayoke Manuk, a Dutch-Javanese Eurasian, on 10 March 1829.
Son: George Vernon Coleman Napier, born to his wife Maria Frances Vernon on 27 December 1843.

Grandson: Vernon Munro Colquhoun Napier.



Author

Vernon Cornelius



References
1. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 1–2. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
2. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 2, 53. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
3. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 366. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA]); Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
4. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 8–11. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
5. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 12–14. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
6. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
7. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 227. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
8. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 12–31, 54, 57, 66–79. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
9. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
10. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 227. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 86–87. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
11. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 227. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
12. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, p. 91. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
13. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 227. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
14. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 8, 11–12, 21–22, 25, 40, 42, 54–58, 66, 69–70, 80, 86–87. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)
15. Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman’s Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, pp. 47, 86–87, 91. (Call no.: RSING 720.924 COL.H)



The information in this article is valid as at 1999 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
Coleman, George Dromgold
Public administration
Singapore--History--1819-1867
History
Events>>Historical Periods>>Founding of Modern Singapore (1819-1941)
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
Architects
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Coleman, George Dromgold, 1796-1844
Colonial administrators
Colonial administrators--Singapore--Biography