The Esplanade

The Esplanade is a long, open stretch of field, originally by the sea, located in the Downtown Core of the Central Region. Sitting on the left bank of the Singapore River, it was originally called the Plain, or the Padang, which is Malay for field or open ground. It has been the venue of many momentous colonial and national events in the modern history of Singapore. It is still referred to as the Padang today.

At the time of Sir Stamford Raffles' landing in 1819, the area where the Esplanade is, was covered with a low jungle and a few huts near the shoreline. Resident and Commandant Lt. Col. William Farquhar's (6 February 1819 - 26 April 1823) share in the building of the new settlement was a considerable one. Perhaps his finest conception was the Esplanade which was and still is one of the most attractive features of the city. Raffles designated the area around the Esplanade for Government buildings but European business leaders soon built their homes along its frontage. There were shade-bearing trees like the Angsana and the Raintree planted around the field, despite initial protests by residents. Before the 1843 reclamation, the original shoreline touched the 70 yards wide Esplanade, approximately at the edges of both the Singapore Cricket Club and Singapore Recreation Clubhouse buildings.

Activities on the field
This was our "Central Park" of the day, a popular place for residents to meet, relax, take walks and find recreation. It had been a place for social gatherings before colonialism, with Malay and Indonesian seafarers racing their boats off the coast near the Padang. In 1834, the Europeans started holding their annual New Year Regatta there and it soon expanded into a full-scale Sports Day. New Year's eve would bring fireworks to the Padang while New Year celebrations saw the sporting activities of the Singapore Cricket Club and Singapore Recreation Club held here. Horse-riding and pony races were introduced here in 1840. In 1845, the Esplanade was enclosed with posts and chains to cordon off the area to protect pedestrians from the incursions of pony-racing, drunken sailors and passing traffic. On Monday 27 June 1887, Jubilee Day commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign, a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles costing $20,446.10 was installed by Governor Frederick Weld, in the middle of the Padang. In 1919, during Singapore's centenary celebrations, the statue was moved to its present site at the front of the Town Hall. Landfill and reclamation in 1890 enabled the widening of the Esplanade. A sea-wall was also built and a new road which ran past the Padang, was called New Esplanade Road until 1906, after which it was renamed Connaught Drive. In 1922, further reclamations meant the Dalhousie monument had to be relocated. The new land became the Esplanade Park along which other famous monuments stand including the Cenotaph, the Lim Bo Seng Memorial and the Tan Kim Seng Fountain. The famous Satay Club once stood at the edge of the Park. The Esplanade Park was in 30 May 1953 (Coronation Day), renamed Queen Elizabeth Walk, to commemorate the coronation and assent of Queen Elizabeth to the British throne.

Scandal Point
The original shore line came up to the padang where the present Connaught Drive is. Here stood, Scandal Point which was a small knoll above the foreshore. It was here that Lt. Henry Ralfe, Gunnery Officer built a bastion of earth and sand in February 1819, and later mounted the first fixed defence battery with 12 pounder guns to protect the settlement. The Saluting Battery, sat on cleared land, approximately southeast of today's St. Andrew's Cathedral, and near to the Singapore Recreation Club. When Fort Fullerton was built, Scandal Point guns were used only for salutes. It gained its name because it was a popular meeting place for gossiping. The guns were finally removed in 1851, when the sea wall along the Esplanade was built.

Rich and famous residents
One of the earliest residents here was Col. William Farquhar. His residence was part of a row of houses that included some important and influential people of the day. At the corner of the Esplanade and High Street
(where Singapore's High Court now stands), opposite the old Court House, stood the house built for James Clarke of Guthrie & Co.(1829); and later from about 1836-1843 the house was rented by Edward Boustead, founder of Boustead & Co. This house designed and built by George D. Coleman, in 1845 became the main building of the London Hotel owned by Mr. & Mrs. Gaston Dutronquoy, after that it became the Hotel L'Esperance, kept by a French woman. In early 1865, it was Mr. Casteleyns' Hotel de L'Europe. Before the turn of the century, the property was purchased by a business syndicate, and they expanded it into the palatial Grand Hotel de L'Europe. Before its completion, it was purchased in 1910, and renamed Adis Building, after the new owner, but was popularly known by its 'more famous' former name. The building was demolished in 1934, to make way for the Supreme Court Building which still stands today. 

Another prominent and imposing building landmark is today's City Hall, which was once known as the Municipal Offices in colonial times. Of prominence on each end of the rectangular field are the Singapore Cricket Club, and the Singapore Recreation Club. J. T. Thomson's 1851 colour painting, currently at the Singapore History Museum, captures a delightful afternoon at the Esplanade. Thomson's 1847 black and white painting, and 1857 Map, show the Masonic Hall in the House of Resident Councillor Mr. Thomas Church on the Esplanade, when the society was called "Lodge Zetland in the East". This was the headquarters of the Masonic Lodge (1856-1879). Another well-known resident on the Padang was the Residency Surgeon Dr. William Montgomerie, who lived next door to Mr. Church.

The Cenotaph unveiled on 31 March 1922, recognised the 124 men lost in the first World War. The Tan Kim Seng Fountain, a memorial designed in Victorian style and  erected by the Municipal Commissioners, was originally at Battery Road/Fullerton Square. It was moved to the present site on 19 May 1882. The Lim Bo Seng Memorial was unveiled on 29 June 1954, the 10th Anniversary of the death of World War II martyr, Lim Bo Seng.

The Esplanade by night
A beautiful place, a unique scenic combination of the busy harbour with myriad lights from boats at anchor, a backdrop of floodlit columns of City Hall, flanked by the majesty of the Supreme Court, and the serenity of St. Andrew's Cathedral, plus the air and spaciousness of the Padang. On State occasions like National Day it gets more colourful. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, there was a Food Centre which was popular in the evenings especially after the Satay Club moved from its original location at Hoi How Road, off Beach Road to this area.

Modern developments
The 1990s saw more reclamation activity extending and connecting the land from Elizabeth Walk to Marina Bay, setting the stages for "The Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay" the new performing arts venue to be completed by the year 2002, on the connecting waterfront of Marina Bay.

Historic events held at the Esplanade/Padang
1875 : The first Singapore Lawn Tennis Championship was held (two years before Wimbledon, and five years before the first American championships).
27 June 1887 : Jubilee Day, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign, saw a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore's founder, installed by Governor Frederick Weld, in the middle of the Padang.
6 May 1935 : Silver Jubilee of King George V, a military parade officiated by Governor Sir Shenton Thomas.
12 September 1945 : Japanese forces' surrender ceremony in Singapore led by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South-east Asia Command marking end of World War II.
13 January 1946 : War hero Major Lim Bo Seng's memorial service were held on the steps of Municipal Building (today's City Hall).
9 February 1952 : The proclamation and accession ceremony of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
22 September 1951 : City Day
Parade marked the occasion when Singapore Town was formally declared a city.
3 December 1959 : Loyalty Week which saw the installation of Singapore's first local Yang di-Pertuan Negara; the introduction and launch of Singapore's Flag and Crest and the
National Anthem by Zubir Said.
31 August 1963 : Malaysia Solidarity Day & Mass Rally, when PM Lee Kuan Yew declared de facto independence for Singapore.
16 September 1963 : Malaysia Day; Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew read the Malaysian Proclamation.
9 August 1966 : The location of the Singapore's first National Day
9 August 1969 : Celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Singapore's founding.
9 August 1980 : Celebrations marking the 15th anniversary of nationhood.
August 1989 : Special free public outdoor performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta, closed the 1989 National Day celebrations.
25 Nov-12 Dec 1999 : Saltimbanco, a performance by Cirque du Soleil.
Variant Names
Chinese name: In Hokkien, twa kok cheng chau-po means "the grass field in front of the great court".
Tamil name: January Thidal means the "January Place" because of the New Year celebrations held annually, and the sports held there on 1st January.
Malay name: Padang Besar means "big field".


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 53, 716). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING q959.57 BUC)

Hall-Jones, J. (1979). An early surveyor in Singapore: John Turnbull Thomson in Singapore, 1841-1853 (pp. 64-65, 100, 126-127). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 526.90924 THO.H)

Jayapal, M. (1992). Old Singapore (pp. 27, 41). Singapore: Oxford.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 JAY)

Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources (p. 32). ( 1989). Singapore: G. Brash.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 TWE)

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now (pp. 42, 45, 88-89). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Further Readings
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 356-359). Singapore: Times Books International 
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)

Reith, G. M. (1907). Handbook to Singapore (p. 53). Singapore: Fraser & Neave.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 REI)

Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years (pp. 212, 218). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Singapore guide & street directory. (1972). (pp. 30, 41-42). Singapore: Survey Department.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN)

Singapore street directory and guide. (1957, April). (pp. 11-12, 14, Map 6). Singapore: Survey Department.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN)

Firmstone, H. W. (1905, February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 86.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 FIR)

End of a day of joy. Riot of colour in the night sky. (1966, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 1.

The big parade on the padang [Microfilm: NL12184] (1966, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 6.

The King sends congratulations [Microfilm: NL2626]. This is Singapore's Charter. (1951, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 1.

The information in this article is valid as at 2001 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. 

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