Charles Emmerson



Charles Emmerson (b. 1835/6, United States of America–d. 2 June 1883, Singapore) was a veterinarian.1 However, he is better remembered as the founder and operator of Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms, a popular restaurant regarded as a local institution in Singapore in the second half of the 19th century.2 He was also the proprietor of two hotels, one of which was a forerunner of the Raffles Hotel.

Career in Singapore
Emmerson graduated from London’s Royal Veterinary College after four years of study before moving to Singapore in October 1860. His veterinary practice, operating for over 20 years in Raffles Place, was a success. Besides practising as a veterinarian, Emmerson also occupied his time with other pursuits.3

In 1864, Emmerson began manufacturing and selling drinks such as soda water4 and two years later, opened Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms. This restaurant was conveniently located in Flint’s Buildings next to Cavenagh Bridge.5 It offered a range of beverages, tiffin lunches, cigars, a spacious billiards room and a selection of British, American and European newspapers.6

Patrons were amused by the large box of IOUs labelled "For sale", which Emmerson kept at the bar. The lively atmosphere at Emmerson's attracted a clientele encompassing all classes, especially seafarers looking to obtain charts and to exchange information. Nicknamed ‘the Colonel’, the gregarious Emmerson often regaled his customers with his humorous stories and jokes.7

Among the customers at Emmerson's was novelist Joseph Conrad, who regularly visited Singapore during the mid-1880s. It is believed to have been at Emmerson’s where Conrad met the famous sea captain William Lingard, the inspiration for Tom Lingard, a recurring character in many of his books, and where he also heard of the S.S. Jeddah scandal that inspired his classic Lord Jim.8

Eminent botanist F.W. Burbidge, who explored Southeast Asia collecting plant specimens, wrote that Emmerson’s was a must-visit attraction in Singapore. He praised its curries, refreshing salads and the selection of newspapers from Europe.9

In 1877, the restaurant was badly damaged by a fire that broke out in the ship chandlery downstairs but Emmerson rebuilt it.10

Hotels
In 1867, Emmerson further diversified his business interests by opening the Clarendon Hotel at 7–8 Beach Road, at the intersection with Middle Road.11 A number of houses on that street had become hostels but in an innovation that was new for Singapore hotels at the time, Emmerson used the billiards pavilion, typical of Beach Road residences, as a separate bachelors’ wing.12

The Clarendon was described as one of Singapore’s finest hotels and its food was of such high quality that Emmerson catered a supper at the Town Hall for the King of Siam in 1871.13 Emmerson apparently sold the Clarendon in 187314 but resumed ownership by the start of 1877, the hotel’s final year of operation.

That same year, he was reported to be planning an imposing new three-storey hotel to be designed by the municipal engineer, at the corner of Beach Road and Bras Basah Road.15 However most sources record that Emmerson’s Hotel, which opened in the latter half of 1877 at 1 Beach Road, occupied a large bungalow built in the 1830s that had been leased from the wealthy Arab merchant Syed Omar bin Mohammed Alsagoff.16

Emmerson’s was advertised as Singapore’s most complete and private hotel providing recreational activities such as lawn tennis and quoits. On many occasions he would personally show guests around Singapore and his familiarity of the town and knowledge of local languages enabled the guests to discover things they would otherwise have missed.17 However by January 1883, the hotel had closed and its furnishings sold at an auction.18

Amateur drama and other activities
Emmerson was active in amateur theatre, starting as a member of the Savage Club from 1861 until 1863.19 After the club closed, he performed with various other drama groups for many years.20 He specialised in comedy and had a talent for improvisation.21 Tickets to his performances were sold mainly at Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms.22

Emmerson was also an office-holder in the Masons,23 director of a gold mining company,24 a member of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and clerk of the Farrer Park race course where he operated its refreshment stand.25 After his death, the bar retained his name and an Emmerson’s Cup was awarded in the late 1880s.26

Death and legacy
Emmerson died in 1883 following a week-long fever. His death was a blow to the theatrical scene as he had been a good promoter of events and a helpful adviser to visiting performers.27

Emmerson’s daughter succeeded him as proprietor of the Tiffin Rooms28 but sold it after another major fire in 1886. Different owners continued to operate Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms in the same neighbourhood until 1906.29

Following the closure of Emmerson’s Hotel, 1 Beach Road was used as a boarding house by the neighbouring Raffles Institution. After its lease expired in 1887, the Amernian Sarkies brothers turned the building into what would become one of Singapore’s pre-eminent hotels, the Raffles.30 They subsequently added an extension to the building but demolished the entire structure and rebuilt it at the end of the 1890s.

Over a century later, a fragment from one of Emmerson’s plates was discovered during a major renovation of the Raffles. This inspired the Raffles Management Group, then the hotel's operator, to open a new Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms at 51 Neil Road in 1990, serving East-West "crossroads cuisine" on replicas of his original branded china.31 The restaurant has since closed.

Family
Wife: Maria Moss (b. 16 December 1842–d. 1877, Singapore)32, first born of Mark Moss, who had arrived in Singapore in 1838. Maria married Charles in 1861.
Daughters: Ellen Amelia Emmerson (b. 9 December 1862); Rosa Mary Emmerson (b. 26 September 1867).
Son: John William Arthur (b. 11 October 1865).



Author

Duncan Sutherland



References
1. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU).

2. Untitled. (1883, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819-67. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 681. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC [HIS]); Davison, J. (2004). An eastern port and other stories. Singapore: Topographica, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DAV).
4. Nonis, J. D. (1865). Singapore almanack and directory (p. 48). [Microfilm: NL 17512]. Singapore: Straits Times Press. [Published as Straits calendar & directory for 1865-1869]; The Straits calendar and directory, 1867-69. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 52. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from BookSG.
5. Ho, I. (1990, September 14). 19th century tiffin rooms' comeback. The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, M. (1991, March 3). A chip off the old china. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Davies, D. (1954). Old Singapore. Singapore: Donald Moore, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 DAV.
6. Untitled. (1883, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Keaughran, T. J. (1877). The Singapore directory for the Straits Settlements,1877. Singapore: Straits Times Office, p. 96. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from BookSG; Keaughran, T. J. (1878). Singapore directory for the Straits Settlements (p. 100; Directory advertiser, pp. 14–15) [Microfilm: NL 1173]. Singapore: Straits Times Office. Davies, D. (1954). Old Singapore. Singapore: Donald Moore, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 DAV); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819-67. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 681. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC [HIS]); Allen, J. (1967). The sea years of Joseph Conrad. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 823.912 CON).
7. Old Singapore. Singapore: Donald Moore, pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 959.51 DAV); Ho, I. (1990, September 14). 19th century tiffin rooms' comeback. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Davison, J. (2004). An eastern port and other stories. Singapore: Topographica, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DAV).
8. Davison, J. (2004). An eastern port and other stories. Singapore: Topographica, pp. 7–8. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DAV); Sharp, I. (1981). There is only one Raffles: The story of a grand hotel. Singapore: Souvenir Press, pp. 182–183. (Call no.: RSING 647.945957 SHA); Allen, J. (1967). The sea years of Joseph Conrad. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, p. 204. (Call no.: RSING 823.912 CON)
9. Burbidge, F.W. (1989). The gardens of the sun: A naturalist's journal of Borneo and the Sulu archipelago. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 570.9593 BUR).
10. Summary of the week. (1886, April 29). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The fire at Cavenagh bridge. (1877, May 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Keaughran, T. J. (1877). The Singapore directory for the Straits Settlements,1877. Singapore: Straits Times Office, p. 96. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from BookSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819-67. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 681. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC [HIS]
12. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E. & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.) (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 540. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAK).
13. An outside view of Singapore. (1869, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The ball. (1871, March 29). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Notice. (1874, April 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tuesday, 22nd May. (1877, May 26). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU); Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E. & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.) (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 488. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAK)
17. Francis, F. (1881). War, waves and wanderings. A cruise in the ‘Lancashire witch’ [eBook] (Vol.1). London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, p. 243. Retrieved from Archive.org. website: http://www.archive.org/stream/warwavesandwand01frangoog#page/n256/mode/2up
18. Sale of valuable household furniture. (1883, January 23). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E. & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.) (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 385. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAK); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819-67. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 451, 681, 751–752. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC [HIS])
20. New advertisements: Theatre Royal Town Hall. (1883, March 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. The amateur dramatic performance. (1886, February 8). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Davies, D. (1957, July 14). Amateur actors of long ago. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. The Straits calendar and directory, 1867-69. Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. vi. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from BookSG.
24. Vass, J. A. (1873). Singapore directory for the Straits Settlements (p. 42) [Microfilm: NL 1173]. Singapore: J. A. Vass. [Published as Straits calendar and directory for the period 1870-18].
25. Fifty years of Singapore. (1925, June 16). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore races - autumn meeting, 1886. (1886, November 15). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Straits Asiatic Society. (1878, March 6). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Singapore sporting club. (1889, August 2). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Theatrical amusements. (1884, December 20). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Untitled. (1883, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819-67. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p.681. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC [HIS])
28. Singapore and Straits directory. (1885) (p. 249) [Microfilm: NL 1177]. Singapore: Mission Press.
29. Advertisement:Emmerson’s hotel and tiffin room. (1906, May 28). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Advertiser, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Notice. (1886, July 7). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU)
31. Chan, M. (1991, March 3). A chip off the old china. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (2006). Raffles Hotel. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570613 LIU); Ho, I. (1990, September 14). 19th century tiffin rooms' comeback. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Deaths. (1877, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further Resources
Thian, Y.S., Chong, C. C. & Lim, S. (Eds.). (2002). In session: Supreme Court of Singapore: The building, her heritage and her people. Singapore: Supreme Court.

(Call no.: RSING 347.5957035 IN)



The information in this article is valid as at 20 March 2013 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
Arts personalities
Personalities
Veterinarians--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies
Restaurants--Singapore
Hotels and motels

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