Collyer Quay, street and seawall, is located in Singapore's Downtown Core in the Central Area. Built by convict labour, Collyer Quay stretches from the Fullerton Road and Battery Road junction to the junction of D'Almeida Street. It served as an important landing point for the unloading and storage of goods transported along the Singapore River and grew to become a vital link to the commercial centre. It was named after Captain George Chancellor Collyer, an army engineer of the Madras Engineers.
Collyer came in January 1858 to build fortifications for the defence of Singapore. He was appointed Chief Engineer of the Straits Settlements. In 1858 he designed the seawall from Johnston's Pier to the old Teluk Ayer fish-market, and the land seaward of Commercial Square (today's Raffles Place) was reclaimed. About two-thirds of the seawall stretch was completed by the beginning of 1861, although Collyer did not see its completion when he left for Europe in February 1862. The earth from Mount Wallich was used to build the roadway behind the wall. Land reclamation took another 2 years and, when completed in 1864, the roadway was named Collyer Quay. Captain Collyer also had recommended the building of another pier.
Before its development, the area was a sea beach from Johnston's Pier to Prince Street. Until the land was filled and reclaimed, buildings had faced Commercial Square, and only out-houses and sheds faced the sea shore, but by 1866, a whole line of buildings on Collyer Quay had been erected. The big firms that had offices and godowns lining the quay were built by the late 1860s. They were linked at the second storey by a continuous verandah. Peons stationed on the verandah would announce the arrival of company ships which they spotted using telescopes.
In 1882, the Singapore Tramway Company, began plying trams from New Harbour to Collyer Quay and eastwards to Rochor. These were for the first twenty years steam trams, and were later switched to electric trams early in the twentieth century. On the stretch were key landmarks some still existing today:
Johnston's Pier (1854): Named after A. J. Johnston stood by Fort Fullerton (1829-1873) otherwise known as Fullerton Building, where the Master Attendant's Pier used to be.
A. L. Johnston & Co.: At the corner of Battery Road, originally stood A. L. Johnston & Co., the site where the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank has had three structures built in 1892, 1925 and the latest built in 1979.
Ocean Bulding: There have been 3 Ocean Buildings constructed in 1866, 1923 and the present one completed in 1974.
Clifford Pier: Built in 1931 is still operative today.
Change Alley: The original "Change Alley" and "The Arcade" were world famous landmarks
Until the late 1960s, before development of the area led to road-widening, the front of Clifford Pier was a carpark which filled up with mobile foodstalls after office-hours. It transformed into a late night gathering place for musicians, hookers and a collection of nightbirds. Many new landmarks built after the 1970s grace the skyline today.
(1) In Hokkien tho kho au or "at the back of the godowns" describes the early godowns which had their backs facing the sea before and just after land reclamation.
(2) In Hokkien ang teng lor or in Cantonese hoong teng means "red lamp road" after the red warning light installed at the old Johnston's Pier.
Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 686, 688-689, 783). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)
Edwards, N. & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 421, 453-454). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)
Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (pp. 72, 111, 112). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)
Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now (pp. 103, 114, 115). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 TYE)
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 and complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.