Boat Quay

Boat Quay, a river embankment on the Singapore River, is one of the oldest and most historical areas in the Central Region. From early times, and for more than 150 years, warehouses (or godowns) thriving with economic activity, lined the banks of North and South Boat Quay. Many of these original buildings have been preserved, and are now places of entertainment.

Boat Quay curves around the shoreline of the northern and southern side of Singapore River. The original Chinese Kampong in Raffles 1819 Town plan was sited here. Defining areas for business and trade, Raffles ordered for sand from the hill at Battery Road near the Commercial Square (now Raffles Place) to be used to fill up the swamps on the banks of the Singapore River. This became Singapore's first development project.

Native traders built rumah rackits around 1822 along the swamplands and the area was famed for slave trading. Several major business players were first established at Boat Quay including Alexander Laurie Johnston who founded Singapore's first European trading house in 1820; Edward Boustead, Yeo Kim Swee and Tan Kim Seng. By 1842, the land, dubbed Boat Quay was totally developed and business thrived so quickly that by 1890, the banks supported more than 100,000 people. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 contributed to increased trade at Boat Quay despite the new harbour built at Tanjong Pagar in 1852.

Locals came to call Boat Quay, 'Suspension Bridge Quay', referring to the Cavenagh Bridge of 1867. The river at its widest point is shaped like the belly of a carp, an auspicious symbol to the Chinese people for business, and thus its nickname "the Belly of the Carp". Its north bank (today's Empress Place) was set aside for government purposes, and the south bank was for the commercial sector and part of the designated area for the Chinese Village. Many of the offices, warehouse and godowns that lined the quay have been conserved

Today, towering buildings rather than warehouses mark the skyline. Bumboats and barges were banned since the Clean Rivers Campaign started in September 1983, except for those that serve as river taxis for tourists. Boat Quay was set apart for conservation plans in 1986. The once busy Boat Quay Food Centre and the Empress Place Food Centre built in 1973, have now gone. Boat Quay has now been revamped and is a popular place for food, recreation, entertainment, and a pubbing lane for the yuppies that work at Raffles Place.

Variant Names
Chinese names 
In Hokkien as follows:
(1) Tiam Pang Lo Thau means "the place to go for sampans, sampan ghaut or landing place".
(2) Chap Sa Kang means "the 13 shops". This is near Canton Street.
(3) Chap Poet Keng means "the 18 houses" i.e. a section near Circular Road.
(4) Chwi Chu Boi means "bathing-house end".
(5) Kho Ki meaning "stream bank".
(6) Bu Ye Tian meaning "place of ceaseless activity".

In Cantonese as follows:
(1) Sap-sam hong means "the 13 shops". This is near Canton Street.
(2) Sap-pat kan means "the 18 houses" i.e. a section near Circular Road.

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama 

Edwards, N. & Keys, P. (1988).
Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 486, 489). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Hon, J. (1990). Tidal fortunes: A story of change: The Singapore River and Kallang Basin (pp. 9-13, 50) . Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HON)

Singapore chronicles
(p. 189). (1995). Hong Kong : Illustrated Magazine Pub.
(Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN -[HIS])

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now (pp. 16 -19). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Urban Redevelopment Authority. (1994).
Singapore River planning area: Planning report 1994 (p. 7). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority.
(Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)

Further Readings
Berry, L.. (1982).
Singapore River: A living legacy ( pp. 79-82, 85, 87-90). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57.19 BER)

Powell, Robert. (1994). Living legacy :  Singapore`s architectural heritage renewed (pp 48-49). Singapore :  Singapore Heritage Society.
(Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 POW)

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.

Commercial buildings
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Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Commercial Buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
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Urban planning
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Historic sites--Singapore
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Singapore River (Singapore)--History

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