Mouth of the Singapore River



The mouth of the Singapore River was the point at which the Singapore River drained into the Singapore Strait. With the establishment of Singapore as a trading port during colonial times, the mouth of the river functioned as a harbour at which ships called. The business centre and government offices were also situated near the mouth.1 This continued until the 1970s when modern port facilities, such as the first container port in Southeast Asia, Tanjong Pajar container port,2 began to be developed , and took over the role of the harbour.3 Today, the area continues to be the site of commercial buildings and the Civic District, where some of Singapore’s historic buildings still stand.4

In legends
According to the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), in the legendary tale of the founding of Singapura, when Sang Nila Utama arrived at Temasek, he had landed at Kuala Temasek, which was the estuary (mouth) of the Singapore River. He eventually settled down in Temasek and founded a settlement near the mouth.5

Colonial period

Raffles’ arrival at Singapore

When Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore on 28 January 1819, he was said to have landed near the mouth of the Singapore River. He saw that the river mouth had held a small settlement consisting of a few small huts, and a larger residence belonging to Temenggong Abdul Rahman. Further away from the settlement, the Orang Laut, or Sea Gypsies, lived in their boats.6 The inhabitants lived along the left bank of the river, while the right bank was uninhabited, covered by jungle and marsh.7

One reason which made Singapore suitable as a port was that the mouth of the river was naturally-shielded8 by land on most sides of the bay, while at the exposed southern end, a mud bank also protected the harbour from elements of the weather.9 The outer harbour was situated at the mouth, where large vessels docked and transferred their cargoes to smaller lighters, which then transported the cargoes to the inner harbour along the river. The use of lighters was necessary because the size and volume of the Singapore River made it hard for large vessels to enter. As a result, trade and commerce congregated at the mouth of the river.10

The Singapore Stone
It was also noted that near the mouth of the river, there were many large rocks, around which, the river water flowed in small rivulets. At the estuary was a piece of headland named Tanjong Singapura, or Rocky Point, where a small hill sat.11

According to an account by Mr D. W. Montgomerie, the Assistant Surgeon of the Bengal Native Infantry,12 in June 1819, Bengal sailors, who were employed by Captain William Flint, the first Master Attendant had discovered a stone among the trees in the jungle at Rocky Point. The stone was split in two, with about 50 to 52 lines of mostly undecipherable inscriptions engraved on one of its faces.13  In 1843, in an attempt to widen the river mouth, the stone was blown up on the orders of Captain Stevenson, the acting Settlement Engineer.14 A piece, now known as the Singapore Stone, was salvaged and is currently exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore.15 Notwithstanding the removal of the stone, the mouth of the river remained clogged due to sedimentation, so much so that in 1849, the Singapore Grand Jury had requested speedy and urgent attention be given to the river mouth's cluttered and obstructed state – a problem also highlighted by previous Grand Juries, as it caused much detriment to the trade of the port.16


Commercial Square and Boat Quay
In 1822, Raffles decided to reclaim the swampy lands along the south bank, near the river mouth, using earth from the small hill at Tanjong Singapura. Following that, he shifted the commercial centre of the port to the reclaimed land, creating Boat Quay, which still stands along the Singapore River today. The levelled land from the clearing of the hill developed into Commercial Square, which is known as Raffles Place today. Many traders had their offices and godowns at either Boat Quay or Commercial Square as shipping was concentrated at the river mouth.17

Fort Fullerton

On the advice of Captain Edward Lake of the Bengal Engineers, a defence battery was erected at the river mouth in 1827 to protect the fledging settlement against a naval attack.18 The site was known as Battery Point or Artillery Point,19 and later named as Fort Fullerton.20 Fort Fullerton was demolished in 1873, and replaced by the General Post Office building, which too was demolished in 1925. The Fullerton Building was built in its place in 1928. Today, the building, gazetted as a national monument in 2015, houses the Fullerton Hotel.21

Cavenagh Bridge and Anderson Bridge
The Cavenagh Bridge, constructed in 1869, was primarily built to provide a means for trams, then pedestrians, to travel between Commercial Square and the government offices. It was named after William Cavenagh, the last Governor of Singapore appointed by the East India Company. Today, the Cavenagh Bridge is Singapore’s oldest bridge across the Singapore River, and links Empress Place and Fullerton Square.22

The Anderson Bridge was built in 1910 to relieve heavy traffic at Cavenagh Bridge. It was used by vehicles to travel between Commercial Square and the government offices. Named after the Governor of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States, Sir John Anderson, today, it links Connaught Drive and Fullerton Road.23

Master Attendant’s office and water office
After Singapore was established as a trading port in 1819, a Master Attendant was appointed to take charge of matters relating to shipping and harbour. A Master Attendant’s office was thus built at the mouth of the Singapore River, where the shipping congregated. In 1919, a Water Office was constructed at the site to supply fresh water to ships coming into Singapore. The building was subsequently taken over by the Port of Singapore Authority in 1960, and continued with its original function of supplying fresh water to incoming vessels until 1990. The building, now known as the Waterboat House, was gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2002.24

Post-independence period

After Singapore gained independence in 1965, the government rolled out various plans to develop the country. These plans included reclamation to increase the land area of Singapore for development,25 and initiatives to transform Singapore into a clean, green garden city. By the 1970s, modern port facilities like container terminal at Tanjong Pajar had emerged,26 replacing the Singapore River’s function as a port.

Reclamation – 1970s

In March 1971, to prevent the harbour from silting, reclamation was carried out to erect a sea wall stretching from the mouth of the river to Tanjong Rhu; shifting the shoreline from Elizabeth Walk to the Esplanade area upon its completion in mid-1974.27 This reclamation was the third of seven phases of the East Coast Reclamation project, which was Singapore’s largest land reclamation project. Started in 1965, the entire project was completed in 1986, adding 1,525 ha of land to Singapore, from Bedok to Tanjong Rhu.28

Revitalisation

As part of its plan to promote a tourist image representative of the Republic, the tourism board erected the Merlion statue at the mouth of the river on 16 September 1972. Measuring 26 ft, the statue was unveiled by then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.29 A statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was also erected near the mouth in 1971, at the spot where he had purportedly landed in 1819.30

By the 1970s, the role of the Singapore River in maritime trading was dwindling, replaced by modern port facilities. Decades of use had caused serious pollution along the Singapore River. The entire river was filled with rubbish, sewage and even abandoned lighters, and constantly emitted a noxious, foul odour. This led to the initiation of a clean-up campaign, by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1977. By the time it was completed in 1987, the water quality was so improved that fish and prawns could breed in the waters.31

Reclamation – 1990s

In 1990, another 1.8 ha of land was reclaimed round the mouth of the Singapore River to create more land for commercial purposes. The series of reclamations along the coast led to the formation of Marina Bay.32 As a result, the Singapore River now drained into the Marina Basin at the mouth before flowing out into the sea.33

Redevelopment

After the clean-up efforts were completed in 1987, the area around the Singapore River was redeveloped. Buildings of heritage, such as the Fullerton Building, were conserved, while some shophouses and godowns were converted to recreational establishments such as restaurants and pubs. The South Bank continued to be used mostly for commercial purposes.34


The Esplanade Bridge, which spans the mouth of the Singapore River, was also opened on 2 August 1997. Consisting of eight lanes for vehicles and pedestrian walkways, it was constructed to provide faster travelling between Marina Centre and Shenton Way.35 However, the completion of the bridge and Nicoll Highway blocked the Merlion from view.36 Furthermore, the pumps of its water spray had stopped working in 1998, and it was losing its marble-white colour too,37 so the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) decided to restore and move it to the Merlion Park,38 next to One Fullerton, in 2002.39 A 16-metre-long promenade was launched on 29 November 1999, linking Anderson Bridge at the mouth of the river up to its source near Kim Seng Bridge with a pedestrian walkway with greenery, outdoor refreshment kiosks and plazas along the way.40

Marina Barrage and reservoir

Subsequently, a dam was built across the mouth of the Marina Channel, into which the Singapore River drained, converting the Marina Basin into a reservoir. Opened in 2008, the Marina Barrage separates freshwater flowing from the rivers from the sea. As a result, water from the Singapore River no longer drains into the sea at the mouth, but is stored within the Marina Reservoir.41



Author
Goh Lee Kim




References
1. Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 27, 36. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS])
2. Dewi Fabbri. (2015, April 21). How Singapore’s port helped changed the country’s economy. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2016, November 18 from Channel NewsAsia website: http://www.channelnewsasia.com
3. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 350. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, June 10). Civic and Cultural District by the Bay. Retrieved 2016, June 17 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/master-plan/View-Master-Plan/master-plan-2014/master-plan/Regional-highlights/central-area/central-area/Civic-and-cultural-district-by-the-bay.aspx
5. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 349. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. Abdullah Abdul Kadir & Hill, A. H. (2009). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, pp. 141,144. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5 ABD)
7. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 29–30. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
8. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
9. Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS]); National Archives of Singapore. (1819). Plan of Singapore Harbour by Captain D. Ross (Rofs). [Map]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS]
11. Abdullah Abdul Kadir & Hill, A. H. (2009). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, p. 145. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5 ABD-[HIS]); Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. xii. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS])
12. Peterson. (1950, December 6). Singapore – when all was quiet and picturesque. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Miksic, J. N. (1984). Archaeological research on the “Forbidden Hill” of Singapore: Extractions at Fort Canning. Singapore: National Museum, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 MIK-[HIS])
14. Abdullah Abdul Kadir & Hill, A. H. (2009). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, p. 166. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5 ABD-[HIS])
15. Huang, L. (2013, May 14). Collection of beginnings. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore, 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 504. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
17. Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history. Singapore: Singapore University Press, pp. 8–9. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS]); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 41, 91. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
18. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 76. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
19. Miksic, J. N. (1984). Archaeological research on the “Forbidden Hill” of Singapore: Extractions at Fort Canning. Singapore: National Museum, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING q959.57 MIK-[HIS])
20. Koh, T. et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 203. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
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34. National Heritage Board, Singapore. (2015, June 26). Tides of change: The Singapore River Trail (p. 4). Retrieved 2016, July 4 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/publications/lifestyle-reads/walking-maps-trails/central/singapore-river.aspx
35. Kaur, K. (1997, August 2). Connaught Drive to get ‘walking lane’. The Straits Times, p. 2; G. Chandradas., & Tien, C. P. (2008, August 21). Bridging the gap. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Leong, M. L. (2000, April 17). How about further down the shore? The New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. $6 million to move Merlion- Is it worth it? (2000, May 5). The New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Yeo, A. (2002, January 31). Merlion on the move with new look. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Koh, B. P. (2000, May 4). Mr Merlion to move house in 2 years’ time. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Old banks spring new life. (1999, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 3; Soh, N. Flow river, flow. (1999, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 90. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
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The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not meant to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Rivers--Singapore
Streets and Places
Transportation
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Geography>>Population>>Urban Planning
Arts>>Architecture>>Area planning
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Singapore River (Singapore)--History
Urban planning