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Opening of the Suez Canal 17th Nov 1869

The Suez Canal, which opened on 17 November 1869 after a decade-long construction, is an artificial waterway that cuts across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.[1] The canal greatly reduced the time needed for vessels to sail from Europe to Asia, as they did not have to make the long journey around the African Cape.[2] The shorter travelling time, along with other factors such as the greater usage of steamers rather than sailing ships, led to an increase in trade between Europe and Asia.[3] This development could be seen in Singapore’s trade figures: total trade volume reached $71 million in 1870, a year after the canal was opened, up from only $39 million the year before. The trade boom would continue throughout the 1870s, and by 1879, the colony’s total trade volume was valued at $105 million.[4]

To facilitate the sudden increase in commerce, especially via steam shipping, Singapore began to shift its port activities from Boat Quay to New Harbour (renamed Keppel Harbour in 1900) located at Tanjong Pagar.[5] The number of vessels visiting the wharves at New Harbour rose from 99 steamers and 65 sailing ships in 1869 to 185 steamers and 63 sailing vessels three years later. By 1879, the numbers had increased to 541 steamers and 91 sailing ships.[6] Other than the congestion at Boat Quay, a key reason for the relocation of port activities to New Harbour was the better facilities there as well as the deep-water berths, which were more suitable for steamers.[7] The wharves at New Harbour also enabled bunkering and facilitated cargo-handling, regardless of the tidal phase.[8]

The growth of New Harbour following the opening of Suez Canal led to the eventual development of the Tanjong Pagar area. New roads such as Anson Road and Keppel Road, as well as a tram line, were constructed to improve the movement of goods and people between the harbour and the city.[9] Furthermore, part of the commercial centre began to move towards the harbour, resulting in an expansion of the town area in the direction of Tanjong Pagar as well as the reclamation of Telok Ayer Bay in 1887.[10]

1. Hoskins, H. L. (1943, July). The Suez Canal as an international waterway. The American Journal of International Law, 37(3), 373–374. Retrieved from JSTOR; Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history, 1819–2002 (p. 10). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB-[HIS].
2. Dobbs, 2003, p. 10.
3. Dobbs, 2003, p. 10.
4. Bogaars, G. (1955, March). The effect of the opening of the Suez Canal on the trade and development of Singapore. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 28(1), 99–101. Retrieved from JSTOR.
5. Dobbs, 2003, pp. 10–11.
6. Bogaars, Mar 1955, p. 128.
7. Dobbs, 2003, pp. 10–11.
8. Dobbs, 2003, p. 10.
9. Bogaars, Mar 1955, pp. 133–134.
10. Bogaars, Mar 1955, pp. 135–136.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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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