Singapore’s first land reclamation exercise was carried out in 1822 on swampy grounds in the area known today as South Boat Quay.
In Sir Stamford Raffles’s original layout of Singapore town, he had reserved the north bank of the Singapore River for government use, and the beach front that stretched from the Esplanade to Rochor River for the European merchants. However, the merchants found that the north beach was not conducive for shipping because the waters were shallow and vulnerable to surfs. In the absence of Raffles, who had left Singapore in February 1819, the merchants appealed to Singapore’s first British Resident William Farquhar who permitted them to build their godowns and houses at the site designated for public offices on condition that they were to move if the land was required.
During Raffles’s third visit to Singapore in October 1822, he altered his original plan in view of these new developments, and moved the commercial centre to the south bank, close to the mouth of the Singapore River. At the time, the south bank was unoccupied because it was swampy land cut through with creeks and covered with jungle and mangrove trees. Raffles and Farquhar had differing opinions with regard to the planning of the commercial centre. Farquhar felt that Kampong Glam would be a more suitable trading centre because it would be costly to reclaim the south bank and also difficult to obtain sufficient earth to carry out the land fill. On 17 October 1822, Raffles appointed a committee to study the feasibility of utilising the south bank. In its report dated 23 October that same year, the committee concurred that the south bank was low-lying and prone to flooding, but opined that the reclamation project was achievable and beneficial to Singapore.
To address the issue of insufficient supply of soil, Raffles decided to level the small hill at the end of Tanjong Singapura in Lorong Tambangan (today’s Raffles Place), and to use the earth for raising, bunding and filling up the south-west bank of the Singapore River. Farquhar was agreeable to the idea and reclamation works to the river commenced in the latter half of 1822.
Some 200 to 300 Chinese, Malay and Indian coolies were hired at one rupee a day to break up the hill and transport the earth and stones to the Singapore River. Raffles inspected and supervised the site twice a day, while Farquhar auctioned off or gave away parcels of land on the fringes of the hill to speed up the clearing of the land.
Within three to four months, the hill was flattened and the low marshy land at the south-west bank of the river was filled up. Upon the completion of the land reclamation project, the south bank was divided into lots and sold at high prices via auction.
1. Gillis, K., & Tan, K. (2006). The book of Singapore’s firsts (p. 96). Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society. Call no.: RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS].
2. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867 (p. 75). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING English 959.57 BUC [HIS]; Dobbs, S. (2003). The Singapore River: A social history, 1819–2002 (p. 8). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 DOB.
3. Dobbs, 2003, p. 8; Keys, P. (1981, August 10). Where there is still time to stand and stare. The Straits Times, p.10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Dobbs, 2003, p. 20.
5. Abdullah Abdul Kadir. (2009). The Hikayat Abdullah (A. H. Hill, Trans.) (p. 164). Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Call no.: RSEA 959.5 ABD.
6. Wurtzburg, C. E. (1984). Raffles of the Eastern Isles (p. 608). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.570210924 RAF.W-[HIS].
7. Abdullah Abdul Kadir, 2009, pp. 164, 167.
8. Abdullah Abdul Kadir, 2009, p. 165.
9. Abdullah Abdul Kadir, 2009, pp. 165, 167–168.
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.