Straits Chinese Recreation Club

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia

Founded in January 1885, the Straits Chinese Recreation Club (SCRC; renamed Singapore Chinese Recreation Club in 1947) was the first club in Singapore to offer English outdoor games like cricket, lawn tennis and athletic sports to the Chinese community. Its founding members were Koh Tiong Yan, Koh Seck Tian, Chia Keng Chin, Tan Chew Kim and Ong Kim Cheow.1

The SCRC members initially played on the open plain below the Commissariat Offices on Pearl’s Hill, before moving to Hong Lim Green.2 The SCRC’s first clubhouse was a distinctively shaped octagonal pavilion erected at the centre of the playing field at Hong Lim Green. Designed by H. D. Richards, the building was officially opened by the Chinese consul Tso Ping Lung on 2 July 1887. Over 100 Chinese and European gentlemen were invited to the opening, which included a performance from the band of the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment. In 1914, the original pavilion made way for the construction of a new single-storey building. Built at a cost of $12,000, the new pavilion had improved lighting and facilities, and its entrance now faced New Bridge Road.3

In 1946, the club was renamed Singapore Chinese Recreation Club in a bid to attract more members. Prior to the war, Hong Lim Green, on which the club was sited, was a well-tended grassy lawn. After the Japanese Occupation, however, the clubhouse had fallen into disrepair and the lawn had deteriorated.4 From as early as 1951, plans had been made to relocate the club, because the City Council wanted the grounds to be converted into a public playground and park. The government offered the club a site at Tanjong Rhu, but this was rejected because the area was prone to flooding.5

Following years of delay, the club finally vacated its Hong Lim Green premises on 31 July 1959 and moved to Shenton Way.6 The historic clubhouse at Hong Lim Green was demolished to make way for an open-air theatre built at a cost of $173,000 in 1960.7

Today, the Singapore Chinese Recreation Club is located at Balestier Plain, on Balestier Road. The playing field, which is the combined size of four football fields, is shared among the SCRC, Singapore Khalsa Association, Singapore Indian Association and the Ceylon Sports Club. In 2002, the National Heritage Board designated Balestier Plain a historic site, marking its importance as a recreation and sports landmark, having served as the venue for sports such as cricket, hockey and soccer since the 1920s.8

Sports promotion
The SCRC was one of several sporting clubs formed by Asians for Asians during the colonial era. These recreational sports clubs provided opportunities for members to interact and bond with each other. In the early years of the SCRC, cricket was a popular game that was regularly played. The first of the SCRC’s cricket matches were played with the Sepoy Lines Cricket Club in March 1885. Hockey and football games were also held, though only occasionally. By the 1920s, tennis and football had overtaken cricket as the preferred outdoor sport. Indoor games like chess and billiards were also organised. On 15 January 1912, a seven-a-side chess match was played for the first time between the Singapore Chess Club and the SCRC, with the match ending in a draw.9 Throughout the course of the club’s history, it has groomed a number of outstanding cricket and hockey players.10

Community activities
Besides sports, the SCRC also organised various community and fundraising activities. On 22 February 1896, the SCRC held its first annual Chinese New Year Sports at Hong Lim Green. Previous smaller-scale Chinese New Year sporting activities were held at Telok Ayer on land loaned from the Straits Insurance Company. In order to raise funds for the repair of the clubhouse’s roof, the SCRC staged the first drama production by the Straits Chinese community titled A Race for a Dinner during the early 1900s. On 7 March 1913, two dramatic performances – After the Battle and a three-act Malay comedy Mustapha – were performed at the Victoria Theatre in aid of the Chinese Red Cross Society in Shanghai. Tickets were priced at $200 for box seats, $10 for stalls and $5 for dress circle seats. On 21 February 1916, funds were raised for the British Red Cross Funds through tennis matches between the SCRC and the Penang Chinese Recreation Club.11

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Alexius Pereira, “It’s Us against Them: Sports in Singapore, in Past Times: A Social History of Singapore, ed. Chan Kwok Bun and Tong Chee Kiong (Singapore: Times Editions, 2003), 141. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PAS-[HIS]); Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 216. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore: 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 1989), 116. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
2. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 14 January 1885, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Sin Chew Jit Poh & Archives and Oral History Department, Singapore Retrospect through Postcards 1900–1930 (Singapore: Sin Chew Jit Poh and Archives and Oral History Department, 1982), 50–51. (Call no. RSING 769.4995957 SIN); Song, One Hundred Years’ History, 216, 226; Ray Tyers, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now. Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 188. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
4. “S.C.R.C. Changes Name,” Malaya Tribune, 25 February 1946, 4/1; “S.C.R.C. Makes a Move to Shenton Way,” Straits Times, 7 October 1954, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “S.C.R.C. Ending 65-year Link,” Straits Times, 2 February 1951, 11; “S.C.R.C. Makes a Move to Shenton Way,” Straits Times, 7 October 1954, 14. (From NewspaperSG); “Council Says: You Must Go,” Straits Times, 17 October 1953. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Council Says: You Must Go”; “SCRC Will Be at Shenton Way in July,” Straits Times, 21 January 1959,13; “SCRC Meeting,” Straits Times, 19 August 1959, 15; “Down Comes a S’pore Landmark,” Straits Times, 5 August 1959, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Down Comes a S’pore Landmark”; “First of Open Air Regional Theatres,” Straits Times, 22 April 1960, 4; “New Park for Hong Lim Green,” Straits Times, 22 April 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Balestier Sports Plain is Now Historical Site,” Straits Times, 1 April 2002, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Chess,” Straits Times, 17 January 1912, 8.
10. Song, One Hundred Years’ History, 216, 473; G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore’s 100 Historic Places, ed. Jacqueline Danam, Christine Chua and Geraldine Mesenas (Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, 2002), 77. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Pereira, “Sports in Singapore,” 141–42.
11. Song, One Hundred Years’ History, 287–88, 359, 477, 533.

Further resources

Chinatown to Get a Playing Field,” Straits Times, 12 October 1953, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at March 2021 and correct as far as we can 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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