The Singapore Club was an exclusively European, all-male club established in 1861. It admitted only the elite of society, predominantly European tycoons and top British civil servants.1 It was housed in lavish premises in the Fullerton Building when the building opened in 1928.2 Subsequently renamed the Town Club and later the Singapore Town Club, it moved out of the Fullerton in 1959. The club was located in several locations after that, including Boat Quay.3 The operational status of the club is unknown as at 2000.
Set up in 1861,4 the Singapore Club membership comprised those in the top echelon of Singapore’s mercantile community and bureaucracy. Being the most exclusive of European institutions, the men-only club only admitted the tuan besar (European bosses), managers of mercantile firms, and those who could sign per pro (meaning one or two of the more senior men allowed to authorise documents on behalf of the manager or managing director). Such was the privilege associated with the club that admission meant entering into a small class of colonial aristocracy. The Singapore Club also had senior professional men, lawyers and others in their restricted circle of members.5
The Singapore Club was originally located on Beach Road. Its pioneering members include William H. Read, Thomas Braddell, C. H. Harrisson, Captains Protheroe and Tireman (military officers), and A. Schreider (Behn, Meyer and Co.). In 1869, the club moved to De Souza Street and later to Raffles Place, where John Little and Co. used to be. The move to Fullerton Square was made possible after it was decided in 1865 that the batteries at Fort Fullerton would be relocated to Blakang Mati (today’s Sentosa) and Pulau Brani, and the fort demolished as a result.6
The demolition of Fort Fullerton created a plot of vacant land fronting Fullerton Square. In 1876, the government leased the site of the old Fort Fullerton to the Chamber of Commerce and Singapore Exchange for 99 years for constructing a building to house the two organisations and the Singapore Club. The Chamber of Commerce and Exchange, known as the Exchange Building,7 was completed in 1878 and officially opened in 1879. Housed within its premises, the Singapore Club hosted the St Andrew’s Ball as its first function in its new premises.8
Pre-World War II and Japanese Occupation
In 1919, Singapore was in a euphoric mood in anticipation of the colony’s Centenary Day. The government launched grand projects to showcase Singapore’s one century of progress.9 The Fullerton Building was the biggest of the projects, housing the General Post Office, Chamber of Commerce, Marine Offices and Singapore Club.10
In 1922, during the planning stage of the construction, it was reported that the Singapore Club would likely occupy 33 percent of the building’s space, spread over the basement, and on the ground, first, second, third and fourth floors. After it was built however, it came to occupy approximately one-fifth of the whole building.11 In June 1926, the Singapore Club moved into its temporary quarters in the Fullerton Building.12 However, its tenancy in Fullerton Building was questioned because the Fullerton had been built on public funds and should therefore house public offices, not an exclusive private club whose members represented only a small portion of society.13
The Fullerton Building was officially opened on 27 June 1928 by Governor Hugh Clifford.14 The Straits Times newspaper report of the event contains the following on the Singapore Club:
The Singapore Club will now stand in comparison with any club in the East, and its members are occupying premises which are fully worthy of the senior club in the city. The club commences on the first floor... On the second floor... is the main portion of the Club. The floors are paved with Tampines marblette tiles, made on Singapore Island, are the electric light fittings are of brass. The Club bar, which is 200 feet long… looks out over Fullerton Road, and usually enjoys a delightful sea breeze. The reading room and library open out from the bar, and also three small cardrooms. The billiard room, which holds six tables, is a striking achievement… Facing Battery Road is the dining room, with accommodation for 200 persons, … 15
The club’s new premises had more than 30 bedrooms on the third and fourth floors, with most rooms located on the upper floor and with a view of the harbour. The Fullerton was deemed to be the club’s private hotel.16
When Singapore was bombed during World War II, the club’s bedrooms became the refuge for Governor Shenton Thomas and his wife. This was also the location where General A. E. Percival informed Thomas of the British military’s decision to surrender, after which Thomas drove to the broadcasting station to announce the surrender.17 During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), the club was home to the senior officers of the Japanese Imperial Army, led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita.18
Even in the mid-20th century, the Singapore Club was still considered exclusive. Former President S. R. Nathan, who used to work at the Fullerton as a seaman’s welfare officer with the Marina Department at the time, described the club to be a place for the “Holy of the Holies”. As he remembered it, the club was symbolic of British commercial interests and dominance. With Singapore’s self-rule attained in 1959 and its imminent independence, however, the days of the colonial Singapore Club were numbered.19
In January 1960, the Singapore Club vacated its home in the Fullerton Building to make way for government offices.20 The newly formed Economic Development Board then occupied part of the club’s former premises. By this time, the Singapore Club was also known as the Town Club.21 By 1962, it had moved into Clifford House (present-day Clifford Centre), and subsequently was temporarily housed at Raffles Hotel.22 By 1973, the club had been renamed Singapore Town Club,23 and it had moved to Straits Trading Building on Battery Road.24 In 1988, the club dropped its “men only” tradition and allowed female guests at its lunch for the first time.25 In April 1992, the club made history again by admitting its first female member, merchant banker Rosie Gan.26
In 1993, the Singapore Town Club moved from the Straits Trading Building to Boat Quay. It occupied three conserved shophouses with a view of the Singapore River.27 To finance its S$3-million Boat Quay clubhouse, the club formed a public company and invited its members and the public to subscribe to its shares.28 In 1993, a member paid S$3,000 to join the club, followed by a monthly fee of S$120.29 By 1997, the club had shed its quiet and low-key image for a vibrant and spunky one to attract younger members. Its bar boasted live music and a revamped menu.30
In November 1998, during the Asian financial crisis, it appeared to have been closed.31 The operational status of the Singapore Town Club is unknown as at 2000.32
Joshua Chia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
1. Arnold Wright and H. A. Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources (London: Lloyd's Greater Britain Publishing Company, Limited, 1908), 624 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51033 TWE); A Facsimile of the Suggestion Book of The Singapore Club, Formerly The Town Club and Now the Singapore Town Club, 1911 to 1979 (n.p. 1979), unpaginated (Call no. RCLOS 367.95957 FAC); Lim Seng Jin, “Grand Dame Gets a Makeover,” Straits Times, 3 May 1996, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Melanie Chew, Memories of the Fullerton (Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel, 2001), 130, 145. (Call no. RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS])
3. “Singapore Club (1861) to Move,” Straits Times, 22 December 1959, 22; Eddie Toh, “Singapore Town Club to Move to Boat Quay,” Straits Times, 23 April 1993, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Wright and Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya, 624; Facsimile of the Suggestion Book, n.p.
5. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 312 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); George L. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter (Singapore: Eastern University Press, 1985), 108 (Call no. RSING 070.924 PEE); Chew, Memories of the Fullerton, 103; Yeo Kim Seng, “Where Doors are Closed to Women,” Straits Times, 24 September 1989, 12; “No Sir, It’s a Man’s World No More,” Straits Times, 24 September 1989, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 98; Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 312.
7. The Singapore Club, 1900s, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980007377–0111)
8. Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 312; Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 101–02.
9. Donald Davies, “100 Years after the Landing,” Straits Times, 2 December 1956, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Former Fullerton Building,” National Heritage Board, accessed 7 December 2015.
11. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 126, 129, 132, 145.
12. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 129, 132.
13. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 130, 145.
14. “Changing Singapore,” Straits Times, 27 June 1928, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Singapore Club,” Straits Times, 27 June 19128, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 132, 145–46
17. Lim, “Grand Dame Gets a Makeover.”
18. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 140, 146; Lim, “Grand Dame Gets a Makeover.”
19. Chew,Memories of the Fullerton, 143, 146.
20. “Singapore Club (1861) to Move”; “More Offices for Govt. Use,” Singapore Free Press, 13 January 1960, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Chew, Memories of the Fullerton, 146; “Chamber Site: Govt. Explains,” Singapore Free Press, 19 June 1951, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Facsimile of the Suggestion Book, n.p.; Toh, “Singapore Town Club to Move.”
23. “Town Club,” New Nation, 28 July 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Facsimile of the Suggestion Book, n.p.
25. Shirlynn Ho, “Merchant Banker Breaks into All-Male Club,” Straits Times, 26 April 1992, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Ho, “Merchant Banker Breaks into All-Male Club.”
27. Toh, “Singapore Town Club to Move”; “Singapore Town Club,” Straits Times, 7 May 1995, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Janet Ho, “Club Forms Company to Sell Shares,” Straits Times, 24 March 1994, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Toh, “Singapore Town Club to Move.”
30. Magdalene Lum, “Now More Vibrant Club at Night,” Straits Times, 29 September 1997, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Alejandro Reyes, “Listen for the Other Shoe,” Asiaweek (13 November 1998)
32. “Social Clubs,” Straits Times, 20 August 2000, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
“15 Clifford House Tenants Get $1.69 M Eviction Compensation,” Straits Times, 19 October 1972, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
“Company Ordered to Give Details of Project,” Straits Times, 10 October 1972, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at September 2019 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.