by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala
Palmer Road begins at the junction of Enggor Street and Anson Road, and ends near Keppel Road.1 It was named after John Palmer of Calcutta who owned the area in the 1820s soon after Singapore was founded. Mount Palmer was located in the area before it was mostly levelled.2
John Palmer (b. 8 October 1767–d. 22 January 1836, Calcutta, India)3 was the wealthiest and most influential British merchant in British India for the first three decades of the 19th century.4 Based in Calcutta, Palmer ran an agency house called John Palmer & Company. A global commercial firm involved in banking, the opium trade, shipping and plantation agriculture, it engaged in trade with Europe, China, Southeast Asia and the United States.5
Governor-general of India, Lord Hastings, called Palmer the “Prince of Merchants”. During the Anglo-Dutch negotiations of 1820 to 1824, Palmer played a leading role in the Calcutta mercantile community’s efforts to persuade the British government to retain Singapore.6 When his firm went bankrupt in 1830, thousands of people – from Europeans to Indians — were ruined , and it triggered the worst commercial crisis in British India up to that time.7
Soon after Singapore was founded, Palmer acquired the land covering what is now Palmer Road, and the former Mount Palmer. Part of the hill on Mount Palmer overlooking the eastern entrance to Keppel Harbour became a defence facility called Fort Palmer, which by 1864 had five 56-pounder guns. Hence, the road was earlier known as Palmer Battery Road, before it was shortened to Palmer Road in 1905.8 Fort Palmer was dismantled in 1905 to make way for the second Telok Ayer Reclamation Project and the construction of Telok Ayer Basin. By the time Telok Ayer Basin was completed in 1932, most of Mount Palmer had been levelled for landfill, except for a small knoll housing the remnants of the old Parsi burial ground and the rear of the Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple.9
When Palmer ran into financial difficulties in 1827, he sold part of Mount Palmer to an unnamed Parsi, who then converted it into the Parsi Lodge Cemetery.10 To make way for new development, this burial ground was moved in 1957 to a site in Tampines behind the Paya Lebar Airport, and then again to Choa Chu Kang Cemetery in 1982.11
The present Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple at Palmer Road was built in 1844. However, according to anecdotal accounts, the history of the temple can be traced back to the pre-colonial period, when the early Hakkas who came to Singapore erected a shrine to commemorate the deity, Tua Pek Kong. As the Hakka community grew, a temple was later built on the same site. Although the temple’s date of foundation was not recorded, scholars believe that it was already in existence by the time Stamford Raffles (Sir) arrived in Singapore in 1819, which would make it the oldest existing temple in Singapore.12
The Keramat Habib Noh on Palmer Road houses the tomb of Habib Noh, a mystic who died in 1866. The keramat (grave of a Muslim holy man) was built in 1890 by Syed Mohammed bin Ahmed Alsagoff, an Arab philanthropist. The Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh, a mosque built in 1903, is also located in the vicinity, next to the Keramat Habib Noh.13
Several government departments were previously located on this road. The Immigration Department was housed in the Palmer Road government offices from around the end of 1952 to early 1953 before it moved to Empress Place in 1960.14 The Medical and Education departments also moved to the Palmer Road government offices from December 1952 onwards. When six new ministers were appointed after the Legislative Assembly on 2 April 1955, the minister for health and minister for education were based at Palmer Road. The Ministry of Health (MOH) was subsequently headquartered there until a fire broke out on 5 November 1978 soon after midnight in the empty attap huts behind MOH’s three-storey building. Four fire engines battled the blaze for an hour, which eventually destroyed the rear portion of the building’s first two floors. Later the same morning, MOH announced that it would operate temporarily out of the Institute of Dental Health at Hyderabad Road from 7 November. Then in 1979, the ministry moved to the now defunct Cuppage Centre and eight years later, shifted to its current location at the College of Medicine Building (COMB) at the Outram campus.15
At 70 Palmer Road, just behind Bestway Building, stands Palmer House, which took over two years to build from 1953 to 1956. It was originally called the Chinese YMCA building, and was later renamed Metropolitan YMCA International Centre when the association changed its name in 1974. Following an eight-fold increase in monthly temporary occupation licence fees in October 1997, the association closed this centre on Palmer Road in end 1997. Following the property’s reversion back to the Land Office, it was renamed Palmer House and rented out as an office space by a private managing agent.16
In February 2016, it was announced that Palmer House and part of the Bestway Building would be demolished to construct the Prince Edward Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station, while the remnants of Mount Palmer and a single-storey structure in the Bestway Building compound would make way for the new Shenton Way Bus Terminal. MRT construction works would skirt around the three religious structures there – the Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple, Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh and Keramat Habib Noh.17
1. Streetdirectory.com. (n.d). Palmer Road. Retrieved 2016, September 1 from Streetdirectory.com website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/palmer-road/20482_1.html
2. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 260, 286. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Lim, C. S. (2006, March 9). Palmer Road Foot Tet Soo Khek Temple archaeological research project. Preliminary site report version 1.4. Singapore: Southeast-Asian Archaeology, pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2016, September 1 from Southeast-Asian Archaeology website: http://www.seaarchaeology.com/v1/html/sg/pdfs/Palmer_Site_Report_version_1.4.pdf
3. Webster, A. (2007). The richest East India merchant: The life and business of John Palmer of Calcutta 1767—1836. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 25, 86–87, 139, 143. (Call no: RSEA 954.03092 WEB); The late John Palmer, Esqre. (1841, July 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Webster, A. (2007). The richest East India merchant: The life and business of John Palmer of Calcutta 1767–1836. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. ix, 2–3, 29–35. (Call no.: RSEA 954.03092 WEB)
5. Webster, A. (2007). The richest East India merchant: The life and business of John Palmer of Calcutta 1767–1836. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 44–64. (Call no.: RSEA 954.03092 WEB)
6. Webster, A. (2007). The richest East India merchant: The life and business of John Palmer of Calcutta 1767–1836. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, p. 93. (Call no.: RSEA 954.03092 WEB); Tarling, N. (1964). The prince of merchants and the lion city. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 37(1), 20–40, p. 20. (Call no: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
7. Webster, A. (2007). The richest East India merchant: The life and business of John Palmer of Calcutta 1767–1836. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, pp. 2–5, 35. (Call no.: RSEA 954.03092 WEB)
8. Corr, G. (1976, October 11). Spectator. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 260, 286. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
9. Tanjong Pagar: Singapore’s cradle of development. (1989). Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Citizen’s Consultative Committee, pp. 19, 57, 59, 71. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAN-[HIS]); Lim, C. S. (2006, March 9). Palmer Road Foot Tet Soo Khek Temple archaeological research project. Preliminary site report version 1.4. Singapore: Southeast-Asian Archaeology, pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2016, September 1 from Southeast-Asian Archaeology website: http://www.seaarchaeology.com/v1/html/sg/pdfs/Palmer_Site_Report_version_1.4.pdf; Telok Ayer Basin. (1932, September 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 286. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Singapore guide and street directory. (1966). Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 218. (Call no: RCLOS 959.57 SSD)
11. Parsi Zoroastrian Association of South East Asia. (n.d). Parsi burial ground. Retrieved 2016, September 1 from the PZAS website: http://pzas.org/aboutus/parsi-burial-ground/; Ng, T. Y. (2006, May 31). Grave detective. The New Paper, p. 7; Notice – Parsee Lodge Cemetery, Singapore. (1957, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. 何炳彪, & 陈波生. (主编). [He, B. B., & Chen, B. S.]. (Eds.). (2006). 《百年公德被南邦: 望海大伯公庙纪事》[The living heritage: Stories of Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple]. 新加坡: 新加坡茶阳(大埔)会馆, 客属八邑福德祠, pp. 10–14. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 299.5145095957 LIV)
13. Ceremony at Singapore’s most famous Muslim shrine. (1940, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 11; $1m facelift for mosque, shrine. (1986, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 162–163. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
14. $1m. govt. office house moving. (1952, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 4; ‘House moving’ to increase efficiency. (1960, July 23). The Singapore Free Press, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tong, Y. T., & Narayanan, S. (2015). Caring for our people: 50 years of healthcare in Singapore. Singapore: MOH Holdings for the Ministry of Health, p. 95. (Call no.: RSING 362.1095957 TON); $1m. govt. office house moving. (1952, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 4; PWD rushes work on offices for new ministers. (1955, February 23). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Lee, P. (1997, October 6). YMCA at Palmer Road to close following fee hike. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Goh, R. B. H. (2006). Christian ministry and the Asian nation: The Metropolitan YMCA in Singapore, 1946–2006. Singapore: Metropolitan YMCA, pp. 141, 180–181, 183, 187. (Call no.: RSING 267.395957 GOH); Singapore Land Authority. (n.d.). 70 Palmer Road, Palmer House, Singapore 079427. Retrieved 2016, September 1 from the Singapore Land Authority website: http://www.sla.gov.sg/SPIO/SPIO/Property/PropertyDetails.aspx?SPIONO=SPIO2013020082A&xy=29635.8838,28381.4562
17. Zaccheus, M. (2016, February 25). Parts of heritage site Palmer House to be cleared for MRT. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
The information in this article is valid as at 2003 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.