Dalhousie Pier

Dalhousie Pier, also known as Dalhousie Ghaut, was a 19th-century jetty located near the mouth of the Singapore River, in the vicinity of the former Empress Place Building (now Asian Civilisations Museum). The pier was named after the Marquis of Dalhousie, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, who was then the governor-general of India. In addition to the pier, there was also a monument named after him, the Dalhousie Obelisk, which was erected near the pier where he landed, to commemorate his visit to Singapore in February 1850.1

A new jetty was built in 1849 at the foot of High Street, in the vicinity of key government offices. On 17 February 1850, then Governor-General of British India James Andrew Broun-Ramsay (1848–1856), together with a large party, disembarked at the jetty for their visit to Singapore.2 At the time of Dalhousie’s visit, Singapore, as part of the Straits Settlements, was administered as a residency under the Bengal Presidency. The governor-general undertook the three-day visit as part of his sea voyage to recover from an illness. During his time in Singapore, he visited public buildings and took an interest in the town’s affairs.3

Broun-Ramsay’s three-day trip was welcomed by the mercantile community, who had expected that the visit would lead to positive commercial and political change in Singapore. As such, a committee was formed soon after his departure, to consider how best to commemorate his trip. The committee comprised the society’s elite of the time: Ang Choon Seng, H. C. Caldwell, Joaquim d’Almeida, M. F. Davidson, J. Guthrie, G. G. Nicol, Seah Eu Chin and Tan Kim Seng. Besides recommending that a monument be built, they also proposed that the new jetty be named Dalhousie Ghaut. Both proposals were endorsed by then Governor of the Straits Settlements W. J. Butterworth in May 1850, and thus he is often credited with establishing the pier.4

In 1854, plans were made to raise the roadway of the Dalhousie Ghaut.5 The following year, ornamental lamps were imported from London to light the pier at night. The lamps were said to have “fluted columns, turn over leaves, quatre pied feet, and square bases”. The glazed lanterns were made of copper and plate glass, while the oil burners featured copper silvered reflectors as well as parabolical reflectors for the front. The same lamps were also placed at the nearby Johnston’s Pier.6

The Dalhousie Ghaut, because of its location near government buildings, was a key landing place for visiting dignitaries such as governors, royalty and military troops.7 By 1877, the channel from the Dalhousie Obelisk to the Fort Canning flagstaff had been gazetted to serve anchorage only for war vessels.8 As a result, the obelisk, which was erected near the pier, became a harbour marker for these war vessels.9

The pier was also being actively used by the ordinary traveller in the mid-1870s, particularly those traversing from the mouth of the Singapore River through to the town.10 Even as early as the 1870s, several accidents and drownings had occurred because of the poor state of the pier and its surrounding sea wall. The steps to the pier were slippery, with the danger worsened at night when vision was impaired. Appeals were made to have police officers stationed at the pier in the evenings, particularly to aid returning seamen after a day out in town and who tended to be inebriated and might thus make a dangerous misstep at the pier.11

Temporary repairs were made only in March 1876 when the municipal council had the wooden section of Dalhousie Pier removed. As a result, Johnston’s Pier, which had a granite landing, was deemed the better, more “fashionable landing place”.12 By 1878, the municipal council had called for the Dalhousie Pier to be closed down because it was unsafe.13

By the late 1880s, Johnston’s Pier had become the preferred landing place for dignitaries.14 Although photographs show that Dalhousie Pier was still around as late as the 1890s, its concrete bollards and landing pier had been replaced by wooden railings and platform.15 Reports from the late 19th century also show that the pier was in a poor state: The wooden landing steps had almost broken down and no hand rail was built to aid disembarking passengers.16

Dalhousie Canal
The canal from Ellenborough Market to Sepoy Lines was named the Dalhousie Canal in 1858.17 It was filled up around 1863 and the reclaimed land sold to Messrs d’Almeida in 1864.18 In 1870, businessman Seah Eu Chin received government approval to build 50 homes on this site between New Bridge Road and New Market Road.19


Bonny Tan

1. W. J. Butterworth, “Dalhousie Testimonial,” Straits Times, 4 June 1850, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 65. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
2. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore…, vol. 2 ((Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1902), 507 (From BookSG); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One hundred Years of Singapore…, vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1921), 336. (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 MAK-[RFL])
3. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 527, 529. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
4. Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 66 (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS]); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore…, 531–2; “Colony Cavalcade,” Straits Times, 22 March 1936, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Butterworth, “Dalhousie Testimonial.”
5. “Singapore Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 28 February 1854, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Singapore Municipal Committee,” Straits Times, 6 November 1855, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Untitled,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 21 December 1869, 6; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 24 January 1874, 3; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 27 March 1855, 4; “The Grand Duke of Alexis,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 7 September 1872, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “The Government Gazette,” Straits Times, 30 June 1877, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Monuments of Singapore,” Straits Times, 13 October 1902, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Singapore Monuments,” Straits Times, 31 January 1988, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Monday, 6th March,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 15 March 1871, 6; “Tuesday 8th June,” Straits Times, 12 June 1875, 4; “Fortnight’s Summary,” Straits Times, 12 June 1875, 1; “Dalhousie Pier,” Straits Times, 12 June 1875, 1; “High Street Robbery,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 10 April 1873, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Municipal Commissioners,” Straits Times, 25 March 1876, 2; “Wednesday, 8th November, 1876,” Straits Observer (Singapore), 8 November 1876, 2; “From the Daily Times, 25th June,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 29 June 1878, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “From the Daily Times, 25th June,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 29 June 1878, 3; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 30 November 1878, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 31 March 1890, 2; “A Standing Disgrace,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 29 May 1889, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Dalhousie Monument with Scaffolding: General View, 1893, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Library Board; Dalhousie Monument in the 1890s: General View, 1890, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Library Board.  
16. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 28 July 1899, 2; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 5 August 1899, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore…, 667; “Colony Cavalcade.”
18. “Municipal Council,” Straits Times, 31 October 1863, 2; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 16 January 1864, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Municipal Council,” Straits Times, 4 June 1870, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
H. T. Sutton, “The Dalhousie Obelisk,” Straits Times, 2 May 1959, 11. (From NewspaperSG)

Ismail Kassim, “Interesting Tale of the Obelisk,” New Nation, 23 November 1974, 15. (From NewspaperSG)

Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 15, 93. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])

This Canal Which Ran from the Singapore River Near Ellenborough Market towards Pearl’s Hill Was Named after Dalhousie, the Indian Governor-General, 1837, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005825 – 007)

 Untitled,” Straits Times, 5 February 1850, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 28 September 2015 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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