Located at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road, the Jinrikisha (also spelt as “Jinricksha”) Station was built in 1903 and opened the following year, serving as the main depot for rickshaws.1 Following the 1947 ban on rickshaws in Singapore, the building was used for several other purposes, such as a family-planning clinic, before it was gazetted in 1987 as part of the Tanjong Pagar conservation area.2 The historical landmark was bought over for commercial redevelopment by investment company L&B Holdings in 1989, and subsequently sold to Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan in 2007.3
The rickshaw, also known as jinrikisha (meaning “man-powered carriage” in Japanese), is a small, lightweight cart with large wheels that is pulled by a single man. Invented in Japan in 1869, the first rickshaws were imported into Singapore from Shanghai in 1880, and they quickly replaced horse-drawn carriages known as gharries as the primary mode of transportation for the masses due to their affordability.4 The popularity of rickshaws led to a rapid increase in the number of rickshaws in Singapore in the early years, from only 2,000 in 1883 to around 13,000 in 1893.5
In 1888, the Municipal Commission established a Jinrikisha Department to register and regularly inspect the rickshaws on the streets.6 Initially, the department rented houses at Beach Road, South Bridge Road and Fort Canning to carry out its work. However, the venues soon became inadequate to deal with the booming rickshaw industry, and it became necessary to erect a new building to house the department headquarters. In 1899, the Middle Road Station, a multistorey building, was constructed at the junction of Middle Road and Prinsep Street at a cost of 34,000 Straits dollars. However, the facilities at the new headquarters also could not handle the continued expansion of the rickshaw population. By 1902, the number of rickshaws had almost doubled since 1893, reaching a figure of 22,629. Hence there was a need for a new building to be constructed so as to ease the heavy load on the Middle Road Station.7
Construction of the station
On 7 July 1898, the Municipal Commission decided to purchase a plot of land for the construction of a new building known as the Jinrikisha Station. The land was situated at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road, and was purchased from Dato Bintara Dalam of Johor at the price of one Straits dollar per foot.8
The Jinrikisha Station was designed by municipal engineer Samuel Tomlinson and municipal architect David McLeod Craik. Construction began in 1903, and the station opened in the following year.9 A member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Craik’s influence on the design of the station was said to be more scholarly in nature.10 The station was designed in the Edwardian style with exposed brickwork contrasting with the white plaster mouldings on its facade. The crest of the Municipal Council – a lion standing on an island with a palm tree – was placed at the front of the building.11 Due to the shape of the building site, the station was designed with a unique “V”-shaped structure, featuring a curved corner facade that was topped with a square tower with an octagonal cupola.12
Over the years, the Jinrikisha Station served as a centre for the registration of new rickshaws and the inspection of the serviceability of those plying the streets.13 In 1923, the station was re-roofed at an estimated cost of 117,000 Straits dollars.14 It continued to serve as a place for the registration and inspection of rickshaws right up to World War II. The Jinrikisha Station witnessed many strikes over issues such as the registration and regulation of jinrikisha pullers, with major strikes occurring in 1919, 1920 and 1938.15
Demise and revamp
Following the end of the war in 1945, rickshaw numbers started to decline with the increasing use of trishaws. Furthermore, there were increasing criticisms from various segments of society that saw rickshaws as a mode of transportation that insulted human dignity and infringed upon human rights.16 As a result, the colonial government enacted the ban on rickshaws in 1947, and many rickshaw pullers became trishaw riders instead.17 Thus, the Jinrikisha Station no longer remained relevant in its original function during the postwar era. It was subsequently used as a family-planning clinic as well as a maternal and childcare centre.18
In 1987, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) marked out Jinrikisha Station as part of the Tanjong Pagar conservation area that would be made available for sale under certain conditions. One of these conditions included restoring important features of the building within a year of its successful tender.19 The Tanjong Pagar conservation area turned out to be one of the most hotly contested public tenders at the time, as the area was expected to become a thriving tourist hotspot. L&B Holdings, an investment company, eventually won the tender, paying nearly S$2 million for the Jinrikisha Station building in 1989.20 The company redeveloped the building into a shopping and recreation centre with a seafood restaurant on the ground floor, as well as shops, offices and a nightclub on the second floor.21
In December 2007, Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan became the new owner of the Jinrikisha Station building after purchasing it for the price of S$11 million. It was announced that Chan planned to revamp the building by adding a piano bar, foot reflexology business or offices.22
As a conserved building with architectural heritage, the Jinrikisha Station also serves as a reminder to Singaporeans of the sacrifices made by early immigrants such as the rickshaw pullers. These men toiled day and night under harsh conditions to provide ordinary folk with an affordable means of public transport, while they eked out a barely sustainable living themselves.23
Koh Qi Rui Vincent
1. Ilene Aleshire, “Tg Pagar Plans Unveiled,” Straits Times, 6 February 1987, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Archives & Oral History Department, Singapore, The Land Transport of Singapore: From Early Times to the Present (Singapore: Education Publications Bureau for Archives and Oral History Department, 1984), 8. (Call no. RSING 779.9388095957 LAN); Municipality, Singapore, Administration Report of the Singapore Municipality for the Year 1904 (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1905), 3. (Call no. RRARE 352.05951 SIN; microfilm NL3406)
2. “He Still Has His Rickshaw,” Straits Times, 2 May 1947, 5; Aleshire, “Tg Pagar Plans Unveiled”; Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 191. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. “Keen Interest in Tanjong Pagar Tenders,” Straits Times, 13 April 1989, 25; Joyce Teo, “Jackie Chan Pays $11M for Jinriksha Station at 1 Neil Road,” Straits Times, 12 December 2007, 56. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S Samuel, 2010), 137. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 80 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); James Francis Warren, Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore, 1880–1940 (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003), 14–15, 51. (Call no. RSING 388.341 WAR)
5. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 138.
6. Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 80; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 137.
7. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 136–8.
8. “Municipal Commission,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 July 1898, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 267 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 22. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
10. Jon Lim, “Early Influences,” Straits Times, 7 August 1991, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Chinatown Historic District,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2013.
12. Agnes Wee, “Former Rickshaw Station at Tanjong Pagar Up for Sale,” Straits Times, 18 November 1988, 16 (From NewspaperSG); Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 462. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
13. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 136–8.
14. “Municipal Matters,” Straits Times, 21 April 1923, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 138.
16. Jason Lim, ‘Sor Leng Ngia’: The Rise and Demise of the Trishaw Industry in Singapore, 1945–1983 (Perth: Murdoch University, 1995), 11 (Call no. RSING 388.095957 LIM); Wu Yanhong 吴彦鸿, Mingsheng guji名胜古迹 [Places of interest and national monuments in Singapore] ([Singapore]: Hongyan Studio, 2007), 66. (Call no. Chinese RSING 959.57 WYH-[HIS])
17. Lim, ‘Sor Leng Ngia’, 11–18.
18. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 191; Wee, “Former Rickshaw Station.”
19. Aleshire, “Tg Pagar Plans Unveiled”; Wee, “Former Rickshaw Station.”
20. “Keen Interest in Tanjong Pagar Tenders.”
21. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 191.
22. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 22; Teo, “Jackie Chan Pays $11M.” 23. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 138.
The information in this article is valid as of 10 November 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.