Centenary Day

Centenary Day was celebrated on 6 February 1919 to commemorate 100 years since Singapore’s founding by Stamford Raffles.1 On 6 February 1819, Raffles signed the treaty that allowed the British East India Company to set up a trading post in Singapore.2 The Centenary Day saw celebrations held by each major ethnic group, such as the Arab, Tamil, Muslim, Eurasian and Jewish communities.3 A special Centenary Day celebration committee was set up, headed by W. Peel, president of the Municipal Commissioners.4

In 1918, a committee was formed to develop a scheme to commemorate the centenary of Singapore’s founding. The 15-member Centenary Memorial Committee was headed by W. George Maxwell and included representatives from various ethnic groups, such as Lim Boon Keng, Manasseh Meyer, Imam Mohd Yusoff bin Mohd. Said, N. V. Samy, and Walter Makepeace. The committee proposed that the most suitable memorial would be to establish the educational foundation of Singapore, in line with Raffles’s vision of establishing a Malay college. This meant, firstly, establishing technical and higher-grade schools; secondly, setting up science and arts university colleges; and ultimately a full-fledged university that would confer science and arts degrees. The Centenary Memorial was thus set up as a fund for the establishment of a local university.5 The funds were used for the building of Raffles College, which was officially opened in 1929.6

The Centenary Memorial Committee proposed the formation of a Centenary Day Committee to look into celebrations on the event day. The committee of 25 was chaired by W. Peel, president of the Municipal Commissioners, and included members of the Centenary Memorial Committee.7

Centenary Day celebrations
Official celebrations began with the arrival of Governor Arthur Young at Victoria Memorial Hall at 7.30 am. Crowds from not only Singapore but also different parts of Malaya had already gathered at the site. After addressing the crowds, Young unveiled a commemoration tablet on the plinth of the newly relocated statue of Raffles.8 The statue had been moved from the Esplanade to the Victoria Memorial Hall for this occasion.9 This was followed by the reading of addresses and congratulatory messages from the various ethnic and business communities in Singapore and abroad, and a choral service of thanksgiving at St Andrew’s Cathedral.10

After the unveiling ceremony, sea sports held at the Singapore harbour commenced. Spectators thronged to Johnston’s Pier to catch a view of the boat races, which featured vessels bedecked with flags and decorations.11 A procession of over 8,000 schoolchildren carrying flags and banners walked along the main roads towards the Serangoon Road Race Course where the festivities continued. The procession was grouped by schools, and the boys were headed by Raffles Institution which began its march from Cavenagh Road and Bukit Timah Road. The girls were led by Raffles Girls’ School, and they started at Mackenzie Road.12 The festivities continued until the evening. Each ethnic group had entertainment or charity efforts conducted that same day or on subsequent days. Members of other ethnic groups also participated in these celebrations.13 Festivities were also held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, where 200 members of the Singapore community living in Selangor gathered at the Masonic Hall for a function.14

Arab community
The Arab community celebrations, headed by Syed Omar Alsagoff, were held at the racecourse on 6 February. There was Egyptian music and an Arabic play drew in the crowds. All guests received a special token.15

Tamil community
In the afternoon of 6 February, the Tamil community fed at least 2,000 of their poor at the pandal (a tented area) at Jalan Tamba off Serangoon Road. The same pandal was used for singing and dancing which continued until past midnight.16

Muslim community
Kadir Sultan headed the celebrations of the Malay community. It began with the feeding of 10,000 people on the morning of 6 February at the Kampong Glam Malay School by the Indian Muslim Society. Malay clubs were also encouraged to set up decorated stalls at the racecourse, showcasing aspects of Malay Muslim culture and history, with the best three stalls receiving prizes. The first prize was a ticket to a play that re-enacted the signing of the 1819 Singapore Treaty.17

The Eurasian Literary Association met for a talk on the history of Singapore and the Eurasian community on 8 February.18 The Jews gave a special treat to Jewish children on Centenary Day.19


Bonny Muliani Tan

1. “Centenary of Singapore,” Straits Times, 7 February 1919, 9. (From NewspaperSG); Singapore Centenary: A Souvenir Volume (Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, 1919), 1. (Call no. RRARE 959.51; microfilm NL7610)
2. Constance Mary Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 29. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
3. Singapore Centenary, 64–68; “Our Centenary Day: Arab and Tamil Communities’ Celebration,” Straits Times, 8 February 1919, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Centenary of Singapore”; Singapore Centenary, 63; “The Centenary,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 12 December 1918, 375. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Singapore Centenary, 61–62; “Centenary of Singapore: Report on Commemoration Scheme, Steps Towards a University,” Straits Times, 16 October 1918, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Building Raffles College,” Straits Times, 17 January 1928, 10; “Raffles College Opened,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 23 July 1929, 9; “Raffles College Fund,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 23 December 1921, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Singapore Centenary, 62–63; “Centenary,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 12 December 1918, 375. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Singapore Centenary, 42–43, 46; “The Translation of Raffles,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 17 December 1918, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Singapore Centenary,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 February 1919, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Singapore Centenary, 42–59, 61; Singapore Centenary”; “Centenary of Singapore.”
11. “Centenary of Singapore”; “The Sea Sports,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 February 1919, 10. (From NewspaperSG) 12. “Fun at the Racecourse,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 February 1919, 10; “Centenary of Singapore.”
13. “Centenary of Singapore”; “Fun at the Racecourse,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 7 February 1919, 10 (From NewspaperSG); 
Our Centenary Day”; “Singapore’s Cntenary: Celebrated by the Eurasian Literary Association,” Straits Times, 14 February 1919, 2; “Centenary Celebrations Fund,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 16 April 1919, 12. (From NewspaperSG); Singapore Centenary, 64–68.
14. Singapore Centenary, 68–69; Our Centenary Day.”
15. Singapore Centenary, 64–66; Our Centenary Day.”
16. Singapore Centenary, 66; Our Centenary Day.”
17. Singapore Centenary, 67–68.
18. “Celebrated by the Eurasian Literary Association”; “Eurasian Literary Association: Centenary Celebration,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 13 February 1919, 99. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Our Centenary Day.”

Further resource
Singapore Centenary Supplement,” Straits Times, 7 February 1919, 35(From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.

National celebrations
Special events--Singapore