Tanjong Pagar is a district located in the downtown southern tip of central Singapore.1 The once sleepy fishing village has been transformed into a vibrant business and commercial centre, just 40 years after the founding of modern Singapore.2 Today, Tanjong Pagar has one of the world's leading and most modern container ports,3 and has been identified for development as part of the Greater Southern Waterfront project – to be initiated sometime after 2030.4
Originally called Salinter (or Salintar), Tanjong Pagar in Malay means "cape of stakes", a name that reflects its origins as a fishing village situated on a former promontory. It has been surmised that the name was inspired by the presence of kelong (offshore palisade fishing traps constructed using wooden stakes and cross pieces) set up along the coast stretching from the village of Tanjong Malang to what is now Tanjong Pagar.5
A more picturesque account of the naming of this part of the coast was inspired by a local legend. According to the Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu), the villages along the coast of Singapore used to suffer from vicious attacks from shoals of swordfish. On the advice of a particularly astute boy, the Sri Maharajah (king) built a barricade of banana stems along the coast, which successfully trapped the attacking fish by their snouts as they leapt from the waters.6
In the early 19th century, Orang Laut (sea nomads or sea gypsies) and the Chinese were among the early inhabitants of Tanjong Pagar. John Crawfurd, then second Resident of Singapore, noted the presence of an Orang Laut community during a visit to Tanjong Pagar in 1822.7
Due to the favourable soil conditions and the hilly terrain in the Tanjong Pagar area, the early settlers in the first half of the 19th century were focused on agricultural activities such as gambier, nutmeg and fruit cultivation. In the 1830s and ’40s, the Europeans and the wealthy Chinese bought large plots of land in Tanjong Pagar. Some of the plantation owners included Charles Spottiswoode, Alexander Guthrie and Tan Tock Seng. These agricultural pursuits attracted men to work on the plantations as labourers. As a result, many villages began sprouting in Tanjong Pagar. The growth of predominantly Hokkien villages were seen in the Duxton and Kampong Bahru areas.8
Development of Keppel Harbour and the port
In the second half of the 19th century, the development of what eventually became Keppel Harbour provided the major impetus for the economic growth of Tanjong Pagar. With the advent of steamships in the early 1840s, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Singapore’s trading activities flourished. The Singapore River estuary, where the early traders were settled, was too open and too small to be developed into a major port. After nearly 40 years of the founding of Singapore in 1819, there was a need for bigger port to cater to the burgeoning port activities. The natural deep harbour in Tanjong Pagar was surveyed, and wharves were built by various shipping and trading firms, which eventually saw the birth of New Harbour.9 New Harbour was renamed Keppel Harbour in 1900 in honour of Henry Keppel, who had first brought the channel into use as a harbour.10
The first dry dock, “No. 1 Dock”, was built by William Cloughton in 1859.11 He was described as a master mariner who was trading between Calcutta and China.12 In the 1860s, wharves were built by the privately owned Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. Tanjong Pagar Road was officially opened on 2 July 1892 by then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Cecil Clementi Smith.13 It became one of the main thoroughfares for the transportation of goods between the docks and godowns along the Singapore River. In 1905, the government bought over the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company and formed the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board. On 1 July 1913, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board became the Singapore Harbour Board.14 In 1964, the Port of Singapore Authority replaced the Singapore Harbour Board.15
In the last decades of the 19th century, Tanjong Pagar became increasingly urbanised – hills such as Mount Wallich and Mount Palmer were levelled, roads improving access to town were laid, and commercial and housing properties gradually took a larger share of the landscape. Rows of two and three-storey shophouses sprang up along Duxton, Tanjong Pagar and Neil roads.16 The areas around Anson, Tanjong Pagar, Maxwell, Cecil, Raffles Place, Phillip and Clifford Pier formed the planning zones of the traditional Central Business District within the Downtown Core Planning Area.17
Tanjong Pagar also played a crucial role as a major transportation node. In 1903, the Jinrikisha Station was built at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road, and served as the main depot for rickshaws – an important means of transportation supporting the commercial activities between the docks and town at the time. In 1932, the Singapore railway station18 (later known as the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station) was built on reclaimed land along Keppel Road. The railway station provided a vital land link where trains left regularly for the Malayan hinterland.19
Tanjong Pagar was one of the electoral divisions contested in the 1955 general election to elect 25 out of 32 members in the Legislative Assembly. Lee Kuan Yew of the People's Action Party won the Tanjong Pagar seat in a three-cornered fight, securing the largest number of votes for a single candidate in the election. The first PAP branch was set up in Tanjong Pagar in June 1955, and was headquartered there between 1955 and 1957. In the 1959 general election, the PAP won 43 of the 51 seats in the expanded Legislative Assembly, and Lee became the prime minister of Singapore’s first fully-elected government.20
There are plans to transform the area around Tanjong Pagar into a space three times the size of Marina Bay under the Greater Southern Waterfront project after 2030.21 The Urban Redevelopment Authority unveiled its preliminary conceptual plan under the draft Master Plan for an uninterrupted 30-kilometre stretch of waterfront promenade that connects Labrador Park to Gardens by the Bay in Marina South. It encompasses Pulau Brani, a new reservoir to be created between the offshore island and Tanjong Pagar, and new residential and commercial districts along the coastline.22
Chinese names: Tan-jiong pa-kat (Hokkien); Tan-yong pa-kat (Cantonese).23
Earlier name: Tanjong Passar, which appeared in G. D. Coleman’s 1836 “Map of the Town”. It referred to a stretch of road which led from South Bridge Road to the fishing village.24
Vernon Cornelius & Faridah Ibrahim
1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 374. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Tanjong Pagar: A Pictorial Journey (1819–1989) (Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, 1989), 23. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TAN-[HIS])
3. Brenda Yeo, Community and Change: The Tanjong Pagar Community Club Story (Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Community Club, 1997), 23. (Call no. RSING 959.57 YEO-[HIS])
4. “Master Plan: Central Area,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 8 September 2016; Jean Chia, “Developing the Business and Financial District in Marina Bay,” June 2016.
5. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 374–5.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 374.
7. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 14.
8. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 11, 18, 33.
9. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 23.
10. “‘Keppel Harbour’,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 10 February 1900, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 31.
12. Donald Davies, “Runaway Boy Built the First Dry Dock in Singapore,” Straits Times, 25 November 1956, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 333. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
14. “80 Years Ago,” Straits Times, 22 April 1994, 69 (From NewspaperSG); The Port of Authority Ordinance 1963: Date of Commencement, Sp. S 56/1963, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 1963, 105. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGLS)
15. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 23.
16. Yeo, Community and Change, 24.
17. Chia, “Developing the Business and Financial District.”
18. “Pandit Nehru in Singapore,” Straits Times, 26 May 1937, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Yeo, Community and Change, 25; S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 41. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
20. Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee, Pictorial Journey, 107.
21. “Master Plan: Greater Southern Waterfront,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 8 September 2016.
22. Syahida Othman, “The Changing Face of Tanjong Pagar,” Channel NewsAsia, (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Chia, Chia, “Developing the Business and Financial District.”
23. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 375.
24. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 374.
The information in this article is valid as of 12 September 2016 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.