Today, we were planning to go to the splendid Jurong Bird Park but we found the it is not open until Thursday, Instead, we visited the National Singapore Museum and took a walk around the old civic area of Colonial Singapore.
The modern history of Singapore began in 1819 when Englishman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles established a British port on the island. Under British colonial rule, it grew in importance as a trade centre, rapidly becoming a major port city. He was determined that British should replace the Dutch as the dominant power in the Malay Archipelago, since the trade route between China and British India, which had become vitally important with the institution of the opium trade with China, passed through the archipelago. Raffles arrived in Singapore on 29 January 1819 and soon recognised the island as a natural choice for the new port. It lay at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, near the Straits of Malacca, and possessed a natural deep harbour, fresh water supplies, and timber for repairing ships.
Our history discovery tour at the museum started in a room displaying various periods In Singapore’s history. The first showed the pre-WW2 years when life was quite grand (for the British). The country was caught up in the same ‘Flapper era as were most western countries with people going to balls, dinners and dances in striking fashions of the day. That was all good if you were a colonial. Local people, especially dissenters, were jailed under harsh conditions or were forced to work hard under their colonial rulers.
You certainly would not have wanted to be a coolie in those days. The word ‘coolie’ is derived from the Chinese word ‘kuli’, which means ‘hard labour’. The coolies were mainly impoverished Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore in the latter half of the 19th century, seeking their fortune. They were usually employed as construction workers, port workers and miners. Many ended up as Rickshaw drivers, earning just a few cents per day.
In 1942, the Japanese invaded Indochina and then the Malayan Peninsula. Local people suffered under Japanese rule and thousands of Australians and British military personnel were imprisoned in Changi Jail. The jail was originally a civilian prison. In this photo the men looked quite happy as prisoners of war but sometime after it was taken, many of these men were transferred to northern Malaya and Burma to work in horrific conditions as slave labour on projects such as building a railway line between Burma and Thailand.
You can find a comprehensive history of Singapore in thsi link.
After WW2, Singapore began to flourish, separated from Malay,a and then became one of the world’s great financial cities. Some remnants of the colonial era remain with pockets of historical buildings and colonial architecture.
Our visit to the museum conclude with a visit to the Glass Rotunda and a view of the ‘Story of the Forest’ exhibition. The Glass Rotunda is a modern architectural feature within the museum’s 19th-century neo-Palladian rotunda, dating back to the institution’s opening in 1887. A circular walkway descends from the top level and has some creative artistry projected on the wall that shows animated wildlife of the Malay Peninsula in the 19th century up close.
There are a good number of old colonial buildings nearby. These include the Art Gallery that incorporates a part of the old Supreme Court.
We walked along the length of the Padang (Malay for ‘open field’) towards Raffles Hotel. The Padang is the playing field of he Singapore Cricket Club and has a backdrop of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, City Hall, the Supreme Court Building, the National Gallery Singapore and the Central Business District. It would be one of the world’s more picturesque sports grounds.
One of the ‘must-do things in Singapore is go to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. It is widely regarded as Singapore’s national drink. It was first created in 1915 by Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Primarily a gin-based cocktail, the Singapore Sling also contains pineapple juice, lime juice, curaçao and Bénédictine. Its pretty pink colour comes from its grenadine and cherry liqueur. Bartender Ngiam deliberately chose to give the cocktail this rosy colour.
Raffles Hoel is just a few hundred metres from the hotel in which we are staying. It started as a privately owned beach house built in the early 1830s. It was once situated on the coast, but with land reclamation, the sea is now a few kilometres away. It is named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. The hotel was built by the Armenian Sarkies Brothers who were responsible for other luxury hotels in the region during the colonial era. Raffles Hotel Singapore opened in 1887 with its layout continuing to evolve, with hotel wings, suites and other facilities added over the years.
It now occupies an entire city block. We had quite bit of difficulty finding the main lobby and we wandered around the vicinity of the hotel for over 20 minutes trying to find the famous ‘Long Bar’ where we could enjoy one of their famous cocktails.
In the end, and with a some help from people along the way, we found where to go and joined a short queue for admission to the bar. I was so thirsty that I quickly downed a pint of Tiger beer before I was ready to sit back and enjoy my cocktail. When we left, my wallet ws a good few dollars lighter!.
The Long Bar is famous for serving peanuts with the drinks. They clearly don’t come from Kingaroy as they were tiny. The shells are just dropped in to the floor, making another source of employment for cleaners.
It rained this morning as we were having breakfast but fortunately the weather cleared and the rest of he day was dry giving us another rain-free day on which to do more exploring.
2 thoughts on “Exploring Some of Colonial Singapore”
Thanks Bruce, yet another charming and educative epistle. Singapore really is a great place. And the Singapore Sling is a must have, paricularly after a pint of Tiger beer (an excellent beer). I admire the way you keep on keeping on and the ground you cover. Wonderful Photos as well.
Thanks Bruce. I enjoyed reading about Singapore and its history, a very neat and attractive place – even the sky scrapers seemed more aesthetically appealing than Melbourne’s.
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