From Emporium to Singapore City: Mapping the Journey
By Michelle Tay, Assistant Archivist
Maps play a privileged role in documenting the progress and transition of the Singapore landscape at different stages in time. Much like witnesses of history, maps preserve, visually, memories of landmarks, landscapes and interesting details of places that once stood in Singapore. Thus, maps take centre stage in this unique exhibition jointly organised by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), revisiting 135 years of Singapore's history (1819-1954) through this seldom-displayed medium. To provide a fuller context of their historical significance, we have further added on other forms of records - oral history interviews, Straits Settlements manuscripts, building plans, aerial photographs, postcards and still photographs. Together, these iconic maps and accompanying records tell compelling stories of different facets of Singapore's transformation from an unknown fishing village to a bustling British Emporium of the Far East and then achieving "City" status in 1951, emerging from the turmoil of the Japanese Occupation.
Looking back, it was during the colonial era that land survey and island mapping was introduced to Singapore. In fact, the first survey of Singapore was of the Singapore Harbour, soon after Stamford Raffles stepped foot on our shores in 1819. A year following the founding of Singapore, the British set up the Survey Department and brought along with it British influence and practices in the survey and production of maps. Topographic mapping introduced in the late 19th century constituted another important milestone of Singapore cartography and it essentially and visibly documented the land transformation through a much more detailed and accurate capturing processes.
Right up to 22 September 1951 when Singapore officially obtained the status of a City, the face of Singapore was a far cry from its early days as a fishing village. Hills were levelled to fill marshes and swamps, while the growing population spread itself outwards from the town centre, bringing about the development of the rest of Singapore. Over the years, while new buildings and key structures such as the Causeway and the railway were built, others such as the Japanese shrines - Syonan Ginja and Chureito, and the aerodrome in Kallang, did not stand the test of time. Between the fine grids and scales of the maps, intricate lines and symbols depict these changing landscapes and form part of the stories that each map conveys.
Man created maps in order to have a good understanding of the environment. It is equally important to know that maps also let us look back, appreciate and study the work and efforts of our predecessors. Every map has a story to tell, and these maps tell the story of Singapore, from one unique perspective, in a time when mapping in Singapore was a British tradition. Indeed, the narrative qualities of these maps would have been hidden or lost without proper care and preservation of the medium itself. Incidentally, this exhibition was a chance to demonstrate NAS' role and expertise in conserving and preserving historically significant archival records of various mediums and format, including maps and survey plans. Many of these paper records have been treated at NAS' Archives Conservation Lab to strengthen their physical properties for handling and to retard their physical deterioration. They are then stored on flatbed shelves in controlled repository conditions, where temperature and relative humidity are monitored and kept constant at optimum levels to enhance the records' shelf life.
Highlights of the ExhibitionThe following maps from this exhibition were chosen to reflect upon certain milestones in Singapore's history as well as in mapping techniques.
1819 Plan of Singapore Harbour
A map of many cartographic firsts - the first large-scale map of Singapore; the first map to show Malay villages and settlements on the island; the first map reflecting "Singapore" as it is spelled today. This map shows the harbour and adjacent coast of the Singapore Island, including a few offshore islands, such as the St. John's Island, at the time of Stamford Raffles' first landing on Singapore. Captain Daniel Ross, the hydrographer of the East India Company (EIC) who accompanied Raffles and William Farquhar to Singapore, prepared the map while Raffles was negotiating with the Temenggong to establish a trading post. In a letter he wrote to Singapore's First Resident, Maj. William Farquhar, dated 25 June 1819, Raffles outlined his plans for the development of Singapore town along the Singapore River, giving priority to improving port facilities for ships to dock and unload, and allocating land for the various communities of settlers to form the European, Chinese and Malay Towns.1
1846 Thomson Survey Plan & Map
Produced by the first Government Surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, to establish boundaries of land lots, this plan shows the demarcation and development of the town and the land use of its immediate adjoining districts. The map reflects the earliest spellings of district names such as Gaylang, Pyah Laebar, Toah Pyoh Chul Kow, Toah Pyoh Lye and Tulloh Blangan. Buildings such as Fort Fullerton, Court House and the Government House atop Government Hill (now Fort Canning) were already in existence, while plantations of gambier, pepper, nutmegs, mace, sugar, coconuts and cloves were located in districts away from the town. Evident too were some of the earliest land reclamation projects at Boat Quay, Battery Road and Circular Road, where swampland was filled in 1822 with earth from a low hill near the mouth of the Singapore River. The Telok Ayer Market (now Lau Pa Sat) located at the junction of Market Street and Robinson Road is one of the oldest surviving markets in Singapore, first constructed in wood in 1822 and extending out on piles over Telok Ayer Bay. It was rebuilt in 1834 in a brick octagonal shape with a tiled roof, as designed by G.D. Coleman, and transformed again in 1894 to having a cast iron frame following Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie's design, which we still see today.
1898 Map of Singapore Island and its Dependencies
Do you know that Tampines, Tuas, Sembawang, Punggol, Jurong and other districts in Singapore had already been named more than a century ago? Possibly the last Singapore map published in the 19th century, this map reveals how the interior of Singapore Island had already been fully mapped and divided into municipal districts. This map is unusually detailed in locating landmarks in and around Singapore's central district, such as People's Park, Government House, Raffles Institution, Raffles Hotel, Hotel de l'Europe, Botanical Gardens, Race Course and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, as well as tracts of protected forest reserves from Singapore's first forest conservancy efforts.
This highly detailed map reflected the re-zoning of police jurisdictions under the Fairburn Building Scheme in the late 1930s. There were seven police headquarters stations and 32 divisional stations. Among them, the Old Hill Street Police Station built in 1934 was used by the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police) to hold and interrogate suspects during the Japanese Occupation. It now houses the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) and statutory boards under its charge. Interestingly, traces of blue point markings and red circular markings can be seen around the southern parts of Singapore, probably made by the British as strategic points of defence against a possible Japanese invasion. An epic battle was fought by the Malay Regiment on 13-14 February 1942 within the circumference of one of the red lines in defence of the Pasir Panjang Ridge. The story of their last significant battle atop Bukit Chandu is retold today at NAS' WWII Interpretative Centre - "Reflections at Bukit Chandu", within an old colonial bungalow that witnessed the stout and relentless defence put up by the Malay Regiment.
Telling signs of changes in the leadership of Singapore during the Japanese Occupation include the adoption of the Japanese calendar system and changes in naming conventions. Singapore was named "Syonan", famous cinemas, government buildings and hospitals were renamed in Japanese and new structures such as the Syonan Ginja (Shinto shrine) were added by the Japanese. The Japanese also added a concrete runway (yet to be captured on the map) across the circular grass landing field at Kallang Airport, which extended beyond Grove Road, probably with the use of POW labour. The map also shows large tracts of Chinese-owned rubber plantations which were eventually taken over by the Japanese and converted to growing food crops. In particular, Lee Rubber Company along Kallang Road was declared "enemy property" and taken over by Japanese because of the family's active contribution to the China Relief fund during the Sino-Japanese war in the late 1930s.
Published by the Survey Department of the Federation of Malaya, the title of this map is particularly significant as it acknowledges the "City" status of Singapore conferred by King George VI on 22 September 1951.2 The early 1950s was a milestone in the mapping history of Singapore as it saw the application in Singapore of photogrammetrical mapping (using aerial photographs), the technique used to produce this map. The method allowed rich details to be captured on a scale of ten inches to a mile and this map was used to produce street directories in subsequent years. Look out for now-vanished sago processing factories along the Singapore River, a long-established trade which turned raw sago pitch into sago flour and pearl for export to countries such as Great Britain, China and India. The map also captured a significant development in public housing in Queenstown, Singapore's first satellite town built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) after World War II. It was a self-contained suburb with full amenities such as markets, shops, schools, clinics, playgrounds and amusement centres. Compare between the layout of Queenstown estate and the first pre-war low-rise housing estate - Tiong Bahru. During the war, residents at Tiong Bahru benefited from the close proximity of cluster dwelling, as neighbours pooled resources, exchanged recipes and looked out for one another.3 4
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