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The Singapore River…. Past. Continuity. &. The Singapore River Story. Before Raffles came…. Singapore was already found by Sang Nila Utama, a Sumatra prince. It existed as a settlement near the Singapore River.

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The Singapore River…





The Singapore River Story.

Before Raffles came…

  • Singapore was already found by Sang Nila Utama, a Sumatra prince.
  • It existed as a settlement near the Singapore River.
  • The common people settled along the river’s banks and coast whereas the ruling class lived on Fort Canning Hill.
  • Pirates populated the coastal area, at the present day Keppel Harbour.
  • The Singapore Stone which blown up in 1843 to make way for military installation, could have provided us with more information.

Background Information.

  • As the Dutch occupied many areas in the Malay Archipelago, they could control the trade.
  • The British wanted a share in the Archipelago trade, but were not to trade at any Dutch-controlled port.
  • With this, the Dutch enjoyed a trade monopoly.
  • As the British’s trade with China at that time was very important and profitable, the British were afraid to lose it if the Dutch continued to occupy more areas.
  • Thus Raffles was sent to look for a British settlement.

Why Singapore?

  • Singapore was located at the Southern entrance of the Straits of
  • Melaka, this protected ships sailing from India to China.
  • Singapore’s position also made it a safe harbour, protecting ships
  • from stormy winds.
  • Furthermore, Singapore laid on the crossroads of the world’s major
  • shipping routes, making it an appropriate stopover for ships.
  • During the stopover, ships could re-export their goods to other
  • Southeast Asia countries.
  • To attract more merchant ships, Singapore was declared a free
  • Port.

When Raffles went away…

  • Major William Farquhar was left in charged as the Resident
  • and Commandant of Singapore in 1819.
  • When Raffles returned, he found that Farquhar had not
  • developed Singapore according to his orders.
  • William Farquhar was told to leave Singapore and his position.
  • On the vicinity of the river, there was now overcrowding due
  • to the result of the rapid growth of a town.
  • To prevent further overcrowding, Raffles came up with a
  • Town Plan in 1822.

The Old Singapore River.

  • Singapore River is closely tied to Singapore's history, economy and social culture.
  • The Singapore River was used as our first harbour and a source of entrepot trade that contributed to 75% of the revenue in a pre-independent Singapore.
  • Soon, Singapore River became overcrowded with warehouses and many problems arose.
  • Singapore River was also too shallow and small to accommodate the newer steamships, which needed to dock at deep seas.
  • Since then all the bustling traffic has become history after the trade was moved to Tanjong Pagar.

The trade along Singapore River was interrupted for 3 and half years by the Japanese Occupation from February 1942 to August 1945.

  • In 1965, Singapore gained independence, the skyline along Singapore River begin to evolve.
  • Conserved shophouses were converted into restaurants and pubs, while buildings of historical significance were transformed into museums and theatres.
  • Residential complexes embracing the ‘Small Office/Home office’ concept are in the pipeline, and sculptures have been strategically placed along the river promenade to reconstruct the river’s past.

Singapore River Promenade was later built by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) at a cost of S$16 million and lunched on the 29th November 1999.

  • It includes several open-air cafes and food kiosks for the public.

Clean River Project

  • In 1997, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew lamented about the sorry state of the badly polluted Singapore River in public.
  • The river clean-up project cost S$2.86 million
  • It started with the relocation of squatters, hawkers, lighters and other polluting industries along the river.
  • Mud was dredged from the banks and the bottom of the river, followed by the clearing of debris and other rubbish deposited in the river.
  • After the success of the river clean-up, a redevelopment master-plan was drawn up in an attempt to bring back the vibrancy of the river.

Present-day Singapore River

  • Singapore River has now become an attraction for tourists.
  • Today, there are plenty of places to eat all along the river, especially Boat Quay that stretches along the southwestern side where restored shops, godowns, and office buildings lie together.
  • The most outstanding type of shop in Boat Quay area are the alfresco restaurants that serve Western visitors and local business people.
  • The Singapore River also covers interesting places such as the Fullerton Building built in 1928, Bank of China, OCBC Center, Clifford Pier, Raffles Place, Asia Insurance Building, and Telok Ayer Market.


  • Once the source of life for the immigrants, the role of the Singapore River has evolved to provide recreational and residential opportunities for the public.
  • Even though many changes have taken place over the years, the early Town Plan by Raffles still stands.
  • Government buildings continue to be located at the North bank of the river while Singapore’s commercial sector continues to exist along the South bank.
  • The tides of time have brought with them changes and continuity to Singapore River’s history and heritage, allowing the people of present times to appreciate the past and embrace the future.