The Singapore River: A Social History, 1819–2002

Author:

For most of its modern history, to speak of Singapore was to speak of the Singapore River, physical centre of the city and site of the greater part of the colony’s entrepot trade. The river has been transformed over the last 25 years from a polluted industrial sewer choked with traffic to a clean, placid waterway that forms the centrepiece of Singapore’s financial, civic and entertainment districts. This transformation symbolises the independent city-state’s efforts to remake itself for the 21st century.

The author sets out the history of this waterway, and of the people who made it their home and workplace. He describes the tidal swamp in the early days of the British settlement, where merchants ignored Raffles’ much vaunted city plan and built their businesses on the limited high ground along the marshy riverbanks. Later, even as long distance shipping moved to new port facilities elsewhere on the island, the river remained the base for a large regional trade. Despite its pollution, the river was home to a vital community of coolies and tally clerks, and the tumultuous urban life that swirled around them.

Today the waterfront community has been relocated. The shophouses and warehouses along the river are now chic cafes and upmarket restaurants.

Blending social history, geography, economic history and urban studies, this book will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand Singapore’s many transformations during the past two centuries.

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Description

For most of its modern history, to speak of Singapore was to speak of the Singapore River, physical centre of the city and site of the greater part of the colony’s entrepot trade. The river has been transformed over the last 25 years from a polluted industrial sewer choked with traffic to a clean, placid waterway that forms the centrepiece of Singapore’s financial, civic and entertainment districts. This transformation symbolises the independent city-state’s efforts to remake itself for the 21st century.

The author sets out the history of this waterway, and of the people who made it their home and workplace. He describes the tidal swamp in the early days of the British settlement, where merchants ignored Raffles’ much vaunted city plan and built their businesses on the limited high ground along the marshy riverbanks. Later, even as long distance shipping moved to new port facilities elsewhere on the island, the river remained the base for a large regional trade. Despite its pollution, the river was home to a vital community of coolies and tally clerks, and the tumultuous urban life that swirled around them.

Today the waterfront community has been relocated. The shophouses and warehouses along the river are now chic cafes and upmarket restaurants.

Blending social history, geography, economic history and urban studies, this book will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand Singapore’s many transformations during the past two centuries.

 

Publisher: NUS Press

Paperback

2003

ISBN: 9789971692773