Singapore River


Photograph Print by Yip Cheong Fun.

This artwork is mounted on mattboard.

Down Memory Lane in Singapore:
Singapore River

The Singapore River closely mirrors Singapore’s national life in all its stages. The history of Singapore has its beginnings in this river when Sir Stamford Raffles and some men first steered their boats into the entrance of a swampy river in January 1819. From this humble beginning, the Singapore River began a historical evolution. It first evolved from a muddy mangrove-lined water course with crocodiles lurking dangerously in search of prey, to a mooring place and a waterway for thousands of bumboats, abutting myriads of old godowns out of which came crates and bale, baskets and boxed carried on the shoulders by coolies to small craft. Then the river turned into a polluted port area and an industrial gutter in which not even the hardiest of fish could survive.

This photograph shows Boat Quay in the late fifties. It has deep historical links with the evolution of the Singapore River. Since the founding of Singapore in 1819, the Singapore River was the main artery for much of the commercial and economic activities of Singapore. The south bank of the river where most of the commerce took place is known as Boat Quay. Boat Quay was completed in 1842. It attracted Chinese settlers in big numbers and continued to grow even after the New Harbour was built in1852. In fact, it grew even more rapidly with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, when large steamships started calling at the port of Singapore.

In the seventies, pollution of the river became a serious concern. In 1977, the government mounted the Clean River Campaign. Following this in September 1983, a strange hush fell over the Singapore River, as thousands of bumboats and lighters made their final journey out to the open sea to their new anchorage at Pasir Panjang. Some people felt that though the Singapore River has regained its fishes, it has lost much of its colour and life. Whatever the pros and cons, Singapore has reasons to be proud of this historic river and this historic site where her roots and heritage can be found. The Singapore River is unique even as a geographical feature. Stretching only 4.1 kilometres from its mouth at Anderson Bridge to Kim Seng Bridge at the other end, it flows under 12 bridges and numerous historical buildings on its banks. The river is Singapore’s history in itself, whatever future changes and plans affecting it. Already, it has become a major tourist attraction.

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