Lost Islands Of The Singapore River – Part 1

When I was sorting out my stamp album, I came across this “Old Maps Of Singapore” collection;

And among these 4 stamps, I’m most interested in the 60cents Singapore River area stamp;

You can see the red arrow pointing at the darkened triangle “island”. Is that really an island? Even when I used a magnifying glass, I really can’t tell.

The map in this stamp was reproduced from the 1862 Jules Michael Moniot map as shown below;

Credit : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS

You can see the same darkened triangle island on that map too. So are there other islands along the Singapore River too? The river had changed over it’s shape, length and appearance over time. Let us take a look at some very old maps of the Singapore River.

1819 :

Credit : Belly of the Carp by Roger Vaughan Jenkins

This is probably the earliest map of the Singapore River I’ve come across. This part of the Singapore River is known as the “Belly of the Carp” as it probably looks like it. This is a very simple map but as we know, early maps are not so accurate due to lack of technology.

Below is another 1819 map from the book “The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002″ by Stephen Dobbs, Singapore University Press;

Credit : The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002, Singapore University Press, NUS Publishing

The above map shows a lightly shaded part known as “Kuala Bank” (River Mouth Bank) at the mouth of the Singapore River.

1822 :

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

The above is the town map which shows an “island” at the mouth of the Singapore River. This is represented by the dotted lines at the previous “Belly of the Carp” location. This map is probably from the Raffles Town Map.

1825 :

The above map doesn’t show any “islands” at all. I don’t remember where I got this map from, sorry if I left out the credit for this.

1828 :

Credit : Singapore : A Pictorial History 1819 to 2000 by Gretchen Liu

This is probably the well know Raffles Town Plan map by Lt. Philip Jackson. From this plan, you can see those dotted lines showing like an “island” at the mouth of the Singapore River.

So what is the dotted line “island” shown on some old maps (but not all)? Is that really an island? Why is it missing from the river now?

I checked with a map enthusiast Mok Ly Yng and he told me it is not an island but a sandbar. What’s a sandbar? I didn’t learn that in my Geography lesson or I’ve forgotten about it haha. Thanks to Ly Yng, he explained that to me in his email clearly;

Island’ no. 1 is actually a sand bar, this is indicated by the use of dotted lines for the boundary in the 1828 map and dots without a clear solid line boundary in the 1836 map. A sand bar can only be seen mostly during low tides and is usually not permanent in shape or size. This sand bar was removed by dredging sometime by the 1840s when the famous ‘Singapore Stone’ was removed too. I do not have a definite date or reference for this. Just an educated guess. That was part of the improvement plan for navigation in Singapore River. Dredging in Singapore River continued until the river was converted into its present state. Due to Singapore’s elevation and the volume of water in the river, sand deposit very easily at the mouth, forming obstacles for navigation.

I do not know of any record of this sand bar’s name.”

Credit : Mok Ly Yng’s Public Gallery of Old Maps

1869 :

Credit : The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002, Singapore University Press, NUS Publishing

Another reason for the sandbar is stated in the book “The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002″ by Stephen Dobbs mentioned earlier. In his book it was mentioned that in late 1822, a considerable amount of sand had built up around the mouth of the Singapore River due to the construction of the jetties on the North Boat Quay side. Those structures were interfering with the natural course of the river thus resulted in the silt near its river mouth.From the book, we understand that many dredges were put at the river to remove the silt but not really successful.

At least I learned something new despite my age – “sandbar”. I’ve never like Geography when I was young, so probably I was sleeping when my teacher was teaching about it or ….

Guess this sandbar is completely removed from the mouth of the Singapore River by now.

Update from Mr.Mok Ly Yng (dated 4 Jun 2008);

“Dear Laokokok,

I have read your post on the islands of Singapore River.

Sandbar (now apparently written as one single word) is also known as a ‘sandbank’ (now also as one word). Perhaps it could have been a ‘mudbank’ then. It all depends on the type of sediment that was deposited there and then. The type of sediment is very much dependent on the type of rock or geological environment through which the river passes through upriver. This includes the main course plus any tributaries that feed into the main river. ‘White sand’ was observed at the Bugis area, hence the Chinese name of ‘White Sand Float(ing)’. Scientists have very precise definitions for ‘sand’, ‘mud’ and ‘silt’ etc. :-)

I don’t have a geology map of Singapore handy with me. But the dredging is to remove any obstacles to shipping, it is not necessarily a reflection of the muddiness of the river at that time. Again this is educated speculation without knowing the dominant material that made up the river bed of the Singapore river near the mouth, and the sea bottom material at the mouth of the river. The tidal forces could also flush the river, but that depends on the strength of the tides. A combination of these factors could turn the water near the river mouth rather murky or turbid.

Thanks for the post and the interesting links to other maps.

Best regards,

Ly Yng”

I will talk about the other islands in my next part.

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15 Responses to “Lost Islands Of The Singapore River – Part 1”


  1. 1 profkingsfield2004 Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 6:02 am

    Hmmmm@ Sand bar. That means the Singapore Rivers waters at that time should have been very clear and not murky like in the 1960s thru 1970s before the government cleaned up the river. Do you know why the water conditions worsen back then?

    It was because of the upper reaches of the Singapore River; Robertson Quay towards Kim Seng Bridge. Back in the 1960s, I saw boat building on the river banks of the present Copthorne Hote and Kim Seng Plaza. Not only that but wooden junks sent for scrap were left to rot in the river. As a result there was always the smell of “sulphide” in the air. As time went by, the lower stretches of the Singapore River near the Fullerton Building became choked with debris thrown into the river plus the blackish water from the Kim Seng Bridge area.

  2. 2 laokokok Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 9:25 am

    The river at that point of course is muddy and that’s why even during colonial times, dredging already started. Maybe instead of sandbar, should “Intertidal Mudflats” be used? I’m not sure too.

  3. 3 profkingsfield2004 Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 10:41 am

    when i had my office at the then Std Chart Bdlg back in 1984, I used to kill time watching the MRT tunnel being built across the Singapore River. It’s exactly at the spot where you mentioned about the sandbar. I am sure of the sport because the tunnel was to the left of the present Anderson Bridge and just below the Std Chartered Bank Bdlg. My office was up on the 20th floor. I wish I was not so stupid just to take myself with the background the office window. I should have taken the aerial photo of the MRT tunnel then. I wonder whether any readers might have a aerial photo of this tunnel under the Singapore River.

  4. 4 Victor Koo Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I remember Pulo Saigon on the Singapore River. It was definitely not a sand bank as there was a road running through it. Guess it will be covered in your sequel.

  5. 5 laokokok Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 8:22 am

    You are right Victor! That will be included in Part 2.

  6. 6 Victor Koo Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Erm… Part 2 of the lost islands have not been found yet? :)

  7. 7 laokokok Monday, June 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Victor,
    Sorry for the delay due to my poor health. It’s up today.

  8. 8 sandrar Friday, September 11, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  9. 9 ChristianIamРбс Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Всем Доброе утро! Мне одна пожилая женщина рассказала кошмарную историю, как вам она? Я делала в жизни 2 аборта и теперь больна раком прямой кишки, я почти не сплю по ночам больше года, мучаюсь от боли, а днём лежу на кровати, почти не встаю. Моя сестра делала аборты, она умерла от рака груди, метастазы были и в лёгких, она лежала в больнице, она была музыкантом, выступала, играла на пианино, аккордеоне. У неё была дочка Аня, она умерла в малом возрасте. У меня племемянница также делала аборты, сейчас страдает от онкологичекого заболевания кишечника. Моя мама умерла от рака желудка. Милые люди, не делайте, пожалуйста, аборты! Кстати, как вам моя страница? Христианская страница против абортов. +++ IHM


  1. 1 The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 3 Jun 2008 Trackback on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 11:21 am
  2. 2 Lost Islands Of The Singapore River - Part 1 » Surf SG Trackback on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm
  3. 3 The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 23 Trackback on Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 11:15 am
  4. 4 history, bugis « “Urban Playground” Trackback on Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 3:08 am
  5. 5 Balm and bitterness, your humble narrator « The Newtown Pentacle Trackback on Monday, July 20, 2009 at 12:34 am
  6. 6 The cleaning up of Singapore River and Kallang Basin (1977-1987) « Otterman speaks… Trackback on Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 11:41 am

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