Archive for June, 2008

Lost Islands Of The Singapore River – Part 2

…continued from Part 1

Sorry for the delay in Part 2 due to my poor health for the past few weeks.

It will be interesting to note the differences when we compared the old map of Singapore River with the current one. There seems to be more sources and the river seems longer in the past.

The area around and along the Singapore River was swampy and muddy even before the colonial times. This can be seen from most old maps of the Singapore River.

Credit : The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002, Stephen Dodds, Singapore University Press

As you can see from the above map, there were many sources of the river. Some seem to be at the foot of Fort Canning Hill (known as Bukit Larangan in the past), and Pearl’s Hill (known as Mt. Stamford in the past). Also from the above map, you will note that the areas near the Singapore River were mainly marsh (a marsh is a wetland submerged by water).

Let’s start with Area 1 (from the above map);

As shown above, this Area 1(island) is prone to flooding at the South Bank. What I’ve read was that the Area 1 at South Bank was raised and the marsh behind filled to overcome the flooding. This should be around 1822. So maps after 1822 may not show this island Area 1, I think so.

Area 2;

Credit : The Singapore River, A Social History 1819 – 2002, Stephen Dodds, Singapore University Press

From 1869, the area above Coleman Bridge were filled up to prevent flood and thus more godowns were built. As such, pollution of the river was another problem to be fixed from 1870 to 1970. Before 1860, most commercial activities were below Elgin Bridge and seldom up to Coleman Bridge and above.

Area 3;

This is the triangular shaped Pulau Saigon which Victor ever mentioned in the comments in my previous post. In Chinese, it’s called 浮罗西贡. Before I proceed on, I would like to highlight why sometimes it’s called “Pulau Saigon” while in some street directories, you see “Pulo Saigon”. Javanese called “Pulo“, while Indonesian called “Pulau“, both mean Island.

I have always wonder why it is called “Saigon”? Anyone has any idea?

Frankly even during my early visits to the Singapore River in the late 60s or early 70s, I don’t remember seeing any Pulau Saigon. Maybe I was too young to remember it…Peter, Chun See or Victor may have some memories of it.

When I took a look at my old Singapore Street Directory (the early 70s Chinese edition), the only thing I can find is the Pulau Saigon Road. You can find a footbridge to the north of this road. The original Pulau Saigon Bridge was built in 1890, but demolished in 1986. The reason for the demolition was that the Bridge was too old and it blocked the development of Central Expressway.

Pulau Saigon Bridge was also called Footbridge because the completion of Clemenceau Bridge in 1922 forestalled any need of developing it further and its status as a pedestrian bridge was maintained.

The map below shows 2 bridges connected to the Pulau Saigon island;

Credit : Old map from Cornell Education.

A new Pulau Saigon Bridge was constructed near the former location of the original Pulau Saigon Island as an extension of Saiboo Street. Before reclamation works merged the Pulau Saigon Island with the south bank of the river, there used to be two bridges which connected the island to both river banks. Both bridges were demolished by 1986. – BY National Heritage Board

Credit : Chief Surveyor, Survey Dept. Ministry of Law

This is how the Pulau Saigon looked like in 1900;

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

Below shows the Pulau Saigon Bridge;

Credit : National Heritage Board

Take a look at the Pulau Saigon Bridge in 1974;

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

Here is another photo of the Pulau Saigon Bridge which is also the Bridge No.1 from the Chinese Newspaper in 1985;

Credit : Nanyang Sinchou, Chinese Newspaper, 15 Dec 1985

This Pulau Saigon Bridge was also known as Butcher Bridge as there was a butcher staying nearby. This was also mentioned in the Straits Times 1985 copy;

Credit : The Straits Times, 30 Sep 1985

So from the above, I believed that the Pulau Saigon Bridge was still around in the 80s. Peter may remeber something about the old railway track via this Pulau Saigon island. But that railway track bridge is another bridge, not the same Pulau Saigon Bridge as show below;

Sources : Singapore Railways History

The railway joined on the same footbridge No.2 though but not on the footbridge No.1.

So what happen to Pulau Saigon Bridge now? Is it still around? The Pulau Saigon Bridge is now a Vehicular Bridge, completed in June 1997, linking Havelock Road to Robertson Quay;

Credit : URA

Credit : Sengkang (nickname)

Before I end, here is another view of the Pulau Saigon in the 80s;

Credit : National Archives of Singapore, PICAS

It seems the area around Singapore River has changed tremendously and whether there were islands or islets at the Singapore River before, is no longer important now..or maybe long forgotten…

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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June 2008