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…


39 Responses to “Lost Islands Of The Singapore River – Part 2”

  1. 1 Victor Koo Monday, June 23, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Oh dear, I hope you are feeling much better now. Judging by this excellent article, it seems to be the case. Do take care, ya?

  2. 2 laokokok Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Thanks Victor. I’m much better already.

  3. 3 profkingsfield2004 Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Wah u research until you fell sick? Must give you credit for providing so much detail. Now getting back to your question.

    The Clemenceau Bridge as I remember back then was a beige colored concrete bridge with a slight gradient when it crossed over water. Travelling towards Chin Swee Road, there was a metal bridge painted greish-blue (I take it to mean the Pulau Saigon Bridge). I believe the concrete bridge was not the original bridge because it was a metal bridge that carried the Singapore-Kranji Railway track to Tanjung Pagar in 1910. I do remember that it was an “island” because it was round in shape. Mind you the waters in the Singapore up to Kim Seng Bridge from this point was very smelly. I too wonder what happened to the “island”. The new Pulau Saigon bridge you mentioned is definitely not in the same location as the original Pulau Saigon bridge. There was a row of godowns all the way to the junction of Clemenceau Avenue and havelock Road.

    I took a photo of the CTE entrance at the junction of Havelock, Clemenceau Avenue and Upper Cross Street. It seems very likely the CTE follows exactly the old railway track. Magazine Road was only a small lane behind the godowns unlike today.

  4. 4 py Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Thanks for this post. Now I start to understand why the bridge was called Pulau Saigon Bridge.

  5. 5 laokokok Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Yes Peter, I believed the new Pulau Saigon Bridge is built near to the original one and as mentioned in my post, as an extension of the Saiboo St.

    Thanks PY. Hope you like this post too.

  6. 6 Victor Koo Monday, July 7, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    For a moment there, I thought that the blue and red arrows on the first map signify the invading Japanese forces fighting the allied forces in World War Two in February 1942. Hehe.

  7. 7 laokokok Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Taking a second look, it does look like one. Good one, Victor.

  8. 8 Chuang Shyue Chou Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Good article.

    Thanks for writing this up. I was just at the Pulau Saigon Bridge over this weekend.

  9. 9 laokokok Monday, July 21, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Thanks Chuang Shyue Chou and I hope you will like my other posts too.

  10. 10 chinatown Monday, October 20, 2008 at 10:02 am

    nice article u got there.
    I’m still wondering why did it bear the name ‘saigon’ though.

  11. 11 Icemoon Monday, October 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I read that part before. It seems that there was increased trade activity with Vietnam around 1860 so the name appeared on maps after that date.

  12. 12 Chiang Ming Yu Friday, January 30, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for the excellent article. I found it very interesting and useful. From current maps, I think that Pulau Saigon is now the area occupied by the condominium development “River Place”.

  13. 13 Chiang Ming Yu Friday, January 30, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Or to be more accurate, I think the former island Pulau Saigon has become part of the south bank of the Singapore River, and the eastern part of River Place Condominium sits on it, as does the CTE/Clemenceau Avenue extension. The old map from Cornell Education you reproduced above also possibly explains the name of “Butcher Bridge” given to the old Pulau Saigon Bridge. It has the word “Abatair” under “Pulau Saigon”, and resting on the three long buildings shown on the island. “Abatair” is likely a variant spelling of “Abattoir” or slaughterhouse.

  14. 14 laokokok Monday, February 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

    HI Ming Yu,
    Thanks for you inputs.

  15. 15 Hails Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 4:45 am

    Hi LKK

    Interesting blogs and reads! I really enjoyed all the articles. I admire your efforts and endeaervours, please keep it up!

    By the way, regarding the name of Pulau Saigon, this website here from MOE seem to hint the name comes from the Sago Mills on the islet.


    Some food for thought?

  16. 16 laokokok Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Thanks Hail and glad you like my blog. But how is Sago related to Saigon??? Really food for thoughts.

  17. 17 Choon Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    thanks for the article.
    I was searching for Pulau Saigon mainly because :
    1. i just been to the Vignettes of Times exhibition at National Library and saw P. Saigon in quite a number of the old maps.
    2. I remember in the 80s or early 90s (before CTE) when I was much younger, and taking a bus near the area, I notice the Tan Si Chong temple is in front of a river and then I realised the river has forked because I saw it next to Liang court earlier.
    At that time, I thought the govt has dug a canal tributary from the Singapore river ….. never did I realise I was actually travelling on a islet in Singapore river.
    Of course, at a later date, the ‘river’ in front of the temple was filled and with all the construction around the area at that time, it added to the confusion and orientation ….
    Vignettes from my memories ….

  18. 18 laokokok Monday, December 7, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for the infos Choon.

  19. 19 Guess Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    I used to live at Pulau Saigon, until we moved in 1980, when I was 7.

    This blog seems to contain the most details online while I was searching for my lost childhood memories. Thank you.

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    Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find
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    something back and help others like you aided me.

  21. 21 Dino Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I was more than happy to discover this web site.

    I want to to thank you for your time for this wonderful read!
    ! I definitely savored every bit of it and I have you saved to fav to look at
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  22. 22 Lim Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Hello there, this is very interesting and although I am born in Singapore, I did not learn about this obscure piece of history and the removal of this seems fairly recent. Thanks for sharing this information…a piece of trivial I learnt about Singapore.

  23. 23 Happy Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    I would just like to say thank you for posting this. I was researching about the past and present of the Singapore River when I chanced upon this and it was really very useful. Even the comments are useful! I am a polytechnic student and I hope you don’t mind me using this research in my project. Of course, I will be sure to credit you.

  24. 24 Apple Li Fang Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Hi LKK

    My name is Li Fang. I am searching for the Pulau Saigon bridge (i only known it named Butcher bridge when i was young) till today after reading your article. I was searching in my mind old childhood lose memories recently, along river valley area when my great grand father & my parent used to live. The changes in these places are so great that some of the roads being closed. I recalled, my gff used to live at a 2 storey house along Pukat road , no longer exist,(I think now known as Martin Close) along river valley close. I remembered walking to his house from Jln Minyak (near Outram Sec School) , may be known as “Kong Jio” through this butcher bridge..It like so many flashes in my mind now after reading here and ..i dont know where can I dig for more pics and infos.. I felt sad everytime I am nearby these area, I missed the old place..and memories fading..

  25. 25 Tim Auger Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Somebody may have answered this already, but the creek around Pualu Saigon was filled in in 1970 (as was Kim Seng Bridge Creek). Boatbuilders had to be resettled as part of the process of ‘urban renewal’, a bit before the main thrust of the river clean-up. Great blog.

  26. 26 laokokok Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for the info, Tim.

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  32. 32 Mohammad yunus Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Hii to all friends. ..I’m looking for old singapore derectory.I’m looking for my father’ family,He came from kampoeng baru,seraya island.and his pakcik lived in indisen road 5,5ms pasir panjang.name of my father is Mohammad Daud bin shiddiq.he lost contact with his family since 1965, I will appreciate any help or some information anyone can give me to find these addrees and my family, thank’s !

  33. 33 Chee Wee Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Anyone who has lived or been there on Pulau Saigon can contact me?

    I have 80s footage of the river around that area that needs to be identify and I believe some of it are actual footage of Pulau Saigon.

    So far I only managed to identify until Ord Bridge where construction of Liang Court was taking place, that was easy enough.

    Unfortunately, I am not allowed to publish the videos.

    Subject Heading: Pulau Saigon


  34. 34 Simon Monday, February 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Looking for a larger/original version of the “old map from Cornell Education” can you provide the source?


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