The Image of our Landscape

December 13, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Posted in itchy fingers | 2 Comments
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A not so recent visit to the National Museum brought Itchyfingers back to Singapore in the 19th century – a time where trade and commerce developed, transforming the face of the island dramatically. Many of these changes were captured in paintings, prints and photographs, giving us a glimpse of how Singapore looked at that time.

Old Singapore…

busy port…

Chinese junks at Rocher River. The Malay houses on stilts were made with
attap and palm leaves. These belonged to mainly fishermen and boatmen
who were already established on these riverbank when Raffles arrived.
I like this a lot, but too bad my picture didn’t turn up sharp 😦

River in the primeval forest…can you imagine this was Singapore?

Along Bukit Timah Road, 1894. “Bukit Timah was one of several forest
reserves set aside by the colonial government, because the island’s pristine
forest was being rapidly cleared for cash crop plantation such as gambier.
The area remained sparsely populated even though a road had linked it to
the town since 1845. The area was known to be a haven for tigers in the
19th century and in 1896, it was reported that two tigers had been shot
in the vicinity.”

According to this article, “The government gave a reward of $20 for every tiger killed but the increasing number of casualties led to the reward being increased to $50 then to $100. Tiger hunting became a rewarding sport offering money and adventure. Pits of 4 to 4.5 m were dug and traps set. Tigers caught were hauled out alive and put into strong rattan baskets which the tigers could not bite through. Indian convicts who were experts in hunting tigers were also employed by the government. With so many tigers killed, their numbers dwindled and they eventually perished. One French Canadian named Carrol made tiger hunting a business for himself. Occasional reports of tiger attacks were still heard towards the end of the 19th century; a man was killed by a tiger in Thomson Road in 1890 and two tigers shot at Bukit Timah in 1896. The last wild tiger, roaming in Choa Chu Kang area, was killed in the 1930s.” How sad… 😦

A painting showing G. D. Coleman and his convict workers laying out a
new road in 1835 through a swamp in the jungle near town being attacked
by the big cat. No one was killed though

Lau Pa Sat used to be called Telok Ayer market, and was jutted out onto
Telok Ayer Bay before it was reclaimed. This looks nothing like the Lau
Pa Sat
we know today..

While many of the old Singapore imageries were a thing of the past, some of them remained a familiar sight.

Hokkien Street, one of the oldest streets in Singapore which appeared in the
1822 Raffles Town Plan. The street was settled by the early Hokkien immgrants
from southeastern China

The Sri Mariammam Temple was originally a wood and attap temple built
by Indian pioneer in 1827 and rebuilt in brick by Indian convict labour in
1842-1843. The Jamae Mosque
was already a prominent landmark at
South Bridge Road with its distinctive twin minarets. This picture was
probably taken in the 1850s

South Bridge Road in the 1890s with Jamae Mosque and the rebuilt Sri
Mariamman Temple on the left

South Bridge Road today. Jamae Mosque looks exactly the same as its
old image, while Sri Mariamman Temple is undergoing some renovation
work, with the facade covered in green canvas now…

‘Chinese Temple, Singapore’, 1842. Thian Hock Keng Temple 天福宫 at
Telok Ayer Street was situated at the coastline until reclamation work in
1879 left it inland. The Chinese came here to offer thanksgiving to Ma Zu 妈祖
(Goddess of the Sea)
for their safe voyage

Built in 1839 and completed in 1842, the entire structure was assembled
without nails in traditional Chinese architectural style. There was some
ceremony going on when Itchyfingers went to take this photo

Over the years, the temple has been restored many times but remained
almost the same

There are many more interesting images on display and it is definitely worth spending time looking through them for their historical as well as aesthetical values. The Image of our Landscape is ongoing till 03 Jan 2010 at the National Museum of Singapore. Admission is free. 🙂



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  1. Thanks for sharing with us images of the past and comparing some with the present. It must have taken you a bit of hard work compiling it. Much appreciated. Cheers.

    • Hi Joseph,

      This post was delayed cos of work commitment and also the recent rainy weather did not permit Itchyfingers to go around the island to take more of the present street scenes. Nice to have you here with us, and do share with us your knowledge on nature! 🙂

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