Thursday, 10 July 2014

The three keys to Singapore’s trading success: Boat, Clarke and Robertson Quays


The Singapore River is home to Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Best known for their watering holes and al fresco dining, the three quays are also replete with history. Not surprising really, as Singapore's history itself begins with the Singapore River.

A view of Boat Quay and the Singapore River around the turn of the 1900s.
Perhaps the oldest surviving relic of the island's earlier inhabitants, the curious slab of rock now known as the Singapore Stone, was found at the mouth of the 3.2 kilometer long Singapore River in 1819. The stone's location underscores the river's importance to Singapore's pre-colonial history.

The stone dates from the thirteenth century. The three meters tall and three meters wide Singapore Stone was inscribed with writings of an ancient script. Unfortunately, in 1843 the colonial authorities destroyed the stone before the writing could be deciphered by scholars. 

A fragment of the original Singapore Stone can be seen at the National Museum of Singapore. Note the script on the stone.
The Singapore River sets the foundation for Singapore's traditional 'entrepot' role within Southeast Asia. Artefacts excavated from Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), Fort Canning Park today, point to extensive trading links between Temasek and the rest of the world. Singapore island was known as Temasek, meaning Sea Town in old Javanese, until it was renamed Singapura in the thirteenth century. Following their arrival in 1819, British colonial authorities simply formalized and extended Singapore's status as a free trading port.

Trade fed the emergence of Boat Quay as an area of warehouses and trading establishments. Populated with historical shophouses, Boat Quay is today a playground for Singaporeans, particularly relaxing professionals from the adjacent central business district (CBD). Yesterday's shophouses are today's bars and restaurants. Among its various attractions, the Boat Quay area contains the Old Parliament House, Raffles Landing site, the Cavenagh Bridge and the Asian Civilizations Museum.

With time and as Singapore's trading activities grew, Boat Quay was unable to handle the increasing traffic. Hence were born Clarke and Robertson Quays.

Clarke Quay is named after the second Governor of Singapore and the Straits Settlements (1873-5). Contemporary Clarke Quay houses some of Singapore's favourite nightspots. However, much of Clarke Quay's history can be found in the elegant River House mansion, the Read Bridge named after Scottish merchant William Read and Tan Tye Place, the historical location for pineapple canneries owned by Tan Tye.

The colorful Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay.
After Clarke Quay came Robertson Quay. Named after a municipal councillor, Robertson Quay is a mixed residential and commercial development. Consequently, the ambience in the area is slightly different from the preceding two riverside quay areas which are primarily commercial. Within Robertson Quay one can find the colourful Alkaff Bridge, the Singapore Repertory Theater and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute – along with many nice bars and restaurants.

Taking a stroll alongside the Singapore River is a pleasant experience. As is a river cruise or simply downing a few drinks while watching the world. Whatever you fancy, the Singapore River is a great place to begin exploring the island's history.

After all, the river is where it all began.
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Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange any personalized tours in Singapore, including walking tours around the Singapore River and the Civic District, please contact Imran at imran@deodaradvisors.com

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