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Singapore in the 1850s as seen from Mount Wallich by Percy Carpenter

This painting of Singapore at Sunrise from Mount Wallich was an oil on canvas painted by Percy Carpenter in 1856. The panorama from the peak of Mount Wallich is a wonderful historical artefact in that it provides a glimpse and valuable insights of Singapore in 1856 (164 years ago). 

Singapore had thrived and boomed in less than 40 years after Raffles first stepped foot on Singapore River in 1819. In this short 30 odd years, the population of Singapore exploded grew from around 200 in 1819 to some 81,000 by 1860.

The northern side (left) of the painting stretches from Pearl's Hill to Clarke Quay with River Valley and Government Hill (today's Fort Canning Hill Park) on the horizon.

To the south is Telok Ayer Street and Telok Ayer Basin. In the background is Boat Quay, Empress Place with European Town, Kampung Glam and Tanjong Rhu on the horizon.

The entourage on Mount Wallich is believed to be that of Sultan Mahmud IV (reign 1835 - 1857) of the Riau-Lingga sultanate. The Johor-Riau-Lingga sultanate was partitioned into the Johor sultanate and Riau-Lingga sultanate in 1824 under the Treaty of London between the British and the Dutch.

Under this agreement, the British had control of Singapore and Malaya while the Dutch had control of the Malay archipelago (today's Indonesia). This effectively split the Johor-Riau-Linggua sultanate into two. Nevertheless, Riau-Lingga royalty remained frequent visitors to Singapore (which was once part of their realm).

Looking down from Mount Wallich, Telok Ayer Street was lined with shops, two mosques and a Chinese temple. The street was just beside the beach at Telok Ayer Basin. Boats could land and passengers could disembark right at the beach. The first thing many Chinese immigrants did when they arrived at Telok Ayer was to give thanks at Thian Hock Keng Temple at the beach.

The building in front of Thian Hock Keng Temple on stilts on the beach at the water's edge was a wayang (theatre) stage. Theatre performances for deities, the dead and living were conducted during major festivals.

Along Telok Ayer Street, there were two mosques with Thian Hock Keng Temple between them. From left to right, they were 
Masjid Al-Abrar mosque, Thian Hock Keng Temple and Nagore Durgha shrine.


Thian Hock Keng dedicated to Mazu 媽祖 goddess of the sea, was founded in 1821 and the temple building was constructed between 1839 and early 1840s. 


To the left of Thian Hock Keng, Masjid Al-Abrar was established in 1827. It was known as Kuchu Palli which means "thatched hut" in Tamil and was also known as Masjid Chulia which means Chulia Mosque. 
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)


To the right of Thian Hock Keng, Nagore Dargah shrine was established between 1828 and 1830. It was built to commemorate the visit of a Chulia Muslim holy man Shahul Hamid from today's Tamil Naidu. Today, this historic building houses the 
Nagore Dargah Indian-Muslim Heritage Centre.

Mount Wallich no longer exists today. The hill was flattened for Singapore's first major reclamation project starting around the 1880s - its soil taken to fill Telok Ayer Basin. Today, Singapore's Central Business District is standing on soil from Mount Wallich.

(Map of Mount Wallich in 1892, courtesy of NAS.)

Telok Ayer Market also known as Lau Pat Sat (which means Old Market), the first market the colonial authorities built in Singapore was by the sea at Telok Ayer Basin. Fishing boats pulled up alongside the market and unloaded their catch there. We can only imagine how fresh the fish and seafood were at that time.

When Telok Ayer Basin was reclaimed, Telok Ayer Market was moved to its present location in 1894 at the intersection of Robinson Road and Cross Street. Lau Pat Sat was designated a National Monument of Singapore in 2003.

Today, Lau Pat Sat is a modern food court. In terms of quality of food, ambiance and feel of the entire area, Lau Pat Sat is like a totally different place from what I experienced in my youth. It feels like any generic shopping mall food court now. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Looking east are the white buildings of Empress Place and European Town. The large white building was the Court House which is part of today's The Arts House @ Old Parliament.

The white building behind the Court House is Saint Andrew's Cathedral which was under construction (hence we cannot see the steeple in this painting). Build by convict labour, construction of Saint Andrews Cathedral was completed in 1861.

Founded in 1836, Saint Andrew's Cathedral was designated a National Monument of Singapore in 1973. The cathedral still conducts worship services today.

Empress Place is right across Singapore River from Boat Quay. In the foreground, the Chinese temple at Boat Quay is Yueh Hai Ching Temple 粵海清廟 on Philip Street. It was formed in the 1850s by the merger of 
Shang Di Gong and Tian Hou Gong (founded 1820s). Shang Di is the ancestral deity of Teochews and Tian Hou (Mazu) is the goddess of the sea. Yueh Hai Ching Temple was designated a National Monument of Singapore in 1996. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The steeple here belongs to Cathedral of the Good Shepherd at Queens Street established in 1833. It is the oldest catholic church in Singapore.

Designated a National Monument of Singapore in 1973, 
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd still conducts mass today. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Government Hill on the horizon (today's Fort Canning Hill).

The building at the summit was Government House. When the colonial authorities decided to build a fort on Government Hill, Government House was demolished and a replacement was built at Mount Sophia in 1869. The replacement is today's Istana building.

The mast beside Government House was for signal flags to send messages to boats in Singapore River and ships at harbour.

In the foreground is Mount Erskine. J.J. Erskine owned the land here, hence the name. That house on the summit might be J.J. Erskine's residence but little is known about the man except that he was a government official.

Mount Erskine was flattened for the Telok Ayer Reclamation project. Only an Erskine Road exists today.

The red roofed building on the far left was Tan Tock Seng Hospital established in 1844 by Tan Tock Seng, a trader from Malacca. Sited on Pearl's Hill, it was the first public hospital in Singapore. Originally known as Chinese Pauper Hospital, it was renamed Tan Tock Seng Hospital in the 1850s.

By the time Percy Carpenter painted this panorama, plans were already underway to take over this building and move the hospital to Balestier Road (where it remains to this day). After the severe Teochew-Hokkien riots of 1854 and the outbreak of the Second Opium War in 1856, colonial authorities designated Government Hill and Pearl's Hill as safe havens for Europeans in case of civil unrest. Government Hill was developed into Fort Canning and Tan Tock Seng Hospital premises at Pearl's Hill became the barracks of European Artillery Corps.

The dwellings at the foothills of Pearl's Hill on the east were part of Kreta Ayer (today's Chinatown).

Artist Percy Carpenter was a British painter who lived in Asia from 1851 to 1859, mainly India and southeast Asia. Born 1820, Percy Carpenter passed away at age 75 in 1895. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)


Map of Singapore 1878 courtesy of NAS was of great help in identifying the buildings featured in Percy Carpenter's painting of Singapore 1856.

Date: 20 Nov 2020

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