Philip Jackson

Singapore Infopedia

by Cornelius, Vernon


Lieutenant Philip Jackson (b. 24 September 1802, Durham, England–d. 1879) was an officer in the Bengal Regiment Artillery, and served as assistant engineer, executive officer and surveyor of public lands in colonial Singapore. An accomplished surveyor and draughtsman, Jackson produced a number of important maps, including one of the earliest maps of the town of Singapore and the earliest known drawing of Singapore – Plan of the Town of Singapore. He was also the first architect of the Singapore Institution (the precursor of Raffles Institution) building.1

Early life
At the age of 16, Jackson became a cadet in the East India Company’s army, and went to India to join the famous Bengal Artillery Regiment. He was subsequently posted to Singapore to defend the town in case of an attack and arrived on the island on 22 January 1822. The attack, however, never materialised.2

Assistant Engineer and Surveyor of Public Lands
When Stamford Raffles was on his third and final visit to Singapore in October 1822, he sought able men to help him build the town of Singapore. Dissatisfied with the way William Farquhar, the first British resident and commandant of Singapore, had developed the settlement, Raffles appointed Jackson as assistant engineer on 29 October 1822 to remodel and rebuild Singapore according to his own plan. Raffles formed a Town Committee on 4 November 1822 with Jackson assigned to assist it.3 Jackson spent five years in Singapore as assistant engineer, executive officer and surveyor of public lands, helping in the redevelopment of the fledgling town.

Jackson oversaw the construction of the first bridge that spanned the banks of the Singapore River in 1823, at the site where the Elgin bridge now stands. The wooden footbridge, called Presentment Bridge, was also known as Monkey Bridge. It served as the only means of crossing the river until 1840, when Coleman Bridge was built further upstream.5

On 6 December 1822, the Town Committee reported that a draft outline of the streets was ready, and by February the following year, the plan had taken definite shape, with proposals for Singapore’s future progress. With this, the reconstruction programme went into full swing. Although the plan was not an actual survey but an outline of the town, it nonetheless followed Raffles’s instructions concerning government, military and commercial locations. The plan also clearly demarcated the locations of residential clusters to house the island’s different ethnic communities.6

In a sketch drawing of the map dated 5 June 1823, the town was depicted to the east of the Singapore River, viewed from the sea. Jackson was known to have drawn other maps and plans for Raffles.7 On 1 February 1826, Jackson was appointed surveyor of public lands with a monthly salary of 300 rupees. His responsibilities included surveying lands and registering grants and transfers.8

Singapore Institution
As per Raffles’s instructions on 12 January 1823, Jackson prepared plans for the construction of the Singapore Institution (later renamed Raffles Institution) building. This was in accordance with Raffles’s wish to bring in the best Western education for the benefit of Southeast Asian students in Singapore. The cost of the broad two-storey building was estimated at 15,000 Spanish dollars. With Jackson as the architect and engineer, work commenced that year based on a rudimentary design centred on a rusticated base, with carriage porches and colonnaded piers. Tall and rectangular louvered windows were separated by simple Doric pilasters that lined the first storey. It was originally built in the shape of a cross, with wings to be added to each arm. However, construction was shoddy and by 1832, the building was unfinished and in a ruinous state. By then, the semi-decayed structure along the coast had been coined as Jackson’s Ruin by the inhabitants of Singapore. It was used as a thieves’ shelter and the grounds attached to the building were covered with marsh and jungle.It remained an eyesore for several years until George D. Coleman, government superintendent of public works, was appointed in 1835 as the new architect to finish the building according to Jackson’s original plan.10 

In May 1836, Coleman presented the plans and estimated cost of the project, which were accepted.11 In May 1837, The Singapore Free Press reported that the institution was nearing completion, and in December that year, classes were held in the building.12 In May 1839, a new wing was built and a second wing added in 1841.13 

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. Mildred Archer and John Bastin, The Raffles Drawings in the India Office Library, London (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1978), 6. (Call no. RSING 741.959 ARC)
2. H. F. Pearson, People of Early Singapore (University of London Press, 1955), 109–11. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 PEA-[HIS]) 
3. Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 12 (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BE); Mubin Sheppard, ed., Singapore 150 Years (Singapore: Times Books International: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1982), 152. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
4. Archer and Bastin, Raffles Drawings in the India Office Library, London, 6; Sheppard, Singapore 150 Years, 137, 152.
5. John Bastin, “The Letters of Sir Stamford Raffles to Nathaniel Wallich 1819–1824,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 54, no. 2 (240) (1981): 57 (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website); Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 690 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 323 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 7 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS]); Colin Cheong, Framework and Foundation: A History of the Public Works Department (Singapore: Times Editions, 1992), 50. (Call no. RSING 354.5957008609 CHE)
6. Sheppard, Singapore 150 Years, 151–54.
7. Sheppard, Singapore 150 Years, 136–37
8. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 193.
9. T. T. H Hancock, Coleman’s Singapore (Kuala Lumpur: JMBRAS & Pelanduk Publications, 1986), 80 (Call no. RSING 720.924 COL.H); Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 43; Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 127–28.
10. Beamish and Ferguson, History of Singapore Architecture, 43.
11. Hancock, Coleman’s Singapore, 80.
12. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 131.
13. Hancock, Coleman’s Singapore, 80. 

The information in this article is valid as at April 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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