Duxton Road is a one-way street that connects Neil Road to Craig Road. Situated on Duxton Hill, this road was infamous in the 19th and early 20th centuries for its opium and gambling dens.1
Duxton Road was originally part of a nutmeg plantation owned by William Montgomerie (b. 1797–d. 1856),2 who was said to be the first to introduce gutta-percha to Europe in 1842.3 Montgomerie’s plantation, which spanned 13 ha with 1,800 trees, included a portion of the current Tanjong Pagar Road. Two dwelling houses were nestled among the trees, namely the Craig Hill and Duxton House.4 The latter was built by Hugh Syme5 and was home to Montgomerie and his family. The plantation and the houses were sold in an auction to Ker, Rawson & Co. in 1856, and later demarcated into building lots.6
Duxton Road was notorious for its opium and gambling dens throughout the early 19th and 20th centuries. Cheap brothels were also situated along the road, adding to its seedy reputation. It was also popularly known by the Cantonese as “jinricksha place” (and sometimes Kampong Ah Lai) because of the many rickshaws (also known as jinricksha or jinrikisha) parked there by their pullers every day as the rickshaw station was located nearby.7
Many of the rickshaw pullers were from the county of Hui’an in China’s Fujian province, and bore surnames such as Teo, Ho and Chng. Because of strong clan ties, the rickshaw pullers created their own territories in the street, which led to a lot of fighting in the area. Despite the area’s notoriety, many wealthy Chinese families built and occupied beautiful residences and shophouses on Duxton Hill.8 The area is currently part of the Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area.9
The restored conservation shophouses on Duxton Road are two- and three-storey shophouse units.10 Six Senses Duxton, which opened in April 2018, is a 49-room hotel made up of eight restored shophouses.11 The original building, known as Duxton Hotel, was awarded a certificate for good effort in restoration by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 1994.12 Other landmarks in the area include Pinnacle@Duxton and Duxton Plain Park. Completed in December 2009, Pinnacle@Duxton is the tallest public housing project comprising seven 50-storey tower blocks connected by skybridges.13 Duxton Plain Park stretches from Yan Kit Road to near New Bridge Road.14 A tembusu tree was planted and a memorial plague placed at the park in honour of Singapore’s late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.15
Chinese name: Gu chia chui kia (Hokkien), meaning “at the side of Kreta Ayer”, refers to Craig Road, where Duxton Road begins. Kam-kong-a lai (Hokkien), kampong kia nai (Hokkien), both meaning “within a little kampong”. This term was likely referred to the slum dwellings of rickshaw pullers.16
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 106. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 106; Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 636. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
3. “The Discovery of Gutta Percha in Singapore,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 15 March 1884, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 406.
5. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 71. (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS])
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 106; Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 71.
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 106.
8. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 106; Chan Kwee Sung, “Fares Were Haggled Before the Ride,” Straits Times, 17 June 2002, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “URA Sale Gets Overwhelming Response,” Business Times, 29 April 1988, 2 (From NewspaperSG); “Tanjong Pagar,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, accessed 25 February 2015.
10. Cornelia Tan, “Shophouses in Tg Pagar Snapped Up,” Straits Times, 28 October 1999, 68. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Pamela Chow “Six Senses Duxton,” TTG Asia, 23 July 2018.
12. “Three Principles Guide URA’s Conservation Efforts,” Business Times, 6 April 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Quick Background on the Pinnacle@Duxton,” Singapore Tourism Board, accessed 20 August 2018.
14. “A Park Is Growing in Heart of Chinatown,” Singapore Free Press, 22 February 1955, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Sara Grosse, “Memorial Tree Planted at Duxton Plain Park in Honour of Mr Lee Kuan Yew,” Today, 25 April 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
16. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 66–87 (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS); Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 106.
The information in this article is valid as at August 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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