Connell House

Singapore Infopedia


Connell House was a sailors’ haven and used to be located at 1 Anson Road. It had co-located with the Missions to Seamen (Singapore branch), a London-based non-profit organisation established in 1856, to provide quality shelter and services to sailors who called on the different ports across the world.

Connell House was a residential hostel for the sailors until 1971 when the building was acquired by the government. The Missions to Seamen subsequently relocated several times, including to a two-storey pre-war shophouse at 291 River Valley Road which has since been deemed as having a unique architecture.1 Today, the shelter that sailors used to enjoy at Connell House, is provided by the Mission to Seafarers at a drop-in centre at Jurong Port.

Matthew Connell was an engineer with the British Merchant Navy, the global network of seafarers that kept the British empire together through the import and export of goods.2 Connell arrived in Singapore at the turn of the 20th century and made Singapore his home port. Upon arriving, he and his colleagues stayed at a place called the Sailors’ Home. This lodging had begun operations in Singapore since the early 1850s and was originally located on High Street. In 1857, it expanded to include a property that belonged to American consul, Joseph Balestier. By 1892, the Home had moved to a small house at the corner of North Bridge Road and Stamford Road (opposite St Andrew’s Cathedral), the site of present-day Capitol Building.3

Over time, as the number of sailors calling at the port of Singapore increased, Connell saw the need for a bigger lodging place for the men. In fact, it was his wish to establish a home for sailors where they could enjoy quality hospitality services after roughing it out at sea.4

Connell donated $50,000 for the construction of a building to house the sailors.5 After Connell’s death on 11 September 1924, the Sailors’ Home at the junction of North Bridge Road and Stamford Road was sold.6 Proceeds from this sale were pooled together with the amount left behind by Connell to acquire a three-acre site at 1 Anson Road. A new building was completed at this site by 1925 and named Connell House, after its benefactor.7 It was at this time that the Singapore branch of the Missions to Seamen was officially set up in 1926. The Missions to Seamen, a non-profit organisation founded in 1856 by the Anglican Church in London, had then been providing such services to sailors of all nationalities in many ports around the world.8

Connell House, also popularly known as the Mariner’s Club, was such a congenial meeting point for officers and men of the Mercantile Marine that it brought fond memories to ex-seafarers. It offered hotel-like rooms, some of which were air-conditioned, as well as a hall with a baby grand piano to hold dances. It was also a place to screen cinema shows. Connell House had a restaurant, bars, a billiard room, lounges, a writing room, two libraries, and an in-door games room for table-tennis, darts and chess. Outdoors, there was a swimming pool, tennis court, badminton court and sprawling garden. Its services included offering postage and telephone kiosks. A hairdresser was also available from 7.30 to 10 pm. The Chaplaincy House of the Missions to Seamen and the Mariners Chapel at Connell House provided complementary activities for the sailors.9

During the Japanese Occupation, Connell House became the headquarters of the Japanese Merchant Marine, providing the same services, this time to the Japanese. At the end of the war, the house was returned to the colonial government. In 1971, the government acquired Connell House, and the Missions to Seamen had to relocate.10

Connell House was then occupied by several government agencies, including the then Telecommunication Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Telephone Board and Public Works Department.11 It was also used as a temporary campus for the Singapore Polytechnic.12

Connell House was subsequently torn down and the site in Anson Road has since been occupied by a commercial building.13

Missions to Seamen
After the acquisition of Connell House by the government in 1971, the Missions to Seamen rented a building from the Port of Singapore Authority. When the lease to this building was terminated, the Mission was relocated to two rooms at the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital. On 18 October 1983, the Mission officially opened its new home in a two-storey pre-war Chinese shophouse at 291 River Valley Road, where it provided hospitality to sailors on transit in Singapore.14

The Singapore Branch of the Missions to Seamen sold its River Valley building in March 2002, and changed its name to the Singapore Branch of the Mission to Seafarers on 18 July 2002.15 With assistance from The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the Mission to Seafarers initially operated an International Drop-in Centre for Seafarers within the Tanjong Pagar Port, and subsequently at the Jurong Port.16  

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Nor-Afidah A Rahman

1. Esther Yee, “Mission Statement,” Straits Times, 7 June 2003, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
2. The Swimming Pool at Connell House, a Boarding House for the British Merchant Navy, 1960s, photograph, National Museum of Singapore Collection, National Heritage Board (accession no. 2008–05599)
3. G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 39 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Swimming Pool at Connell House.
4. “The Name That the Seamen Didn’t Like,” Singapore Free Press, 26 December 1953, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 39.
6. “In the Estate of Matthew Connell, Deceased,” Straits Times, 5 January 1925, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 39; Survey Department, Singapore, Electoral Divisions of Hong Lim, Kreta Ayer, Tanjong Pagar and Anson, 1959, map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. SP001061)
8. Rahita Elias, “Missions to Seamen a Haven for Those in Need,” Business Times, 5 May 1994, 29; Mervin E. Moore, Eighty Years: Caring for Seafarers: The Singapore Branch of the Mission to Seafarers (Singapore: Singapore Branch of the Seafarers, 2006), iii, iv, 2. (Call no. RSING 266.35957 MOO)
9. All About Connell House (Singapore: [s.n.], 1956) (From PublicationSG); Moore, Caring for Seafarers, 5, 26–28; Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 39.
10. “Connell House Closes after 46 Years,” Straits Times, 7 December 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG); Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places, 39.
11. “TAS Poised for the Challenges Ahead,” Straits Times, 10 April 1972, 9; “STB Division Shifts to New Building,” Straits Times, 9 May 1973, 19; “New Premises,” Straits Times, 17 December 1978, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lee KuanYew, “The Opening of Singapore Polytechnic New Campus,” speech, Dover Road, 7 July 1979, transcript, Ministry of Culture (National Archives of Singapore document no. lky19790707); Sumiko Tan, First and Foremost: Training Technologists for the Nation: Forty Years of the Singapore Polytechnic (Singapore: Singapore Polytechnic, 1994), 42–43. (Call no. RSING 378.5957 TAN)
13. Mighty Minds Pub., Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory (Singapore: Mighty Minds Pub., 2015), 132D. (Call no. RSING q912.5957 MMSSD)
14. Moore, Caring for Seafarers, 28–29, 30–33, 50.
15. Moore, Caring for Seafarers, 81.
16. Moore, Caring for Seafarers, 81, 83; Lee Hong Liang,The Mission to Seafarers is (MtS) has opened the new International Drop-in Centre (IDIC) in Jurong Port Singapore on Tuesday,” Seatrade Maritime News, 4 June 2014; Tan Beng Tee, “The Official Opening of the International Drop-In Centre for Seafarers,” media release, 3 June 2014.

Further resource
Meg Jump, “Seamen’s Friend,” Straits Times, 17 March 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

List of Images
Connell House, Merchant Navy Hotel Club, 1960, photograph, Chiang Ker Chiu Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980006567-0118)

Gretchen Liu, Singapore Sketchbook (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2001), 12–13. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BYF-[HIS])

M. Gretchen, Pastel Portraits: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage (Singapore: Singapore Coordinating Committee, 2001), 66. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 PAS)

Survey Department, Singapore, Singapore Instrumental Plot – Tanjong Pagar, 1970, map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. TM000857)

Swimming Pool at Connell House, Anson Road, Singapore, 1969, photograph, Lim Keng Chye Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980007351-0102)

The information in this article is valid as of 2014 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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The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

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