Cavenagh Bridge

Singapore Infopedia


Cavenagh Bridge is located across the Singapore River in the Central Region.1 It is named after William Orfeur Cavenagh, the last governor of the Straits Settlements (1859–67) under British India control. The bridge, completed in 1869, is the oldest bridge across the Singapore River.2 It was the last major work of the Indian convicts and now serves as a footbridge.3

The construction of Cavenagh Bridge started in 1867 and was completed in 1869.4 It is named after Cavenagh,5 the last governor of the Straits Settlements under the government of British India, although his successor, Governor Harry St George Ord, had planned for it to be named “Edinburgh Bridge” to commemorate the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Singapore in 1869. Ord eventually relented when members of the Singapore Legislative Council decided that it should honour and perpetuate the name of the last governor appointed by the British East India Company to Singapore.6 Cavenagh Bridge was the last major project undertaken by Indian convict labour.7

Cavenagh Bridge was opened without much fanfare.8 Its steel structure was imported from Glasgow by P&W MacLellan,9 the same company that built the cast-iron Telok Ayer Market.10 The Cavenagh family coat-of-arms can be seen on the cross-beams at both ends of the steel structure.11

The bridge linked Commercial Square (later renamed Raffles Place) and the government quarter, and was an essential alternative to reach the General Post Office, replacing the ferry crossing.12 When Anderson Bridge was opened in 1909, heavy traffic was diverted away from Cavenagh Bridge.13 Cavenagh Bridge was thereafter declared off limits to “any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt. and to all cattle and horses” – text inscribed on a signage that can still be found at the bridge today – and was converted into a pedestrian-only bridge.14

Unfortunately, the bridge had not been designed to make allowances for the tides; as late as 1983, bumboats plowing the river had to wait for low tide before making their way under the bridge.15 In 1987, Cavenagh Bridge underwent a five-month refurbishment carried out by the Public Works Department to preserve and strengthen its structure.16 The restoration work cost a total of S$1.2 million and the bridge was reopened on 3 July 1987.17

In August 2019, it was announced that Cavenagh Bridge, Elgin Bridge, and Anderson Bridge would be collectively gazetted as a National Monument.18

Variant names
Hokkien: Hai ki thih tiau kio, meaning “iron suspension bridge by the sea shore”.19


Vernon Cornelius

1. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 12. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
2. Colin Cheong, Framework and Foundation: A History of the Public Works Department (Singapore: Times Editions, 1992), 55 (Call no. RSING 354.5957008609); Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 783. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
3. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 492. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
4. Cheong, Framework and Foundation, 55; Untitled,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 9 November 1869, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 10.
6. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 10.
7. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 492.
8. “Fortnight’s Summary,” Straits Times, 13 November 1869, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 492.
10. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 492.
11. “Cavenagh Bridge,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 9 November 1869, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 10.
13. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 11.
14. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 492; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 11.
15. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 492; Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 11.
16. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 11.
17. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 11–12.
18. Nabilah Awang, “Three Singapore River Bridges and the Padang to Be Gazetted as National Monuments,” Today, 3 August 2019. (From Factiva via NLB's eResources website)
19. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 67. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])

Further resource
Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 10–11. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as of September 2019 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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