MacRitchie Reservoir

Singapore Infopedia


Completed in the late 1860s, MacRitchie Reservoir, situated off Lornie Road, was the first water supply system in Singapore. The Impounding Reservoir or Thomson Road Reservoir, as it was originally called, was renamed MacRitchie Reservoir in 1922 after James MacRitchie, the municipal engineer of Singapore from 1883 to 1895.

Early proposals for a water supply system
The water supply of Singapore has been a key concern since the colony’s early days. Soon after the British had established a trading post in Singapore in 1819, the number of trading vessels and migrants arriving at the island grew rapidly.1 This raised the demand for fresh-water supply, and the existing water supply that had depended on wells quickly became inadequate.2

As early as 1823, second British Resident John Crawfurd had proposed spending $1,000 to build a reservoir and waterworks to cope with the increasing demand for fresh water, but nothing came of it. In 1852, government surveyor John Turnbull Thomson proposed water supply plans that included damming the headwaters of the “Singapore creek”, or building reservoirs to capture the water from Pearl’s Hill and Government Hill.3

In 1856, R. Macpherson, Superintendent of Convicts and Roads, requested and obtained $500 from the Municipal Committee to build a water tank or reservoir at the foot of Government Hill – one of the recommendations put forward by Thomson.4 This avenue of water supply was intended to be for use in times of drought.5

Tan Kim Seng’s donation and fountain
In 1857, Tan Kim Seng, a wealthy Straits Chinese merchant and municipal commissioner, donated $13,000 towards the improvement of the town’s water supply.6 Resident Councillor H. Somerset Mackenzie apparently used about $8,000 of the donation to purchase earthenware pipes for the project, but when the pipes arrived, the transaction was rejected by the municipal commissioners and they were never used.7

To commemorate Tan’s generous donation, the municipality erected a fountain in honour of him in 1881. The fountain was originally located at Fullerton Square, at the end of Battery Road opposite the Singapore Exchange and General Post Office.8 Owing to traffic problems, it was moved to the Esplanade (Padang) near the Cenotaph in 1929.9 The street along the Esplanade where the fountain was moved to was named the Queen Elizabeth Walk in 1953.10

Years after Tan’s donation, plans were eventually made and submitted in January 1863 to the seat of government which was then in Calcutta.11 However, it was only after a severe islandwide drought the following year that the proposal to build an impounding reservoir at Thomson Road and pipe the water to Government Hill was approved and funded by the government in Calcutta.12

The construction of the reservoir was largely completed in 1867. However, the project stopped short of bringing the water supply into town as it was necessary to raise the height of the water on Government Hill.13  Only in 1873 was a further project approved by the governor to modify the reservoir in order to establish a pumping station and build the cast-iron piping needed to distribute the water within the town area.14 The pumps and distribution network were not completed until 1877.15

The Thomson Road Reservoir seems to have been first referred to as the Impounding Reservoir in 1876 during a Legislative Council session, and both names were in use until it was renamed MacRitchie Reservoir in 1922.16

Later developments
In 1891, municipal engineer James MacRitchie was tasked with repairing the water supply and expanding the Impounding Reservoir. Its capacity was enlarged from 150 to 600 million gallons at a cost of $317,000, which enabled it to supply water to the town of Singapore for over six months. The expanded reservoir officially opened on 29 September 1894.17 However, by 1900, even further expansion was required and plans were made to channel water from Kallang River, one of the island’s bigger sources of fresh water, into the Impounding Reservoir.18

In 1901, a drought lasting from end May to November necessitated the pumping of water from Kallang River over a ridge to the reservoir.19 In 1902, municipal engineer Robert Peirce proposed to raise the dam by five feet to hold more water and to maximise the use of the high-level filters installed in 1897.20 This expansion work was completed in 1905.21 In addition, a tunnel from Kallang River to the reservoir was constructed between 1906 and 1908, which removed the need for pumping.22 The reservoir was renamed MacRitchie Reservoir in 1922 by the Municipal Commission, in tribute to James MacRitchie’s work as municipal engineer.23

MacRitchie Reservoir was the site of another commemoration when the remains of local war hero, Lim Bo Seng, were brought there in a military ceremony held in 1946, and buried in a grave on a hilltop overlooking the reservoir.24 Today, the grave is part of MacRitchie Reservoir Park.25 The site was refurbished in 2011 to provide improved public access and informative panels to educate the public on Lim’s contributions to Singapore’s history.26

Natural attractions and notable sites
MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Opened on 4 August 1967, MacRitchie Reservoir Park has since become a popular spot for joggers and strollers.27 The park features a bandstand built over the water, and connected to the shore by a zigzag walkway and a floating fountain.28 Students were allowed to canoe at MacRitchie in 1978, and a boathouse was completed in 1979.29 In 2000, sport fishing was allowed at a designated area on the eastern end of the reservoir near the Lornie–Thomson Road junction.30 The annual National Inter-School Cross Country Championships were held there from 1960 to 2002.31 An extensive makeover from 2008 to 2011 under the Public Utilities Board’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme saw the addition of a two-storey carpark and toilets with shower facilities.32

Nature trails
The Central Catchment Nature Reserve holds some of the last patches of primary rainforest in Singapore. Part of the nature reserve, MacRitchie Reservoir is surrounded by more than 500 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest, home to many native species of plants, birds and animals. Boardwalks have been built around MacRitchie Reservoir to allow park visitors to go on a nature walk without damaging the rainforest.33 One trail culminates in the TreeTop Walk, a 250-metre-long freestanding suspension bridge linking the two highest points in the MacRitchie forest. Opened on 5 November 2004, the bridge allows park visitors and researchers to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the forest canopy.34

Syonan Jinja
Located in the forest surrounding the MacRitchie Reservoir is a cluster of stone ruins originally part of a Japanese Shinto shrine. It was built by the Japanese during World War II by prisoners of war, and destroyed just before the war ended in 1945.35 In 2002, the National Heritage Board marked the shrine, the Syonan Jinja, as a historic site.36 The shrine is currently located within the core nature conservation area of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and is closed to the public.37


Zaubidah Mohamed

1. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 11–13, 27. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR)
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 1 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 326–27. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
3. John Turnbull Thomson, Report on the Projected Water-Works for the Supply of Singapore Town (Singapore: Singapore Free Press Office, 1852), 13–16 (From BookSG); Makepeace, Brooke and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 326–27.
4. “Municipal Committee: 25th January 1856,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 14 February 1856, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Report on the Administration of the Straits’ Settlements during the Year 1856–57, in Annual Reports of the Straits Settlements 1855–1941, ed. Robert L. Jarman, vol. 1 (UK: Archive Editions, 1998), 89. (Call no. RSING 959.51 STR)
6. “The Supply of Water at Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 November 1859, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Municipal Commissioners: Bi Monthly Meeting,” Straits Times, 12 November 1859, 3; “The Supply of Water at Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 November 1859, 3; “The Water Works,” Straits Times, 17 July 1869, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “In the Admiralty Court of the Straits Settlements,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 22 October 1881, 3 (From NewspaperSG); B.E. D'Aranjo, The Stranger’s Guide to Singapore (Singapore: Singapore Press, 1890), 4e (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 DAR); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 131–32. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
9. “Historic Fountain: Removal of Tan Kim Seng Memorial,” Straits Times, 3 May 1929, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “‘Queen Elizabeth Walk’,” Straits Times, 3 May 1953, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Municipal Council,” Straits Times, 24 January 1863, 2 (From NewspaperSG); “Annual Report on the Administration of the Straits Settlement, for the Year 1863–64,” in Annual Reports of the Straits Settlements 1855–1941, ed. Robert L. Jarman, vol. 1 (UK: Archive Editions, 1998), 485. (Call no. RSING 959.51 STR)
12. “The Singapore Free Press,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 11 August 1864, 3; “Municipal Council,” Straits Times, 26 August 1865, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Shorthand Report of the Legislative Council,” Straits Times, 6 August 1870, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Legislative Council,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 13 July 1873, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
15. C. J. Smith, “Report on Singapore for the Year 1877,” in Annual Reports of the Straits Settlements 1855–1941, ed. Robert L. Jarman, vol. 2 (UK: Archive Editions, 1998), 324. (Call no. RSING 959.51 STR)
16. “Legislative Council,” Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce, 18 November 1876, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Singapore’s Water Supply,” Straits Times, 22 September 1894, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Water Intake Tower and Bridge with Plague, n.d. photograph, Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore)
18. “The Municipality: Report for 1900,” Straits Times, 21 August 1901, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Singapore Public Works,” Straits Times, 20 May 1904, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “The Impounding Reservoir,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 11 September 1902, 163; “Municipal Commission,” Straits Times, 16 August 1902, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Municipal Commission,” Straits Times, 29 July 1916, 7; “Municipal Board,” Eastern Daily Mail, 30 December 1905, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Municipal Commission.”
23. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 21 November 1922, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Water Intake Tower and Bridge with Plague.
24. “Remains of Col. Lim Bo Seng Laid to Rest,” Straits Times, 14 January 1946, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “New Look for MacRitchie Reservoir,” Business Times, 6 December 1985, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Ong Dai Lin, “Area around Lim Bo Seng’s Tomb to Be Refurbished,” Today, 13 August 2011, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Minister to Open MacRitchie Park,” Straits Times, 4 August 1967, 13; Lim Seng Jin, “Go Back to Nature, and Soak in Its Sights and Sounds,” Straits Times, 14 December 1996, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Minister to Open MacRitchie Park.”
29. “More Places for Canoe Enthusiasts,” New Nation, 25 November 1978, 3; “Canoeing for JCs,” New Nation, 24 May 1979, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Neo Hui Min, “Ok to Fish at 3 More Reservoirs,” Straits Times, 15 December 2000, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Ann-Marie Tan, “Cross Country Moves to Sentosa,” New Paper, 13 November 2002, 12; Wong Wenyi, “Thumbs Up to Holding Race at Sentosa,” New Paper, 15 March 2003, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Jamie Ee Wen Wei, “MacRitchie Makeover Done,” Straits Times, 31 May 2009, 15; “ABC Waters Projects Nearing Completion,” Straits Times, 5 March 2011, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
33. National Parks Board, A Guide to Prunus Trail at the MacRitchie Boardwalks (Singapore, National Parks Board, 2020)
34. Sarah Ng, “TreeTop Walk Too Tough?” Straits Times, 30 January 2005, 10 (From NewspaperSG); National Parks Board, Factsheet: Tree Top Walk, press release, 19 October 2011 (From National Archives of Singapore); “Tree Top Walk,” National Parks Board, accessed 22 June 2020.
35. Elena Chong, “War Veterans Visit ruins of Japanese Shrine,” Straits Times, 26 November 1990, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “Historic Sites,” New Paper, 17 September 2002, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Central Catchment Nature Reserve,” National Parks Board, accessed April 2020.

The information in this article is valid as at July 2020 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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