Gaston Dutronquoy

Singapore Infopedia


Gaston Dutronquoy was a prominent hotelier and entrepreneur in Singapore during the 1840s and early 1850s.1 He was also the island's first recorded resident photographer. A native of Jersey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of France, he first arrived in Singapore in March 1839, advertising himself as a painter of miniatures, portraits,2 houses and palanquins.3

A multi-faceted career
In May 1839, Dutronquoy established the London Hotel in Commercial Square (later renamed Raffles Place).4 In late 1841, he moved his hotel to a two-storey bungalow at 3 Coleman Street near the Esplanade, which was the former residence of G. D. Coleman, Singapore's pioneer colonial architect and the first government superintendent of public works.5 It was there that he opened a photographic studio, experimenting with the newly invented daguerreotype. His studio offered portrait-taking services at ten dollars for one person, and fifteen for two persons in a single photograph.6 In March 1844, the London Hotel was again relocated to another building (formerly Singapore Hotel), situated at the corner of High Street and the Esplanade.7

Apart from photography, Dutronquoy also tried his hand at theatre. He set up the Theatre Royal in London Hotel, which staged theatrical performances between 1844 and 1845.8 It is interesting to note that besides Singapore, this spirited proprietor had also established a hotel (which incidentally was also named the London Hotel) and theatre in Hong Kong. His business ventures in Hong Kong did not last very long though. He left Hong Kong in a hurry on 17 December 1842, allegedly over some “personal violence added to insult and abuse” that he had received the previous evening”.9

In 1851, Dutronquoy opened a branch of the London Hotel at New Harbour, on the premises of James Guthrie’s old residences in Singapore.10 In 1852, this hotel was advertised as one which could cater to the needs of invalids and convalescents, supported by a team of well-qualified doctors from India.11 

A heroic deed
Dutronquoy displayed his courage during one of early Singapore's worst fires. On 12 February 1847, a large fire broke out in Kampong Glam. Before long, the flames had spread to the neighbouring European houses along Beach Road; the house of a Gilbert McMicking was the first to catch fire.  Fortunately, Dutronquoy, together with a party of French sailors, bravely climbed onto the roof of McMicking's house. There, by continually throwing water onto the tiles, they managed to put out the fire and save the building, preventing it from spreading to the other European houses.12

A mysterious end
It is not known for sure what happened to Dutronquoy after the mid-1850s. According to reports of the time, he mysteriously vanished while in search of gold in the Muar river region. Rumours during the time stated that he was murdered during the expedition.13 Dutronquoy was one of the principal inhabitants of Singapore in 1853 but was listed as "absent" in the Singapore almanack and directory for the years 1854 and 1855.14

In September 1857, an advertisement in The Straits Times informed that Dutronquoy’s estate had been dissolved.15 In that same issue of the newspaper, it was also announced that London Hotel was taken over by a Madame Esperanza, who renamed it Singapore Hotel.16

In 1858, Gaston's son, S. Dutronquoy, opened a hotel on Bonham Street and named it London Hotel.17

Alex Ong

1. John Falconer, A Vision of the Past: A History of Early Photography in Singapore and Malaya: The Photographs of G. R. Lambert & Co.,1880–1910 (Singapore: Times Editions, 1987), 11–12. (Call no. RSING 779.995957 FAL)
2. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 494 (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]); Kay Gillis and Kevin Tan, The Book of Singapore's Firsts. Singapore (Singapore Heritage Society, 2006), 127. (Call no. RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS])
3. “Page 1 Advertisements Columns 2: Notice,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 11 April 1839, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Page 1 Advertisements Column 4: London Hotel,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835­-1869), 23 May 1839, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Page 1 Advertisements Column 2: London Hotel,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 12 August 1841, 1; “Last Look at the House That Coleman Built,” Straits Times, 5 December 1965, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Page 1 Advertisements Column 3: Daguerrotype Portraits,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 7 December 1843, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Page 1 Advertisements Column 2,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 29 February 1844, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Falconer, Vision of the Past, 11.
8. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 743, 745 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 14 March 1844, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Carl T. Smith, “The Hong Kong Amateur Dramatic Club and Its Predecessors,” Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society vol. 22 (1982): 218–19.
10. “Page 3 Advertisements Column 1: New Harbour,” Straits Times, 27 May 1851, 3; “Page 2 Advertisements Column 1: London Hotel,” Straits Times, 25 November 1851, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Y. K. Lee, “Private Practitioners and Private Hospitals in Early Singapore (1819–1872),” Singapore Medical Journal 46, no. 9 (September 2005): 495 (Call no. RSING 610.5 SMJ); “Singapore,” Straits Times, 29 June 1852, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 18 February 1847, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 460–61.
13. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 745.
14. The Singapore Almanack and Directory for the Year 1853, Containing the Government, Various Departments, Merchants, Trade and Professions, &c., at Singapore (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1853), 42; The Singapore Almanack and Directory for the Year 1854, Containing the Government, Various Departments, Merchants, Trade and Professions, &c., at Singapore (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1864), 54; The Singapore Almanack and Directory for the Year 1855, Containing the Government, Various Departments, Merchants, Trade and Professions, &c., at Singapore (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 1855), 57. (From BookSG)
15. R. C. Woods, “Page 3 Advertisements Colum 4: In the Estate of Caston Dutronquoy,” Straits Times, 8 September 1857, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Page 3 Advertisement Column 4: Singapore Hotel,” Straits Times, 8 September 1857, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Falconer, Vision of the Past, 12; Page 2 Advertisements Column 1: The London Hotel,” Straits Times, 10 September 1859, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at September 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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