Collyer Quay

Singapore Infopedia


Collyer Quay is a street and seawall located in the Downtown Core of Singapore’s central region. Built by convict labour, Collyer Quay stretches from the junction of Fullerton Road and Battery Road to the junction of D’Almeida Street.It served as an important landing point for the unloading and storage of goods transported along the Singapore River, and grew to become a vital link to the commercial centre.Collyer Quay was named after Captain George Chancellor Collyer, an army engineer with the Madras Engineers.

George Collyer arrived in Singapore in January 1858 to build fortifications for the island’s defence.He was appointed Chief Engineer of the Straits Settlements. In 1858, Collyer designed the seawall from Johnston’s Pier to the old Teluk Ayer fish market, and the land seaward of Commercial Square (today’s Raffles Place) was reclaimed. About two-thirds of the seawall were completed by the beginning of 1861, although Collyer did not see its completion as he had left for Europe in February 1862.5 The earth from Mount Wallich was used to build the roadway behind the wall. Land reclamation took another two years and the roadway, when completed in 1864, was named Collyer Quay.

Before its development, the area was a sea beach stretching from Johnston’s Pier to Prince Street.7 Until the land was filled and reclaimed, buildings had faced Commercial Square, and only out-houses and sheds faced the sea shore. By 1866, however, a whole line of buildings had been erected along Collyer Quay.8 The big firms that had offices and godowns lining the quay were built by the late 1860s.The buildings were linked at the second storey by a continuous verandah that faced the sea.10 Peons armed with telescopes were stationed on the verandah to announce the arrival of their company ships.11

In 1882, the Singapore Tramway Company began plying trams from New Harbour  to Collyer Quay and eastwards to Rochor.12 For the first 20 years, steam trams were used, which were later switched to electric trams in the early 20th century.13 

Along the stretch of Collyer Quay were key landmarks, some of which still existing today:

Johnston’s Pier: Completed in March 1856, Johnston’s Pier was named after Alexander Laurie Johnston, one of the earliest European settlers in Singapore and the founder of A. L. Johnston & Co.14 The pier was demolished in 1933, shortly after Clifford Pier opened.15
A. L. Johnston & Co.: At the corner of Battery Road originally stood merchant firm A. L. Johnston & Co, which was established by Johnston in 1820. At this site, the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank has had three structures built: in 1892, 1925 and 1979.16
Ocean Building: There have been four Ocean Buildings constructed over the years. The first three were built in 1866, 1923 and 1974 respectively, while the present one known as the Ocean Financial Centre was completed in 2011.17
Clifford Pier: Built to replace Johnston’s Pier, Clifford Pier was officially opened by then Governor of the Straits Settlements Cecil Clementi on 3 June 1933. It was named after Hugh Clifford, Clementi’s predecessor, who was governor between 1927 and 1929.18 In 2006, it was closed to make way for the Marina Barrage, and was gazetted for conservation on 14 March 2007.19  
Change Alley: The original Change Alley and The Arcade were world-famous landmarks.20
Fullerton Bay Hotel: Opened in 2010, the six-storey Fullerton Bay Hotel together with the Fullerton Hotel, Fullerton Waterboat House, One Fullerton, Clifford Pier, and Customs House, form the Fullerton Heritage precinct.21
OUE Bayfront: A 18-storey office building completed in 2011 was transformed from the former Overseas Union House. Adjoining OUE Bayfront is the OUE Tower (formerly Change Alley Aerial Plaza) and OUE Link (the old Change Alley Link Bridge).22

Variant names
Chinese names:

(1) In Hokkien, tho kho au or “at the back of the godowns” describes the early godowns which had their backs facing the sea before and just after land reclamation.23
(2) In Hokkien, ang teng lor, and in Cantonese, hoong teng. Both mean “red lamp road”, after the red warning lamp installed at the end of old Johnston’s Pier.24

Vernon Cornelius

1. Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 114. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
2. George L. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter (Singapore: Eastern University Press, 1985), 116. (Call no. RSING 070.924 PEE)
3. Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 453. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
4. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 453.
5. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 688, 699. 
6. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 103, 114.
7. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100.
8. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003), 99. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
9. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 103.
10. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 453.
11. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 103.
12. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 453.
13. Peet, Rickshaw Reporter, 107.
14. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 8 April 1856, 6; “A Glimpse Into the Colourful Past of the Red Lamp Pier,” Straits Times, 26 January 2004, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100; Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 62–63.
15. “About Singapore,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884—1942), 28 March 1935, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 121.
17. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 106; Tay Suan Chiang, “History Centre,” Straits Times, 3 September 2011, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 114; Savage and Yeoh, Study of Singapore Street Names, 99;Sir Hugh Clifford,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 June 1932, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “An Icon Makes Way,” Straits Times, 14 April 2006, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Clifford Pier, Former Customs Harbour Branch Building and Change Alley Aerial Plaza,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, accessed 20 August 2018.
20. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 100, 106, 114, 121; Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 454.
21. Geoffrey Eu, “Timeless Beauty,” Business Times, 10 July 2010, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “OUE Bayfront and adjoining OUE Tower and OUE Link,” OUE Limited, accessed 20 August 2018; “OUB Bayfront,” DP Architects Pte Ltd., accessed 20 August 2018.  
23. Edwards and Keys, Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places, 453.
24. Savage and Yeoh, Study of Singapore Street Names, 99.

The information in this article is valid as at September 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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