Keppel Road

Singapore Infopedia


Keppel Road is located in the Tanjong Pagar sub-zone of the Bukit Merah Planning Area within Singapore’s Central Region.1 The road was developed through the reclamation of mangrove swamps and mudflats that stretched from Tanjong Pagar to Telok Blangah, and was named after Captain (and later Admiral) Henry Keppel (1809–1904).

The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company was established in 1864 and was one of the most successful companies who were building new facilities at New Harbour in the 1880s. It controlled almost the entire shipping business in Singapore when it merged with the New Harbour Dock Company in 1899. As more roads were needed to link the port to the town at that time, many major thoroughfares were created, including New Harbour Road which was later known as Keppel Road.

The man behind the construction of New Harbour Road was George D. Coleman. Coleman, who was the architect and surveyor, was also the executive engineer of the government, as well as the superintendent of Indian convict labourers in 1833.

Under Coleman’s leadership, public roads on the sea front were constructed with the help of Indian convicts. The construction included an access road that was laid across mangrove swamps and mudflats stretching from Tanjong Pagar to Telok Blangah. This road led up to the harbour, and was opened on 3 May 1886. It was known as New Harbour Road. It was later renamed as Keppel Road after Captain (and later Admiral) Sir Henry Keppel.

Keppel had first visited Singapore in 1832 as a midshipman, and had subsequently visited Singapore on many other occasions.6 Based on official records, while aboard his anti-pirate 44-gun frigate HMS Meander, Keppel had surveyed and recommended the New Harbour in May 1848.7 He also recommended setting up a coaling station at New Harbour where ships could re-fuel.8 Between 1885 and 1887, steam trams began to ply Keppel Road, from Pasir Panjang through Telok Blangah village to Tanjong Pagar Docks. They then plied from Anson Road, Cecil Street to Collyer Quay. However, the tramway was discontinued in 1894, eight years after its official opening, due to financial reasons.

On 19 April 1900, during one of Keppel’s final visits to Singapore, the New Harbour was officially renamed Keppel Harbour by Acting Governor Sir Alexander Swettenham.10

In 1912, the Singapore Harbour Board took over the management and control of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company. The Harbour Board was in charge of port operations until the Port of Singapore Authority was established in 1964.11 

Landmarks and developments 
Keppel Harbour has a rich history dating back to the 14th century. Chinese sailors called it lung ya men which means Dragon Teeth Gate.12 The harbour houses the Tanjong Pagar Port, which was once the world’s busiest port and an important source of revenue for Singapore.13 

Another landmark located near Keppel Road is the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Building, which was completed in 1932.14 Train services ceased on 1 July 2011 and the station was gazetted as a national monument that same year.15 The 84-year-old building will be linked to the Cantonment Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station when the latter is completed in 2025.16 

Keppel Road is also the vital link between Singapore’s town business centre and industrial and commercial activities in the west coast.17 Today, the flyover of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) connects to the East Coast Parkway (ECP), beginning at the Shenton Way junction and turning off at the Keppel viaduct. Keppel Road stretches from Shenton Way to the Telok Blangah Road/Kampong Bahru Road junction.18

Located on Keppel Road, the Customs Operations Command (COC) is the headquarters for all Singapore Customs enforcement operations. Built in 1945, the building was used by the then Department of Customs and Excise in the 1960s and 1970s. It underwent a major renovation in 2008.19 The COC will be relocated to Jalan Bahar in the western part of Singapore when the new building is completed in 2019.20

The Keppel MRT station on the Circle Line will be located along Keppel Road, near Keppel Terminal and Keppel Distripark. The station is expected to be completed by 2025.21

Variant names
The Chinese name for Keppel Road and Keppel Harbour was sin kam kong chu or “Kampong Bahru dock”. It was also called sek lat moi or “Selat (meaning “straits” in Malay) Passage”.22 There is also a record of Keppel Road being known as Selat Road in the 1930s.23

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area: Planning Report 1993 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1993), 4, 6. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. George Bogaars, Tanjong Pagar Dock Company 1864–1905 (Singapore: G. P. P., 1956), 250 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 BOG); Port of Singapore Authority, Singapore: Portrait of a Port: A Pictorial History of the Port and Harbour of Singapore 1819–1984 (Singapore: MPH Magazines, 1984), 14 (Call no. RSING 779.93871095957 SIN); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 210. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
3. Gretchen Liu, Singapore: A Pictorial History 1819–2000 (Singapore: Archipelago Press in association with National Heritage Board, 1999), 102. (Call no. RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
4. John Frederick Adolphus McNair and W. D. Bayliss, Prisoners their Own Warders: A Record of the Convict Prison at Singapore in the Straits Settlements, Established 1825, Discontinued 1873, Together With a Cursory History of the Convict Establishments at Bencoolen, Penang and Malacca from the Year (Miami, Fl: Hardpress Publishing, 2013), 43, 46. (Call no. RSING 365.95957 MAC)
5. McNair and Bayliss, Prisoners their Own Warders, 44; Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 210 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Port of Singapore Authority, Portrait of a Port, 14.
6. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 210; S. Durai Raja-Singam, Malayan Street Names: What They Mean and Whom They Commemorate (Ipoh: Mercantile Press, 1939), 115 (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 RAJ)
7. David Brazil, Street Smart: Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991), 241 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Raja-Singam, Malayan Street Names, 115; S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 41–42. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM)
8. Peter K. G. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore (Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, 2000), 172 (Call no. RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS]); Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 142. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
9. Bogaars, Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, 250.
10. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 210.
11. Port of Singapore Authority, Portrait of a Port, 14, 124–25. 
12. Dunlop, Street Names of Singapore, 172; Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 8.
13. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Merah Planning Area, 8.
14. Ray Tyers, “Our Heritage,” New Nation, p. 7. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, “Public Works and Future Plans for Former Railway Land,” news release, 1 July 2011; Pearl Lee, “Former Railway Land to Be Used for Bus Interchange,” Straits Times, 23 May 2016, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Preservation of Monuments Order 2011, s. 185/2011, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 2011, 1–3. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS)
16. Christopher Tan, “Work to Link Historic Station Starts This Year,” Straits Times, 28 May 2016, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Serene Foo, “Overhead Semi-Expressway,” New Paper, 7 June 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Vincent Fong, “Relief Soon – Via the Ayer Rajah Expressway,” Singapore Monitor, 7 October 1984, 8; Arthur Lee, “An AYE for the Motorist,” Straits Times, 9 May 1986, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Customs Operations Command - Charting a New Milestone,” inSYNC, no. 3 (2008).  
20. “New Customs Operations Command at Jalan Bahar in 2019,” inSYNC, no. 43 (November–December 2016)
21. “With 3 Final Stations, Circle Line Will Come ‘Full Circle’ by 2025,” Channel NewsAsia, 29 October 2015 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “Location Maps and Station Entrances,” Land Transport Authority, accessed 9 July 2018.
22. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 210.
23. “A Singapore Port Contrast,” Straits Times, 3 June 1937, 18. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources 
Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 493. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])

Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 325. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])

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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