Battery Road is located in the central business district, stretching from Fullerton Square to the junction of Bonham Street and Chulia Street. One of the earliest roads in Singapore, many warehouses were set up on Battery Road by the Singapore River after it was constructed in the 1820s. Three- or four-storey classical buildings were erected there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most of which were replaced by skyscrapers from the mid-20th century onwards.
Battery Road was likely built in the 1820s,1 and was featured in G. D. Coleman’s map of Singapore published in 1836.2 The road takes its name from Battery Point of Fort Fullerton, which was situated where Fullerton Square is today. Battery Point was where 56- and 68-pounder guns once guarded the entrance to the Singapore River. Before Collyer Quay was completed in 1864, Battery Road linked Fort Fullerton to Commercial Square (renamed Raffles Place since 1858).3
In the 1822 town plan drawn up when Stamford Raffles returned to Singapore, the site of Battery Road was part of the area designated as a European and mercantile quarter. Much of the Singapore River bank around Battery Road then was swampland, but there were inhabitants who lived by the river in stilt houses. In order to implement the town plan, the swampland was filled with earth and rocks excavated from a nearby hill and the villagers had to move.4 Businesses began moving in shortly after and the road was widened in 1890 when it became too congested.5
Occupants and landmarks
One of the earliest occupants was the European agency house, A. L. Johnston & Co., whose godown (or warehouse) moved to Battery Road in the 1820s. Alexander Laurie Johnston, the company’s founder, also had a house built beside the godown.6 Another early merchant, Edward Boustead, who later formed Boustead & Co., occupied the godown and house next to Johnston’s.7
Besides the Europeans, local businessmen were also part of the mercantile community on Battery Road. In 1852, Tan Kim Seng, a wealthy and influential Straits Chinese merchant, opened his new godown on Battery Road and celebrated the event by hosting a lavish party there.8 Three decades later in 1882, the Tan Kim Seng Fountain was erected at the end of Battery Road at Fullerton Square in honour of Tan’s donation to Singapore’s public waterworks.9
One of the iconic buildings once located on Battery Road was what was known as the Red House, a reference to its red-brick facade.10 The structure occupied the site near Fullerton Square and housed the Medical Hall from the 1850s11 until the demolition of the Red House in around 1970 to make way for the Straits Trading Building.12 Its neighbour, Gresham House, which served as the headquarters of McAlister & Co.,13 was also torn down for the Straits Trading Building. The new 22-storey structure was completed by 1973.14 The Straits Trading Building was rebuilt in 2007 with 28 floors.15
The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now known as the Standard Chartered Bank) was originally situated by Flint Street and Battery Road, at the site of McAlister and Co.’s ship chandlery store that suffered two serious bouts of fire. This Chartered Bank building opened in early 1895 and consisted of three storeys, which included accommodation for the bank’s staff.16 Some two decades on, the bank constructed a new building nearby at the area bounded by Bonham Street and Battery Road after acquiring the land on which The Dispensary stood in 1913.17 The Dispensary was a landmark in the 19th century and is featured in many photographs of that era.18
The second Chartered Bank building on Battery Road opened in May 1916, and the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Exchange moved into the four-storey building shortly after.19 In 1947, the bank bought over the neighbouring building owned by Guthrie & Co., as well as G.H. Cafe further down beside Guthrie’s,20 to accommodate its expansion and the construction of a new six-storey building on the site.21 Guthrie & Co. returned to Battery Road in 1952 after two years in temporary premises and was housed within the new Chartered Bank building.22 A 44-storey skyscraper called Six Battery Road now occupies the site and the Standard Chartered Bank offices are located within.23
A four-storey department store called Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co. opened in 1915 near the end of Battery Road24 at the site previously occupied by Flint’s Building, which was destroyed by a huge fire.25 A popular shopping destination during its time, the building was eventually bought over by the Malayan Bank (also known as Maybank) in 1961 for the construction of its new offices; four years later, the Malayan Bank Chambers was completed.26 This was demolished in 1997 to build the present 32-storey Maybank Tower.27
The 18-storey Bank of China Building, considered the first skyscraper in Singapore, opened at the corner of Flint Street and Battery Road opposite the Medical Hall in December 1953.28 The second Bank of China tower consisted of 36 storeys and was erected behind the old one in 2000.29
Other well-known businesses on Battery Road included Reverend Benjamin Peach Keasberry’s Mission Press. When Keasberry died in 1875, John Fraser went into partnership with David Chalmers Neave and bought over the printing works, renaming it Singapore and Straits Printing Office. The duo later set up the Singapore and Straits Aerated Water business near the printing works in 1883,30 and the office of The Singapore Free Press newspaper once occupied the space above the aerated-water factory.31
There were several serious incidents of fire on Battery Road in the 19th century. The fire on the New Year’s Eve of 1864 is believed to be the first to have occurred in the European quarters. The fire began at McAlister and Co.’s ship chandlery store at the corner of Battery Road and Flint Street. McAlister’s warehouse was razed to the ground, while a number of other nearby buildings were also damaged.32 In May 1877, a fire broke out at the area between Cavenagh Bridge and Flint Street, which badly damaged Emmerson’s Tiffin Rooms.33 Another major fire occurred again at McAlister’s store on 30 June 1893.34
Tho kho an, meaning “at the back of the godowns” in Hokkien and tho kho literally translates to “earth treasury”.
Dhofu fayun pin, meaning “beside the garden, near the godowns” in Cantonese.
1. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 30. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
2. Survey Department, Singapore, Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore, 1836, map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. TM000037)
3. Norman Edwards and Keys Peter, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 415, 451. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
4. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 75, 82–83, 88–89. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
5. “Extracts from the Municipal Progress,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 20 May 1890, 3; Betty L. Khoo, “Lovers Stroll across This Historic Bridge,” New Nation, 28 April 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Sjovald Cunyngham-Brown, The Traders: A story of Britain’s Southeast Asian Commercial Adventure (London: Newman Neame, 1971), 44 (Call no. RSING 382.0959 CUN); Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 154, 377.
7. Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 206.
8. “The Free Press,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 13 February 1852, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
9. National Archives of Singapore, Battery Road, Singapore, 1900, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005110 – 0041); “Historic Fountain,” Straits Times, 3 May 1929, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Singapore Press Holdings, The Medical Hall Located in a Building Called the ‘Red House’ at Battery Road Was First Set Up by Early German Immigrants in the 1850s. It Will Be Demolished to Make Way for a New $3 Million Dollar Building, the Straits Trading Building, 22 October 1965, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. PCD0123 – 018)
11. Raymond, “The Medical Office and the Dispenser,” PSS e-Bulletin, 27 (30 September 2007).
12. William Campbell, “All Set for the Big Build-Up,” Straits Times, 3 March 1970, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brook and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 208–09. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
14. Campbell, “All Set for the Big Build-Up”; Mok Sin Pin, “Multi-storey Straits Trading Building in Its Final Stage,” Straits Times, 3 April 1972, 30; Tan Wee Lian, “Party Marks Watch and Jewel Store Opening,” Straits Times, 24 January 1973, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Uma Shankari, “Straits Trading Building 90% Leased,” Business Times, 13 February 2010, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “The Chartered Bank’s New Premises,” Straits Mail, 31 December 1894, 3. (From NewspaperSG); National Archives of Singapore, The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, 1908, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005492 – 0033)
17. “A Big Land Deal,” Straits Times, 11 July 1913, 9; “The Chartered Bank,” Straits Times, 8 May 1916, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
18. National Archives of Singapore, Battery Road, Singapore.
19. “Page 11 Advertisements Column 2,” Straits Times, 29 September 1916, 11 (From NewspaperSG); “The Chartered Bank.”
20. “Relic of Older S’pore Found,” Straits Times, 19 September 1948, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Ray Tyers and Siow Jin Hua, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 17. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
21. “Chartered Bank to Be Bigger,” Straits Times, 17 December 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “500 to Drink a Toast in Champagne,” Straits Times, 19 January 1952, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Stanchart Building Yet to Get New Name,” Business Times, 16 January 1990, 11 (From NewspaperSG); “Six Battery Road,” CapitaLand Commercial Trust Management Ltd., n.d.
24. “Whiteaway, Laidlaw,” Straits Times, 31 May 1915, 10; “Whiteaway’s,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 31 May 1915, 10 (From NewspaperSG); National Archives of Singapore, View of Whiteaway Laidlaw and Company at Battery Road, Singapore, 1920s, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005504 – 0053)
25. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 116.
26. “200 People at Bank’s Opening,” Straits Times, 5 January 1965, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Maybank’s New Home,” Straits Times, 29 November 1998, 45. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Joseph Yeo, “Another Skyscraper for Singapore,” Singapore Free Press, 24 December 1953, 15 (From NewspaperSG); Peter J. Rimmer and Howard Dick, The City in Southeast Asia: Patterns, Processes and Policy (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 139. (Call no. RSING 307.760959 RIM)
29. Colourful Scenery of Singapore, (Singapore: Sing Wah, 1978), 33. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 COL)
30. Makepeace, Brook and Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, 194; “Page 3 Advertisements Column 5,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 12 July 1892, 3 (From NewspaperSG); “About Fraser and Neave, Limited,” Fraser and Neave, Limited, n.d.
31. Walter Makepeace, “Memories of the Free Press,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Annual Retrospect, 1864,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 12 January 1865, 3; Pelham Groom, “Singapore Was Once Fireman’s Nightmare,” Singapore Free Press, 30 June 1958, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
33. “The Fire at Cavenagh Bridge,” Straits Times, 5 May 1877, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Great Fire in Singapore,” Straits Times, 1 July 1893, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Tyers and Siow, Ray Tyers’ Singapore, 120; Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 31.
Lydia Aroozoo, “S’pore Spectacular Transformation from River Settlement to Great Emporium of the East is Largely Due to the Energy and Enterprise of a Few Individuals,” Singapore Free Press, 28 November 1960, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
“New Premises for the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank in Singapore,” Straits Times, 1 December 1921, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
“Our Hybrid City,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 20 November 1923, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
W. Bartley, “The Panorama of the Waterfront Forty Years Ago,” Straits Times, 22 July 1946, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 26 January 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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