Swipe And Discover: 7 Fun Facts of Tanjong Pagar

Swipe and discover hidden stories in the neighbourhoods of Tanjong Pagar, Pasir Ris and Kallang in this year’s SHF! This year, we encourage you to learn snippets of your neighbourhood’s story, as we enjoy heritage from the comforts of our own home. Here are 7 fun facts to discover about Tanjong Pagar!

1. The Cape of High Stakes

Tanjong Pagar docks and wharves, 1880s. National Museum of Singapore Collection, courtesy of National Heritage Board.

Tanjong Pagar, the “cape of stakes”, may have been named after Singapore’s first kelongs – fishing traps that increased the harvest from the sea. The development of the area as a port over the last 150 years has raised the stakes even further with a harvest that has brought great success.

2.The Port’s Little India

Decorative arch along Cook Street by Kadayanallur Muslim League on occasion of Singapore being conferred the administrative status of a city, 1951. Courtesy of Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League.
A gathering of street hawkers and others at the junction of South Bridge Road and Cross Street, c.1860s-80s. Lee Kip Lin Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Tanjong Pagar, with its port nearby, was a site of opportunities to many communities, not just the Chinese. A community of Muslims from Kadayanallur, India counted among them. It is after this community that Kadayanallur Street was named in 1952 and who founded the Umar Pulavar Tamil School at Maxwell Road.

3. Uplifting 5 Kadayanallur Street

Vintage lift at 5 Kadayanallur Street, 2019. Courtesy of Qazim Karim

5 Kadayanallur Street’s plain exterior hides a few surprises, including a lift from its time as St Andrew’s Mission Hospital. Used to bring children with bone tuberculosis up to the roof for relief from pain that only the sun could provide, the 1929 vintage lift is now Singapore’s oldest.

4. The Pull of Tanjong Pagar

A rickshaw puller, early 1900s. National Museum of Singapore Collection, courtesy of National Heritage Board.

Jinrikisha Station, a Tanjong Pagar landmark at Neil Road, was built in 1904 for rickshaw registration. The rickshaw or jinrikisha – Japanese for “human-powered-vehicle” was invented in Japan and arrived in Singapore in 1880. The station was built in Tanjong Pagar due to its large population of rickshaw pullers and owners.

5. A Stable Slope

A photograph of a gharry, late 1800s. National Museum of Singapore Collection, courtesy of National Heritage Board.

Horses once called Erskine Road’s shophouses home. Stables set up by Baweanese gharry or horse-drawn carriage drivers occupied several shophouses, when carriages parked along the street was a common sight. Hailing from Pulau Bawean, members of the Baweanese community were well known for their skills in the handling of horses.

6. From Coolies to Cool Cafés

Coolies coaling at Tanjong Pagar Port, 1900s. Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Home to fancy restaurants and cafés, the shophouses around Duxton Road once housed overcrowded labourer or coolie lodgings. Known colloquially as “coolie-keng”, tens could be squeezed into tiny dark rooms, sleeping on multi-tiered wooden bunks that were often shared. Besides pulling rickshaws, migrant labourers also kept Tanjong Pagar’s port running.

7. Streets of Life and Death

Sago Lane, 1920. Lim Choo Sye Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

The “Street of Death”, Sago Lane, was once lined with death houses. These saw to the needs of those such as Tanjong Pagar’s coolies, who at the end of their lives had no families. Many chose to spend their last days in these houses, which also saw to their funerals.

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