A journey through Tanjong Pagar in 1970

23 02 2018

There is always and element of romance connected with train journeys, especially the leisurely paced journeys of the past with which one can take in the magical scenes along the way that one can only get from railway journeys. LIFE Magazine’s Carl Mydans, a legendary photograph whose work spans several decades and includes an extensive coverage of Singapore prior to the war (see “A glimpse of Singapore in 1941, the year before the darkness fell“), took one such journey out of an independent Singapore some 3 decades later, capturing a Singapore we can no longer see but through photographs of the era. The set, also includes scenes along the journey to Bangkok, along with those captured at stopovers made in West Malaysia’s main urban centres.

The photographs of Singapore are particularly interesting. There are some of the old harbour, and quite a few of the twakow decorated Singapore River along which much of Singapore’s trade passed through. There are also several street scenes, once familiar to us in the area of North Bridge Road. A couple of quite rare shots were also taken at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station including one showing a steam locomotive of a 1940s vintage, which the Malayan Railway operated until the early 1970s. There are also images of the steam locos captured during the journey.

The photographs of West Malaysia are also interesting. The replacement of rubber trees with oil palm as a crop, which had been taking place in parts of the peninsula from the 1960s to reduce Malaysia’s reliance on rubber and tin was in evidence. This is something that I well remember from the road trips to Malaysia of my early childhood. Another familiar scene from those trips were of the padi fields, which the trunk road passing through Malacca seemed to weave through. This is something Mr. Mydans also seemed to have captured quite a fair bit of.

The departure platform at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station with a prewar relic of a steam locomotive.

Malaysian Customs Inspection at the Departure Platform.

The Supreme Court and the Padang.

Hock Lam Street.

Corner of Hock Lam Street and North Bridge Road.

North Bridge Road.

The old harbour (Marina Bay today)

View of Clifford Pier and the Inner Road, and Outer Roads beyond the Detached Mole. The view today would be towards Marina Bay Sands and Marina South.

Another view of the harbour – where Marina Bay Sands and Marina South is today. The Harbour Division of the Preventive Branch of the Department of Customs and Excise (Customs House today) can be seen at the lower right hand corner.

A rainbow over the harbour.

Boat Quay and the Singapore River

Walking the plank. Coolies loaded and unloaded twakows by balancing items that were often bulkier than their tiny frames over narrow and rather flimsy planks that connected the boats to the quayside.

A view of the stepped sides of the river around where Central is today.

Boat Quay.

Coolies sliding crates that were too bulky and heavy along the plank.

Lorry cranes were sometimes used instead.

But more often than not manual labour was used.

A view of the “belly of the carp”.

The Journey North

(with stops in Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Bangkok)

A steam locomotive at what looks like Gemas Railway Station.

More steam locomotives (at Gemas?).

Inside the train cabin.

Train along a shunt line.

Rubber estates and rubber tappers were a common sight – even along the roads up north.

So were water buffaloes and padi fields.

Padi field.

Another view of a padi field.

Oil palms taking root. A drive to reduce Malaysia’s dependence on rubber and tin from the 1960s would see oil palms colour a landscape once dominated by rubber trees.

Another cabin view.

A break in the journey – a view of the Stadthuys Malacca.

Jalan Kota in Malacca.

View of the Malacca River.

The Arthur Benison Hubback designed (old) KL Railway Station .

Another view of the south end of the KL Railway Station – with a view also of the KL Railway Administration Building.

A southward view down Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin (ex Victory Avenue) with the KL Railway Station on the left and the KL Railway Administration Building on the right, also designed by Arthur Bennison Hubback.

The Railway Administration Building and Masjid Negara.

A view down Jalan Raja in KL with the BagunanSultan Abdul Samad on the left.

Another view down Jalan Raja in KL with the BagunanSultan Abdul Samad on the left and Dataran Merdeka on the right.

Sungai Siput Railway Station.

The Penang Ferry from Butterworth.

A view of Butterworth.

George Town – with a view towards the clan jetties.

The Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang.

Air Itam and the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang.

What looks like the Leong San Tong in the Khoo Kongsi in George Town.

The Penang Hill funicular railway.

More padi fields.

Possibly southern Thailand.



A glimpse of Singapore in 1941, the year before the darkness fell

16 02 2018

Singapore in 1941, already one of the world’s busiest ports, was an island – even then – in a state of constant flux. The civic and commercial centres had in the two decades prior to 1941, seen the additions of some of the grandest edifices they municipality had seen. The European flavour of the buildings, many of which exhibited Neo-Classical features, were in sharp contrast to the Singapore River that ran through the heart of the municipality. A centre of the trade on which the fortunes of the institutions housed in the new edifices built fortunes on, the river was lined with well worn godowns into which and out of which bent and frail looking coolies with sun-bronzed bodies moved goods from the twakows over flimsy planks.

1941 was also a year that brought much trepidation with the threat of war looming – even if many fed by pronouncements by Britain over Singapore’s imagined impregnability did not believe would come. Very visible preparations, which would prove to have been grossly inadequate, were being made for war with troops and equipment being shipped in. Thanks to photographer Carl Mydans, who covered Singapore extensively for LIFE Magazine, we are able to get a glimpse at all of this. A collection of Mydan’s many photographs of Singapore taken in 1941 can be found in the LIFE Magazine and features street scenes, people, dwellings on both sides of the very apparent social divide, as well as the preparations that were taking place for a war that was to have far reaching consequences.

The Supreme Court , which was completed in 1939.

The Municipal Building (now City Hall).

The statue of Stamford Raffles in front of Victoria Memorial Hall – with the colonnade that disappeared during the occupation.

Finlayson Green.

The GPO (Fullerton Building), still with the flambeau pieces and Royal Coat of Arms made by Italian sculptor Cav. Rodolfo Nolli.

The Fullerton Road side of the GPO.

Raffles Place looking towards the Mercantile Bank Chambers.

Empress Place Building – preparations for war can be seen around the building.

A view towards the old Supreme Court (now The Arts House) from the new Supreme Court.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, the Union Building and a view down Collyer Quay.

A view down Raffles Quay.

A view down Robinson Road.

Another view down Robinson Road.

A view down Japan Street (renamed to Boon Tat Street after the war).

Cathay Building and Singapore’s first “skyscraper”.

The waterfront.

Preparations for war at the waterfront.

The Singapore River, close to Cavenagh Bridge.

Cavenagh Bridge.

An aerial view of the “Belly of the Carp”.

Boat Quay.

A coolie “walking the plank”.

The view through the canopy of a twakow.

Boatmen on the river.

A laden twakow.

Boat Quay (image should be flipped horizontally).

A bullock cart along Boat Quay.

“Flags” of Singapore – laundry hung out to dry from shophouse fronts.

Loading rubber sheets along Beach Road,

A rickshaw puller along Boat Quay.

An itinerant hawker.

Sacks of rice loaded into a twakow.


Mother and child.

Kampung boys.

The letter writer.

Waterfront living.

More waterfront living.

The Turf Club.

Aw Boon Haw at the villa that gave Haw Par Villa its name.

Road workers outside the Ford Factory.

Loading rubber sheets onto a lorry at Beach Road (the SSVF Drill Hall can be seen in the background).

A bullock cart.

A view down North Bridge Road towards the Sultan’s Mosque.

An school excursion party at Tiger Balm Gardens (Haw Par Villa).

Rifle drills on the Padang as the threat of war looms.

Troops marching down Robinson Road.

Indian troops landing in Singapore.

Military vehicles being offloaded.

Malay Regiment soldiers taking a break during a training exercise.

Military training in a rubber estate.

Members of the Straits Settlement Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Military truck kits from Canada for assembly at the Ford Factory as part of the war effort.

Assembly line inside the Ford Factory.

A Brewster Buffalo being unpacked.

Brewster Buffaloes being assembled.

The Floating Dock off the North Wall of the Naval Base in Sembawang.

A view of the Naval Dockyard.

Coastal Artillery Gun.

One of the “Monster Guns” of the Johore Battery.

Pulling through.

Photographs: © Time Inc. for which Personal and Non-Commercial Use is permitted.

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