The Italian captain who bought Pulau Bukom …

10 06 2017

Except perhaps for sculptor Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose magnificent work adorns the old Supreme Court, little is known of Singapore’s many connections with the Italian community – except perhaps of the community’s many culinary offerings we are now able to find. It may therefore come as a surprise that the connections do go well back –  even before Italy as an entity existed and that Singapore’s Pulau Bukom was once owned by an Italian man.

Explore Singapore’s surprising Italian connections at The Italian Connection at the Fullerton Hotel.

Pulau Bukom is perhaps better known to us as the island on which Singapore’s successful journey into the oil refining trade, had its beginnings. Shell, who built and operate the refinery, has long been associated with the island. 20 acres of it was bought by the company in 1891 for the purpose of kerosene storage. The transaction netted the island’s owner,  Capitano Giovanni Gaggino a tidy profit. Gaggino, an Italian master mariner, shipowner and adventurer, purchased the island for $500 in 1884 with the intention to supply freshwater to shipping. His purchase of “Freshwater Island” as it was informally known as, was one of many of Gaggino’s ventures here. He would spend 42 of his 72 years in Singapore from 1876 and passed on in 1918, whilst on a trip to Batavia. Capitano Gaggino was also known to have authored several books, one of which was the very first Malay-Italian dictionary.

Capitano Giovanni Gaggino, who once owned Pulau Bukom (source: Reproduction of “La Vallata del Yang-Tse-Kiang” by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Open source).

Even before Gaggino, Italians – many of whom were involved in shipping and trade, made landfall. One rather famous Italian, the renowned botanist and contemporary of Charles Darwin, Odoardo Beccari, used Singapore as a stepping stone to his well documented explorations of the region’s forests. Credited with the discovery of the giant corpse flower, Beccari also documented a month he spent in March 1866 at the “wooden bungalow” of the Italian Consul, Signor Giovanni Leveson (a.k.a. Edward John Leveson) on the Johor Strait. The bungalow is thought to be where Woodlands in Singapore’s north got its name from.

Odoardo Beccari (source: Sailko, Creative Commons License 3.0).

Like Capitano Gaggino, Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli spent a substantial part of his life in Singapore. He arrived from Bangkok in 1921 and remained – except for a period of internment during the Second World War (as a citizen of Italy, one of the Axis states, he was interned in Australia from 1941 to 1945), until his retirement in 1956 . He worked tirelessly and amassed a huge portfolio of work that began with the second Ocean Building on which he provided the decorative artificial stone facings.

Composite image of Rodolfo Nolli and the main (south) entrance of the GPO. Two sets of works – the coat of arms and a pair of flambeau compositions, went missing during the Japanese Occupation (source of images: National Archives of Singapore).

The majestic Ocean Building did not only launch Nolli’s career in Singapore, it also spelled a new era for the bund along Collyer Quay. Before the end of a decade, three even grander edifices would be added: the Union Building, a second generation Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, and the grandest of them all, the Fullerton Building. The additions, all of which Nolli had work done on, provided the bund with an appearance that could be compared to Shanghai’s more famous embankment.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

Built to house the General Post Office, several municipal offices as well as the exclusive Singapore Club, the Fullerton was decorated with some of Nolli’s more exquisite pieces of the era. Two precast sculptural works: a pair of flambeau compositions and a royal coat of arms – symbols of enlightenment and empire – adorned the main entrance to the GPO. Sadly, these disappeared during the Japanese Occupation and all that can now be seen of Nolli’s contributions in the building is the magnificent plasterwork of the barrel vaulted ceiling of the Singapore Club’s Billiard Hall. The hall is now the Straits Room of The Fullerton Hotel. The hotel has occupied the Fullerton Building since 2001.

The Straits Room is now where the only works of Rodolfo Nolli’s in the Fullerton Building to have survived can be found.

The historic waterfront, 1932, to which Nolli added decorative finishing touches, and the waterfront today (source: top image, Singapore Philatelic Museum; lower image, Jerome Lim).

Cavaliere Rodolfo Nolli, whose works are also found in Bangkok – where he spent 7 years of his life, in parts of Malaysia and also in Brunei, was bestowed with a knighthood by the Italian Crown in 1925. This is an honour that another Italian gentleman connected with the Fullerton Building, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, has also received. Cavaliere Viterale, the GM of Fullerton Heritage, is a well respected member of the hospitality industry and it was for his contributions to it that he received the honour. The building, which was opened in June 1928, celebrates its 89th anniversary this month.

Nuns of the Canossian order speaking to Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale at the exhibition opening. The order, which has origins in Italy, first arrived in Singapore in 1894 (source: The Fullerton Heritage).

More on the Italian Community, including on an Italian order of missionaries whose work in tending to those in need continues to this very day, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, can be discovered at an exhibition that I curated with Zinke Aw, “The Italian Connection”. The exhibition, The Fullerton Hotel’s East Garden Foyer, runs until 18 July 2017. Information on the exhibition can also be found at The Fullerton Heritage’s website and through the official press release.

 

 

 





Singapore’s lost elegance

26 09 2015

Modern Singapore stands today, close to 200 years after it came into being as a trading post, as one of the most advanced cities in the world. Icons of the new age now dominate the metropolis, its financial district, much of which came up on land that was made out of marshland and water, is now an amazing maze of glass and steel for which the sky seems the only limit.

Against all of this, it probably will be difficult to imagine Singapore as having been anything other than a city of skyscrapers – even if some fragments of the past are still found within the modern world; certainly not the elegant municipality it seemed to be a century ago as postcards and photographs from the era certainly depict. Having the air, almost, of a European urban centre, the commercial centre of the municipality had by the centenary of its founding, already taken on the appearance of the “great commercial emporium” its founder, Stamford Raffles, had envisioned of it.

Progress has seen that that charming and dignified old Singapore could not survive. The 1950s was probably when the beginning of the end came with the addition of the first “skyscrapers” to the waterfront (interestingly there was an attempt to limit the height of buildings at the waterfront back in the 1920s to a height of 96′ 6″). Much was also to follow, especially in the post independent years and by the 1970s the face of the financial district would drastically be changed.  The 1970s also saw substantial amounts of land being reclaimed, creating the land on which Singapore has built its city of future.


Empress Place and Princess Square

The statue of the founder of modern Singapore, Raffles, was moved to (its current location at) Empress Place from the Padang on the occasion of the centenary of British Singapore's founding.

The statue of the founder of modern Singapore, Raffles, was moved to (its current location at) Empress Place from the Padang on the occasion of the centenary of British Singapore’s founding. The colonnade seen around it was damaged and removed during the war years.

Another view of Empress Place, with the Fullerton Building (completed 1928) already constructed.

Another view of Empress Place, with the Fullerton Building (completed 1928) already constructed.

Princess Square - looking up High Street towards Fort Cannin Light. The Singapore Cricket Club is on the right and the Hotel de L'Europe stands where the old Supreme Court (now part of the National Gallery) now stands.

Princess Square – looking up High Street towards Fort Canning Light. The Singapore Cricket Club is on the right and the Hotel de L’Europe stands at the location of old Supreme Court (now part of the National Gallery).


Battery Road / Fullerton Square

Fullerton Square, before the Fullerton Building came up. Part of the first HongKong Bank Chambers can be seen on the left. The Exchange and the old General Post Office on the right is where the Fullerton now stands.

Fullerton Square, before the Fullerton Building came up. Part of the first HongKong Bank Chambers can be seen on the left. The Exchange and the old General Post Office on the right is where the Fullerton now stands.

Battery Road, seen with the Tan Kim Seng fountain (now at Esplanade Park).

Battery Road, seen with the Tan Kim Seng fountain (since moved to Esplanade Park).

Another view of Battery Road at Fullerton Square.

Another view of Battery Road at Fullerton Square. The Medical Hall is where the Straits Trading Building now stands.

Battery Road at the turn of the century.

Battery Road at the turn of the century. The Dispensary, at the corner of Bonham Street is where 6 Battery Road (Chartered Bank) now stands.

Another view up Battery Road.

Another view up Battery Road.


Finlayson Green

Finlayson Green at the turn of the last century. The Straits Times offices can be seen on the left with the offices of the Dutch shipping company Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatshappij on the right along with the three storey headquarters of Behn Meyer.

Another view of Finlayson Green.

Another view of Finlayson Green.


Anson Road / Robinson Road

Anson Road, with the once iconic Boustead Institute at the meeting of Anson and Tanjong Pagar Roads.

Anson Road, with the once iconic Boustead Institute at the meeting of Anson and Tanjong Pagar Roads.

Robinson Road. Part of Telok Ayer market can be seen on the left.

Robinson Road. The Neo-Classical former Eastern Extension Telegraph Company Building (1927) and part of Telok Ayer market can be seen on the left.

Another view of Robinson Road.

Another view of Robinson Road.


Collyer Quay and the lost waterfront

Built along a bund constructed by convict labour in the mid-1800s, Collyer Quay was completed in 1864 and was soon lined with rather grand looking edifices. By the time the road was widened in the second decade of the 1900s through further reclamation, buildings such as the Alkaff’s Arcade and the five storey St. Helen’s Court had already been erected.

Now around which some of the tallest buildings are found, limits on the height of buildings along the waterfront was a subject of much discussion in the 1920s. In 1921, the Municipal Commission took a decision to limit the height of buildings along the waterfront to 96′ 6″ (about 29.5 metres), the height of St. Helen’s Court. This was to permit “much needed circulation of air at ground”. This was to however be challenged by the architects for soon to be built Union Building, who were successful in having the restrictions relaxed despite objections. One objection raised by John Little’s positioned behind the new building was motivated by a concern that the height of the Union Building would be of “disadvantage and inconvenience to them in the matter of light” (see: The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 30 January 1922).

Collyer Quay in the late 19th century. The first HongKong and Shanghai Bank chambers can be seen at the near end.

Collyer Quay in the late 19th century. The first HongKong and Shanghai Bank chambers (completed in 1892) can be seen at the near end.

A view from the far end of Collyer Quay at Finlayson Green.

A view from the far end of Collyer Quay at Finlayson Green. Princes Building, the 1909 built Alkaff’s Arcade can be seen along with 5 storey St. Helen’s Court. St. Helen’s Court, which was later to be renamed Shell House and subsequently Clifford House after the new 15 storey Shell House was built, was then the tallest building along Collyer Quay.

Collyer Quay in the 1920s.

Collyer Quay in the 1930s, with the second Ocean Building (built in 1924) along with Princes Building, the Arcade, St. Helen’s Court, Union Building (1924) and the Fullerton Building (GPO, 1928) already up. Trolley buses had by that time replaced trams as public transport.

The waterfront in the late 1920s with Johnston's Pier.

The waterfront in the late 1920s with Johnston’s Pier.

Clifford Pier, built in 1933, in uncluttered settings.

Clifford Pier, built in 1933, in uncluttered settings.

The view of the waterfront from the inner roads.

The view of the waterfront from the inner roads with the Union Building, HongKong and Shanghai Bank Chambers and the Fullerton Building.

A view of the Fullerton Road end of the waterfront.

A view of the Fullerton Road end of the waterfront.

The waterfront in the 1960s. By this time, taller buildings such as the Asia Insurance Building, had already begun to transform the skyline.

The waterfront in the 1960s. By this time, taller buildings such as the Asia Insurance Building, had already begun to transform the skyline.


The Esplanade

The Esplanade.

The Esplanade, late 1920s.

Anderson Bridge, when first completed.

Anderson Bridge, when first completed.

Connaught Drive, possibly in the late 1920s.

Connaught Drive, possibly in the late 1920s.


 

 

 

 

 

 





New Year at the old harbour

1 01 2015

An occasion that is celebrated in a big way in Singapore in the New Year, which since 2005, sees fireworks illuminate the night sky against the backdrop of the ultra modern skyline at Marina Bay. The occasion, providing an opportunity not just to usher in the new year, but also to celebrate Singapore’s amazing transformation over the years, especially so this year with Singapore celebrating 50 years of independence.

Fireworks over Marina Bay at the stroke of midnight, 2015.

Fireworks over Marina Bay at the stroke of midnight, 2015.

While the 2015 countdown at Marina Bay, marks the tenth anniversary of the event being held there, the location has in fact been one that has traditionally been associated with the New Year – as the Inner Roads of the old harbour, it was where a New Year’s Day event that could be traced back to 1839 – just 15 years after Raffles founded modern Singapore, the New Year Sea Sports, had been held annually – except for the intervention of war, until the end of the 1960s.

A kolek race held during the New Year Sea Sports, 1951 (National Archives of Singapore).

The sea sports event, held in the waters off Collyer Quay, featured a series of races with traditional boats such as koleks, as well as competitions that ranged from tub-races, greasy poles, swimming, diving and even cock-fighting and attracted participants from the islands not just of Singapore, but also from those in the Riau Archipelago – maintaining a centuries old cultural connection that has in the post-independent years been broken with the tighter enforcement of border controls.

img0012

A tub race during the sea sports event, 1960 (Straits Times).

Tracing its origins to a regatta that was organised in 1834, five years before it became an annual event by European merchants, the sea sports event would draw crowds in the tens of thousands to Collyer Quay. With the introduction of races that featured traditional boats, the event would keep alive Singapore’s coastal inhabitants connections with the sea for well over a century. Sadly, as with many of the traditions that were very much a part of who we were, the new year races have long been abandoned in a Singapore that cares little for its past.

A greasy-pole competition during the New Year Sea Sports in 1929 (National Archives of Singapore).

The tens of thousands that are now drawn to the areas where the Inner Roads were – much of which now forms the western part of the new world that is Marina Bay, are treated to a very different spectacle these days. The especially big celebration  at this year’s countdown event included a concert on The Float @ Marina Bay – a temporary floating stage that was originally intended to stand-in as an event venue in the time it took the National Stadium to be constructed; saw the likes of popular local artistes such as the Dim Sum Dollies, Stefanie Sun and Dick Lee and Kit Chan, as well as popular K-Pop group BIGBANG create a big bang.

K-Pop group BIGBANG - clearly the highlight of the evening's lineup on stage.

K-Pop group BIGBANG – clearly the highlight of the evening’s lineup on stage.

As might have been expected, BIGBANG drew the loudest response of screams from the youthful crowd. It would however have been Kit Chan’s rendition of local favourite “Home” for which she was accompanied by Dick Lee – the song’s composer, on piano just before the turn of the year, that made the event especially memorable for all of Singapore as it prepares to celebrate its jubilee year.

JeromeLim-6267

JeromeLim-6320

Stefanie Sun

Stefanie Sun

The city's ultra modern skyline - illuminated in colours selected for the New Year.

The city’s ultra modern skyline – illuminated in colours selected for the New Year.

Dick Lee and Kit Chan gave a stirring performance of Home.

Dick Lee and Kit Chan gave a stirring performance of Home.





The lost waterfront

19 09 2013

The former waterfront at Collyer Quay is certainly one place which exemplifies how Singapore has transformed over the years, discarding much of what made Singapore a Singapore which was full of character and flavour, to the sea of glass, steel and concrete Singapore has become today.

CollyerQuay1971

The waterfront we inherited from our colonial masters was one of wonderfully designed buildings which might have rivaled Shanghai’s Bund. Even in 1971 after the Overseas Union Shopping Centre (see image above) did spoil some of that flavour, it still retained much of its original character. Then, the three “skyscrapers” that came up in the 1950s: the modern looking 15 storey Shell House (1959); the Bank of China Building (1954); and the Asia Insurance Building (1954) (out of picture), still dominated. It was however the grand looking edifices – several of them attributed to architecture firm Swan and MacLaren which designed many notable buildings from our past, which would have been noticed. This included the Maritime Building (former Union Building) with its tower and the HongKong Bank Chambers (1924) next to it. The Fullerton Building (1928) which housed the General Post Office also wouldn’t have been missed.

JeromeLim 277A0230

The beginning of the end for the old waterfront came at the end of the decade with the demolition of the HongKong Bank building notable not just for its English Renaissance style design, but also for its stained glass skylight over its main banking hall and huge bronze entrance doors, in 1979. The Maritime Building, built originally for the Union Insurance Society of Canton and which once housed the Far East headquarters of the Royal Air Force, soon followed in the early 1980s. What we do see today is a towering skyline of glass and steel against which the surviving “skyscrapers” of the 1950s are now dwarfed. The buildings along old waterfront which did survive are the Fullerton Building (Fullerton Hotel), Clifford Pier (part of Fullerton Bay Hotel), Bank of China Building, Customs House, and the Asia Insurance Building (Ascott Raffles Place).

277A8304





The new world rising from the sea

30 07 2013

A view along Singapore’s former waterfront at 7.37 pm on 28 July 2013. To the left of the photograph, a brand new world has grown on land reclaimed more recently from the sea, dwarfing the Asia Insurance Building, once the tallest building in South East Asia. What has been left behind from when the waters were those of the old harbour can be seen on the right side of the photograph. These include the Fullerton Building (former General Post Office) and Clifford Pier, both built along a bund that was in itself build on land reclaimed in the mid 1800s – one of the first land reclamation to take place in Singapore. The bund was completed in 1864 along with a road which has since been named Collyer Quay.

277A8304





Macau: a celebration of contrasts

24 09 2012

Having spent a amazing four days in Macau courtesy of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) and Tiger Airways, I was able to see for myself the wonderment that is packed into the 29 square kilometres of the tiny former Portuguese territory. It is for me a world certainly worth exploring, a world which is more than just that unique blend of east and west we have come to expect, but also a fascinating world where two other worlds, the glitzy new world has collided with the charming old world. With the two now forced into a tight embrace, it is in the compact territory where contrasts, and as one might see it the contradiction of new with old, are as apparent as black and white, black and white as is how it looks to me:


The celebration of the new world:

A scene from Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water playing at the City of Dreams.

The Outer Harbour with the Friendship Bridge and the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf at the break of day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf at the break of day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Breakfast at the Café Bela Vista in the Grand Lapa Macau (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Roman Amphitheatre at Fisherman’s Wharf (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Daybreak over the Roman Amphitheatre (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho as seen from Sky 21.

Bottles behind a frosted glass counter, Sky 21.

A new arrival embracing the arrival of the new day in the new world.


Windows into the old world:

The window into an unseen side of Macau – the quays at the Inner Harbour (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A window from the past … louvered windows seen at the Taipa Houses-Museum, which is housed in a set of charming old colonial houses at Taipa Village.

Fish being dried in the sun.

A street named happiness, the Rua da Felicidade.

An almond cookie maker on the street of happiness.

Almond cookie samples to be offered to passers-by near the ruins of St. Paul’s.

A street food vendor.

A side street near the street of happiness.

Shutters of an old shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Street scene.

Barra Square.

East meets West and old meets new: A western couple leaving the A-Ma Temple.

A fortune teller at the A-Ma Temple.

An archway under a building along an old street of Macau.

A car workshop in an old shophouse.

A female worker at an old building being refurbished.

Disused pellets by the quayside at the Inner Harbour.

Where two worlds are made to collide: the bow of a ship peeks out at the Inner Harbour.

Coloane Village scene (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A square in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The writing on the wall in Taipa Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The visit to Macau was made possible by the kind sponsorship of MGTO, flights were sponsored by Tiger Airways with check-in baggage allowances included.


Useful Links:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting starts on 28 September 2012 and details can be found at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.









%d bloggers like this: