Boat Quay

Until the 1860s, nearly all trade was conducted at Boat Quay. As traffic increased, congestion at the river mouth worsened, and the arrival of early steam vessels needing coal made the situation even tighter. The coal was brought to Singapore in sailing vessels from the region, taken ashore in lighters seen in this photograph, stored and then taken out again in lighters when required. Needing better facilities in the late 1850s, shipping companies began to build wharves at New (Keppel) Harbour, located just about 1.5 km (1 mile) away, but more than three-quarters of all shipping business continued to be conducted along Boat Quay. This can be seen by the number of two-storey shophouses and godowns that line Boat Quay. One of the major industries of 19th century Singapore was lighterage, critical to the port’s functioning and a key source of employment. First dominated by Chulia boatmen from South India, the industry was taken over by the Chinese boatmen by the 1900s.

Early 20th century
Image size: 8.7 x 13.7 cm
Accession No.
Collection of
National Museum of Singapore