Red- and white-fantail goldfishes in the Van Kleef Aquarium at River Valley Road

Situated at the foot of Fort Canning Hill near the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road, the Van Kleef Aquarium was Singapore’s first public aquarium. The institution was named after Dutchman Karl Willem Benjamin van Kleef, a resident of the island in the late 19th and early 20th century who had bequeathed his fortune for the beautification of the town area. Upon his death in 1930, members of the City Council debated over how best to spend the Van Kleef Bequest. Eventually, it was decided that the money was best spent on building an aquarium but progress on the project was delayed by changes in site location, construction plans and the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945).Opened to the public on 8th September 1955, the aquarium initially had more than 180 varieties of fishes housed in different marine environments. More varieties of marine creatures were added to the aquarium’s collection in subsequent years, including lion fishes, Amazonian piranhas and crocodiles. The aquarium was a popular local attraction, with visitorship peaking at an annual average of 400,000 visitors by the late 1970s. The aquarium was closed in 1986 for major renovation works and re-opened in 1987. Despite the facelift, visitorship continued to decline and the aquarium was closed down soon after the opening of the Sentosa Underwater World oceanarium in 1991. The aquarium was subsequently leased out to a private company, World of Aquarium, but this enterprise folded in 1993. The site was reopened as the Fort Canning Aquarium later that year and the venture lasted for two years before it too closed down. Following these failed attempts at reviving the aquarium, the building was demolished in 1998.

c. 1980s
Object size: 10.2 x 15.3 cm
Accession No.
Collection of
National Museum of Singapore