Singapore, 6 April 1893

Towards 5 o’clock in the morning I was woken by a heavy storm that was unloading itself with force. One clap of thunder followed the other; the rain poured down so densely that one could not see beyond a few steps and the commander was forced to anchor near Alligator Island by the lighting fire of Raffles Island. As one could not think of sleep under such circumstances, I went up to the bridge and enjoyed the elementary spectacle amidst the pouring rain. Half an hour later, the wind relented and soon the blue sky started gleaming so that we could resume our journey.

In the far distance one could see on the right the shape of Sumatra, while on the left the Malacca peninsula and small islands accompanied us. Finally a signal station appeared in the morning mist, some ships and then more and more the largest buildings of Singapore. The pilot came on board and guided us to the wharf where we anchored about 1.5 miles from land.

Just thereafter appeared the substitute for our own vacationing consul, the Belgian consul general M. J. de Bernard de Fauconval, with the message that cholera was raging rather heavily in Singapore and that this malicious illness has already picked its victims among the Europeans and finally that no large hunts could be undertaken at the sultan of Johor, because the ruler had himself departed for Karlsbad and the season was not considered favorable for hunting.

I originally had the intention to stay a few days in Johor as the excellent hunting grounds and the hospitality of the sultan had been much praised to me, but decided obviously in view of this bad messages to stay in Singapore only as long as was necessary to get to know the city and its surroundings, to undertake a trip to Johor nearby and to replenish the ship with coal in order ton continue the journey to Batavia.

Now a number of visits started. First of all came the governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, and after him the commander of the Siamese yacht „Ubon Burathid“. He was accompanied by an acquaintance from Vienna who served as an interpreter, a common figure in Vienna’s Ringstraße and the racecourse in Freudenau, the Siamese Nai Glinn, who had served for quite some time as a lieutenant in the 7th Dragoon regiment and had only recently returned home, only to depart soon to Berlin to serve as a military attaché as he told me.  I was very pleased to see Nai Glinn again — he now is a captain and calls himself Luang Salyooth. He appeared dressed in the full dress uniform of a lieutenant of the Lorraine Dragoons in order to receive information when I would be willing to receive the half-brother of the king of Siam sent here to greet me.

With the Dutch consul general G. Lavino, I set the program for my stay in Java after long negotiations. The program then was immediately telegraphed to Batavia.

Just thereafter I received the half-brother of the ruling king of Siam, Prince Bidyalab Briddhi Dhata who had arrived three days before on the yacht „Ubon Burathid“. The prince who is distinguished by his intelligent mien appeared with a large entourage of dignitaries among them a cousin of the king, Prince Prabakorn, and besides our friend Nai Glinn also Captain Mom Radschawongse Krob who was attached three years ago to the 11th Hussars in Vienna as a lieutenant. In my cabin where Prince Bidyalab presented me with a letter of the king we had a long conversation translated by Nai Glinn.

The prince’s mission was intended to convince me to come directly from Singapore to Siam and postpone my journey to Java as well as Australia to a later date,  as the coming rainy season put the hunts and namely the capture of elephants into question. To my regret I had to restrict myself to offer thanks to the king and express my disappointment that the chosen route could not be changed at that moment. The prince seemed to be not very pleased about the failure of his diplomatic mission and left the ship after the exchange of some courtesies to the sound of the guns as well as the music of the Siamese anthem.

I then went on board of the prince’s yacht but did not meet neither the prince nor one of his officers but only a Siamese NCO who did not understand what we wanted.

In the afternoon a launch transported me onto the land to visit the city of Singapore. Singapore, the „city of lions“, today a metropolis and crossing point of the most important shipping lines of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has quickly risen to become the center of the transit trade between Australia, East Asia, Polynesia, India on the one hand and Europe on the other.

After the return of Java to the Dutch in 1815, the English turned their eyes to the southern end of the Asiatic mainland, in order to find a replacement for this splendid possession, to the foot of the Malacca peninsula which can justly be said to be very advantageous both from a strategic and commercial point of view. First Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, formerly governor of the English East India Company on Java managed to receive the permission in 1819 from the government of the sultan of Johor to found a British settlement on the island of Singapore. In 1824 the island became a possession of the East India Company by acquisition,  in 1867 a new treaty transferred its possession to the British crown.

The island of Singapore is 43 km long and 23 km wide and also contains within its territory 70 further small islands. It is separated by the water route of Salat Tabras from the mainland which is part of the sultanate Johor at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. The water route is on average around 1 to 1.5 km wide and encompasses the northern half of the island in the form of a semi-circle around 55 km long. Thus very close to the mainland opposite it, the island shares its geological structure. Sandstone and granite provide the foundation, fertile alluvia the cover of the island. Hill lands crisscrossed by streams alternate with areas that used to be covered by jungles and swamps and have today been turned to a large extent into cultivated areas. On the former swampland and jungle grow now embedded in luxurious vegetation tropical field and tree fruits in such a quantity that Singapore justly bears its Malayan name of „Tamsak“, that is „garden of love“.

Out of the swamps rose the city of Singapore which the English have set out in 1819 at the south coast of the island at the location of the ancient Singhapura which had sunken down to the condition of a poor fishing village. Declared a free-harbor and quickly populated, the new city prospered quickly thanks to its excellent anchoring spots and the incomparable geographic and commercial location. Even quicker as the English held continuously fast to their long-term ambitions to turn an important part, about three fifth of the Malaysian peninsula, into partly protectorates, partly into direct possessions, the latter under the name of Straits Settlements, to become a part of their zone of influence.

The Malaysian protectorates to which the sovereign sultanate of Johor also belongs cover an area of 86.000 km2 with 605.000 inhabitants. The direct possessions, namely the islands of Penang and Singapore as well as some areas on the Malaysian peninsula, cover an area of 3998 km2 and count 512.342 inhabitants. Of this Singapore island alone accounts for 555 km2 and 184.554 inhabitants, so that this island occupied in 1819 only by a few fishing families and the retreat of Malaysian pirates now has a density today of 333 inhabitants per square kilometer — certainly a great development!

The Straits Settlements are under a governor who is at the same time commander-in-chief of the soldiers and in charge of the admiralty court. He is also responsible for the relations of England with its protectorates. His residence is in Singapore.

The commercial importance of Singapore which accounts for the lion’s share of trade is highlighted by the following numbers: In the year 1891 the value of imports was 254,182.631 fl. in Austrian currency, that of the exports 226,332.632 fl. in Austrian currency. In the same year the number of arriving high sea ships was 4184 with 3,324.680 t and that of the coastal vessels 7293 with 260.672 t. Truly during our arrival at the old dock, the anchoring spot for small and large ships, the new harbor with its docks and  wharf, the piers and the landing bridges were brimming with life. Especially the new harbor was filled with scenes of uninterrupted busy activity on the one hand from Singapore island and on the other hand from the six meter deep channel between the islands of Blakan-Mati and Ayerbrani to the establishment of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the docks. Without interruption, large steam boats arrived and departed. Everywhere goods were cleared, coal replenished and most diverse local vessels, large Malaysian praus, Chinese junks and the small canoes of the Sundanese were busily rushing around from here to there.

Equally lively are the activities on the long landing bridge Johnston Pier, as well as the neighboring streets of the European quarter where the merchant houses, shops, public buildings, hotels and clubs of the Europeans were located. Here alongside the waterfront, next to the docks, around the magazines runs a colorful stream of humans of all peoples and races.

Even more original is the view offered in the southern part of the city, in the actual business district as well as the quarter of the natives and the Chinese. Malabares of the Dravidian tribe but of Malaysian tongue; Tamils, here called Klings, Hindus from the southern coast of continental India; Malays, the aboriginals of Singapore; Chinese who make up today more than half of all inhabitants of the island: each of these groups is settled in Singapore in their own special quarters.

The main part of the non-European population of the city are the Chinese; these have settled here from the foundation of Singapore and live in the southwestern part of the city beyond the Singapore river in a special quarter which is immediately recognizable by its sky-blue painted houses, the numerous Chinese scriptures at their front and many other things.

There always is a great commotion, the commercial activity, the industriousness the sons of the Middle Kingdom call their own. Not an instance are they idle. Without interruption do they work, trade and negotiate. In the midst of the flow of business they recover in the tea and opium dens between the shops or in the open theaters set up nearby where there are spectacles during the whole day.

Not far from the Chinese quarter are the ones of the Indians and Malays. Around the area oriented towards the land extend the Chinese and the Malaysian settlements and on the North-eastern end of Singapore is a Malaysian village whose small huts enliven as  pile dwellings the shore of the Rohore River. While the Chinese populations increases day by day in number, wealth and power and irresistibly displace the other Asiatic elements, the number of the Malays is dwindling due their indolence, even more so as numerous immigrants from South China marry Malays and their offspring takes on Chinese customs.

The European quarter built on the left bank of the Singapore river covers an incidental area in the form semi-circle with a diameter of multiple kilometers formed by the wharf dock. This dock as well as the neighboring streets serve mainly for the business activities of the Europeans. Further inland the remaining parts of the European quarter cover the are up to the three hills that rise in the west of the city. On one of these hills called Government Hill stands the palace of the governor; on the hill south of it, just beyond the Singapore river, called Peel Hill lies Fort Canning, named in honor of the deceased vice-king of India and which includes the signal post which announces the arrival of the ships.

Interspersed with numerous luxurious garden this quarter with its nice houses, the numerous towers and steep roofs of the churches and the public buildings from the pier outwards offers a friendly view of the city. An English look has been impressed upon the buildings and the gardens. On the esplanade, an area of extended grass at the sea shore which is graced with a statue of Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, are numerous tennis and cricket fields. Pretty one story houses with well tended gardens surround the esplanade where the elegant clubhouse of Gymkhana is also located. The cathedral and the government buildings are also not disavowing the style of their builders.

The Raffles museum which I visited first as soon as I had sent foot on the land disappointed me somewhat as the collections were neither quantitatively nor qualitatively up to my expectations. The zoological department is fairly incomplete. Only some representative birds of Malacca I did not know and a remarkably large crocodile that had been killed close to Singapore caught my attention. The ethnographic department is in a rather shabby condition.

Government House is around 45 km distant from the city center and lies, as stated previously, on Government hill in the middle of lovely gardens. To create one of the most beautiful gardens presents few difficulties: The next best jungle is thinned out, laid out with paths, the luxuriously growing nature left to its own devices and the splendid garden is complete.

The governor who had, as told, paid me a visit on board already in the morning received me in the elegantly decorated palace with the message that he had to depart still on the same day to Pulau Penang. This message seemed to trouble the Belgian consul general who was accompanying me and I too was astonished that the governor had to depart so soon after my arrival. Probably this sudden journey was in relation with government matters in connection with the cholera outbreak that could not be delayed.

The drive to the bungalow of the Belgian consul general offered an overview of Singapore’s location and gave me the opportunity to see some of the country mansions situated in a wide arc west of the city. These bungalows almost all built on hills whose slopes were ornamented with lovely gardens offer a refreshing stay to their occupants returning each evening from the government and business district of Singapore. At a considerable altitude above the sea level, these bungalows provide a great view from the city to the sea enlivened by ships, fresh clean air and the charm of tropical vegetation around the hospitable building. Green hills crowned by the gleaming white bungalows follow one another in rows for miles and extend this town of villas.

On the excellent roads that lead through the settlements drive funnily numerous small closed carriages drawn by a single pony. In the city itself, the so called jin rickshaws are used, usually abbreviated to rickshaws —- that is „man-power-wagon“, two-wheeled colorfullly painted small wagons similar to those we have seen in Colombo. Chinese coolies draw them. In the streets of Singapore they are rushing around without a break. There are 2200 rickshasws here and it is astonishing how quickly and over long distances the poor coolies are able to move this comfortable vehicle. Admittedly, a majority of the coolies will fall victim to the arduous transport service within a few years because the necessary exertion attacks the lungs to a high degree of these lamentable human „locomotives“.

At the Belgian consul general’s we took the refreshments with pleasure which the kind host of the house offered to us. As the intense heat had made us desire some welcome cooling. Refreshed we then examined more closely the rich and interesting collection of Malaysian headdresses which the consul general expertly explained to us. He finds time to collect and do practical ethnographic studies beside his varied works. M. de Bernard, who seems to be the consul of the whole world — at the moment he is representing no fewer than four states — knew to tell many interesting details about Singapore. Among other things he made us aware about the humidity of the climate — rain was an almost daily occurrence here — which accounts for the splendid vegetation of the island but causes many adversities for the inhabitants. A further negative point is the massive presence of termites which are commonly but wrongly called white ants. Often all household effects  fall victims to them. In fact the furniture in the bungalow showed noticeable signs of the pernicious activities of these insects. Thus even this island paradise like everything on earth has its dark side.

The  nearby botanical garden of Singapore visited next is a intelligently arranged but still young installation. Its rows of trees and plants promise to turn this place dedicated to science within a few years into a garden with much shade that will not only provide much education but also repose. In systematic order groups are formed besides a labyrinth that represent the vegetation of the Malaysian evergreen tropical region in various specimens, especially nearly all kinds of palms of this zone.

Connected with the botanical garden is also a small zoo that only houses representatives of a few but rare species of the fauna of the Indo-Malaysian subregion; thus a speckled tapir (Tapirus indicus), a tame animal that bound to a string was laying in the middle of the path and nosed at each visitor in a friendly manner. then there was a huge Orang-Utan of Borneo; multiple tiger-like marked cats that were completely new to me; Malayan honey bears; beautiful hornbills; a small jungle hen from Sumatra with a violet crest, herons, cassowaries etc.

Not far from here lies the park and the palace of the sultan of Johor which the pomp loving prince, a friend of architecture, has ordered to be constructed here in recent times — the palace was only completed two months ago.  The palace rises in the middle of the park on a commandeering hill that offers a beautiful panorama of the numerous gardens, parks and bungalows, on the whole crest of Singapore’s villa cities. The large square building in „mixed style“ is the work of a Malaysian architect; it has been laid out with a princely waste of space, equipped with electric lights and is completely most luxuriously furnished.

This sometimes abrupt combination of European and Oriental taste can be traced back to a special reason. Sultan Abu Bekr, who, it is known, tends to spend each summer in England or on the continent and especially repeatedly in our world-famous Karlsbad,  namely likes to bring home numerous objects from his travels which will ornament his palaces. These objects, though they may be valuable and beautiful , they do not fit in completely with the Oriental decoration of the palace chambers. Original, however, are the numerous ornamented elephant tusks that lie on the floor in all the rooms.

Even in the absence of the sultan his graciousness was on display in offering us champaign and coffee in splendid golden vessels in the palace, after which we returned to Singapore past the bungalows of the married English officers who each occupy their own nice home in a park-like area. When we came closer to the city, it was already so dark that the drive through the Chinese quarter turned out to be even more attractive and interesting than during the day. Even though the same lively activity was pulsating in the streets and houses, the same febrile actions but the countless colorful gleaming and twinkling lanterns and lamps that illuminated the shops, the Buddha temples, theaters and restaurants as clear as day. The moving crowds offered a both fascinating  and strange view. A special quality of this quarter is the niceness which rules here despite the numerous workshops and the many shops that offer fish and all other kinds of marine and terrestrial products by cooks and merchants.  Even though the cleanliness may only be superficial, it still offers an agreeable contrast to the atrocious dirt in all the native quarters of the Indian cities. The olfactory senses of the European are, however, affected in both locations in a both strange and not very joyous manner.

In the city I then visited two large shops which offered many ethnographic objects from the Malaysian islands but failed to come to an agreement with the merchants in term of the exceedingly high prices demanded, so that I returned on board without success.

Links

  • Location: Singapore
  • ANNO – on 06.04.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing a comedy „Magnetische Kuren“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the ballet „Die goldene Märchenwelt“.

 

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