Long before Lonely Planet guides, tourist agencies and enterprising local residents already began publishing travel guides and handbooks for visitors to Singapore. Even in the absence of the Merlion, Integrated Resorts or even our beloved Zoo, there was plenty for visitors to see and do!
In 1890, there was The Stranger’s Guide to Singapore with Maps by a Mr B.E. D’Aranjo, who lovingly marked out over 70 destinations on a hand-drawn map, and provided a 60-page listing of Hack Carriages Fares (2nd Class) between these destinations. While travellers seeking to outwit unscrupulous carriage drivers would surely appreciate the encyclopaedic fare guide, some might find Mr D’Aranjo’s tastes in “Principal Places of Interest” a little suspect. In addition to tried-and-tested favourites like the Botanical Gardens and Cathedrals, the Guide also included:
- The Christian Cemetery – ostensibly for filial descendants wishing to upgrade the tombs of their forebears. Who else would care to know the costs of a “permit to erect a cross” ($1.00) or “to arch over any grave” ($15.00)?
- The Lunatic Asylum, “affording accommodation for 234 patients”. It’s good to know that should you find yourself mentally strained by the exotic tropics, you can check yourself in at $1.50 per day if you were a European, or just $0.15 per day if you were a native from the Straits Settlements.
The Stranger’s Guide was followed in 1892 by the Handbook to Singapore: with map and a plan of the Botanical Gardens by the Reverend G.M. Reith. Aggrieved, perhaps, by D’Aranjo’s banal descriptions, the good Reverend saw fit to wax (more) lyrical on “the soft beauty of the Singapore landscapes …at once refreshing and delightful”. The Reverend’s top destinations include:
- The Government House (now the Istana), which he lauded as “perhaps the finest building of its kind in the Far East”. Not only was the building’s situation and architecture in a class of its own, so was its price tag at $180,000.
- Whampoa’s Gardens – not the fancy name of an antecedent HDB precinct, but part of Hoo Ah Kay’s extensive estate. Considered “one of the chief sights of Singapore”, the Gardens were opened to the public during major Chinese festivals. Over the years, the house deteriorated, and the land acquired by the government. Today, you will find Boon Keng Estate and Bendemeer Primary School on the site of the old gardens (more pictures at local blogger laokokok’s blogpost).
- Bukit Timah Hill. Once upon a time, this trek would be spiced up by ambushing tigers. But by 1890, the tigers were rarely found, and one can travel fairly safely to the top of the hill where “there are few finer views to be had any where in the world”.
That rounds up our top 5 places!
Look out for Part 2 of our 2-Part post on Travelling in Singapore in the 1890s. Stay tuned for more!
Post contributed by Tan Wen Sze, Librarian