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 First Hill Lost at Sea

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“Mr. Raffles and Mr. Farquhar consulted together about the town, and Mr. Farquhar thought the mercantile buildings and markets ought to be on the Campong Glam side, while Mr. Raffles thought they ought to be on the other side of the river. Mr. Farquhar said that on that side the traders would meet many difficulties, as the place was a low swamp, with bad water, and the expense of raising the levels of the ground would be very great, besides the difficulty of getting earth for filling up. Mr. Raffles said that if the Campong Glam side was chosen, the other side of the river would be deserted, and would not be settled for a hundred years. They were both full of projects and ideas on the subject, until three days after, when it struck Mr. Raffles that he could break up the hill at the end of Singapore point and fill up that side of the river [Boat Quay and up to the Police Court] with the material. The next day they met and made arrangements, and sent for coolies, greatly to the surprise of everyone. Two or three hundred coolies, Chinese, Malays and Klings, were employed at the rate of one rupee a day each man, chunkolling and carrying earth. Some were breaking up the rocks, of which there were very many in the hill. There were many tindals overlooking them, labour became dearer, although every evening bags of money were brought and each man got his payment for the day. Mr. Raffles came twice a day to give directions about the work. About three or four months the hill was completely cut down, and all the hollows and streams and drains and valleys filled up. There only remained one rock about the height of an elephant but a great deal larger. The Chinese removed this for nothing, on getting the stone for their trouble.”


“After the low marshy land [Boat Quay, Circular Road, &c.] was filled up, raised and embanked, it was measured out into lots and sold by auction. If any one wishes to know the locality of the hill, which was thus removed by Mr. Raffles, to fill up the ground on this side of the river, it was at the end of Singapore point, at the place now called Boat Street. [Boat Quay?] It was at first made into a garden, and all manner of flowers and trees planted.” 


  • Munshi Abdullah, cited in Charles B. Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Kuala Lumpur and Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1965), 88. Interpolations in The Hikayat Abdullah by Buckley.

  • An Anecdotal History provided a chronicle of Singapore’s early years, from its founding by the East India Company in 1819 up to 1867 when it became a crown colony under the Colonial Office in London.6 The book, however, was criticised by the naturalist Carl Gibson-Hill for its lack of accuracy and poor research.7 


sand hopper 

pouring sand 

into the sea 

straits of Johor and Singapore


Special barge which is able to split it's hull open and release it's cargo of sand into the sea

The first account of land reclamation in Singapore was recorded in 1822 and published later by Munshi Abdullah in The Hikayat Abdullah (1849). In Munshi Abdullah’s account, this process of land reclamation and geo-engineering in Singapore happened three years after the British East India Company arrived in Singapore and colonisation began. 

In this translation, priority is given to preserving Abdullah’s syntax and style in Malay, to remain as faithful as possible to his narrative voice, over correct grammatical constructions/conventions in English.


Prepared by Isrizal Mohamed Isa, 1 Sep 2018



Henceforth must it be mentioned of an exchange between Tuan(1) Raffles and Tuan Farquhar who had sat down in mutual accord regarding plans to expand the Singapore settlement. On this matter, Tuan Farquhar was of the mind that Kampung Gelam should be made into a merchants’ quarter, that is, a place where people would trade and a market and so on. However, Tuan Raffles’ thoughts were that this near side should be made into the merchants’ quarter instead. Whereupon Tuan Farquhar responded with: “Much too difficult over there, because the land is too muddy and the water isn't even good. 

Moreover, it'll cost too much to reclaim(2) the land

And furthermore, where can we get enough earth to embank it?” To which Tuan Raffles answered: “If Kampung Gelam was to become the trading site, then this side would be neglected for a hundred years; nothing will ever improve.” Hence, at that moment, the two of them



brimmed with ideas. One said this, the other said that, each trying to find a solution. Thus it took three days of them mulling over this matter when it entered into Tuan Raffles’ thoughts that a

hill near Tanjung Singapura could be broken up. From which the earth could be used to be made into an embankment

for the near side of the river.

And so, on the following day, did they come to an agreement. After striking an accord between the both of them, how it must have 

amazed all of God's creatures to see the works that followed. Consequently, the next day, men under the orders of both tuans called for Chinese, Malay and Indian coolies.

Around two to three hundred coolies; each at one rupee per day. They were ordered to dig up and carry the earth. There were those who broke down rocks, for there were far too many large rocks there. Each had his own task. There were scores of overseers, behaving like men at war, it seemed. Coolies became more and more costly with each passing day. When afternoon came around, sacks of money were brought to pay the coolies. Within the day, Tuan Raffles would come around twice to issue orders to the men working. And even in this matter, there were several persons to supervise the men working. Furthermore, Tuan Farquhar would ride out on his horse every morning,without fail, to divvy up the land at outlying areas into parcels. Some were auctioned off, some were given away so long as the land could be cleared quickly, for it was all forested.

Then one day, Tuan Farquhar said to me: “Best if you, sir, were to acquire a piece of land in Kampung Gelam, for it would soon become a merchants’ quarter there.” Hence did I acquire a piece of land upon which I had a house made of attap roof and wooden walls. However, in all that while, I resided (in the house) in fear because



it was surrounded by jungle. 

And so, it took approximately three to four months of men raking through the hill until it was flattened.

Hence, all that was sodden as well as rivulets and ditches and low-lying areas were levelled, aside from stones as huge as elephants that remained. Some were even bigger. Because these boulders were too big to be useful; scores of Chinese came to break them down, to be used for constructing houses. As no more pay was being given out, each rushed to clamour for the stones. And so were they given to the men.

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capsized sand barge 


After all the low-lying and swampy areas, potholes and bumps and mudflats, rivulets and all were embanked. Then was the land plotted and auctioned off. Furthermore, if anyone wishes to know the 

location of the hill which Tuan Raffles broke up to embank the swampy and


sodden areas on this near side of the river, hence now it is that place at the end of Tanjung Singapura at Lorong Tambangan. And so it was turned into a garden, planted with a variety of flowering shrubs and trees. Moreover, I had previously heard the news that supposedly a house was going to be made, and in it, a portrait of Tuan Raffles was to be displayed, as a monument to remind all that it was he who had carried out such a gargantuan endeavour. But for whatever reasons that are not known, that was never executed. Hence, now it is merely a garden. Wherein the place lies opposite the houses of Tuan Spottiswoode and Connolly.


  1. Retained "Tuan" [which has been typically interpreted as "Mr" in existing translations] to open up the scope of interpreting how Abdullah regarded the two men who were essentially his pay masters. "Tuan" is a much more deferential form of address, akin to Sir, even Lord.


  1. Per definition: a : to rescue from an undesirable state;also : to restore to a previous natural state reclaim mining sites; b : to make available for human use by changing natural conditions reclaim swampland(



Soil investigation test 

SEASTATE 9 _ proclamation
Video 13-6-17, 4 03 02


This process of razing hills for land reclamation continues through post-colonial Singapore, to the point where the state was forced to halt it in the 1980s, as only seven hills were left in Singapore and they needed to be preserved and were deemed necessary for air defence. 


Henceforth the state begun importing materials (sand/granite), mostly from its regional neighbours, for land reclamation. The nature of this movement of land in Singapore thus became cross-border. 



By 2014, Singapore had become the biggest importer of sand (UN Comtrade, 2014). It was also reported, back in 2010, that 517 million tonnes of sand had been imported by Singapore since 1990, which accounted for 13% of the world's sand sold then (Chris Milton, Foreign Policy, 2010). 

Note that Singapore's UNCOMTRADE current figures are not reflected in its entirety, due to undeclared sand imports.

Reported 24 islands have disappeared physically in the region.  

  • 1997: Malaysia Bans the sale of sand to Singapore

  • 2007: Indonesia bans the sale of sand to Singapore

  • 2017: Cambodia bans the sale of sand to Singapore

White Sand - Coast Workstation Rotate.00
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  • 1997: Malaysia Bans the sale of sand to Singapore

  • 2007: Indonesia bans the sale of sand to Singapore

  • 2017: Cambodia bans the sale of sand to Singapore

  • Other sources continue to provide, and can be found on platforms such as Alibaba for instance; however at increased prices at its peak 4 times  the market price. 

  • Singapore has increased by more than 25% of it's original land mass

  • It has covered up more than 50% of it's sovereign sea. 

  • Sand is the 2nd most extracted resource in the world after water. 

  • The sand imports in Singapore have globally impacted the price of sand.   

  • Recently, questions and details of Singapore’s sand sourcing has been classified as a security issue,

  • Sand exporters are required to sign an NDA upon sale. 

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