LIVING HISTORY

Where the grass is greener

You see green, but some saw gold in the verdant foliage of Singapore's Botanic Gardens, seen here in an aerial photograph taken in May this year. Pioneering work on rubber cultivation and and extraction was carried out there in the 1880s and 1890s, l
You see green, but some saw gold in the verdant foliage of Singapore's Botanic Gardens, seen here in an aerial photograph taken in May this year. Pioneering work on rubber cultivation and and extraction was carried out there in the 1880s and 1890s, laying the foundation for the early 20th-century rubber boom, the source of many a fortune. The gardens also introduced economically valuable crops such as oil palm and coffee to South-east Asia. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH AND MARK CHEONG
You see green, but some saw gold in the verdant foliage of Singapore's Botanic Gardens, seen here in an aerial photograph taken in May this year. Pioneering work on rubber cultivation and and extraction was carried out there in the 1880s and 1890s, l
In 1971, The Straits Times ran a story about a group of street urchins who would dive more than 9m off the top of Anderson and Cavenagh bridges into the river, "missing sometimes by inches a fleet of bumboats in the murky waters". Calling themselves the Riverside Mates, these boys risked their lives not for tips from tourists, but for the sheer thrill of it. When the Marine Police officers patrolled, they hid - only to return minutes later to resume diving and splashing. ST PHOTO: MAK KIAN SENG
A shophouse at Joo Chiat that was slated for conservation. The familiar sight of old juxtaposed with new is an outcome of decades of development and change in Katong. Since 1993, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has gazetted more than 800 buildings
A shophouse at Joo Chiat that was slated for conservation. The familiar sight of old juxtaposed with new is an outcome of decades of development and change in Katong. Since 1993, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has gazetted more than 800 buildings in Joo Chiat to preserve their unique architecture. ST PHOTO: JAMES CROUCHER
Cable cars and ferries were the only ways to get to Sentosa island and the wait was reportedly at least 90 minutes, as seen in this 1974 photograph The island was a hit with both foreign and local visitors, who enjoyed its scenic beaches, chalets and
Cable cars and ferries were the only ways to get to Sentosa island and the wait was reportedly at least 90 minutes, as seen in this 1974 photograph The island was a hit with both foreign and local visitors, who enjoyed its scenic beaches, chalets and leisure facilities.ST PHOTO: MAZLAN BADRON
In the 1960s, Jurong began to play an important role in Singapore’s industrial development. It was also home to Singapore’s first open-air drive-in cinema, which was built in the 1970s. The cinema was said to be the perfect place for dates and pi
In the 1960s, Jurong began to play an important role in Singapore’s industrial development. It was also home to Singapore’s first open-air drive-in cinema, which was built in the 1970s. The cinema was said to be the perfect place for dates and picnics, and family outings as “children could run around while their parents watched the movie”. It closed in 1985.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER LOH
More than a century ago, fresh vegetables and fish were a common sight in Orchard Road’s popular wet market. Here, Christmas shoppers can be seen at the bustling market on Dec 23, 1964. Butthe dirty, smelly market gave way to Orchard Point shopping
More than a century ago, fresh vegetables and fish were a common sight in Orchard Road’s popular wet market. Here, Christmas shoppers can be seen at the bustling market on Dec 23, 1964. Butthe dirty, smelly market gave way to Orchard Point shopping centre in 1983.ST PHOTO: MAK KIAN SENG
Once a swampland that squatters called home, Toa Payoh is the Housing Board’s second satellite town, after Queenstown. The Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, seen in this photograph taken in 1968, was the only piece of architecture that stood untouche
Once a swampland that squatters called home, Toa Payoh is the Housing Board’s second satellite town, after Queenstown. The Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, seen in this photograph taken in 1968, was the only piece of architecture that stood untouched during the massive construction of high-riseflats in the area. Toa Payoh quickly became the poster child of Singapore’s public housing success and was visited by leaders from all over the world, including Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.ST PHOTO: ALI YUSOFF

LIFE & TIMES: OUR CITY

A TRAVEL ACCOUNT published in The Straits Times on June 15, 1872, marvelled at "the Eden-like beauty" of the "fine public garden" where "roads, lawns, lakes with swan sporting upon their surface" and "every variety of tropical plants and flowers" abounds.

The writer was, of course, describing the 156-year-old Botanic Gardens which clinched the prestigious Unesco World Heritage Site status, in a first for Singapore earlier this month.

Over the last 170 years, The Straits Times has chronicled, in picture and prose, the changing face of Singapore.

Here is how the Singapore River was described in 1937: "Sewer for a section of a big city, muddy, slushy artery of internal commerce, torpid home of a thousand sampan families and background for tens of thousands of snapshots, the river is the most evil-odoured of Singapore sights". A far cry from the glitzy waterfront it is today.

Still, to find some good in a bad situation, a 1933 column said the rotten waste in the river functioned as a barometer to predict the weather. The decaying vegetation in the river gives off gas and, at times, bubbles would appear at a specific atmospheric pressure - a sign of an impending storm. Occasionally, the river would look like it was on fire when the gas combusted.

With Orchard Road, the grouse was - no surprise - traffic. Letters to The Straits Times would complain about the dangerous manner in which the road was being used - particularly by horse-riders. In one letter published in 1902, the writer wondered if Orchard Road had been converted to a training ground for the animals.

If you were a resident of Katong in the late 1800s, it is likely you were a victim of at least a petty crime or two. Reports in The Straits Times revealed the high incidence of crime in Tanjong Katong as early as 1848. In some cases, thieves cut holes in the side of houses, while pirates hijacked sampans and attacked boatmen. The reports could be comical in details. In 1898, a man was charged with stealing coconuts from a tree on private property at Tanjong Katong.

"The prosecutor caused some laughter," the report said, "by stating that the prisoner waited up the tree for three hours watching his opportunity to descend, and a servant had ultimately to be sent up to bring him down." It was two months in jail and 10 strokes of the rattan for the culprit.

Katong Park was a popular leisure spot - despite occasional sightings of crocodiles in the early 1930s - until it lost its sea frontage to reclamation in 1966. Children and families were often photographed frolicking in the waters of the Katong Swimming Pagar, which opened in 1931 and was enclosed by a pagar (a fence in Malay) to protect swimmers from shark attacks.

In the 1960s, sharks were also said to infest waters surrounding the marshes of Jurong, which is today an industrial, business and shopping hub.

When Nanyang University was opened here in 1958, more than 20,000 people showed up at its opening ceremony, which caused the "biggest traffic jam in Singapore's history". Many had to abandon their cars at the roadside and walk the rest of the way to the new university, the first outside China catering to high school graduates from Chinese schools. Nanyang University merged with the University of Singapore in 1980, forming the National University of Singapore. • ST

TAP INTO OUR FUTURE...

  • View a picture-spread capturing the changing face of Singapore’s key landmarks – in our ebook LIVING HISTORY: 170 years of The Straits Times.
  • Available through The Straits Times STAR app which can be downloaded free on Apple and Android tablets.

2012

ST COMMUNITIES

Mr Han Fook Kwang hands over editorship to Mr Warren Fernandez and The Straits Times is revamped to give it a fresh contemporary look.

ST Communities is launched to allow readers, journalists, artists and community partners to get published alongside one another.

The paper kicks off the Straits Times Appreciates Readers (STAR) programme on its 167th birthday with a carnival and concert at Gardens by the Bay. The programme is launched to reach out and connect with readers of The Straits Times.

2013

ST RUN

The annual ST Run is launched. The inaugural event at Punggol Waterway is attended by 12,000 participants. The Straits Times steps up efforts to engage readers through a series of public forums on education, investments and foreign affairs.

SPH embarks on a 10-month transformation project to keep the company in sync with the changing media landscape. Editor-in-chief Patrick Daniel notes that digital growth has ''more than offset'' the decline in print circulation.

2015

170 YEARS OLD

The Straits Times celebrates its 170th anniversary with a major revamp of all products, offering a new look and sharper content on its print and website editions and over its apps for smartphones and tablets. The newspaper also holds its rst-ever public exhibition, drawing on its news archives of photographs and Page 1 coverage, to showcase its history.

Sources: THE STRAITS TIMES ARCHIVES AND DATELINE SINGAPORE, A BOOK BY CM TURNBULL ST GRAPHICS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Where the grass is greener'. Print Edition | Subscribe