In the years following 1819, Singapore saw the arrival of different peoples and diverse communities. When they first arrived, they were greeted by the sights and sounds of the Telok Ayer shoreline. Thankful for the safe passage here after a treacherous journey, many gave thanks to their respective gods at altars or shrines set up along Telok Ayer Street. These places of worship still stand today in the form of Al-Abrar Mosque, Thian Hock Keng Temple and Nagore Dargah. Many of these immigrants eventually settled here, and their stories and contributions are forever intertwined with Singapore’s history.
Singapore’s early settlers were diverse in origin. Yet, they all shared the same hopes and dreams, and faced similar challenges in this new land.
Arriving here by sea, they would have been greeted by a busy shoreline dotted with boats and sampans – where Telok Ayer Street stands today. Thankful for their safe passage here, many would give thanks to their gods at places of worship set up along the Telok Ayer shoreline.Image: Ships lying off the Telok Ayer waterfront in 1860. (Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
One such place of worship is the Thian Hock Keng temple (‘Temple of Heavenly Happiness’). Originally a prayer house, it was built in 1821 by immigrants from Fujian province in China. After a long and perilous journey, these immigrants would make offerings of money and joss sticks. In 1839, construction began to transform the prayer house into a temple. It was completed in 1842 in accordance to Chinese temple architectural style.Image: Thian Hock Keng temple on Telok Ayer. (Lim Kheng Chye Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
Amongst Singapore’s earliest settlers were an Indian Muslim minority known as the Chulias. They arrived here in the early 1820s and many worked as small traders and money-changers in the Telok Ayer Street area.
In 1827, the Chulias built Al-Abrar Mosque, which likely started out as a simple thatched hut. The mosque was originally known as Masjid Chulia, or Chulia Mosque. The current building was constructed between 1850 and 1855.Image: Nagore Durgha Shrine at Telok Ayer Street, originally known as the Shahul Hamid Durgha [circa 1880s]. (Morgan Betty Bassett Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
The following year, the Chulias built a shrine in memory of Shahul Hamid, a holy man from Nagore in South India. Later on, it was converted into the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, which opened in 2011.
Even though the Chulias were allocated another area along the Singapore River in Stamford Raffles’ Jackson Plan, many who worked around Telok Ayer Street ended up settling there too, alongside the Chinese.Image: Masjid Chulia [circa 1920s]. (Barry G and Barbara J Smith Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)