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We visited Singapore in the week 1-5 April to complete some research. Despite the dramatic changes to the landscape it was possible to locate some key features of historic interest relating to William’s time.
Click on the Singapore 1896 Blue Button to see a town map from that period in a new window. On this 1896 map main structures that exist today can be readily identified. All the main roads have the same names so it can be easily related to a modern map.
The National Archives also revealed some interesting information and confirmation of events involving the family. Still, some questions remain unanswered. There appear to be no probate documents of William there.
For Ellen, Charles and William, the precise details such as grave numbers and where they were living when they died were obtained from the Burial Registers. The grave numbers are useless now as the Bukit Timah Christian cemetery that can be seen at top right on the 1896 map went to development around 1969 and is now the Women’s and Children’s hospital, which seems apt. There are seven gravestones from there at Fort Canning but none are ours.
‘Leonie Hill’ the place where Ellen died in Dr Robertson’s house ‘Balado’ in 1895 remains and is just west of Fort Canning, just off the 1896 map at the end of River Valley Road. In her time it was all European bungalows with access roads like those shown on that map nearby. The place is unrecognisable as such now with well spaced expensive looking tall condos. It is marked with a crude circle on the modern map.
I was able to confirm my assumption that the the youngest son Phillip Edward married Elizabeth Nilsson in Singapore. It was on 9 July 1901 and from the St Andrews Register all of the family remaining in the Federated States attended, except for Dolly and Charles (Paul) who must have remained in Kuantan, Pahang. By this time Frederick had died at Raub and Annie had returned to St Arnaud and Nelly was married and in Ceylon with Surgeon Captain Lane. Ann Walker was a mine supervisor’s wife; here is an extract: “Marriage of Phillip Edward, Bachelor Mining Engineer, and Elizabeth Nilsson, Spinster. Witnesses present; Arthur H. Bibby, E. Bibby, Harry Thomas Bibby, Nellie Bibby, Ann Walker. Married by W.H.C. Dunkerley, Colonial Chaplain.”
There was no record of Arthur Hector Bibby marrying a Marie nor any baptismal record of Daphne Beatrice their daughter although the marriage of Daphne in 1946 is in the Register naming Arthur as her father. So I do not know when and where such a marriage occurred but Daphne was 24 when she married so it most likely was before 1922 or thereabouts. But this is not material to the story and can remain a question mark after Hector’s name on that grave in Raub for me.
The Post Office on the 1896 map was replaced by the Fullerton building which became the hotel of today. Johnston’s Pier that can be seen on the 1896 map is no more and was where the local vessels that came from Klang (KL) and the East coast of Pahang docked and where the Raub gold came in. The Fullerton has a very good museum focused on the hotel history which of course mentions the history of the telegraph when it was the site of the Post Office and interestingly mentions the role of the Cable laying ship Sherard Osborne that Dolly’s husband served on.
The Singapore club was in its early days also in the Fullerton building which was not built until 1928, well after William, but in a twist to the tale it was opened by Sir Hugh Clifford the Resident of Pahang at one time and friend of the family during that Rising and those early days. The Singapore club can be seen on the 1896 map next to the Post Office. The same Club where William had that dinner after bringing the first six bars of gold down late in 1891. You could stand at the front bar as it was called and look down Collyer Quay at the Godowns with Tanjong Pagar Docks in the distance. You can also stand pretty well close to that spot today in the Fullerton Hotel.
Rodyk & Davidson William’s solicitors are still in Raffles Place where they were in his time but now live on the 33rd floor of a glass tower. I was given a very impressive looking book by them on 150 years of the Company, interestingly published by the Straits Times Press as that book Raub Gold was. The book contains some useful information on the early Company history, particularly in William’s time. Seems they were a thorn in the side of the Government during that time having sided with the Sultans and Chinese in some of their work and came to be known as the underdog’s lawyers. They were active in that role in the early days of Federation of the Malay States and in the time of the Rebellion in 1892 also.
In another turn in the Rodyk tale Davidson, one of the founding partners, after an accident being thrown from his pony trap near Grange Road (Leonie Hill) was immediately attended to by his friend the same Dr Robertson at Balado in February 1891 and reportedly uttered a Nelsonesque; “is that you, Robertson?”(1) and promptly died. And, it was also in February 1891 that William arrived in Singapore after an interesting voyage down the east coast with Mr Black a Brisbane Director which was reported on in The Straits Times, so he would likely have known about this accident for Davidson was very well known. John Anderson the Raub director was also a friend of Davidson.
It appears Rodyk & Davidson have no early archival material from that time, apart from what surfaced during the writing of their book and where William’s Singapore probate documents ended up is still an unknown to me. So at this stage, what happened to William’s estate and property such as the Godown on Collyer Quay remains an enigma.
I could write much more and it seems Singapore has more places than anywhere else of significance to the family, in this part of the world anyway, and yet I missed some still, which I will make an effort to see on another visit, I hope. Maybe on a ‘Return to Singapore’ like Raub, with some family.
St Andrews Cathedral is the main recognizable structure as well as the Cavenagh, Elgin and Coleman Bridges. Only the Cavenagh Bridge is the original structure although the others incorporate some physical features such as ironwork from the earlier bridges but there is no resemblance to the original. Raffles Hotel (their museum is now permanently closed and the contents have been dispersed unfortunately, so I was told anyway) and a number of other churches and original structures from that time also still stand and can be found on that 1896 town map as well as the modern one.
At parts along the river and many other places some Chinese shophouses much like those at Raub still exist from that period particularly at Boat and Clarke Quay, see 1896 map. In William’s time these were the main trading areas for cargo brought in by the bumboats from the larger merchant ships at Tanjong Pagar docks and where the mail steamers arrived.
It is not difficult to imagine what it was like then at these places particularly as some original design cargo bumboats have ended up as floating restaurants. Images from that time show both these areas of the river packed with these boats. Many of these images can be found on the web.
Some major merchant names associated with William and the Raub Company such as Birkenshaw, Anderson and Little still exist as road names or affixed to modern structures. They were mainly important Raub shareholders and Anderson was a Chairman and Director of the Singapore Board of RAGM who supported William in most things.
Note (1) Attributed to Cheong Suk-Wai, Rodyk & Davidson 150 Years. P 65. See also The Straits Times Weekly Issue 11 February 1891.
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|A Gold Field|
|Cricket at Raub|
|The Misses Bibby|
|40 Head Battery|
|Family After Raub|
|Return to Raub|