By Chern Lian Shan
Material : Bronze
Location : Singapore River, in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum
Duration : Permanent
Collection : Singapore Tourism Board
This sculpture shows Scotsman, Alexander Laurie Johnston, a prominent merchant of early Singapore mediating between a Chinese Trader and a Malay Chief, whilst Indian and Chinese coolies load sacks onto a bullock cart – a common sight around the river as trade expanded.
Alexander Laurie Johnston & Co, was set up at this spot in 1820. It was more popularly known as Tanjong Tangkap (meaning “catch” in Malay) because it was the godown nearest the river’s mouth and Johnston could “catch” the merchant captains as their boats entered the river to trade. Johnston was a highly respected businessman and compassionate arbitrator for public matters. He was the first Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and introduced the five-foot way – the covered walkway, which came to characterise traditional shop house architecture.
Tanjong Tangkap stood until 1848, when the Flint Building replaced it. This burnt down and in 1910, the offices of Whiteway Laidlaw and Co. occupied the site. In 1962, Maybank took over the building and named it Malayan Bank Chambers, renaming it Maybank Chambers in 1965. This building was demolished in 1998 to make way for the 32-storey Maybank Tower that we see today.
This sculpture is one of four pieces that are part of the People Of The River sculpture series depicting various historical scenes of people who lived and worked along the river. It commissioned in the early 2000s by the Singapore Tourism Board. The other three pieces - First Generation, From Chettiars to Financiers and A Great Emporium - are also located nearby.
Image credit: Singapore Tourism Board