Film: 7552

Places + Locations | 1940 | Sound | B/W


A British documentary on Singapore made in the pre-World War Two years (probably 1930s) focusing on its status as a British port and successful colony, but with very little on the lives and culture of its inhabitants.

Camera pans round the stern of a large ship, which fills the screen, part a small multi-storeyed building with windows like portholes on a wharf, below which mill people who are probably Chinese workers at the port, bare-torsoed and wearing wide-brimmed sun hats. Masts and chimneys of large ships are visible on the other side of the wharf: as the seventh largest port in the world, this is often the entry and exit point for visitors to Singapore. A passenger/cargo boat moored at quayside, which, together with large liners, are the main form of transportation for such travellers.

Caucasian passengers emerge from a liner and walk down stairs, past the portholes and several suspension chains; they are dressed lightly, in trousers and shirts or short skirts, or what the narrator calls 'tropical clothes'; a lady wearing large sunglasses and in a short skirts waves to people above her rather dramatically. A man pauses at the gang way to look around, squinting in the bright sunlight - Singapore lies almost at the equator - above, on the stairs near the entrance to the ship, a worker kneels on a step and scrubs it.

A street sign reading 'BOAT QUAY' and its Chinese translation, next to an advertisement for Horlicks, sticking out of the weathered, peeling side of a shop house by the river - part of the area up north which is supposedly the best place to see the busy life of the waterfront; below the sign is part of a corrugated iron roof; the camera pans along the side of the decrepit building: gutter pipes, a hole in the wall, panelled windows, white clothing hanging out of the window to dry on bamboo poles and finally the congested quayside: motorcars parked along the road, lorries and carts filled with gunny sacks, labourers walking around carrying various loads, makeshift shelters of wooden poles, corrugated iron sheets and canvas by the water, bumboats and smaller vessels crawling across the Singapore River, and across the water, low-rise shophouses and godowns with large colonial buildings rising behind them. A closer shot of the boats filled with 'the native crowd' unloading goods: they are crammed with bales, sacks, boxes and coiled rope, thin wooden planks act as bridges between the boats and shore; on land, a row of shophouses and the offices of 'European and Asiatic merchants'; manual labourers in rolled-up trousers and sometimes hats, move around. Labourers carry large gunny sacks on their shoulders into a worn, grimy godown (storehouse); the name of the company is written in Chinese over its door and the pillars are plastered with layers of Chinese newspaper/notices; a small wooden table and stool, possibly for eating, stands just outside. This is portrayed as a typical scene in one part of Singapore life.

Not far away another kind of 'typical' scene is found at Raffles Place: a shot of its 'pleasant gardens' and 'tall white buildings' - three/four storey buildings with more elaborate colonial façades, shop names and flagpoles; traffic passes on the narrow street below. A group of Caucasian tourists stand and look at the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles on a pedestal outside Victoria Concert Hall - he was the founder of Singapore in 1819, setting up a free port on the island to advance British trade.

A map of the region, showing Singapore island at the tip of the Malayan peninsula, just above the equator, 'in a position to dominate shipping routes [traced on the map] between the islands of the East Indies [Sumatra, Sarawak and Borneo also pointed out]'. Singapore's place on a larger map of Asia and part of Africa: it is also an important link to the Suez Canal route [traced on map] to East Asia from Europe; other routes are traced on the map linking Singapore to other parts of the world. Close-up of the map of Singapore island alone. Arrows pointing to the assets of the site that Raffles chose: a wide river estuary, a protective/sheltering low ridge of hills, a natural deep harbour, all in the south of the island. A network of lines demonstrates how the port and city 'have grown up'.

An aerial view of the historic colonial centre of Singapore, including St Joseph's Institution, the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street, the spire of St Andrew's Cathedral, the dome of City Hall and the Supreme Court; in the background, the sea: Singapore's development into 'one of the great commercial centres of the East' is raised to illustrate how its 'history as a British colony has justified Raffles' choice.' Closer shot of the port, which is free, in the south: ships and equipment on the docks. Ships at anchor in the harbour, where the 'products of East and West meet and are exchanged', including tin and rubber (Malaya), tea, timber, sago, spice, copra (Sumatra and Java), silk and rice (China), cotton and jute (India) and motorcars, textiles and manufactured goods from western countries.

Panoramic shot of the harbour: industrial and passenger ships lie amid bobbing sampans, traditional flat bottomed wooden boats rowed by Chinese and Malays wearing sun hats. A moderately sized ship stands in harbour next to a 'lighter', a smaller wooden ship, used to transport goods [timber in this case] to and from the port. A row of larger ships in the 'roomy and well-equipped' docks. The keel of a ship, its markings mostly visible, lying in a very shallow dock. An Indian worker driving a mechanised lifting device moves a large drum from the dock by the side of a ship. Two more Indian labourers lower a bundle of sacks suspended by ropes. The underside of an elephant waving its legs gently suspended in mid-air as it is lowered by a pulley system onto the dock: Singapore's port has the technology to deal with just about 'any type of cargo' as part of its status as entrepot.

The interior of a huge warehouse, offering cheap temporary storage space: Indian labourers form a human conveyor chain to stack sacks and crates in neat piles. Several bales are stacked together - many of these contain Southeast Asian produce for export to the west.

A large ship stands in one of the five dry docks for repair. A worker, looking minute next to the huge keel of the ship, stands on a scaffolding erected in the dry dock. Close-up of a man on scaffolding working on a propeller: the port is an important provider of jobs for many men. The interior of the shipbuilding/repair workshop: rows of large machines, gears, wheels and benches. A Chinese man operates a smaller machine; hats and coat (?) hang on the wall behind him: he is one of those who has had the opportunity, the narrator informs us benevolently, to 'learn skilled trade'.

A ship docked in the harbour of the nearby island of Pulau Brani, the captain (?) in a white uniform watches as a bundle of sacks is winched across the deck. Three men pass the bundle, still suspended by ropes, between them on a second deck. Tin ore, from the mainland of Malaya, is sent here to be smelted in the tin refinery. The interior of the tin refinery: three Chinese workers operate a cart from which molten tin streams, into moulds for cast bars. A worker pushes a trolley filled with tin bars past stacks of them, illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight in an otherwise dark warehouse: these will be sent all over the world.

Two Chinese ladies stand in a mechanised production line, chiselling grooves (?) into the rubber - rubber being another commodity from the mainland - soles of shoes that pass on a conveyor belt; shelves of finished shows stand behind them. More Chinese ladies on either side of a table filled with shows arranged haphazardly, all appearing to chisel or wipe the soles.

A pipeline for raw latex that runs over the dock and up into a ship. Close-up of a rubber tree cut using the herringbone method (Vs in the bark), and a trickle of white liquid (latex) flowing into a cup at the base of the cut. An Indian labourer with a bucket takes the cup from the tree and empties it: Singapore does have a few plantations although most are on the mainland.

A coconut plantation in Singapore: an attap-roof hut surrounded by tall coconut trees with thick leaves. Close-up of the top of a tree, whose nuts provide copra and fibre. A pineapple plantation: pineapples nestled in long sharp leaves.

A dry swamp on the coast, with rows of houses, possibly low-income living quarters, in the background: the once prevalent problem of malaria around coastal swamps has been solved by the construction of a water drainage system; one of the said drains filled with muddy water. Indian labourers hoe earth from inside a monsoon drain filled with shallow water as part of a land reclamation programme. An Indian worker walks through swampy land, spraying a stagnant pool of water with what's probably insecticide from a long flexible nozzle attached to a rusty can on his back. Mangrove swamps, which still exist but no longer pose a mosquito threat thanks to such schemes.

Heavy rain - a common occurrence in Singapore's hot and wet climate - falls on a road along which little streams of water already flow. A stream of traffic moves through heavy rain, cars, minibuses, and trishaws among them, past traffic lights and a Bata shoe store. Another busy road junction, lined by shophouses. Pedestrians carrying umbrellas stride through a flooded street, ankle deep in water.

Rectangular tanks of water in a reservoir, which together with mainland sources, provide most of the water in Singapore. A map showing the two chief reservoirs in Singapore [probably Peirce and MacRitchie], the municipal area [which radiates northward from the port in the south], an arrow and dots marking the main business and government area, near the estuary, the main residential area of 'well-to-do Asiatic citizens' across the Kallang River, the Tanglin district where government House and the houses of Europeans are.

A colonial bungalow typical of those found in such suburban areas: attap roof over a two-storied building with wooden verandas and an airy porch, in a garden. A 'splendid colonial house' - white with bay windows, neo-classical foyer and a sort of tower in a garden, which is where richer merchants live. Close-up of a sculpture of a dragon and a phoenix on craggy stylised Chinese landscapes, as an example of 'fantastic Oriental decoration' that 'enriches' some of these houses.

The Singapore River, filled with boats, its banks packed tightly with rows of shophouses and godowns: this is where the bulk of the population live. Rows of shophouses, their fronts covered in Chinese signs, poles of washing hanging out of windows over the street, a few makeshift roadside food stalls, cars and trishaws. 'The streets are full of surprises': a Chinese temple nestled amid shophouses. A narrow street with poles of clothes hung out of windows on all levels, nearly forming a canopy; a trishaw and street cleaner pushing a cart of implements (brooms,etc) and a trash can pass each other. A mosque, probably the Masjid Sultan lying at the end of another street with the usual Chinese street signs and poles of washing. The gates to a Hindu temple, decorated with figures of deities and animals on its roof, next to a gas holder as an example of the typical mixture of East and West in Singapore.

Collyer Quay: the offices of international business housed in large multi-storey colonial buildings, a busy road, the water with small boats bobbing on the surface, The view from the roof of one of these buildings: 'the busy heart of Singapore', ie the congested mass of boats and shophouses/godowns by the Singapore River; behind these is a patchwork of greenery and densely built-up areas. Camera pans north to show the governmental buildings, including City Hall, the Supreme Court, and Empress Place, 'which forms a noble centre for this colony that Raffles founded'.

A travelling case and satchel, with a sticker reading 'VIA SINGAPORE' on the former; they are picked up by a man in a suit who, like many other visitors to Singapore , is in transit; he walks up the gangway to a passenger liner. A row of large ships, smoke billowing from their chimneys the harbour re-emphasize Singapore's status as a 'great port and centre of commerce for the whole of East.'


To request more details on this film, please contact us quoting Film number 7552.