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The most exclusive European club in Singapore, the Singapore Club was established in 1862 and admitted only high society's who's who, predominantly the European tycoons and top British civil servants. It was also an all-male club. It had its most lavish premises in the Fullerton Building when the building opened in 1928 but had its presence there strongly questioned. The argument was that the Fullerton was built on public funds and should house public offices, not an exclusive private club whose members represented only a small portion of the society. The Club, which was also later known as the Town Club, left the Fullerton in 1961 and shifted to several premises. Today, the club is known as the Singapore Town Club.
The Singapore Club was set up in 1862 and consisted of members who were in the top echelon of Singapore's mercantile community and bureaucracy. Being the most exclusive of European institutions, the Singapore Club only admitted the Tuan Besars, the managers of mercantile firms, and those whose could signed per pro (meaning one or two of the more senior men allowed to authorise documents on behalf of the manager or managing director). Such was the privilege that admission meant entering into a small class of colonial aristocracy. The Club also had senior professional men, lawyers and others in their restricted circle of members. No women were allowed in the Club.
The Singapore Club's first premise was at Beach Road. Its pioneering members include W. H. Read, Thomas Braddell, C. H. Harrisson, Captain Protheroe and Captain Tireman (military officers) and A. Schreider (Behn, Meyer and Co.). The Club moved again in 1869 to De Souza Street and later to Raffles Square, where John Little and Co. used to be. The move to Fullerton Square was made possible after, in 1865, it was decided that the batteries at Fort Fullerton would be moved to Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani and the fort demolished as a result.
The demolition of Fort Fullerton created a large area of vacant land fronting Fullerton Square. In 1876, the government leased the site of the old Fort Fullerton to the Chamber of Commerce and Singapore Exchange for 99 years for constructing a building to house the two organisations and the Singapore Club. The Chamber of Commerce and Exchange was completed in 1878. It officially opened in 1879, and the Singapore Club hosted the St. Andrew's Ball as its first function in its new premises.
Pre WWII and Japanese Occupation
In 1919, Singapore was in a euphoric mood in anticipation of the colony's Centenary Day. The government launched grand projects to showcase Singapore's one century of progress. The Fullerton building was the biggest one, which would house the General Post Office, Chamber of Commerce, Marine Offices and Singapore Club. In 1922, during the planning stage of the construction, it was reported that the Singapore Club would occupy 33 percent of the building's space; on the basement, ground, first, second, third and fourth floors. In June 1926, the Singapore Club moved into its temporary quarters in the Fullerton building. The Fullerton Building opened on 26 June 1928, officiated by Governor Clifford. The Straits Times report the following day contains the following on the Singapore Club:
|The Singapore Club will now stand in comparison with any club in the East, and its members are occupying premises which are fully worthy of the senior club in the city. The club commences on the first floor...On the second floor...is the main portion of the Club. The floors are paved with Tampines marblette tiles, made on Singapore Island, are the electric light fittings are of brass. The Club bar, which is 200 feet long,...looks out over Fullerton Road, and usually enjoys a delightful sea breeze. The reading room and library open out from the bar, and also three small cardrooms. The billiard room, which holds six tables, is a striking achievement...Facing Battery Road is the dining room, with accommodation for 200 persons,...
A feature that the Club's former premises did not have was the bedrooms. At the Fullerton Building, the Club had over 30 bedrooms on the third and fourth floors, with most rooms located on the fourth floor and enjoying the view over the harbour. The privilege given to the Singapore Club at Fullerton was followed by severe criticisms; why was a highly exclusive private club given lavish space in a public building built at public expense? The Fullerton was deemed to be the Club's private hotel.
When Singapore was bombed during WWII, the Club's bedrooms became the refuge for Governor Shenton Thomas and his wife. During the Japanese Occupation, the Singapore Club was home to the senior officers of the Japanese Imperial Army, headed by General Yamashita.
Even in the mid-20th century, the Singapore Club was still exclusive; it was for, in President Nathan's (who worked at the Fullerton as a Seaman's Welfare Officer) words, "Holy of the Holies". As he remembered it, the club was symbolic of British commercial interests and dominance. The members still kept among themselves. But with Singapore's self rule and imminent independence, the days of this last bastion of British capitalism were numbered.
When the Economic Development Board (EDB) was taking shape in 1961, it served an eviction order to the Singapore Club. EDB occupied the premises vacated by the Club. By now, the Singapore Club was also known as the Town Club. Later, the Singapore (Town) Club moved to Straits Trading Building on Battery Road. In 1988, the club dropped its 'men only' tradition and allowed woman guests at its lunch for the first time. In April 1992, the Club made another history by admitting its first female member, merchant banker Rosie Gan.
The Singapore Town Club moved from the Straits Trading Building in 1993 to Boat Quay. It occupied three conservation shophouses at Boat Quay, which have a commanding view of the Singapore River. To finance its $3-million Boat Quay clubhouse, the Club formed a public company and invited its members and the public to subscribe to its shares. The membership fees in 1993 were $3,000 for joining, followed by $120 monthly.
By 1997, the club had shed its quiet and low-key image for a vibrant and spunky one to attract younger members. Its bars boasted live music, and revamped menu. The club also has overseas affiliation, and hence its members are able to use the facilities of premier overseas clubs. The Club moved again to Maxwell Road in 2003.
Joshua Chia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
Chew, M. (2001). Memories of the Fullerton (pp. 98, 119, 126-127, 129, 130, 132, 143, 145-146). Singapore: The Fullerton Hotel.
(Call no.: RSING q959.57 CHE-[HIS]).
Makepeace, W., Brooke, G.E., & Braddel, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, p. 312). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE).
Peet, G. L. (1985). Rickshaw reporter (p. 108). Singapore: Eastern University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 070.924 PEE).
Goh, G. (1998, May 6). Will Singapore Town Club have to move again? The Straits Times [Electronic Version].Ho, J. (1994, March 24). Club forms company to sell shares. The Straits Times, Life at Large.
Ho, S. (1992, April 26). Merchant banker breaks into all-male club. The Straits Times, Home.
Lim, S. J. (1996, May 3). Grand dame gets a makeover. The Straits Times.
Lum, M. (1997, September 29). Now more vibrant club at night. The Straits Times.
No sir, it's a man's world no more. (1989, September 24). The Straits Times.
Toh, E. (1993, April 23). Singapore Town Club to move to Boat Quay. The Straits Times, Money.
Yeo, K. S. (1989, September 24). Where doors are closed to women. The Straits Times.
Getforme.com. (1999-2006). Associations, societies & clubs. Retrieved June 17, 2006, from
The information in this article is valid as at 2006 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.