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Gaston Dutronquoy was a prominent hotelier and entrepreneur in Singapore during the 1840s and early 1850s. He was also the island's first recorded resident photographer. A native of Jersey in the Channel Islands, he first arrived in Singapore in early 1839, advertising himself as a painter.
A multi-faceted career
In May 1839, Dutronquoy established the London Hotel in High Street. In late 1841, he moved his hotel to a two-storey bungalow located near to the Esplanade, which was formerly the residence of G. D. Coleman, Singapore's pioneer colonial architect and the first Government Superintendent of Public Works. It was there that he opened a photographic studio, experimenting with the newly invented daguerreotype. His studio offered portrait-taking services at ten dollars for one person and fifteen for two persons in a single picture. In March 1844, the London Hotel was again relocated to another building, situated at the corner of High Street and the Esplanade.
Apart from photography, Dutronquoy also tried his hand at theatre. On the ground floor of the London Hotel in Coleman Street, he set up the Theatre Royal, which staged theatrical performances between 1844 and 1845. It is interesting that besides Singapore, this spirited proprietor had also started a hotel (which incidentally was also named the London Hotel) and theatre in Hong Kong. His ventures in Hong Kong did not last very long though; on 25 November 1842, he left Hong Kong rather suddenly, reportedly due to a serious conflict with some individuals.
Dutronquoy also made significant contributions to the medical industry of Singapore. He opened a hotel that catered to the needs of invalids and convalescents, supported by a team of well-qualified doctors from India. Strategically located at James Guthrie's old residence at New Harbour, this branch of the London Hotel also offered accommodation to newly arrived visitors to Singapore who disembarked from the nearby Peninsula and Oriental (P & O) Wharves. In addition, Dutronquoy devised an affordable "iced-cap or rather wig" that could provide relief to patients suffering from brain fever.
A heroic deed
Dutronquoy displayed his courage during one of early Singapore's worst fires. On 12 February 1847, a large fire broke out in Kampong Glam. Before long, the flames spread to the neighbouring European houses along Beach Road; the house of a Mr Gilbert McMicking was the first to catch fire. Fortunately, Dutronquoy, together with a party of French sailors, bravely climbed onto the roof of McMicking's house. There, by continually throwing water onto the tiles, they managed to put out the fire and save the building, preventing it from spreading to the other European houses.
A mysterious end
It is not known for sure what happened to Dutronquoy after the mid-1850s. According to reports of the time, he mysteriously vanished while in search of gold in the Muar river region. Rumours of the time stated that he was murdered during the expedition. Dutronquoy was listed as "absent" in the Singapore almanack and directory for the year 1856, and in the following year, an advertisement in The Straits Times informed the public that his estate had been dissolved. The London Hotel was taken over by Madame Esperanza, who renamed it the Singapore Hotel. Gaston's son, S. Dutronquoy, later opened a second London Hotel in Bonham Street.
Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 341, 400-401, 460-461, 743, 745). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no. RCLOS 959.57 BUC)
Falconer, J. (1987). A vision of the past: A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya: The photographs of G.R. Lambert & Co., 1880-1910 (pp. 11-12). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no. RSING 779.995957 FAL)
Gillis, K. & Tan, K. (2006). The book of Singapore's firsts (p. 127). Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society.
(Call no. RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS])
The Singapore almanack and directory for the year 1856: The government, various departments, merchants, trade & professions, etc., etc., etc., at Singapore (p. 58) [Microfilm: NL 2363]. (1856). Singapore: Straits Times Press.
Lee, Y. K. (2005, September). Private practitioners and private hospitals in early Singapore (1819-1872). Singapore Medical Journal, 46 (9), 495.
(Call no. RSING 610.5 SMJ)
Smith, Carl T. (1982). The Hong Kong Amateur Dramatic Club and its predecessors. Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 22. Retrieved July 2, 2007, from http://sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/44/4401502.pdf
Daguerrotype portraits [Microfilm: NL 1558]. (1843, December 7). The Singapore Free Press and Weekly Advertiser Weekly, p. 1.
Fire [Microfilm 10589]. (1847, February 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Weekly, p. 3.
In the estate of Gastou Dutronquoy: London Hotel, Singapore [Microfilm: NL 5557]. (1857, September 8). The Straits Times, p. 3.
London Hotel [Microfilm: NL 1556]. (1839, May 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Weekly, p. 1.
London Hotel [Microfilm: NL 1558]. (1842, January 13). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Weekly, p. 1.
Notice [Microfilm: NL 1556]. (1839, April 11). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Weekly, p. 1.
Singapore Hotel [Microfilm: NL 5557]. (1857, September 8). The Straits Times, p. 3.
The information in this article is valid as at 2007 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.