G. D. Coleman
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George Dromgold Coleman, (b. 1796, Drogheda County, Louth, Ireland – d. 27 March 1844, Singapore) became the first Government Superintendent of Public Works when he was appointed in 1833. He was Singapore's pioneer colonial architect who planned, surveyed, and built much of early Singapore for 15 crucial years, shaping the course of Singapore's architectural development and early urbanisation.
Coleman was born in Drogheda County, Louth, in Ireland. His mother's family, the Dromgolds, were well-known merchants, while his father, James Coleman was also a merchant. His middle name is rendered in various ways – Drumoole or Drumgoole or Drumgolde. It was inaccurately transcribed as Doumgold on his memorial tablet in the Old Christian Cemetery, but the correct Anglicised version is Dromgold.
There are no records indicating that he received his architectural education in Ireland as his name was not found in the professional registers there. In 1815, at the age of 19, he left Ireland, practising first as an architect in Calcutta, and then moving to Batavia in 1820.
In June 1822, Coleman left Batavia for Singapore, where he waited four months for Sir Stamford Raffles' return from Bencoolen. In the meantime, he designed a Residency House on speculation, which impressed Raffles, who then asked him to design a garrison church. Coleman received fees for both designs, and Raffles built the Residency in November 1822 at the top of Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), now Fort Canning. The building was later called Government House. The design of the garrison church, submitted on 7 November 1822, was approved shortly after, but it took more than 10 years before Coleman built this first church for the European community in Singapore.
He was appointed the first Government Superintendent of Public Works in 1833, a position that concurrently made him Superintendent of Convicts. In this new position he constructed North and South Bridge Roads. His skills as an architect are reflected in the construction of a number of well-known buildings with a particular slant toward Palladian and Georgian architecture. His many achievements include the construction of many prominent buildings, some still in existence today, such as the original Parliament House, the oldest building in Singapore; the Armenian Church of St. Gregory; Caldwell House, which was the start of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus complex of buildings (today part of CHIJMES), the original Telok Ayer Market (1837), and two remaining monuments at the Fort Canning Cemetery.
In spite of his extensive duties and professional activities, Coleman took on responsibilities as a publisher with William Napier, establishing the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Newspaper, first issued in October 1835.
After embarking in June 1841 on a tour of Europe with a short stop in Ireland, he returned to Singapore on 25 November 1843, with plans to remain a permanent resident here. Shortly after, however, he fell prey to a fever brought on by exposure to the sun, and passed away soon after. He was probably one of the oldest residents in Singapore at the time of his death on 27 March 1844. His inconsolable widow, Maria Frances, later married William Napier on 5 October 1844, and Napier adopted Coleman's infant son. Coleman Street and Coleman Bridge are named after him.
1815 : Coleman went to Calcutta and began practising as an architect at Fort William.
1820 : Spent nearly two years in Batavia (capital of Dutch Indies in Java) as a surveyor of large sugar plantations in the interior. Also designed private buildings and sugar mills, and erected machinery for sugar milling.
1822 : Arrived in Singapore in June and designed a Residency House on speculation, which Raffles built in November 1822, completing it in January 1823. It was known as Government House until its demolition in 1859 to make way for colonial military occupation, after which the hill was renamed Fort Canning.
1823 : In June, Raffles departed from Singapore for the last time, and Coleman went back to Java about the same time. Staying for nearly two and a half years and busy with extensive agricultural speculation, he constructed large embankments and reservoirs for the irrigation of ricelands. He also surveyed sugar plantations and developed schemes for buildings on sugar estates.
1825 : Returned to Singapore because of trouble between Dutch and native Javanese.
1826 : In January, Coleman was given his first important commission – designing a large Palladian house for David Skene Napier.
1826 : Designed and built a palatial brick residence for John Argyle Maxwell that Maxwell never occupied, renting it first before selling it to the government. The splendid Coleman Mansion, completed in July 1827, became a Court House complex, housing government offices and a Recorder's Office. The building was eventually sold to the government on 26 October 1841 for 15,600 Spanish dollars. The original form of the Court House can only be seen in early paintings and photographs, but it survives today in the core of Singapore's original Parliament House, although much altered and enlarged.
1827 : Employed as a Revenue Surveyor and first surveyed land titles issued mostly to cover shop-house lots in the town.
1828 : Designed and built his own residence, which was completed in May 1829 and later known as Coleman House at No. 3 Coleman Street. This was demolished in December 1965, and the site is now occupied by the 21-storey Peninsula Hotel and Shopping Complex.
1829 : As Topographical Surveyor, Coleman surveyed in minute detail the islands that would form the new harbour of the port; and all the shoals, slopes and heights of the hills along the coast for the possible fortification of the harbour. This survey resulted in the first comprehensive map of the Town and environs in 1836.
1833 : Appointed the first Government Superintendent of public Works. North and South Bridge Roads were constructed under his jurisdiction, which lasted from 1833 to 1835.
1834 : Designed the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, which was completed in 1835.
1835 : Designed and built the first Church of St. Andrew's, completed by 1837.
1835 : Built an iron suspension bridge across Kallang river, imported in sections from a foundry in England.
1835 : With William Napier, established the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser Newspaper in October.
1836 : In May, Coleman presented plans and cost estimates to complete the badly constructed, unfinished ruins of the central building of the Singapore Institution, first built by Lieutenant Philip Jackson in 1823. Coleman's plans were accepted, and under his direction, the restoration and extension of the Singapore Institution was completed in December 1837. The first wing extension was completed in May 1839, and the second at the end of 1841. The Institution was renamed Raffles Institution and remained there until it was demolished in 1972.
1840 : Designed a bridge with a brick structure of nine arches, costing $8,690, and later called Coleman Bridge. Also designed and built a house for H. C. Caldwell. Caldwell's House was sold to Rev. Fr. Jean-Marie Beurel for $4,000 and later became part of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) complex of buildings at Victoria Street in 1852.
1841 : Left Singapore on 25 July for Europe and then London after 15 years of continuous work on the island.
1842 : Designed a godown for Baba Yeo Kim Swee.
1843 : Unhappy in Europe, Coleman sailed back to Singapore via Calcutta, arriving on 25 November.
1844 : After a short illness, Coleman died on 27 March, aged 48, and was buried at the Christian Cemetery at Fort Canning.
1829 : A romantic attachment for some years with a Dutch-Eurasian lady, Takoye Manuk, bore them a daughter, Meda Elizabeth Coleman on 10 March.
1837 : Coleman’s daughter Meda Elizabeth, aged 8, was christened on 30 July at the first Church of St. Andrew, which he had designed and built.
1842 : On 17 September, Coleman married Maria Frances Vernon aged 21, in London.
1843 : On 27 December, his son George Vernon Coleman was born in Singapore.
Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (p. 227). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 BUC)
Edwards, N. (1988). Singapore: a guide to buildings, streets, places (pp. 366). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 915.957 EDW)
Hancock, T. H. H. (1986). Coleman's Singapore (pp. 1-12, 14-15, 22-25, 40-46, 70-91). Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications.
(Call no.: SING 720.924 COL.H)
Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 BRA)
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can 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.
Events>>Historical Periods>>Founding of Modern Singapore (1819-1941)
Coleman, George Dromgold, 1796-1844