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MacRitchie Reservoir, located off Lornie Road and completed in the late 1860s, was the first water supply system implemented in Singapore. The Impounding Reservoir, as it was then called, came about through the donation of S$13,000 by philanthropist Tan Kim Seng in 1857. The reservoir was renamed Thomson Road Reservoir in 1907 and its name was changed again to MacRitchie Reservoir in 1922 after James MacRitchie, who was the Municipal Engineer of Singapore from 1883 to 1895.
Early Proposals for a Water Supply System
The water supply of Singapore has always been an important concern since its early days as a British settlement. Soon after the British established a trading post in Singapore in 1819, the number of trading vessels and migrants arriving at the island grew rapidly. The increased shipping and population raised the demand for fresh water supply, and existing water supply quickly became inadequate.
As early as 1823, British Resident John Crawfurd proposed spending S$1,000 to build a reservoir and waterworks to cope with the increasing demand for fresh water. However, nothing came out of it. In 1852, J. T. Thomson, the government surveyor, proposed a plan to draw water from the headwaters of the "Singapore Creek", however, the plan did not came through either.
Tan Kim Seng's Donation
In 1857, Tan Kim Seng, a wealthy Straits Chinese merchant, donated S$13,000 towards the improvement of the town's water supply. In response to his donation, plans and estimates were made and several places proposed for reservoirs. However, it was only after a severe island-wide drought five years later that the proposals were finalised to build an impounding reservoir at Thomson Road. The plan was submitted to the colonial government at Calcutta for approval as Singapore was under the direct administration of the Governor-General of India. After much debate over the projected cost of building the reservoir, estimated at S$100,000, the plan was finally approved in 1864.
The construction of the reservoir was completed in 1867. However the pumps and distributing networks were not completed until 1877. Singapore's first waterworks was finally completed and officially opened in 1878, 20 years after Tan Kim Seng's philanthropic offer and fourteen years after his death in 1864. To commemorate Tan Kim Seng's generous donation, the Municipality erected a fountain in honour of him, originally located at Fullerton Square. This was removed to Queen Elizabeth Walk in 1925.
In 1891, the Impounding Reservoir was enlarged at a cost of S$32,000 under the supervision of James MacRitchie, the Municipal Engineer. The extension increased the capacity of the reservoir to over 468 million gallons. In 1902, a water famine occurred, which raised the need for more water. As a result, plans were made to channel water from the Kallang River, one of the island's bigger sources of fresh water, into the Impounding Reservoir. To take in the extra water from the Kallang River, the Impounding Reservoir was extended a second time in 1905. In 1907, the enlarged reservoir was named Thomson Road Reservoir, and in 1922, it was renamed the MacRitchie Reservoir in recognition of James MacRitchie's work.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park
This 12 ha park was opened in 1967 and has become a popular spot for joggers and strollers. The park has a fountain, a flower clock, a jogging track, an exercise area, a children's playground, a tea kiosk and an orchid garden. There are band performances on Sundays occasionally, and sport fishing is allowed at designated areas in the reservoir.
Syonan Jinja Shrine
Lying deep in the jungle surrounding the MacRitchie Reservoir are a few stone structures. These relics are the remainder of a Shinto Shrine built by Japanese during the Second World War. The shrine has been marked by the National Heritage Board as a historical site.
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(Call No.: RSING 959.57 ONE)
Singapore's 100 Historic Places (p. 128). (2002). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959. 57 SIN).
Yesterday & Today: The Story of Public Electricity, Water and Gas Supplies in Singapore. (1985). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 363. 6095957 YES)
WWII Shinto Shrine Marked as a Historic Site. (2002, September 17). The Straits Times, Singapore.
National Heritage Board. (n.d.). Water Supply in Singapore. Retrieved November 27, 2002, from www.museum.org.sg/heritagehub/more_macritchie.html
Public Utilities Board. (2002). Reservoir Parks. Retrieved November 27, 2002, from www.pub.gov.sg/lhs_reservoir_parks.htm
The information in this article is valid as at 1998 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.