Singapore Swimming Club
Comments on article: InfopediaTalk
The Singapore Swimming Club, established in 1894 at Tanjong Rhu, by a group of Europeans. In 1994, the club celebrated its 100th anniversary with the opening of a new facility at the same site. With a huge membership, it continues to concentrate on its core activity, swimming, despite providing a wide range of sports facilities.
The Singapore Swimming Club owes its origins to a group of young European men who in the early 1890s cruised in sampan from Johnston's Pier (now Clifford Pier) to Tanjong Rhu to reach their bathing spot. They bathed off a military pier, long demolished, that projected into the sea from the old Katong Fort (the present Katong Park). They spent many happy hours swimming in the cool waters and relaxing on the clean sand of a long and empty coastline. The men brought sandwiches and bottles of cold tea for a picnic after the surf. They discussed about having a premise for changing and a bar, thus the idea for a swimming club was born.
On 23 October 1893, the swimming buddies sent a circular to various offices to round up support for the club. Presumably, these men, mentioned as certain gentlemen' in the circular, were to become the club's first committee. Interested parties were to pay S$1 monthly to meet all expenses. Soon, 30 signatures were received and an inaugural meeting was held on 6 November 1893 at the Waverly Hotel, now demolished. The Singapore Free Press reported the presence of about 20 people at the meeting that was presided by A. L. Tregarthan. The club's committee was set up, comprising of F. Nawton, R. Price, G. Mousley, R. Charlton, H. Fregarthen, H. L. Coghlen and W. Craig. The first clubhouse was an attap hut rented from a Malay fisherman. When a rented bungalow, belonging to man named Drew, was found in the vicinity, the shed was abandoned. A Chinese sampan was hired at S$10 a month to transport members to the club from the pier.
The initial days of the club were not very noteworthy. Its food was very plain and probably forgettable. The bungalow was in a dilapidated condition too. In 1894, things appeared to be looking up. The members painted and spruced up the place themselves. After the bungalow was painted, the Singapore Swimming Club was officially inaugurated and opened on 7 February 1894.
After its humble beginnings, the Club's membership began picking up. It steadily rose from 65 men in 1894 to 79 in 1895 and then to 116 members in 1899, with S$835 in the Club's coffers. In 1895, the Club decided to allow ladies in on Wednesdays. On 26 January 1895, the first "Aquatic Sports" meet of the Club was held with a reportedly large turn-out. On 14 June 1897, the Club held its inaugural swimming race. With the changing ownership of the bungalow causing worry to the Club, the Club simply decided to buy it. In 1899, the Club bought the bungalow from its owner then, Gaggino, for $3,500. It financed its purchase by issuing debentures.
The purchase of the Club's bungalow led to improvements to its premises; a sea wall, a large dressing room and a bathing enclosure surrounded by stakes were built. A diving platform was also added. The Club now became an established institution. Most of the Club's members in the early years were British or other Europeans. Subscription was still S$1 a month. By 1902, the Club paid off its debentures and in 1903, with sufficient funds in its coffers, a new clubhouse was in the pipeline. The clubhouse was constructed at a cost of S$15,165, and a carnival was held to celebrate the occasion of its opening on 21 May 1904.
In the years before WWI (1914-1918), the Club developed steadily. Visitors to the clubhouse came by the sampan which was later sped up by launch from Johnston's Pier. Some cycled to Sea View and walked through the coconut plantations to reach the clubhouse. During the war, many members served in various theatres resulting in a lull period but soon after the war ended, the Club entered into one of its most flourishing periods. Female membership and patronage became more flexible with the admission of ladies as honorary members in 1923 and the extension of the club usage to ladies on public holidays. Another milestone was the change of the club's name from "Swimming Club Singapore" to "Singapore Swimming Club" which took effect in 1931. The addition of a pool to the club facilities was another sensation. The pool was officially opened on 3 December 1931 by the then Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Cecil Clementi, who after declaring it opened, threw off his dressing gown and jumped into the pool. The opening of the pool caused a stir throughout Malaya at the time as nothing like it had been seen in the country before. The expansion of the club's membership, which by 1933 had reached 2000, culminated in the building of a new clubhouse which was officially opened on 19 June 1936. Henceforth, the club prospered until WWII and the Japanese Occupation broke its momentum and drove the club's facilities into neglect. At the end of the Occupation, the British forces requisitioned the club for a Services Club. The club's members pressed hard for the return of the club's premises which took place on 1 July 1946 with the re-opening of the club and commencement of restoration works.
From 1946-1955, membership to the Club rose again but with the imminent pull-out of British forces and their civilian attachments, decline set in. In 1962, an important change to the Club's membership and management rule occurred when nominations for the Club's top offices were no longer confined to members "who are British subjects by birth". In 1963, in view of Singapore's independence and changing social norms, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew issued a directive to all British clubs that they could no longer stick to their "white only" rule. The Singapore Swimming Club admitted Asian members in 1963. In 1968, the Club's base was broadened with members from some 30 different nationalities.
Towards the end of the 20th century, plans were aboard for a new clubhouse. A five-year development plan was raised to complete the new building in two phases. The first phase, costing more than S$10 million was completed in November 1994. New facilities added were a multi-storey carpark with a health centre in its basement, jacuzzi, changing rooms, two new food and beverage outlets, a new 10-lane bowling alley, four tennis courts, a spectator's gallery and six badminton courts. Phase two of the development, costing S$20 million, was completed in 1999-2000. The clubhouse now has a 250 seat theatre to screen movies, a new continental restaurant that replaces the Harbour Grill, a refurbished Chinese restaurant, and expanded lounge and bar, coffee-house and jackpot room. A new five-storey administration building was also constructed to replace a pre-war structure.
To raise funds and make place for new members, the Club began buying back inactive memberships at S$10,000 in 1994, and selling them back to new members at S$20,000. A museum displaying memorabilia from the past was opened in 1994 as well. On 23 October 1995, the club's executives served as waiters at a dinner event to raise funds. Earlier in the day, a badminton tournament was also held with each player donating S$50. After the redevelopment was completed, the new club was officially opened on 27 February 2001, graced by Honorary Life Member, President S. R. Nathan as its Guest of Honour.
Today, the Club offers a range of social and sporting events for its members. It is a far cry from being an exclusively European club that it was earlier. Well represented by members of the different ethnic communities who are largely Singaporeans, the club's range of activities include Chap Goh Mei, Mooncake, and Deepavali celebrations.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary (pp. 4-55, 109-113). Singapore: YTJ Total Communications.
(Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
Gagan, J.A. [1968?]. The Singapore Swimming Club: 1894-1968. [Microfilm: NL 19877]. Singapore: The Club.
Club executives serve as waiters to raise funds. (1995, October 24). The Straits Times, p. 25.
Dhaliwal, R. (1986, October 14). Engineer tells club to demolish $6m carpark. The Straits Times.
Lee, A. (1990, July 27). Swimming club splashes $11.5m to upgrade. The Business Times, p. 2.
Mardiana, A. B. (1994, April 7). Swimming club to buy back inactive memberships. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 4.
Ranganayaki, T. (1994, November 29). SSC opens museum to mark 100th year. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 6.
S'pore Swimming Club re-opens. (2001, March 2). The Straits Times, p. 11.
The shark that got a British officers' club a pool. (1994, April 7). The Straits Times, Life!, p. 4.
Singapore Swimming Club. (2002). Singapore Swimming Club. Retrieved February 19, 2004, from www.sswimclub.org.sg/
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.
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Civic and Administrative Buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Sports, recreation and travel>>Water sports>>Swimming