Thursday, 23 May 2013

Population of Singapore

The Population of Singapore, 72
Handbook to Singapore.

In 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles landed, the population of the island was estimated as under 200. The foundation of a British trading settlement attracted many immigrants both from China and the Archipelago, so that by 1822, the number of inhabitants was reckoned at 10,000. From that time the population has steadily risen till, according to the last census (1891), the grand total of 184,554 has been reached.* The population is very mixed; few nations and languages are unrepresented. The details of the last census are as follows: — European and American residents 5,254; Eurasians, 3,589; Chinese, 121,908; Malays and other natives of the Archipelago, 35,992; Natives of India and Burmah, 16,035; other nationalities (Arabs, Armenians, Persians, Egyptians, Singhalese, Siamese, Anamese, Japanese, Jews and Negroes), 1,776. It will thus be seen that the Chinese number 66 per cent, of the whole population; but of the 122,000 over 12,000 are Straits born (Babas). About a third of the Chinese are Hok-kiens (45,000). The lingua franca of the Straits Settlements is Malay (see Chap. XV.); which is the language generally used in commerce, and between Asiatics of different races. 

• In 1826, the population was estimated at 13,732 ; in 1831, at 20,000; and 1840, at 39,681; and in 1881 at 139,208.
t These include Achinese, Boyanese, Bugis, Dyaks, Javanese, JawiPekkans, and Manilamen. (See p. 74.)

It is not uncommon to hear two Chinamen, who speak different dialects of Chinese, conversing in Malay. The Malays, though not the aborigines of the Peninsula, were the dominant race when the Europeans first came on the scene.

The Malays

Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace thus describes the physical, mental and moral characteristics of this interesting people. "The colour is a light reddish brown, with more or less of an olive tinge, not varying in any important degree over an extent of country as large as all Southern Europe. The hair is equally constant, being invariably black and straight, and of a rather coarse texture, so that any lighter tint, or any wave or curl in it, is almost certain proof of the admixture of some foreign blood. The face is nearly destitute of beard, and the breast and limbs are free from hair. The stature is tolerably equal, and is always considerably below that of the average European ; the body is robust, the breast well-developed, the feet small, thick and short, the hands small and rather delicate, the face is a little broad, and inclined to be flat ; the forehead is rather rounded, the brows low, the eyes black and very slightly oblique ; the nose is rather small, not prominent, but straight and well-shaped, the apex a little rounded, the nostrils broad and slightly exposed ; the cheek-bones are rather prominent, the mouth large, the lips broad and well-cut, but not protruding, the chin round and well-formed.

"In this description there seems little to object to on the score of beauty, and yet, on the whole, the Malays are certainly not handsome. In youth, however, they are often very good-looking, and many of the boys and girls up to twelve or fifteen years of age are very pleasing, and some have countenances which are in their way almost perfect.''  

The Population of Singapore. 73

"In character the Malay is impassive. He exhibits a reserve, diffidence and even bashf illness, which is in some degree attractive, and leads the observer to think that the ferocious and blood-thirsty character imputed to the race must be grossly exaggerated. He is not demonstrative. His feelings of surprise, admiration, or fear are never openly manifested, and are probably not strongly felt. He is slow and deliberate in speech, and circuitous in 'introducing the subject he has come expressly to discuss.* These are the main features of his moral nature, and exhibit themselves in every action of his life.

"The higher classes of the Malays are exceedingly polite, and have all the quiet ease and dignity of the best-bred Europeans. Yet this is compatible with a reckless cruelty and contempt of human life, which is the dark side of their character.t It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that different persons give totally opposite accounts of them — one praising them for their soberness, civility, and good nature ; another abusing them for their deceit, treachery and cruelty."

"The intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combinations of ideas, and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge.X Their civilization, such as it is, does not seem to be indigenous, as it is entirely confined to those nations who have been converted to the Mahommedan or Brahminical religions."

Nothing need be added to this description by Mr. Wallace, except that of all the Asiatics in the Straits the Malays are the laziest.

* This last is a characteristic of most Asiatics.
t It need hardly be said that where British influence is supreme these qualities are repressed, and will probably die out from want of exercise.
X This is probably one reason why the Malay literature is imitative rather than original. (See Ch.- X)

Handbook to Singapore, 74

The religion of the Malays in the Straits Settlements and in the Peninsula is Mahommedan. The Brahminical Malays, referred to above, are found in the islands of Bali and Lombok to the south-east of Java, and also in the hill-country of Java. In Singapore there are representatives of at least seven Malay tribes — Achinese, from the north-weat of Sumatra, Boyanese, from Bawean, a small island north of Java ; Bugis from the Celebes ; Dyaks, the savage tribe of Borneo; Javanese, Jawi Pekkans, or Jawi Peranakkans, a mixed native race, belonging to the Settlement,* and Manilamen from the Philippines.

The Malays in Singapore are largely employed in fishing : many take service as coachmen, grooms, gardeners and police. The fishing population live in attap houses built on piles on the sea shore between the high and low water mark; and those for whom dwellings are not provided in connection with their work, live in similar houses built inland.

The Chinese

Chinese characteristics are too well-known to need description here. In Singapore they form by far the largest part of the industrial population, they supply the labour on the plantations, at the docks and wharves; they are bricklayers, carpenters, boatmen, ricksha coolies, market-gardeners, tailors, shoe-makers, bakers, <fec., &c. There are thousands of Chinese shops throughout the town, large and small, stored with goods from all parts of the world. Almost all the domestic servants are Chinese; so are many of the clerks employed in the banks, offices, and stores: and there is a considerable number of prosperous and wealthy Chinese merchants who can hold their own with the European firms. 

* Born in Singapore, not necessarily Malays. Mothers frequently Malay.
The Population of Singapore. 75

Of the different Chinese races there are representatives of at least five in Singapore — Hok-kiens (the most numerous); Hykims, Cantonese or Macaos (these two, especially the former, are mostly domestic servants); Teo Chews and Kehs.* The peculiarities of Chinese architecture and house decoration may be seen in all parts of the town.

The Indians

The various Indian races are very variously employed from the Chitty, or money-lender, to the hack-gharry syce, the dhobi (or washerman) and the coolie. Many Indians are employed as messengers in the offices and shops; some enter domestic service; while others pursue various industries.


The Armenians, Parsees, Arabs and Jews are mainly traders.

The diversity of races, pursuits, languages, customs and dress in Singapore is a source of never failing interest to the observer. The variety of the world is compressed into a few streets before his eyes.

* The Hok-kiens come from Amoy, the Teo Chews from the Swatow district, and the Kehs from the Hakka country ; while the Hylams come from the island of Hainan*

Handbook to Singapore (Internet Digital Archives)