'The River Merchants' - Atlas Obscura

'The River Merchants'

These bronze statues depict the early days of trading in Singapore. 


In Boat Quay, bronze statues fashioned by Aw Tee Hong in 2003 encapsulate an antiquated routine for merchants and laborers of early Singapore. These statues depict a Chinese trader, a Malay chief, a famous merchant Alexander Laurie Johnston, and men loading sacks onto a cart. The sculptures are located along the river and the former site of Johnston’s warehouse. 

Johnston, a prominent Scottish businessman and merchant, is seen mediating with the Chinese trader and Malay chief. Hong captures and highlights the multiculturalism integral to Singapore’s identity, showing how diverse the trading community is. Adjacent to these men, a homage is paid to the low-wage laborers of the time. These men, often of Chinese or Indian origin, were vital in traversing the trade routes along the river. 

As Johnston was one of the earliest British settlers in Singapore, he was among the first magistrates appointed by Sir Stamford Raffles. Serving as one of the Trustees of the Singapore Institution, Johnston established A. L. Johnston & Co. in 1820, making his mark as an active member of the mercantile community. The Scotsman became a founding member of Singapore’s Chamber of Commerce in 1837, helping the nation become one of the most important trading hubs in the world. 

The artist behind these statues, Aw Tee Hong, was a prominent Singaporean artist known for his paintings and sculptures. He immortalizes Singapore’s heritage, focusing on the country’s humble beginnings as a fishing village and its evolution into a modern metropolis.

Know Before You Go

The closest station is Raffles Place MRT. The statues are in front the Fullerton Hotel, overlooking the Singapore river, and just before entering the Cavenagh Bridge. 

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