PEOPLE OF THE RIVER STATUE SERIES

One of the most pleasant things to do in Singapore is a stroll by the Singapore River. The river area, particularly Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, were important centres in the history of Singapore’s trade. It was here that merchants unloaded their vessels of rice, coffee, rubber, tin, herbs and spices, and many other goods on the banks of the river, where the earliest immigrants from China and India worked. To understand Singapore’s history, one has to understand the river, and the People of the River statue series helps you to do just that. 
First Generation - The People of the River statue series in Singapore
The historical Cavenagh Bridge is a great spot to start your walking tour of The People of the River statue sites, and experience a slice of early Singapore from perspectives of the people who might have lived, played and worked along the river. On the bridge's left side, you'll see the First Generation, a frozen-motion sculpture of five boys diving off to go for a swim in the river. This isn’t allowed any more – and highly unadvisable – but what shows how the Singapore River held so many meanings for different groups of people. It’s a reminder that, many years ago, children played alongside bumboats unloading their wares, and that it wouldn’t have been uncommon to hear the energetic, happy shouts of youth amidst bustling markets. 
From Chettiars to Financiers - The People of the River statue series in Singapore

To the right of First Generation is another sculpture, From Chettiars to Financiers. This pays homage to the history of the finance industry in Singapore – a history that started with simple traditional moneylenders. The Chettiars are a subset of the Tamil community and come from Chettinad in India, with many immigrating to Singapore in the 1820s.

Many Chettiars have historically and traditionally been moneylenders, and they set up successful moneylending businesses along the Singapore River next to the many trading houses in the area. It is fitting that this sculpture now occupies the same shadow as the region’s and world’s biggest financial institutions which have made Singapore a global finance hub. 

River Merchants - The People of the River statue series in Singapore

Walk towards the graceful facade of the Fullerton Hotel (formerly the General Post Office) to look for River Merchants, the third sculpture in the series. The scene depicts a European merchant discussing business with a Chinese trader and Malay chief, while a group of coolies load a bullock cart a short distance away.

The European is Alexander Laurie Johnston, one of Singapore’s pioneer traders. The site of the sculpture is actually where Johnston's trading company operated near the mouth of the Singapore River from 1820 to 1848. Originally from Scotland, Johnston was a key figure in the early Singapore business scene and was one of the founding members of the Chamber of Commerce.

For a bigger picture understanding of Singapore’s history, head to the Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place, right across the river, or a little further to the National Museum