Dalhousie Memorial

The Dalhousie Memorial
J.T. Thomson
Text of label: 

Erected by the European, Chinese and native inhabitants of Singapore to commemorate the visit in the month of February 1850 of the most noble
The Marquis of Dalhousie, Governor General of British India, on which occasion he emphatically recognized the wisdom of liberating commerce from all restraints. Under which enlightened policy this settlement has proudly attained its present rank among British possessions and with which future prospects must ever be identified.

"the European, Chinese and native inhabitants of Singapore"

The obelisk is the first public monument in Singapore, built in 1850. It is modelled after Cleopatra's Needle, an ancient Egyptian stone pillar that had been brought to London and erected on the banks of the River Thames.

It was built to commemorate the second visit to Singapore of the Governor-General of India, The Marquis of Dalhousie (from 1848 to 1856). The object of his visit was to consider the reduction of administrative expenditure.

The memorial was built to remind the Governor of the benefits of free trade, and as part of an agitation to convert Singapore from a possession of the East India Company into a proper Crown Colony, administered from London by the Colonial Office. (The Company was in severe financial difficulties, and kept wanting to raise local taxes, including trade duties, which the merchants resisted strongly.)

While Dalhousie's 1850 visit was received with much enthusiasm, and his response that he would "take the Straits Settlements under his wing", according to Mary Turnbull, his visit "produced no tangible change, and the sole result of his visit was the Dalhousie obelisk, erected by the Singapore merchants in his honour, a suitably graceful and useless reminder of this pleasant but unproductive interlude." (Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore 1819-2005, Singapore: NUS Press, 2009). It took another 17 years before Singapore became a Crown Colony.

Location Notes: 

First sited at Dalhousie Pier, but in 1886 it was moved to another site on the same line but nearer the sea wall (where the Cenotaph stands now). In 1891 it was moved again, this time to its present site.

First Placed in Singapore: 
Current Location: 
between Victoria Theatre and the Asian Civilisations Museum


Information from a Flickr page...

Dalhousie Obelisk - Singapore - 1850

Dalhousie Ghaut, Singapore.
This public monument commemorates the three-day visit to Singapore in February 1850 by the then Governor-General of India Lord Dalhousie. At the time, Singapore was run by the East India Company and administered by the Bengal Presidency. Prominent merchants and traders from the British and Chinese communities fell over themselves to demonstrate their loyalty to Dalhousie during his visit with the hope that he would exert his influence in their favour. Not content with renaming the pier by which he came ashore Dalhousie Ghaut, the loyal subjects subsequently raised funds by subscription to fund the building of this monument.

However, not all residents were supportive of the proposed memorial. One letter in the weekly 'Straits Times' in September 1850 questioned the need to honour a man, "who never...did anything for the Settlement except shake hands all round with the Chamber of Commerce who in itself has yet to subscribe a penny towards a memorial fitting the father of the colony (Stamford Raffles)."

The loyalists had their way, however, and the structure was raised to the designs of Surveyor John Turnbull Thomson. The original plaque on the monument (now removed) used language which reflected the anxious toadying of the business communities:-

"The mercantile and other non-official members of our community, Europeans and Asiatics deeply impressed with a sense of the great benefits the Settlement cannot fail to derive from the visit of the Most Noble the Marquis of Dalhousie, Governor-General of India."

It was only much later that news leaked out that the true purpose of Dalhousie's visit had been to consider the reduction of administrative expenditure, not to promote free trade and address local issues as had been originally believed. It is no wonder that the monument fell from grace and it remains a monument to currying favour from officials and a most undeserved memorial.

Free Trade Agreement

I was told that after his first or maybe second visit. The Marquis was responsible in making sure that all trade ships from India were directed to make a stop at Singapore Harbour. This ultimately led/encouraged to the growth of Singapore as a trade sea port colony. In this I believe we owe due thanks to the Marquis of Dalhousie in helping the growth of modern Singapore.

Not all historians would agree

Thanks for your comment! Senior historian Mary Turnbull felt the opposite was true - that Dalhousie's visit had little real impact on Singapore one way or another. A bit disappointing, isn't it!

I've amended the entry above to quote Turnbull and give her version. Would welcome more perspectives on this.