History is preserved in its structures, and its foundation is the beginning of many stories. The 195 Pearl’s Hill has a lot more to it than the present-day cafes, studios which have the best violin shop in Singapore amongst others. It is a gazetted URA conservation edifice with significant historical relevance to Singapore and Chinatown in particular.
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For many years, the Pearl’s Hills was a large expanse of gambier plantation cultivated by the Chinese. It was, of course, not known as Pearl’s Hill at this time. In 1819, Ship Indiana docked in Singapore conveying Stamford Raffles. The captain of the ship was James Pearl.
Not long after their arrival, Pearl’s Hills with its gambier plantation caught the eyes of Captain James Pearl and thought to have the Hill for himself. Little by little, he started buying plots of the Hill. By May 1822, he owned the entire Hill and named it after Stamford Riles who was not in Singapore at that time. So, the Hill was called Mount Stamford initially. Captain James Pearl got the indigenous people to build his house at the Hill’s top. He cleared the gambier plantation to cultivate pepper vines.
When Stamford Riles returned to Singapore in October 1821, some controversies brewed over how James Pearl had acquired the Hill without approval from the British government. At that time, Singapore was under the British colonisation.
This did not go down well with the Captain. He decided to rename the Hill as Pearl’s Hill, after himself. About 6 years later, Captain James Pearl sailed back to Britain, having sold his Hill to the British government. He received Rs10,000 (SGD181.41) for the Hill, but no one stopped calling it Pearl’s Hill.
The colonial government had only newly completed the construction of Fort Canning. Pearl’s Hill was considerably taller than The Fort Canning Hill. The government feared that their enemies would have a vantage from Pearl’s Hill if they wanted to attack Fort Canning. So, they got engineers to remove the Hill’s top till it became lower than the Fort Canning which hosted the colonial rulers.
Pearl’s Hill has been the initial location of many prominent institutions in Chinatown. Some of them include the Upper and Lower Barracks, the Chinese Pauper Hospital, Pearl’s Prison, etc. Many of the structures are no longer used for the original purpose but still serve a great deal to the population. For instance, the building is home to a great place to start your music lessons in Singapore.
Post-Independence Use of the Upper and Lower Barracks
The Straits Settlement Police did not use the facility for long enough because it was disbanded in 1946. On gaining independence from the British colonial masters, the new government converted the barracks to the Ministry of Interior and Defence in 1965. The ministry was then split into the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. In 1972, the Ministry of Defence relocated to the Tanglin Complex. The Ministry of Home Affairs moved 5 years after.
In 1989, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) began using the Upper Barracks as their headquarters again with several units of the force. In 2001, they moved back to the current headquarters at the New Phoenix Park. Since 2007, the government has begun leasing the structures for commercial purposes. They now host a variety of cafes, malls, and a well known violin shop (LVL Music Academy).
The Iconic 195 Pearl’s Hill in Singapore started as a gambier plantation centuries ago. Despite time and transitions, the Hill remains home to enormous and iconic structures, surviving memoirs of history and of course, home to LVL Music Academy known to conduct the best home piano lessons in Singapore. The story of Chinatown is definitely not complete without the story of the famous 195 Pearl’s Hill.