Oxley Road. Nowadays this road is particularly famous among Singaporeans because of number 38 Oxley Road, the family home of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was the Prime Minister for many years from 1959 and who passed away on 23 Mar 2015 at the age of 92. At present Mr Lee’s daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling still lives there. Indeed it was because I wanted to see this house that I went to Oxley Road, and by so doing, stumbled upon a large compound with the ruins of an old bungalow. This is the story of that surprising discovery and the lesson about life that it showed me. Perhaps it will be meaningful to you as well.
First, some history about the road…
Oxley Road was named after the colony’s surgeon – Dr Thomas Oxley (1805 – 1886).
In 1837, he bought 173 acres of jungle land from the East India Company and turned it into a nutmeg plantation, naming it Killiney Estate (It was also known as Oxley Estate).
The above map shows Dr Thomas Oxley’s nutmeg plantation. It was bounded by Orchard Road, Grange Road, Leonie Hill Road, River Valley Road and Tank Road. In 1842 Dr Oxley built his own house on Oxley Hill and named it Killiney House (located at the present day Bella Vue Residences at 15 Oxley Walk).
However in the 1850s, the nutmeg plantation was failing and Dr Oxley began to dispose of his land in lots for building houses. By 1862, there were 38 houses within the estate, mostly along St Thomas Walk and the area between Killiney and Oxley Roads.
Oxley Road Today
(Above shows junction of Oxley Rise and Oxley Road) Care for a seat ? 🙂
The above from google street view of Oxley Road shows a road barrier, and below it is how the barriers look like today. I was told by a long time resident of the area that the barriers on both ends of the stretch would be closed from midnight to the next morning and those who needed to drive in and out during that time would have to get the Gurkhas manning them to open up for them.
The above from google street view shows the famous 38 Oxley Road (formerly known as “Castor”), the way it used to be guarded by Gurkhas, and below it is how it looks like today.
In the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s book “The Singapore Story”, he wrote:
“With the Japanese gone, my mother and I looked for a suitable place to move into. In Oxley Road, we came across two identical houses – Numbers 38 and 40 – built by a Jewish merchant, who named them Castor and Pollux. They were empty except for some heavy furniture, and we decided to make a bid for the tenancy for Number 38…”
Online at: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=hHW2CgAAQBAJ&pg=PT53&lpg=PT53&dq=castor+oxley+road&source=bl&ots=G9-17o-U6T&sig=doU4yh5errjA7FMs21jOxVIkTz4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJyKqknd_OAhVIo48KHazLAVwQ6AEIJjAE#v=onepage&q=castor%20oxley%20road&f=false
The above portion from an old map shows 38 Oxley Road (CASTOR – The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s house), 40 Oxley Road (POLLUX – which has now been subdivided into 40, 42 and 44 Oxley Road), and the then 42/42A Oxley Road – the old house we are referring to.
The above photo shows the old house I stumbled upon (formerly 42 Oxley Road), next to present day 44 Oxley Road on the right.
Photo of Oxley Road bungalow © Lee Kip Lin Collection, courtesy National Library Board, 2009
Above is a 1968 picture from the Lee Kip Lin collection that seems to show how the house looked like before it was demolished. The information about the picture says simply “Oxley Road bungalow: side view” with no mention about the house number. However there is a remarkable resemblance to the present day ruins.
See what I mean? 🙂
From the old picture one can see a sloping driveway and steps to the left which still exist in these ruins. The old picture shows the front building with green timber posts. There is also at least one other building behind it and the last building has a grass patch next to it. The picture also seems to show a white wall at the end of the compound.
But what especially piqued my interest in the old photo are a few low lying leaves visible at the left edge of the photo.
The rest of the tree is not visible. This is the reason for the title of this post. But first lets take a look at the existing sloping driveway, steps and floor slabs of the building and how they correspond to the picture.
The above picture shows the first staircase from the driveway going down towards the left.
The above picture shows the first staircase viewed from the other side.
Below are some other pictures of the ruins:
The above pictures show part of the back of the compound.
The above shot of the front of the compound looks like Fort Canning yes? Nice place for a wedding photo 🙂
Back to the front entrance.
You will remember I mentioned the few leaves at the left edge of the old photo from a hidden tree. Well interestingly, today there is a tall large tree located at roughly the spot where that tree could have stood.
A tree whose leaves appear to be of the same shape as seen in the old photo. The Parks department say this should be a mango tree but unfortunately they cannot estimate its age. Could this be the same tree? Wishful thinking perhaps. But having said that, it is interesting to consider the possibility, that some trees that were here when the photo was taken in 1968…are still here today.
And, if this tree standing in the midst of ruins really is the one in the photo; isn’t it a testament? A symbol of RESILIENCE & SURVIVAL amidst a troubled and crumbling world? It reminds me that although the 2nd world war brought suffering and death, some survived – including my late parents. “Luck” plays a part in who survives (and in what condition) and who doesn’t, but so do the decisions one makes.
This tree reminds me to make the best use of life’s opportunities even when faced with hardship, heartache, and fears of uncertainty.
Till next time.
• Photo of leaves of Oxley Road bungalow © Lee Kip Lin Collection, courtesy National Library Board, 2015
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
- Janice Loo, Associate Librarian who got me a better resolution picture in the end. (The file size is too big to post in this blog post and I used it mainly to get a clearer image of the leaves at the left of the old picture.)
- Jennie from Nparks plant info unit for helping to identify the type of tree, and the staff at Botanic Gardens who were extremely helpful. A credit to the park.
• SINGAPORE: A PICTORIAL HISTORY, 1819 – 2000 (by Gretchen Liu)
(National library: 959.57 LIU)
Excerpt online here:
• THE SINGAPORE HOUSE 1819 – 1942. (by Lee Kip Lin)
(National Library: 728.095957 LEE)
Excerpt online here:
• Online article about early nutmeg plantations in Singapore: