Coleman’s Singapore

Monograph 15
Coleman’s Singapore
By T.H.H. Hancock
94pp. Size: 250x290mm. Hardcover

At first glance, the title of this book may appear to be an exaggeration: but if we remember that the young George Coleman (1795-1844) arrived in Singapore when that sparsely populated settlement was only three years old, and that he not only surveyed the whole island and constructed inland roads and city streets, but also designed and erected many of the principal public and privately owned buildings in the urban area between 1828 and 1841, the reader will find little difficulty in accepting its accuracy.

When Coleman arrived in Singapore in 1822, not even the Founder was adequately housed. Coleman remedied this almost immediately. But Raffles soon departed and it was some years before the growth of Singapore created a demand for mansions facing the Esplanade and Godowns on Boat Quay. Coleman occupied his time surveying the island on contract, but as late as January 1833 he still held no government appointment.

Coleman first attracted public attention when in 1827 he designed and built a handsome residence for John Maxwell, a Java merchant. Maxwell never occupied it, but he first rented it and later sold it to the Government, and it was used as the Court House and the Recorder's office. It was for many years considered to be the finest government building in the Colony, and it was later incorporated into Parliament House. Soon after this success, Coleman designed three other brick houses facing the Esplanade, one of which he occupied himself. Many other commissions followed. His appointment as Superintendent of Public Works in October 1833 was a belated recognition of his ability.

No other individual in the East contributed so much to the growth and architecture of a capital city and for more than a century after his death, his work enhanced the view from Singapore's waterfront.

Recent Urban Renewal schemes have swept away most of the traces of his heritage, but the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society welcomes this opportunity to pay a tribute to his memory and to assemble in this Monograph a record of 'Coleman's Singapore'.

"Coleman's Singapore by T.H. Hancock is a well-illustrated monograph on Singapore's first trained architect, G.D. Coleman and the history of some of the many buildings designed and built by him between 1826 and 1841 when he left Singapore on long leave...the book records in some detail much of Coleman's achievement in Singapore, interspersed with a few amusing anecdotes. The descriptions and comments of Coleman's buildings are thankfully written in architectural terms, where they apply, that can be readily understood by the non-professional reader. The book is a Collector's item and is a valuable addition to the literature on Singapore's history."

Lee Kip Lin

About the Author:

T.H.H. Hancock, Dipl. Arch. (U.C.L.), F.R.I.B.A., F.R.T.P.I. was born in Essex in 1913 and received his education at Parmiter's School and at University College, London. During the Second World War, he served with the Air Ministry on a number of sensitive projects such as aerial reconnaissance sites and on airfield expansion programmes, before proceeding to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning as its Liaison Planner between 1945 and 1946. Between 1947 and 1950, he was employed briefly as Town Planner for the Federation of Malaya, in which capacity he acted as adviser on planning to States, Municipalities and Crown Colonies. Afterwards, Hancock joined the Public Works Department of Singapore as its Senior Architect (1950-1957), during which time he was also made Vice-President of the Institute of Architects of Malaya, 1956-1957; Vice-Chairman, Royal Town Planning Institute, Malaya Branch, 1952-1957 and Governor of Singapore Polytechnic, 1955-1957. Hancock returned to Britain in 1957 where he continued to serve in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as Housing and Planning Inspector. Between 1959 and 1975, Hancock crowned his career when he became the Principal Planning Architect with the Greater London Council. Hancock was a member of various societies in Britain, including the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, the Society of Authors, the Georgian Group and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, serving as adviser to the last two organizations.


  1. Introduction
  2. Coleman’s early life
  3. Coleman in Calcutta and Batavia
  4. Coleman returns to Singapore
  5. Coleman the Surveyor
  6. No. 3 Coleman Street
  7. Superintendent of Public Works
  8. Coleman leaves Singapore 1841
  9. Coleman remembered
COPYRIGHT © 2010 Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society