Cavenagh Bridge, a Singapore River crossing, located in Central Region. Named after Sir Lieutenant General William Orfeur Cavenagh, the last Governor of the Straits Settlements (1859 – 1867) under British India control. It was built in 1868 and is today the oldest bridge across the Singapore River. It was the last major work of the Indian convicts based in Singapore. Now it serves as a foot-bridge for pedestrian traffic only.

In July 1856, there was a mere wooden foot-bridge where the Cavenagh Bridge now stands. In 1868, Cavenagh Bridge was built to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Crown Colony of the Straits Settlements held in 1869. It is named after Colonel Cavenagh, the last Governor of the Straits Settlements (1859 – 1867) under the Government of British India, although originally Governor Ord had planned for it to be named “Edinburgh Bridge” because it was first used during the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Singapore. Governor Ord eventually relented when members of the Singapore Legislative Council decided that it should honour and perpetuate the name of the last Governor appointed by the British East India Company to Singapore. Cavenagh Bridge was the last major project undertaken by Indian convict labour in 1869.

Cavenagh Bridge was opened without ceremony. It was designed by Colonel G.C. Collyer, Chief Engineer of the Straits Settlements, with R.M. Ordish, of the Public Works Department, then under the charge of John Turnbull Thomson. Its steel structure was shipped out from Glasgow by P&W MacLellan, and constructed by these P&W MacLellan Engineers of Scotland of the Clutha Ironworks: the same company that had built the cast iron Telok Ayer Market. The Cavenagh family coat-of-arms can be seen on the cross-beams at both ends of the steel structure. The bridge linked Commercial Square (Raffles Place) and the government quarter, an essential alternative to get to the Post Office, replacing the ferry crossing which had cost a duit (“one cent”) per ride.  Although Cavenagh Bridge had trams trundling across it, all heavy traffic was diverted to the Anderson Bridge when it was built in 1909. Cavenagh Bridge was declared off limits to ‘vehicles exceeding 3 cwts, cattle and horses’, then was converted into a pedestrian bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge had not been designed to make allowances for the tides and as late as 1983, the bumboats (tongkangs in Malay or twa-koh in Chinese) plowing the river had to wait for low tide before making their way under the bridge. In 1987, Cavenagh Bridge underwent a five-month refurbishment by the Public Works Department (PWD), to preserve and strengthen its structure. The restoration work cost a total of $1.2 million and the bridge was reopened on 3 July 1987. Today it is the oldest bridge across Singapore River.

Variant Names
Chinese names: In Hokkien Hai-Ki thih tiau-kio, and in Cantonese Hoi-pin thit tiu-khiu, mean “Iron suspension bridge by the sea shore”.

Vernon Cornelius

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 630, 782, 783). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)

Cheong, C. (1992). Framework and foundation: A history of the Public Works Department (p. 55). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: SING 354.5957008609)

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 492). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now (p. 10). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

Further readings
Wan Meng Hao.  (2009). Heritage places of Singapore. (pp. 10-11). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN)

The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.