Topics: Singapore, Southeast Asia, Coolie Pages: 7 (1999 words) Published: March 9, 2014
Population Growth

A few months after Singapore was founded, the population began to grow very quickly. By 1821, Singapore's population had increased to about 5000. The main cause of this increase was immigration. Singapore in the 19th century attracted many people from different parts of the world. Businessmen and traders came here to trade while others came to look for jobs.

Satay Seller

At that time, more men came to Singapore than women. This was especially so for the Chinese and Indians. Most of the Chinese and Indian immigrants did not intend to stay long in Singapore, so they did not bring their womenfolk along. This meant that the Chinese and Indians could not set up families here even though there were large numbers of them.

However, unlike the Chinese and Indians, the Malays and Europeans brought their families along when they came to Singapore. Thus, the number of Malay and European men was almost equal to the number of Malay and European women. While most Europeans returned home after they had completed their work here, most of the Malays settled with their families in Singapore.

Types Of Labourers

Many people came to Singapore to work because there were a lot of jobs in Singapore. Men were needed for jobs such as the clearing land for plantations, the building of roads, and the building of houses and offices. They were also needed to work in vegetable gardens and plantations owned by the rich planters. Anyone who was willing to work could find a job. Two of the largest groups of labourers who came to work in Singapore were the Chinese and the Indians. These labourers were called coolies.


Free and Contract Labourers

There were many people looking for jobs and many employers looking for workers. Middlemen were needed to bring the two groups together. This was especially necessary if the workers were in India or China and could not afford to pay for their journey to Singapore. These middlemen were called coolie agents.

The Chinese coolie agents were often owners of the junks that were used to bring the coolies here. They travelled to China to persuade men to work in Singapore. Those coolies who could pay for their journey from China to Singapore were free to work for anyone when they arrived here. This group of labourers was known as free labourers.

Those who could not afford to pay for their own passage would sign a contract with the coolie agent. By signing the contract, a worker agreed to work for that employer who had paid for his passage until his fare had been repaid. The contract often lasted a year or less. These labourers were the contract labourers.

Another group of contract labourers were the Indians. An employer in Singapore would go to a coolie agent if he needed labourers. The agent then travelled to the towns and villages in India to sign contracts with Indians who were willing to work abroad. Some of these contracts lasted three years. Like the Chinese coolies, Indian labourers who signed contracts had their passage paid for but they had to work for particular employers. Labourers who had fulfilled their contracts and chose to stay in Singapore were free to work for any employer.


Some of the Indian labourers were convicts who were brought here by the British. As part of their prison sentence, they had to clear the jungle and build bridges, roads and buildings. After they had completed their sentence, many chose to stay on in Singapore as labourers or to set up small businesses. They contributed to the growing number of labourers in Singapore and were sought after because of their skills in building roads and bridges, and in constructing buildings. Some of the buildings that were built by convict labour are Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road, the Istana and St. Andrew's Cathedral.

Lowly-paid Workers

As more people came to Singapore to look for work, jobs became fewer. Workers either had to accept lower pay or become jobless. Wages...
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