RECORD: Rookmaaker, Kees & John van Wyhe eds. Wallace, A. R. The Chinaman at Singapore. [1856] NHM-WP01.003.062. Edited by John van Wyhe (Wallace Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker and John van Wyhe, edited by van Wyhe 7.2011, 6.2012, 3.2017. RN2

NOTE: Text and scanned images reproduced with the permission of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum (London) and the Wallace Family. With thanks to Judith Magee.

Wallace used this manuscript as the basis of his description in Malay Archipelago vol. 1, pp. 32-4.

[page 1]

The Chinaman at Singapore

He is either a Merchant a Shopkeeper a coolie Planter or a Coolie of each of which I shall give a short sketch.

The Merchant is generally a fat round faced man, with an important & business-like look. He wears the plain clothes of the meanest coolie for he has perhaps been a coolie himself but he is always clean & neat, & his tail tipped with red silk hangs down to his heels. He can speak a little English. He has a clean & handsome warehouse in town & a good house in the country. He keeps a fine horse & gig & every evening may be seen driving out bareheaded to enjoy the cool breeze. He is rich, he has several small shops, he lends money on good security, he makes hard bargain & gets richer every day.

The shopkeepers of Singapore are as varied as those in any populous town in Europe. There are shops for eatables & shops for clothing & miscellaneous articles of any variety. The Chinese shopkeeper is very good natured. He will show everything he has & does not seem to mind if you buy nothing. He bates a little but not as much as the Klings. He sells many things very cheap.

[page 2]

Gimlets at 1d each, white thread 4 balls for a halfpenny & penknives, gunpowder, corkscrews, writing paper & many other things of European make about 20 per cent cheaper than you can purchase them in England.

If you have bought a few things of him, he will speak to you every time you pass his shop, asking you to walk in & sit down or take a cup of tea. You wonder how he can get a living, for every house is a shop & all sell nearly the same things

Carpenters – boxes, coffins


Gunmakers, bore & file gun barrels.

Tailors – sit at a table.


Barbers – ear cleaning

[page 3]


Water carriers – vegetable carriers, fruit soup sellers – agar agar – cries like London

Little cooking apparatus & table on ends of pole.

Carriers. – Fishermen. – Boatmen.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2012-. Wallace Online. (

File last updated 28 August, 2023