Tuesday, July 21, 2009

History - Sarikei to Singapore by Sea 1940s-1950s

Land Ahoy! In the sea faring days of yore, there was no commercial flights going to Singapore. You had to travel by ship down the Rejang River to the South China Sea to reach Kuching and then to Singapore.

In the 1940s, Sarikeians could only travel to Singapore by coastal vessels (the term used by the colonial folks for ships less than 2500 tons DWT). Dead weight tonnage (DWT) is a measure of the weight a ship can safely carry. Before 1953, there was only one shipping company in Sarawak, the Sarawak Steamship Co. Ltd. They had vessels named after coastal towns of Malaya and British North Borneo (BNB is now Sabah). There were vessels named as follows: Katong was named after Katong of Singapore, Bruas was named after a town near Batu Gajah, Kudat was named after a town on the northern tip of BNB and Pangkor, after Pulau Pangkor. There were also Angby and Auby. The Sarikei-Singapore route on Bruas would take 52 hours and the rest of the ships took 60 hours or more. (Source:1)

After 1953, the Sibu Chinese brought in Hua Hin and Hua Li by the Rejang River Shipping Co. Ltd. Hua Hin was a broad cargo vessel. Hua Li was much narrower in width and shallower in height than Hua Hin and was said to be an ex-Japanese mine sweeper. Hua Li was less than 1,000 tons DWT so it couldn't be a transport ship. The speed of Hua Li was unmatched by the fastest passenger motorboats in Sarawak then. Hua Li was fast but it was bouncy in the sea - making one very sea sick before reaching Singapore. Hua Hin and Hua Li took 42-48 hours to reach Singapore. (Source:1)

Singapore Clifford Pier, 1950s-1960s
Find the sea barrier strip
Source: ?

All coastal vessels could only anchor at sea outside the barrier in the Singapore picture. All passengers had to be transported to the Clifford Pier after long hours of clearance by the then Immigration. Clifford Pier was called 紅燈碼頭 (red light harbour) not because it was a red light district but because of a red light mounted on the building. By the time the passengers landed, they were tired. (Source: 1) Now Clifford Pier has been converted into a Chinese restaurant.

Bruas coastal vessel
Source: “ The Straits Steamship Fleets” by W A Laxon, September 2004

Submitted by Ikan Sembilang

Bruas was built in 10 July 1945 in Grangemouth near Edinburgh in Scotland. The 957-ton cargo ship, M.V. Bruas, was assigned by the Sarawak Steamship Company to ply the route between Singapore and Kuching/ Sarikei/ Binatang (Bintangor) /Sibu in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Once Bruas had to anchor at the bend of Rejang river opposite Sarikei, tilting badly to the starboard side due to the load of Illipe nuts rolling to one side after the vessel made a U turn. Chun Fen 春風 Studio used to have a picture of this incident. (Source: 1). Illipe nuts (engkabang) contains edible oil similar to cocoa butter.

Sarikei Customs House, circa 1948-1955
Wharf Road in background
Find the sunken wharf
Source: Chun Fen 春風 Studio
Submitted by Ikan Sembilang

Cargo ships owned by the Sarawak Steamship Company including M. V. Bruas used to berth at the original wharf opposite the police station to carry passengers and cargo like rubber sheets and pepper for shipment to Singapore. (Source: 2) Thong Aik 通益 of No. 1 Wharf Road was the top exporter.

Bruas had only 2-3 cabins for passengers (first class or "Bali"cabins). It was a prestige to travel by "Bali" and cost $60-80 per person (one way Sarikei-Singapore; meals included).Others slept on the cargo decks called "deck passagers" ($25 per person one way, meals included). For comparison, the salary rate in the 1950s was $160-180 per month for a Senior Cambridge graduate in the public services then. (Source:1)

Do you want to take the 42 to 60 hours journey by ship to Singapore or fly via Air Asia? Now toss a coin.

1. 70+ years old Sarikeian
2. Reader Ikan Sembilang


stlau said...

I think in the early 80s one could still travel from Sarikei to Singapore using these boats. Would be nice to write on Pulau Kijang and Rajah Mas. I am sure many have travelled from Sarikei to Kuching using Rajah Mas. Sleeping on the wooden deck under a big canvas - how many have done that? Once passed Tanjong Manis, it's off to sleep in the canvas tent on a wooden deck (with 50? other people side by side).

Daniel Yiek said...

Last month, the Chinese paper, United Daily News ran 10 articles on Pulau Kijang including interviews with the victims' families. I spoke to the reporter after she sent me an email. I didn't see the articles but I gave her permission to use pics and info from my blog post on ship wrecks. Only Sarawakiana and I have blogged on this. The rest of the historic info is in hard copy newspapers of See Hua Daily News which is a competitor to United Daily. She's trying to scan the articles for me. I'm still waiting. :(

Nelson said...

this kind of transportation is still very much alive in Indonesia. http://www.pelni.co.id/home.asp

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks for a wonderful piece.

My father took us by boat to Singapore (which I cannot remember) and it was Bruas. Then many of my relatives went by Soon Bee and Auby.

Singapore was a wonderful place where we had cakes with icing for the first time in our life! And of course we remember hong ten mah tou...and getting into the sampans to reach the pier...(a group of Girl Guides from Sarawak did just that in 1968!)

For a whole day I felt that land was rolling under my feet after the 60 hour journey at sea...

Thanks for the memories.

Daniel Yiek said...

Rec'd this annonymous comment at another post. Pasted below


You know I found M.V. Bruas at Hua Seng Sawmill in Igan, Sibu.

Now rather old and rusty; nobody takes care of it.

I believe it is haunted as well

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