Mention Oxley Road and the first thing that jumps into mind is an image of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s house:
However, the Oxley district’s history goes back further than 38 Oxley Road.
A story of nutmeg plantations
In the 1840s, many Europeans owned plantations (especially nutmeg plantations) in the Orchard area.
Orchard Road streets today are named after these Europeans.
Captain William Scott (of Claymore and Scotts Road) owned the Claymore estate, a nutmeg plantation and was said to live in an attap house which he called Hurricane Cottage.
William Cuppage (of Cuppage Road) had a nutmeg plantation in the Emerald Hill area.
Oxley Road was named after Thomas Oxley, a colony surgeon stationed here. His nutmeg plantation was the famed Killiney Estate (from which we get Killiney Road). It was also known as the Oxley Estate.
The Oxley Estate was about 173-acres big and was bounded by Orchard Road, Grange Road, Leonie Hill Road, River Valley Road and Tank Road.
Oxley even had a house built on the premise which he named Killiney House.
As with many European-designed houses here in the tropics, Killiney House was adapted with Malay features to cope with the weather conditions here in Singapore.
Killiney House had a raised floor which cooled the bottom of the house and provided a dry space below for storage purposes. Rooms had large openings to facilitate ventilation. The interior of the house was also equipped with punkahs – large cloth fans suspended from the ceiling and moved by pulling on a cord.
Unfortunately the nutmeg business failed and Oxley folded up his plantation and moved back to England with his family in 1857, but not before subdividing his land selling them off.
Belle Vue, the other house on Oxley
In 1890, one of Singapore’s most wealthiest Jews, Sir Reuben Manasseh Meyer, bought Killiney House, rebuilt it, and renamed it Belle Vue (French for Beautiful View).
Meyer added an extra wing to the house and grew many tropical plants in the garden. He also built his own private synagogue Chesed-El Synagogue on his Oxley estate. The synagogue still stands today.
Belle Vue was later sold to a developer in 1976, who turned the site into a condominium with the name — wait for it — Belle Vue.
It wasn’t until 1950 that the late Lee Kuan Yew moved into 38 Oxley Road with his wife, the late Kwa Geok Choo, and the rest of that, as they say, is history.
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Top image adapted via National Archives.