A total coincidence from my unintentionally-frequent trips to St. John’s Island during this “quarantine season”, I stumbled upon a postcard depicting what looks suspiciously like a working railway with the caption “St. John’s Island, Singapore” posted online by the National Museum of Singapore as part of their ‘Every Body Plays A Part’ online exhibition, showcasing the public health crises and responses in Singapore.
The description of the postcard only states that it was a “hand-coloured postcard”. Quite understandable, assuming that this was in the 1930s and cameras weren’t exactly very accessible or cheap to use to print as postcards then.
St. John’s Island was a quarantine station throughout most of its lifetime in the 20th century, and the online exhibition explains that in their description of this postcard.
Text from the ‘Every Body Plays A Part’ online exhibition:
This coloured postcard shows immigrants with their belongings at the port on St John’s Island. From the 1900s, thousands of passengers and crew members passed through the island each year, where they were screened, tested, quarantined and treated before being sent to Singapore.
The island was fully equipped as a quarantine station by the 1930s, according to a 1935 account of the extent of work carried out. Even while praising the natural beauty of St John’s Island, a correspondent provides a detailed tour of its medical facilities − modern storehouses containing sulphur used to fumigate ships, muster sheds for changing clothes, and showers for the immigrants. The discarded clothing and belongings went through steam disinfectors for 25 minutes. Some 6,000 people were housed in 22 camps and there were hospitals for treating smallpox, cholera, plague, chickenpox, measles and similar diseases. The island also had a dispensary and a laboratory, with sufficient vaccines stored in cooling chambers. Regular health bulletins provided information on the diseases in various ports. The writer estimates that at the time of writing, some 8 million people had been examined over the past 20 years, and about 2,000 ships were disinfected annually by two dedicated launches fitted with special apparatus to fumigate ships.
Unfortunately, no part of that description addresses the elephant in the room which is a railway on the island with items on a trolley on rails. Of course, this may not necessarily constitute a working and functional railway in itself, but just maybe for ease of transporting goods across a short distance with a trolley
But information is scarce – if not missing – from the internet, and I can’t find anything online as of writing this article. The closest thing to an island railway when Googling “St. John’s Island Railway” or even “St. John’s Island Railway Singapore” was ending up at the Ryde St John’s Road railway station Wikipedia page (I have always wanted to visit the Island Line by the way).
I would really love to learn about the St. John’s Island Railway. I don’t mean to sound like the police, but, if you have any information about the St. John’s Island Railway in Singapore, or found any information about it at all, please contact me.
Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.