George Drumgoole Coleman

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Coleman's Armenian church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (1835)

George Drumgoole Coleman (1795 – 1844), also known as George Drumgold Coleman, was an Irish civil architect who played an instrumental role in the design and construction of much of the civil infrastructure in Singapore, after it was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Born in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, he was the son of James Coleman, a merchant, part of whose business was dealing in building materials.[1] Coleman was trained as a civil architect.

In 1815, at the age of 19 years, he left Ireland for Calcutta, India, where he set up as an architect designing private houses for merchants. In 1819, he was invited, through his patron John Palmer, to build two churches in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. The churches were never built, but Coleman spent two years working in Java.[2]

Coleman then obtained an introduction to Sir Stamford Raffles from Palmer in Calcutta, and travelled to Singapore, arriving in June 1822. Coleman was responsible, as advisor to Raffles, for the draft layout of Singapore in 1822. He planned the centre of the town, created roads, and constructed many fine buildings. Raffles was away in Sumatra at the time, but Coleman also set about designing for him a residency house of timber with a thatched roof. On his return, Raffles approved the house, construction of which was begun in November of the same year, and he commissioned Coleman to design a garrison church.[3] However, the church was not built, and in June 1823 Coleman left for Java where he spent he next two and a half years, returning to Singapore in 1825.[4]

On his return to Singapore in 1825, he designed a large Palladian house for David Skene Napier, and a palatial building for the merchant John Argyle Maxwell, which before completion was leased to the government for use as a court house and government offices. Much altered and enlarged, it eventually formed part of the Parliament House of the Republic of Singapore. It was again in the Palladian manner, adapted to the tropical climate by incorporating a veranda and overhanging eaves to provide shade.[5] An outstanding example of his work which survives to this day is the Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator on Hill Street, built in 1835. He also built the first Anglican church in Singapore, St Andrew's, which was begun in 1835, but this structure was demolished in the 1850s having become unsafe due to lightning strikes.[6]

A plaque commemorating Coleman at the junction of Coleman Street and Hill Street outside Excelsior Shopping Centre

In 1833, Coleman was appointed the Superintendent of Public Works. He was also the surveyor and overseer of convict labour. Coleman's house at 3 Coleman Street was demolished in December 1965 to make way for the current 21-storey Peninsula Hotel.

Coleman had earlier leased his house to Monsieur Dutronqouy in 1831, before his departure to England after 15 years of continuous work and 25 years in the East. While in Ireland on this trip he married Maria Frances Vernon, of Clontarf Castle, Dublin. Coleman found himself unable to settle down in Europe, and returned to Singapore with his bride in November 1843 at short notice. He took possession of another of his houses which stood at 1 and 2 Coleman Street. It was there that he died on 25 March 1844, at the age of 49. He was buried in a cemetery at the foot of Bukit Larangan, now Fort Canning Hill. The impressive memorial over his mortal remains still stands at Fort Canning Park.

Coleman's widow married attorney William Napier within months of her first husband's death. Napier adopted Coleman's infant son, George Vernon Coleman, who was born 27 December 1843. Coleman also had a daughter, Meda Elizabeth Coleman, by an unknown woman. This is unlikely to have been Takoyee Manuk, the sister of Gvork Manuk, even though Coleman had built a mansion for her adjacent to his own.[7] Meda Coleman was born in Singapore on 10 March 1829 (or 1828). She was christened at St. Andrew's Cathedral on 30 July 1837 and died in Singapore in October 1907.

Legacy[edit]

George Drumgoole Coleman's name lives on in the following entities in Singapore:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hancock (1986) pp. 2–6.
  2. ^ Hancock (1986) pp. 8–9.
  3. ^ Hancock (1986) pp. 12–15.
  4. ^ Hancock (1986) pp. 22.
  5. ^ Hancock (1986) pp. 22–28.
  6. ^ Hancock (1986) p. 75.
  7. ^ (Wright 251-2)
  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics – A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, ISBN 981-210-205-1.
  • Lee Geok Boi (2002), The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1.

Nadia Wright (2003) "Respected Citizens:the History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia, Amassia Publishing. ISBN 0-9751082-0-4

Bibliography[edit]

Hancock, T.H.H. (1986). Coleman's Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in association with Pelanduk Publications. 2126 7353.