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National Monuments Of Singapore: Former Ministry Of Labour Building

What is a National Monument? Who gazettes them? How many national monuments are there in Singapore? To date, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division of National Heritage Board, has identified and gazetted 75 buildings, structures and sites of national significance as an integral part of Singapore’s built heritage.

And we're here to tell you all about them - one National Monument at a time!

You've probably passed by or stepped into more than a few of them without realising they were National Monuments: Al-Abrar Mosque, Asian Civilisations Museum, the Civilian War Memorial, Saint Andrew's Cathedral, the Esplanade Park Memorials, Fort Siloso on Sentosa - no need to plan an itinerary for friends visiting from overseas; just show them this article โœŒ๏ธ

In this edition, we bring into focus a building that used to house the Chinese Protectorate, and now, the Family Justice Courts.

๐Ÿ“ Location

The Former Ministry of Labour Building (now Family Justice Courts) was the 36th building to be gazetted as a National Monument, and is located near other National Monuments such as the Former Thong Chai Medical Institution, and Tan Si Chong Su Temple. The MRT stations nearest to it are Clarke Quay and Chinatown.

๐Ÿ“… Significant dates

Date built:

  • 1928-1930: The Former Ministry of Labour Building was constructed on Havelock Road


  • 1930: The building housed the Chinese Protectorate
  • 1990: The building was restored and used by the Judiciary
  • 1 Oct 2001: The Family Justice Courts moved into the building

Date gazetted: 27 Feb 1998

๐Ÿ“œ History

Following the establishment of Singapore as a British trading port in 1819, there was a steady increase in the arrival of Chinese immigrants. By 1860, the Chinese population had grown to represent over half of the local populace.

Lacking familial connections in Singapore, many of these immigrants turned to Chinese clan associations for support and companionship. Some also sought protection by turning to secret societies and triads.

In response to these developments, the British Administration established the Chinese Protectorate in 1877 to manage the needs of the Chinese community. It was first located in a shophouse on Canal Road.

The Protectorate's responsibilities included training civil servants to be fluent in Mandarin, managing newly arrived coolies (sinkeh or ๆ–ฐๅฎข), regulating Chinese secret societies, freeing women coerced into prostitution, and controlling the spread of venereal (sexually transmitted) diseases.

In 1877, William A. Pickering was appointed as Singapore’s first Protector of the Chinese. Having had prior experience working with Chinese communities in Fujian Province and Taiwan prior to his arrival in Singapore, Pickering was a skilled mediator, fluent in several Chinese dialects including Mandarin, Hokkien, Foochow, Teochew, Hakka, and Cantonese. His linguistic abilities and understanding of Chinese culture made him well-suited for his role.

Despite Pickering's popularity amongst many Chinese, some members of the secret societies resented regulations he had implemented that disrupted their affairs. On 18 Jul 1887, a carpenter named Chua Ah Siok attempted to assassinate Pickering by throwing an axe at his forehead. Although Pickering survived, he never fully recovered and retired in 1888. He passed away in San Remo, Italy, in 1907.

In 1886, The Protectorate relocated to a building on Havelock Road. By the 1920s, the existing building was in poor condition, prompting plans for a new structure. Construction of the new building began on the same site in 1928, and by 1930, the Chinese Protectorate moved into what is now known as the Former Ministry of Labour Building (today’s Family Justice Courts).

After World War Two, the Chinese Protectorate, renamed the Chinese Secretariat, became part of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in 1955 (which was occupying the building). The Protectorate was abolished in 1959, and the ministry was reorganised and renamed the Ministry of Labour and Law.


Over the years, the Former Ministry of Labour Building has undergone various expansions and renovations to meet the spatial needs of different ministries. New mezzanines have been added to the structure. In 1990, the building was restored, and has since been used by the Judiciary, and currently houses the Family Justice Courts.


๐Ÿ“ Design and architecture

The design of the Former Ministry of Labour Building is primarily Neoclassical, echoing other governmental buildings of that era such as the Former City Hall and the Former Supreme Court. Neoclassical architecture is characterised by its use of Classical orders, symmetrical design, and grand proportions.

The building also features elements of the Art Deco style (short for the French Arts décoratifs, a popular design style of the 1920s and 30s), which was becoming fashionable at the time. Geometric motifs, such as circular and rectangular patterns, are visible on the column capitals and the facade.

๐Ÿ•– Opening hours

Regular operating hours are from 8.30am to 6pm on the weekdays, except Friday (8.30am to 5.30pm). It is closed on the weekends and public holidays.

๐ŸŽŸ๏ธ Admission

Entry is not allowed for members of the public, unless they are there for specific appointments. Find out more here.

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