Horsburgh Lighthouse was erected in 1851, and is probably one of the oldest structures (or the oldest) in Singapore that hasn’t been demolished, or converted for a purpose other than that for which it was built. That is, to house an Ah Beng who likes to high beam passing ships.
Oops. Did I say “in Singapore”? We’ll know in a few days.
As for other old buildings in Singapore which have retained their original purposes, I can think of St Andrews Cathedral, built in 1861, the Istana, built in 1867, Raffles Hotel, built in 1899, and City Hall, completed in 1929 (but which will be converted into a museum by 2012).
I’d like to have added the Armenian Church on Hill Street, built in 1832, a.k.a. the Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, but it’s purpose as an Armenian Orthodox Church ceased when the last ordained Armenian-Singaporean priest retired in the 1930s. Apparently, no further Armenian Orthodox services were held there due to the dwindling Armenian population, which never numbered over 830 anyway.
If you’ve been hiding under Pedra Branca, then you might not also know that the Armenians were really influential back in the day: they founded The Straits Times, opened the Raffles Hotel, and discovered the national flower.
But what I really like about the Armenian Church building is that the Chinese populace knew it as “Seng Poh Sin Chu Au”, or “The Back Of Seng Poh’s New Building”. (It is typical of the Chinese to completely ignore actual names, or even the fact that not every Caucasian has red hair.)
I tried looking up “Seng Poh’s Building”, and managed to enlighten myself about a Tan Seng Poh, for whom Seng Poh Road and Seng Poh Lane are named. From the information I found about him, I could garner that “Seng Poh’s new building” must have been quite grand, because Mr Tan co-ran the monopolistic Singapore & Johore Opium & Spirit Farms. (But that’s ok because he later became a Municipal Commissioner, a Justice of Peace, an honorary magistrate, and was quite the philanthropist).
Other sources: can.com.sg: Red & White Buildings in Singapore.
I’ve also used the NLB’s “Ask A Librarian” service to ask a librarian about Seng Poh’s house on Loke Yew Street, and I’ll post an update here.