A road in Singapore

As I was putting together another pot-pourri in my head for today’s posting, I opened my inbox and saw a mail from my eldest brother Michel. A rare occasion, he mails about twice a year at the most. 🙂 A few photos were attached of a legendary road in Singapore. “Legendary”? Well, for us. For the family. Pictures were taken this summer by my niece, Véronique, my brother’s eldest daughter. I’d seen the road on Google, but it was another thing to see a picture taken by a member of the family. So exit Pot-pourri, here is the new post: “A road in Singapore”. Just allow me to backtrack a tad. Back to India, the so-called British Raj, in the 19th century.

onraet 3

My great-grandfather, Henry-Felix Onraët, 1842-1899. He was born in India (Bhagalpur, in today’s state of Bihar) from a family of French Indigo planters established in Bengal since the 18th century. He held a number of administrative jobs until he joined the Indian Civil Service (though French). In 1870 he was appointed to the service of Rao Scindia, the Maharajah of Gwalior. The latter being the second richest Maharajah after the Nizam of Hyderabad. In 1871, Henry-Felix married Marie-Wilhelmine Goutière, my great-grandmother, in Bénarés on the Gange. Located on the river Ganges, Bénarés, now Varanasi, is the holiest of the seven most sacred cities in India.


Great-grandmother Marie-Wilhelmine Goutière (1850-1944) came from another French Indigo planter family. Indigo in the 19th century was THE major natural dye in the world. Until the Germans synthesized chemical dyes at the beginning of the 20th century, precipitating the demise of the entire indigo economy. This photograph is dated 1870, she would have been 20? I’ve always wondered how Europeans in India (and elsewhere) could be so “overdressed” in the Indian heat. (Deodorants had not yet been invented…)

They had 11 children, including 2 stillborn. Large families, as the following picture shows (includes neighbours and “allies”):

onraet 5a

This was taken in Brittany, at the turn of the 20th century. After Henry-Felix had died in India in 1899, Wilhelmine packed everyone to Brittany, on a sumptuous pension from the Maharajah. Jean Onraët is standing in the middle background, giving his good profile to the camera (see “The panther incident”; coming soon on Equinoxio). His brother Gaston, standing left, emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, where plenty of Onraët’s now live. Wilhelmine is seated, second to right, dressed in black. The little girl to the left sitting on the carpet (no doubt Persian) is my grandmother Julie (1882, Jowra-1977), and the little boy with a white shirt lying on the carpet is my great-uncle René, the reason for this strange title: “A road in Singapore”.

onraet 5b

My great-uncle, René Onraët, c. 1895, in Gwalior.

onraet 6

René Onraët (1886-1952) became a British national, as half of his brothers. (We are a very unusual Brit-Frog family, stretching from Mexico to Canada to the Uk to Brittany to South Africa to Tahiti and I’m probably missing a few). René married in Penang, Malaysia, in 1914. Then started a career at Scotland Yard. (Not too sure about his WWI record) Since he was born in India and spoke Hindustani, Mandarin and Bahasa Melayu, he was soon posted in the Far East. He became Chief of Police of Singapore before WWII. Reorganized the entire Police department. A street in Singapore has been named after him.


Onraet Road, Singapore. 2017. (c)ourtesy my niece Véronique Martin-Onraët. I understand it is a very short road, inside or close to, the Police Academy in Singapore, but it still is a public road. And it is quite moving to see that road sign taken by a member of the family.

Thank you for joining us on yet another – weird – time-space journey on Equinoxio’s shuttle. Be good. (Or bad. Your choice)



71 thoughts on “A road in Singapore

    • Onraet – which has dubious meanings in Flemish – is a name that comes from Courtrai and Lendelede, in today’s Belgium. We traced our ancestors there all the way to the 1500’s. Some cousins still live there.
      One of the cousins, Christine Weston, wrote books about the indigo planters. I don’t know why it was such a thing in India. Will have to look it up.
      A bientôt.

  1. Brian your family is quite incredible! A French Indian entering the Service, others moving to Canada, another becoming a chief constable in Sri Lanka whilst speaking quite a handful of languages… Makes for an incredible family tree! Quite jealous.

    • Jealous? No need to. You are making quite a history for yourself wandering around the globe. And to be honest, there are many families such as mine. Someone sailed away to end of nowhere and the children moved on and on and on… We are lucky to have so many archives though… Thanks for the visit.

    • Yes. We are fortunate that some of the family were hoarders. There are photographs of my great-grandmother as a child, around 1860? Time of the Civil War? Photography had only just been invented. 🙂

    • Oui c’est une chance. (Et deux cousins ont encore plus d’archives…) je trouve aussi très émouvant de voir le reflet de tous ces gens dont je descend sans les connaître, sauf ma grand-mère un peu. Et de connaître leurs histoires. Parfois fantastiques (qui a travaillé avec un Maharajah?! On dirait du roman, mais il y en a eu) ou parfois toutes simples. L’un des frères de ma grand-mère a fini sa vie comme négociant en vins à Rennes. Des vies ordinaires… Merci de ton commentaire.

  2. Brian, what a fascinating piece of personal history. Love that you still have so many photos to flesh out your story. Making a mental note to seek out Onraet road when I eventually get to Singapore 🙂

    • Glad you liked it. I have always found the family history fascinating: isolated Europeans sailing to India in the 17th century and “staying” until the 20th (my little sister was the last to be born in “India” -Pakistan side- )
      I think the road is quite small, but I may actually see it sooner than I thought. There plans in the works to go to Asia in December… Singapore is one option. Be good.

  3. Interesting. My ancestor married into the Napier family who had a road in Singapore named after them. They were friends of Raffles and lived on Orchard Road- house now gone, but designed by Coleman….

      • David Skene Napier was a merchant and his brother, William, founded The Singapore Free Press. David married a great-aunt of mine, quite a few generations back. They married in Kolkata.

      • How interesting. That was early 19th century. one of my ancestors arrived in Chandernagor, north of Calcutta in 1794. Died in 1814. But his sons may have coincided with David, as they were settled near Calcutta. Small world… 🙂

  4. Oh, I do remember this road from some earlier post, one of those that drew me here and made me stay. 🙂 Great family history, few people could match it. 😉

    • I thought you might say that Dragos. 🙂 Now few? I’m not sure. hundreds of thousands of European families started wandering “abroad” since the 17th century… Closer to us, my friends from childhood in Africa have similar… trajectories. Now, not everyone has so many archives… (And two of my cousins have more… I’m trying to press them to scan…) 😉

  5. i’ve enjoyed my explorations of my own ancestors over the past year…the importance of knowing…i’m sure this was enjoyed to compose Brian….it is always a pleasure when ppl share narratives…and images…thanks ~ hedy 😀

    • You’re quite welcome Hedy. Some members of my family were looking for nobility in the lineage. That’s why they spent so much time researching ancestors. Me? Not interested, what interests me is the lives of those people, gathered from various sources (family lore, but not exclusively) and the trajectory. From Flanders, to France to India, to… many parts of the planet. It tells us where we come from, and that is basically hard-working people. A good thing to remember… 🙂

  6. you’re got a rich history there Brian, and to have a road named after family, awesome….there is a Kimberly road close by to me but me thinks it’s of no relation to myself. Although Unicorn sits right behind me….I get giddy just thinking bout that 🙂

    • Our last name is quite rare so it’s easier to track. Now the road? I see it as a nice recognition of a man’s work, who happens to be a relative (but whom I have never met). 🙂 Peace and love Kim

  7. Monsieur Onraët, you great-grandfather that is, has quite the moustache. One can imagine him waxing it with great care – who wants such a handsome piece of art to wilt in the Indian heat. And I enjoyed reading the post…and it is fascinating to realise that people in the old days were consummate travellers.

  8. You have quite the interesting family history. The only historical figure I can find with my name is the Earl of Sunderland who was brought to shame in the South Seas Island Bubble Caper. Gotta laugh at that one. Mostly my family is northern British Isles. I’ve thought of myself as the offspring of a Celtic warrior and a Quaker mother, and that’s about the truth of it!!

    • That is quite the combination! 🙂
      Yes, it is a “weird” family. As another example, one of my father’s cousins was Marlon Brando’s manager of the house/hotel he had somewhere around Tahiti… Very diverse. Have a nice week-end Janet.

    • My pleasure, Kathleen. Glad you liked it. As a funny twist, we will be flying to Asia in a few days. First stop: Singapore. Maybe I will get to see that particular street after all. Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  9. Descendante de irene onraet mariée à LAdislas de BEaussier qui a eu 3 enfants Emmanuel notre père
    Louis et Anne.
    Je suis irene spiegel petite file de IRENE ONRAET.
    Avec ma soeur servane de BEAUSSIER nous avons trouvé intéressant votre blog sur les infrastructures.
    Vous pouvez nous contacter sur Irenespiegel@free.fr et servanedebeaussier@free.fr
    Nous ne parlons que francais

    • Grands Dieux! Iréne! Et Servane! Deux “nouvelles” cousines. Irène Onraët était la plus jolie des Soeurs. 🙂 Emmanuel? Autrement connu comme “Nénel”? Je ne l’ai pas connu, mais j’ai connu Anne de Beaussier, lors d’un dîner chez mes parents (Cyril Martin-Onraët et Renée). Enchanté de faire ta connaissance Irène. (Entre cousins issus de germain, on se tuttoie, n’est-ce pas?)
      Je note vos mails à toutes les deux.
      A bientôt
      Brieuc Martin-Onraët

  10. Pingback: A morning walk, Singapore | Equinoxio

  11. It’s great that your family was able to trace their roots back into the 15th century! I really enjoy reading your family stories 🙂 (also, I was surprised to find out that you’re called Brieuc and not Brian? :D)

    • In Europe most countries established an obligatory registry of people around the 1500’s. Before that, the church books are the only source, but they are generally written in bad Latin with almost undecipherable hand writing. (Gutenberg’s invention of the print served to re-standardize hand-writing as a bonus) So many people in Europe can trace back their ancestry to the 1500’s or 1600’s.
      And yes, my “real” name is a Breton name that not even the French know, and most of the planet can’t pronounce. I’ve used Brian for literally half a century.
      Bonita semana, “Monique” 😉

  12. I had to dig this post up again so I can show it to my husband who did not believe that I have a reader who has a great grandfather with a road named after him! Since I am at this post, couldn’t resist to say Hi!!!

    • Hi Peng Yu. It is quite unbelievable. He’s only a great-uncle, but he was quite close to my grandmother, his sister.
      And it’s even more fantastic that he has a – small – room devoted to him at the National Museum in Singapore…
      Stay safe Peng Yu. 🙏🏻✌️

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