A Chinese coolie

This photograph shows a Chinese coolie carrying a gunny sack, a common sight in Singapore during the late 19th and early 20th century. The word 'coolie' is derived from the Chinese word 'kuli', which means 'hard labour'. The coolies were mainly impoverished Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore in the latter half of the 19th century, seeking their fortune. They were usually employed as construction workers, port workers and miners. Coolies, such as the one depicted in the picture, performed back-breaking tasks such as loading and unloading cargo and mining tin ore under the scorching tropical sun. Engaging in hard physical labour, Chinese coolies formed the early backbone of Singapore's labour force.