The Night Soil Carrier


Yeo hong eng
Yeo hong eng

Many words that are associated with night soil are faeces, toilet waste, stool, shit, dung, dropping, They are used differently for different purposes. The word 'night soil' has not been commonly used. It refers to the waste that is carted out of the toilet. In Singapore before the introduction of the flushed water toilet. Toilet waste (night soil) was collected in buckets. Every day a collector would come and collect the filled bucket and replaced with an empty one. The filled one is slotted into a truck with built-in compartments purpose built for collecting night soil. In places where the truck was not scheduled to collect, the person who collected the night soil had to carry two metal tubular containers with a should pole to visit each toilet, empty the content from the bucket into his container. When filled he would carry them to the farms nearby and sold them as fertiliser for plants. Such person was called a Night Soil Carrier.

A Night Soil Carrier

Such jobs although noble was shunned by people. Only those who were desperate for jobs would do that. In economical terms, their earnings could be considered 'not bad. Toilet owners paid them for their services - bringing their waste away. They got paid when they brought the waste to the farms. In other words, he was paid double. When their children were in schools, their occupations were entered into the school registers as 'Night Soil Carrier'. I have come across insensitive classmates calling such children 'Toh Sai Kia' in Teochew (English - son of a Night Soil Carrier' when they came across children with such occupation. I would blame it on the teachers who entered their parents' occupations. Instead of being directly translated from dialect to English, I thought a less hurtful term such as 'Health Worker' would suffice, Those children who were traumatized by such name calling using skipped school and most stopped schooling altogether.

A truck carrying night soil. The night soil carrier is approaching the truck. 
The rear end with supports is for the workers to stand when the truck moves. 

Those days, itinerant hawkers used to carry their food around and sing a tune to attract customers. One day my relative related an incident which sent us reeling to the floor. She said while walking in the suburb her children saw a man carrying two containers. One of them tucked at her pants and said, "I want to eat black rice broth'. She was surprised where in such a place could someone selling black rice broth. She asked "Who is selling black rice broth?' "There" pointing at a man carrying two buckets. "That man is carrying  night soil not selling black rice broth", she screamed not knowing whether to get angry or laugh over her son's ignorance.

Yeo Puay Poh came to Singapore in the early 1900s. He began as a night soil carrier. Then he went to contract with the house owners to remove their night soil. He employed workers to do the job. He provided transportation (bullock carts) to bring the containers of night soil to see to the farmers in the suburb, He earned enough to buy a big plot of land in Chai Chee.

In 1987, the removal of night soil using the bucket system was phased out.