McNair Road is named after John Frederick Adolphus McNair of the Royal Artillery. He is well known in Singapore's history as the Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in the Straits Settlements. He was also in charge of Public Works and the Oriental Goal in Singapore.

He has also a place in our his as the engineer who was in charge for the construction of the Government House (now the Istana) and St Andrew's Cathedral – one of present – day Singapore's landmarks.

McNair, at the age of 17, left England as an employee of the East India Company, for Madras, India, in 1846. In 1853, he was transferred to Malacca to take charge of the Madras Native Artillery. He worked under JB Westerhout, the Adviser to the government.

In England, he had studied Geology and had collected large specimens of metal and exported them to Madras. Later, when he was posted to Labuan to take charge of the Artillery, he traveled all over Borneo and collected valuable shells which are now in the British Museum.

When he was posted back to Singapore, he was appointed Private Secretary and also ADC to the Governor. When the Indian Mutiny started in India in 1857, McNair was appointed Executive Engineer and Superintendent of Convicts in the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore). He was also in charge of Public Works and the Oriental Soul.

McNair studied Hindustani and was fluent in it. This was indeed advantageous as he could converse with the Indian convicts. There were a large number of convicts who were housed in the grounds opposite the present Asian Arts Museum (the former St Joseph's Institution) at Bras Basah Road. He had only one Assistant, a European warden because the petty officers were selected amongst the convicts themselves.

The convicts made tools for use in different trades. The Indian convicts constructed the long roads across Singapore. They helped to build the St Andrews Cathedral and the Government House (the Istana).

In 1861, McNair went to England and learnt photography to take pictures of Indian convicts. He returned to England again in 1867 and accompanied the new Governor, Harry Ord, when the control of the Straits Settlements was transferred from the India Office to the Colonial Office in 1867.

Having been appointed the Colonial Engineer, his main task was to build the Water Works. There were several failures in this project and finally through his efforts, water ran through the pipes.

In 1875, McNair had rather a special appointment as Chief Commissioner in Perak during the difficult times in the history of Perak. Two years later, he was promoted as Resident Councilor of Penang, an appointment he relinquished on medical grounds in 1884 after having served with distinction in the Straits Settlements especially in Singapore. He had also served in several learned societies and at one time even acted as Colonial Secretary in Singapore.

McNair had also undertaken several missions to Siam, (Thailand) and neighbouring countries. The King of Siam gave him the title – Order of the White Elephant – and he was made a CMG in 1879 by the British monarchy.

Mc Nair was regarded as a kind and hospitable person; he was also courteous. All, who were employed under him including the convicts, remembered him fondly.