Bucket List #5: Bukit Brown Cemetery

When we first moved (which was over FIVE YEARS AGO!) Bukit Brown cemetery was very prominent in the news, as it had been announced that the peaceful Chinese cemetery was going to be bisected by a highway. Given the space constraints of Singapore many cemeteries have been ‘re-purposed’ (i.e. they’ve been dug up) over the years. There were cemeteries along Orchard Road where Ngee Ann City stands today. Fort Canning Green, where you can bring a picnic and sip wine whilst watching Shakespeare performed, housed a Christian cemetery, as did the site where KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital stands today. Further up the road from KK there was a Jewish cemetery where the Velocity shopping mall now stands.

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All of these cemeteries disappeared without protest, but Bukit Brown was different and saw the establishment of many conservation groups keen to preserve the cemetery and its history. To cut a long story short 5000 graves were exhumed and the road is being built, but the upside of the Bukit Brown story is that it reignited interest in the cemetery. Since 2011 the ‘Brownies’ have led small tour groups around the cemetery, and taking part in one of these has been on my Bucket List ever since. It only took just under 5 years but I finally made it to one of the Brownies tours.

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The road is being built between the two fences.

I’ve already forgotten much of what I heard on my tour, so will have to do another but the tour covered some of the more prominent tombs and also a little bit about Chinese tomb culture. We saw some of the beautiful Peranakan tiles as well as the very grand tomb of Ong Sam Leong. Interestingly, the tombs of people who died during the Japanese Occupation had the Japanese year in which they died (which differed to the Roamn calendar).

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Ancestor offerings.

There’s lots to love about Bukit Brown. The cemetery is very large and the vegetation grows incredibly fast so new tombs are being ‘found’ all the time. The Brownies are all volunteers and all have different aspects of Bukit Brown in which they are interested, so each tour is different. If you wish to book one of the Brownie’s tours you can find them on Peatix here. If you aren’t keen on organised tours then anyone is free to wander around the cemetery, but to be considerate avoid the Qing Ming period where people are visiting the tombs of the ancestors.

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Many tombs are adorned with beautiful tiles. Made mainly in Britain and Japan in the 1920s-30s the tiles add a colourful element to Bukit Brown.

 

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Off The Beaten Track #9: Bidadari Memorial Garden

When we first started geo-caching our very first geo-cache was in the fork of a tree in the middle of a vast open field. It was criss-crossed with footpaths and had lots of big established shady trees and I didn’t for one second stop to wonder about how unusual it was that there was so much empty land in a country where empty land just doesn’t happen!

It turns out that the geo-cache was in the land once occupied by Bidadari cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1907 and when it closed for burials in 1972 over 147000 Christians, Muslims and Hindus were buried there. In 1996 the site was targeted for housing development and the exhumation of graves took place between 2002 and 2007. The development of Bidadari Estate should start in the next twelve months.

DSC01003The original gates of Bidadari Cemetery and 21 headstones were moved onto a new patch of land behind Mount Vernon Sanctuary, but will be moved to a new location once the housing on the old cemetery grounds is completed.

We’ve been having a bit of a drought in Singapore with no decent rain for at least 6 weeks, so the garden was not as lush and green as it would normally be but it was still a lovely, peaceful place. The gates are very impressive and the grounds are extremely well maintained with lots of information boards from the Singapore Heritage Board detailing the history of Bidadari.

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Singapore Heritage Board information board.

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The tombstone of Koona Vayloo Pillay.

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Muslim grave markers.

DSC00987 DSC00998 DSC01002Bidadari Memorial Garden is currently located on Mount Vernon Road. The gates are open daily and entry is free.

* information taken from The National Heritage Board website.

Off The Beaten Track #8: Old Christian Cemetery

The Old Christian Cemetery isn’t strictly off the beaten track as it’s in Fort Canning Park. If you’ve been to a concert or a play at Fort Canning Park then you’ve visited the Old Christian Cemetery, as it’s now called Fort Canning Green.Fort Canning Green (2)

The area was used as a Christian cemetery from 1822 until 1865. By the 1950s most of the graves were in bad shape due to the harsh Singapore climate and it was decided to turn the area into a park. By 1954 most of the headstones had been removed and set into the brick wall that surrounds the area. A few were moved to the Armenian Church on Hill Street.*Fort Canning Green (10)

Interestingly, I canonly find references to the gravestones and memorials being removed and none that indicate the graves themselves were exhumed. Something to think about when you’re dancing along to Rick Astley at Retrolicious!

I visited the Cemetery on a weekday morning during a freaky bout of cool, breezy and low humidity weather and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the wall. The inscriptions on the headstones look like they have been touched up at some stage and I’m not sure about whether this will help Fort Canning Green (12)to preserve them or not.

A you’d expect in Singapore the deceased cover a varied number of nationalities and it seems that a large proportion died at sea, with many monumnets erected by their fellow sailors. The inscriptions are brief and most seem far younger than I expected. Although life expectancy was shorter in the nineteenth century than it is today I assume that it was even shorter for Europeans who recently arrived in Singapore and were being newly exposed to tropical diseases.

Fort Canning Green (14)In the top left corner as you’re looking at the Fort Canning Centre there’s a large monument to James Brooke Napier, the infant son of Willam Napier and Maria Frances Napier. Nearby are two cupolas which were designed by G.D. Coleman, who was the first husband of Maria Frances Napier, was Singapore’s first architect and was buried within the cemetery.Fort Canning Green (3)

At the bottom end of the green (at the rear of the National Museum of Singapore) there’s a collection of 12 tombstones. I have no idea if this was where they were originally placed, although I suspect that they were moved here when the cemetery was cleared. Again, the deceased are from a variety of countries originally and the inscriptions reflect this given the different languages they are written in. The tombs also serve as a reminder of the changing attitudes to both death and monuments since the nineteenth century.

Fort Canning Green (a.k.a. The Old Christian Cemetery) is in Fort Canning Park. Entry to the green is via either of the Gothic Gates on Canning Rise. Entry is free.

References:

Chua, A. (2010), Fort Canning Cemetery, retrieved from http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1685_2010-07-14.html

Off The Beaten Track #3: Japanese Cemetery Park

The Japanese Cemetery Park is hidden away in the back streets near to Yio Chu Kang Road. I doubt it will ever appear on any list of “Things to see and Do in Singapore” but it’s a really lovely and unusual place to visit.

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The Cemetery was founded in 1891 by a Japanese brothel owner named Tagajiro Fukaki,  providing a final resting place for young, destitute Japanese women. There are over 900 tombs or graves that are from the pre-war period, but there’s also the ashes of about 10000 Japanese people who died in Singapore during the Second World War. The grave of Field-Marshal Terauchi, who was the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in South-east Asia at the end of the war is one of the more notable Japanese people buried here. Over 200 executed war criminals are also buried in the cemetery.

The cemetery has had an interesting history. After the Japanese occupation of Singapore, and their eventual surrender, all Japanese people were repatriated and Singapore took ownership of the cemetery, with plans for all remains to be created and returned to Japan. This plan didn’t eventuate and in 1969 ownership was transferred to the re-formed Japanese Association. The last burial here took place in 1973.

I really enjoyed my wander through this memorial, although it was a spur of the moment thing and I wish I had known more about the history of the place before I went. The majority of the information signs are in Japanese so a bit of research before you visit is recommended.

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The Japanese Cemetery Park is at:

825B Chuan Hoe Ave, 549853

Gates are open between 7am and 7pm daily.

Admission is free.