by Catherine Lim
Considered the foremost authority on Raffles, the National Library Board has acquired the collection of Dr. John Bastin’s more than 5000 materials. 38 of which have been curated for public viewing on the 13th floor.
The exhibits both showcases and makes accessible NLB’s existing Singapore and South East Asia Collection which “form an important nucleus of works on early Singapore. “ The rare materials collection is conventionally the preserve of academics, perhaps perceived as” high brow” located as such on the 13th floor.
But this collection is curated with ordinary Singaporeans in mind with both the personal – a hand written letter by Raffles to his cousin which more than hints at his displeasure with Farquhar – and the quaint – a book on Malay Poisons and Charm Cures – to the spiritual – an almost complete Malay translation of the the Anglican Common Book of Prayer.
But the highlight must surely be the leaflets which were air dropped in the 50s at the height of the communist insurgency in the jungles of Malaya, in an attempt to “persuade” – both by threats and propaganda – insurgents to surrender peacefully. These leaflets dropped by the thousands and commonplace then, have become rare. I have seen them once in a private collection. The NLB rare gallery showcases three pieces.
Exhibits on Java, Sawarak , Sumatra written by the “colonial masters ” stationed here, a reminder that Singapore was part of the “Straits Settlements”
Expressing Raffles passion for the biodiversity of the region.
And lets not forget, exhibits which clearly reminds us of the collector’s primary interest, Raffles himself.
Of interest for further study an exhibit of : a bill introduced to the British Parliament on 18 June 1824 to ratify the Anglo-Ducth Treaty of 1824 which concluded longstanding territorial and commercial disputes between Britain and Netherlands. A valuable source of information of how the two rival colonial and maritime powers decided on how to carve out their colonies in the region
As a collection, its importance is to give visitors a flavour of our past, providing historical context in print that covers different facets of political, social and community engagement at a personal level.
If there is anything more the NLB can do to get more Singaporeans to “embrace” the rare collections , is perhaps for this collection to serve as an inspiration for other activities which could revolve round art and story imagining of a past which helped defined who we are today.
Guided tours of this collection will be held monthly between July and December. Do check listings here
Catherine Lim is co-editor bukitbrown.com
Moved by “unseen” hands, the deities which used to be located at the former entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery, were also moved when the pillars of the gates were relocated.
They now have a brand new shelter – we have been informed by a credible source – which was “upgraded” by Fusion Clad Precision (of their own initiative), the company commissioned by the National Heritage Board to restore the gates.
Photos captured by Brownie volunteers help document the “sheltering” of the deities which we believe are the efforts of a community who work behind the scenes.
The “upgrade” by Fusion Clad include the paint job and sensor lights, shelving and a dry place to store joss sticks and with even a lighter in place (although the last may have been placed there by others for convenience). The community who work at Bukit Brown have been observed by Brownies to pay respects before they start each construction work day as a mark of respect and request blessings for a “safe environment”
Change is inevitable; Memories endure; The tangible is the gateway to the intangible.
The iconic gates of Bukit Brown which had stood in the same spot for some 90 years were removed on September 2015, and have been undergoing the delicate process of refurbishment since January 2016. It is expected to be relocated back in June 2016 and enjoined with the pillars which have already been relocated to the new entrance.
Members of All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society as part of the working committee on Bukit Brown chaired by the Ministry of National Development were invited to a private viewing of the work in progress in March. The refurbishment is being undertaken by Fusion Clad Precision who were hired by the National Heritage Board.
According to a Straits Times report published on May 3, 2016 “Iconic Gates to Greet Visitors to Bukit Brown Cemetery Again” :
“The refurbishment, which started in January, has five core steps. Rust is first removed before coatings are applied to reduce future corrosion.
The gates’ lock and latch components as well as lampholders are then repaired before missing parts are replaced. The last step is to reinforce the gates’ structural integrity.
The team, comprising four master craftsmen and three other members, is at step two of the process.
Its managing director Teo Khiam Gee said the gates need a lot of attention as well as “the human touch”.
“Skilful hands are important as the parts are in varying states of disrepair. Its original state was very fragile. It is like handling a baby,” he said.
The structure is made up of parts, such as a pair of cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians, and four free-standing square columns.
It was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore. Its square columns were cast on the spot.”
The report adds:
“NHB’s assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said retaining and refurbishing the gates are important as they “provide a sense of arrival to the cemetery and preserve a sense of continuity for visitors and interest groups”.
The refurbishment is an initiative of a multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development. It includes NHB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).
The effort is guided by conservation best practices shared by SHS. The heritage board also has its own in-house metals specialist, Mr Ian Tan, manager of the heritage research and assessment division.
When ready, the gates will be painted black – a common colour for outdoor use.”
You can find is a step by step graphic representation provided by ST on the process here
NHB produced a short documentary on the removal of the gates and the relocation of the pillars which supports it:
We honour the memory of the gates in our recently launched book WWII@ Bukit Brown.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love
only what we understand; and we will understand only
what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.)
A quote by the Guest of Honour Senior Minister Desmond Lee (National Development and Home Affairs) in his address , captured aptly the journey of the Bukit Brown community leading to another milestone in what has been dubbed ” a movement” with the launch on 16 April, 2016 of the book WWII@Bukit Brown – a collection of essays, poems and stories from the community of Brownies and descendants.
In his speech, Minister Lee recounted his first guided walk at Bukit Brown Cemetery with his constituents :
“During the visit three years ago, we learnt about the history and heritage of our pioneers from the stories shared by the Brownies.
Over the years, we have all been very impressed by the passion demonstrated by the Brownies, as they have contributed so much of their personal time, personal energy and expertise to research, document and share the history of Bukit Brown with the rest of us in Singapore.
They are an example of what the community can do to connect with, and to celebrate our history. But if we reflect on it, although Bukit Brown is a cemetery, their work is so much more than just about the past. It is also very much about our future.
The research that the Brownies did led descendants to approach them for help to identify their ancestors’ resting places, and from there, an opportunity to open up conversations about their personal and family stories, which they then shared for the benefit of posterity.
I understand that some of the descendants are here. Some of your stories and stories of your forefathers have made their way into this book. This book is a testament to the hard work and effort the Brownies had invested over the years.”
It was an occasion for connections and re-connections.
Jon, captivated the audience at the launch with his stories of the descendants and survivors of POW camps he had met in the course of his research (photos of Jon’s presentation by Lawrence Chong)
And finally a pictorial thanks to our sponsors in no particular order :
And as previously mentioned Tan Ean Kiam Foundation is one of the sponsors.
You can support funds for the book by purchasing a copy or more here
If you would like to bulk purchase books to donate to community organisations, drop us an email email@example.com
And here’s a reminder of “who” this is all about:
To everyone who came, out heartfelt gratitude. To our official photographers, Lawrence Chong and Carolyn, thank you.
Look out for more stories about the launch and updates about the book in the blog under History : Books
Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society
It’s the end of another weekend and rarely a weekend passes when Raymond Goh aka “Tomb Whisperer” is not to be found doing ground exploration and research at Bukit Brown, nowadays often with tombkeeper Soh who helps him bush bash and lends his knowledge of the grounds he grew up in.
Today’s sharing on his “finds” on the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown FB group included a tomb “gift wrapped” in Peranakan tiles, a newly refurbished tomb ( more signs that descendants are returning) , a tomb with a story to be unraveled, and a tomb bearing 中華民國 – Republic Of China.
Unusually Raymond was also at Bukit Brown this Saturday (he splits weekend days between his family and his passion ) to meet an independent researcher who hopes to write an article on a prominent pioneer whose tomb Raymond had found much earlier and wanted to tap his knowledge
Then I learned that much earlier in the week, Raymond got up at 4 am one weekday morning so he could help facilitate a fervent request by an international documentary crew to film an exhumation at Bukit Brown. Exhumations are private family affairs and it was indeed a testimony to Raymond’s reputation for sensitivity and discretion in such matters that he was able to persuade family to allow for the filming and be interviewed.
All in a weeks work you could say for Raymond who has to juggle his passion with his career heading a multi- national healthcare company which finds him traveling on average once a month on business trips.
It is a passion which can be traced back a decade when he teamed up at the instigation of his younger brother Charles – who heads workplace safety and health at a Japanese firm – to explore and uncover the “lost heritage and history of Singapore”. The siblings have more than a blood bond, as they leverage on each other’s strengths. It was Raymond’s interest in Chinese and regional culture and history which Charles’ sought to complement his own skills in map-reading and understanding of title deeds and ownership.
Their decade of exploration and what they have uncovered including the community which has rallied around them was documented recently in a feature called Life Extraordinare
The Goh brothers intrepid exploration of forgotten places – more often than not sited in thick forested areas – paired with their investigative work trawling the archives for maps and records, have helped Singaporeans connect to their past, and sparked personal journeys into the search for their roots for a new generation of Singaporeans.
The discovery of the grave of Singapore’s foremost Teochew pioneer Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883) by the Goh brothers in November 2012 is an exemplar of their commitment and passion, one with wider resonance in 2015.
In 2011, prompted by a request from a descendant of Seah who went to school with Raymond, they found a Straits Times obituary (1883) that described Seah Eu Chin’s funeral procession, from his home in North Boat Quay to his plantation in Thomson Road, about 4.8km away from town. From the description of the funeral procession, Charles extrapolated the approximate location from a 1924 map. But to confirm whether it was indeed the grave of Seah Eu Chin, what was needed was an understanding of the Chinese practice whereby family members of the same generation used the same characters in their names. And that was where Raymond’s interest in Chinese culture and tradition came to the fore.
“Knowing the generation name, which was certified in an imperial edict he found, helped him confirm that the grave he found on Grave Hill belonged to Seah Eu Chin”. ST Nov 28, 2012, Teochew pioneer’s grave found in Toa Payoh
Of the discovery, Dr Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the appointed documentarian of Bukit Brown Cemetery commented, “This grave is of the same level of historical significance as the graves of Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Ching, and therefore serves as an invaluable part of Singapore’s heritage.”
For the Goh brothers it was mission accomplished. For the Seah clan, it was the beginning of the unravelling of familial connections lost after the devastation of World War II. Before the war, the 2,000-strong family of descendants spanning at least five generations had gathered regularly. The 130th anniversary of Seah Eu Chin’s death was marked at his grave site in 2013 a year later by descendants and members of the two Teochew Clan Associations he help found, the Po Ip Huay Kuan and Ngee Ann Kongsi.
For Sean Seah 39, a 6th generation descendant of Seah Eu Chin who took part in the memorial prayers, it was followed by a journey tracing the steps of personal history when he made a trip back to the ancestral home and villa of Seah Eu Chin in Yuepu village, Chaozhou province in 2014 which he documented in this video. https://vimeo.com/95650452
“When I was young, my father used to tell me stories about Seah Eu Chin. when I went to school, I learnt more about him, but many questions still lingered. When I gazed upon and touched the tomb of Seah Eu Chin, I felt a a tangible visceral connection to my roots and moved to embark on a quest for these questions to be answered, and so to the Goh brothers, I am grateful” – Sean Seah (personal communication)
Intrigued by this unearthing of history, in November 2015, the Goh brothers revealed the significance of two stone markers they found in MacRitchie area. One was inscribed with the words “Dare” in English and the other “Seah Chin Hin” in Chinese for Mr Seah’s plantation, as well as the stone and brick foundations of Mr Dare’s former home. “Dare” was George Mildmay Dare a former secretary of the Singapore Cricket Club. The two stone markers are discoveries which tell the complementary stories of the land, of our colonial past and our migrant pioneers.
The Goh brothers cache lie in ignominious stones, the kind you trip upon when taking a road less travelled but when examined closer becomes a doorway to our historical landmarks.
The curiosity as well as the passion for our history drives them to search on the ground as well as delve into archives for supporting evidence or clues. Charles was exploring the old forested area near Macalister Road when he stumbled upon a wall in the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital in September 2014. The National Heritage Board was alerted to its discovery by the Goh brothers and through further research, found that the remnants belonged to the New Lunatic Asylum which 128 years ago was revolutionary for its time, a period when strait jackets was more the norm. The perimeter wall was to allow patients to move about freely under protection. Within the grounds of the SGH carpark, which was undergoing development in 2014, was also the remnants of a burial site belonging to a Chua clan dating back to the 1860s, occupying a private strip of land then sandwiched between Tiong Bahru (New Cemetery) and Tiong Lama (Old Cemetery) that would have been referred to as Seh Chua Sua (Chua Hill) On a visit to the site led by Raymond and Charles organised by the Tiong Bahru heritage group earlier this year , participants found four gravestones cordoned off for protection in the midst of the construction site.
2015 is a significant year for the Goh brothers as it marks a decade of exploration of Bukit Brown Cemetery and the adjoining cemeteries which have become an important memory marker for Singaporeans.
It is what the Goh brothers have become most known for in the public consciousness, ironically because of the unexpected controversy which erupted in 2011 when the government revealed plans to build an 8 -lane highway across the last remaining Chinese cemetery, one with a history dating back to the 1800s. The Goh brothers had started to explore Bukit Brown as early as 2005, and uncovered the tombs of pioneers such as Cheang Hong Lim, Tan Keong Saik, Khoo Siok Wan, Seah Imm, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Boon Lay, Chew Joo Chiat, Tan Kheam Hock – more than 30 pioneers to date whose names are immortalised in our streetscape.
By 2011, they had the best working knowledge on the ground of Bukit Brown which had closed in 1973 – the final resting place of an estimated 100,000 pioneers and whose terrain had become overgrown, the kind of challenging landscape the Goh brothers relished.
As descendants’ awareness of their familial obligations to claim and exhume their forebears grew, it was to the Goh brothers that they turned to unravel the clues to locate ancestors’ graves or other related information lost to time. Others, their interest piqued by the circumstances, started to trace if they had ancestors buried there, leading to even more leads to chase.
Many who requested help from the Goh brothers to trace their ancestors even mistook Raymond as being employed by Land Transport Authority to help them verify whether the graves of their ancestors would be affected by the highway. Both brothers were members of the Advisory Council on the Bukit Brown Documentation Project, a committee set up by the government in recognition of the heritage and historical value the cemetery. It was made up of stakeholders who could advise on documentation of the approximately 4000 graves which had to be exhumed to make way for the highway. Nonetheless, their endeavours were beyond the remit of the advisory council, and testament to the true value of the Goh brothers to the broader community.
It was this broader interest in helping descendants seek their ancestors, regardless if they were affected by the highway, that resonated with ordinary Singaporeans and residents.
Besides Seah Eu Chin, early clues in Bukit Brown also led to the discovery of Chia Ann Siang, who was not buried there. The discovery of Chia Ann Siang’s grave in a forested hilllock off Malcolm Road, also led to reunions and connections. Alphonsus Sng, 6th generation Chia Ann Siang writes,
” We were told growing up we were descendants of Chia Ann Siang on my mother’s side, but it was not until his grave was discovered by the Goh brothers, that we could confirm, from the names of his sons etched on his grave we were in fact descendants from his 3rd son Beng Chiang, who was my great grandfather on my maternal side. The reunion at the grave was a first in meeting cousins we never knew existed of my generation, descended directly from Chia Ann Siang. We have since kept in touch, exploring our shared ancestry together” – Alphonsus Sng (personal communication)
Raymond Goh estimates that he has helped to connect about 50 families whose roots are in Bukit Brown. But the Goh brothers’ contribution in a body of work that spans a decade is exponential.
Leveraging on their research, a community of volunteers came together in 2012 almost spontaneously and started conducting regular public walks in Bukit Brown to instill awareness on its intrinsic heritage and history, some later expanding on the research of the Goh brothers to conduct their own independent research. They became collectively known as the “Brownies” – a motley group from different professional backgrounds from lawyers to engineers, of different faiths, different ethnicity including a Sikh and a Catholic Indian. The youngest is below 30 of age the oldest, above 60. For them Bukit Brown has taken them to places outside of Bukit Brown and indeed out of Singapore to explore the history and heritage of our migrant roots, our diaspora. A handful have also joined the ranks of Raymond and Charles in helping to connect descendants with ancestors.
“2015, Singapore’s Jubilee, was a year to take stock of where we are heading, and where we came from. In this connection, very few ordinary Singaporeans can claim to have played as significant a role in helping us appreciate our past. Raymond and Charles Goh are arguably pioneers in their own right in exploring and sharing with the public the significance of cemeteries, particularly, Bukit Brown in linking the dots between the past and the present, the departed and those living
On a personal note, I have had the pleasure to be a former classmate of Raymond and we are both alumni of Gan Eng Seng. I was moved by the tour of Bukit Brown conducted by Raymond which culminated in homage paid at the tomb of our school’s founder. This reminded me of the Raymond Goh I remembered when he was a boy, a classmate with an enquiring mind, a strong sense of curiosity, who excelled in the sciences. I am proud that he has applied these skills in his Bukit Brown related pursuits, for he is an excellent detective and investigator of the past.” Khir Johari, Singapore Heritage Society, SHS Vice President (personal communication)
The Goh brother’s decade-long track record, and an undaunted and persevering spirit to a cause despite a lack of early support have been self-less. They have willingly shared their knowledge and skills and created space for other like-minded persons to follow in their very large footsteps. They have inspired other volunteers, but also a broader public, which has opened their eyes to alternative histories and an independent route of inquiry.
In the words of a recent reflection by journalist Lisabel Ting in the last week of 2015.
“Like a salmon swimming upstream, I think all humans have an innate desire to return to where we came from and to site ourselves in the continuum of history by knowing what has come before. …..This urge to return to our source may be particularly compelling for Singaporeans, especially the many of us who are culturally adrift and loosely moored to this island only by the strength of several generations.For the majority of us, whose parents and grandparents hail from countries across the ocean, our kin are scattered around the world, and may be culturally and linguistically distinct.Having a family tree on which to hang our heritage could, in an impalpable sense, provide a sense of deep-rooted belonging or affiliation which is sometimes missing here.” ST 29 December 2015 “ My surreal connection to my ancestral home”
Today 24 January, 2016, I came across another reflection which resonated ” We cannot protect what we do not know” and the Goh brothers have shared what they know and will continue to explore and unravel so we can also also embark on our personal journeys to learn.
“We cannot protect what we do not know”
The tomb of Wee Theam Tew is yet another significant discovery made by tomb whisperer, Raymond Goh in the Greater Bukit Brown. Wee Theam Tew was a lawyer and died at the age of 52 due to his failing health. His tomb has inscriptions in both English and Chinese, and a set of poetic couplets, which is believed to enhance the livelihood of the deceased’s family. This one reads:
This is how one member of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook community, James Koh translated the couplets to English and added his interpretation of the significance of the words :
The mountain sits with honorable aura
The river flows with abundance
The hills add charm to the landscape
The earth becomes pleasing to the eye with accumulated lustre
He adds that the couplets “represent the things which Mr. Wee wish to bestow on his descendants — reputable status, decent lineage and legacy, strong prospects, and a happy home.
What makes these couplets interesting is, in each sentence, there is supposed to be a stop after the first two words. For e.g., 坐山 ¶ 脈正派. But the second and third words actually form a noun which is related to Mother Nature — 山脈, 水源, 秀山, 華地. This, in turn, displays Mr. Wee’s brilliance in Chinese literature.”
We are assuming these were either written by Wee or chosen by Wee.
Do join the discussions in the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group page, a platform for all members like James Koh, to learn, as well as contribute and share their knowledge in all things related to heritage, habitat and history.
Due to the road constructions, there are new access roads into Bukit Brown cemetery and the former entrance is closed and inaccessible.
As there are two roads going in, we have two new meeting points depending on which part of the cemetery the guided walk will cover. So, please check which meeting point is assigned to your tour to avoid confusion!
MEETING POINT A – Hill 2 & 5
The first meeting point is following the new access road to hill 2 & 5 and meet at the end of the access road. For photos of the location and parking info, see below.
MEETING POINT B – Hill 1, 3 & 4
The second meeting point is following the new access road to hill 1, 3 & 4 and meet at the platform at hill 1. For photos of the location and parking info, see below.
[Singapore] — Oct 3rd 2015 — An mobile application to discover sites of Sikh Heritage in Singapore is now available for iOS devices. This interactive medium has been created and launched by brownies Ishvinder Singh and Vithya Subramaniam, with funding support from the National Heritage Board’s Participation Grant. This mobile app is for those interested in exploring Singapore’s rich urban history in a new interactive and situated way, where one may revisit sites throughout the island while retracing the movements and lives of Singapore’s Sikh community.
Current trails feature the Sikh Guards of Bukit Brown Cemetery, and the Sepoy Lines of Outram. Whether the user follows these trails by foot or thumb, the app brings to life these sites through accessibly told histories and by situating them within a network of narratives that underscore the connections and nuances between spaces. Users are also encouraged to share their stories and memories of these sites towards building a collective archive of the Sikh community in Singapore (and later, Malaysia). This initial release will include the trails and sites within Singapore, with sites in Malaysia and other avenues for greater community interaction forthcoming. The android version is set to be released in March 2016.
An update on this post as Jing Xiang has completed his Masters thesis
Abstract : Housed within Bukit Brown Cemetery are the many tombs of pre-independent Singapore pioneers with syncretic elements of a multicultural milieu. It remained a largely forgotten site except to families who visit the burial ground especially during the annual Qing Ming (tomb sweeping) festival.
In 2011, the state announced plans to redevelop Bukit Brown. Civil society groups, who saw the site as one rich in biodiversity and embedding an important historical past, contested the decision. This contestation rehearses a long-standing tension between heritage and progress in Singapore. This dissertation recasts Bukit Brown Cemetery as a highly charged site where notions of identity and belonging are latent.
The dissertation argues for an understanding of this forgotten landscape as integral to the Singaporean psyche of home and nation. Using Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities and Henri Lefebvre’s spatial trilectics as its theoretical
frameworks, this paper outlines the spatial taxonomies present in Bukit Brown, and how identity is produced and anchored in those spaces. The inquiry unfolds on two scales: the first is a micro-territorial scale where the spatial practices of the individual and domestic unit are studied in relation to the tombs and myths found within and around Bukit Brown. The second one looks at Bukit Brown as macro-territory dotted with cultural anchors signifying collective histories.
Taken together, these two scalar frames reveal the complex structures of individual and collective identity, and how such structures are still actively forming/reforming at the Bukit Brown Cemetery.
His thesis can be found here
First Published on the blog on 20 August, 2014
Some elements in the drawing are all too familiar landmarks in the cemetery, while others suggest hidden secrets, or things that,as of the present moment, has disappeared due to the roadworks. The drawing straddles between what is real and what is imagined, what is there and what is not there, or ‘not there’ because we can’t see it (yet) like other intangible (forces or) values of Bukit Brown.
(please click to view and appreciate full image)
As a team of 6, Hock Chuan, Sumin, Yik Han, Cuifen, Hang Chong and Bianca, will be walking 50km on 5 Sep’15 as part of the Let’s Take a Walk (LTAW) event organised by Raleigh Society. This is a mental and physical challenge for us and we are doing this to raising funds for Hospice Care Association (HCA). So, we would like to get our friends, family and other supporters to pledge an amount to be donated to Hospice Care if at least 2 of our team make it to the 50km finish line.
Donate via this website:
More information on the walk and Raleigh Society here: http://www.letstakeawalk.sg/
For Singapore residents who donate to HCA, there is a tax benefit of 300% this year of the donated amount.
If you prefer to donate to Raleigh Society, this can only be done by cheque and there will be no tax benefits. Raleigh Society will then transfer the full paid amount to HCA.
Do let us know if you have donated an amount to HCA or Raleigh and how much, so that we can inform the total funds raised by our team to HCA.
The team of 6 Brownie Walkers are all volunteers who are active and met at Bukit Brown Cemetery, where we share our passion for heritage and nature with the public. We decided to come together and challenge ourselves to do this walk for a good cause. We are all not very experienced long distance walkers, so it is a challenge for all of us, both mentally and physically and we have learned to stimulate each other as a team.
The theme for this walk is Celebrate Life! and that’s we plan to do!
Thanks to all our supporters!