A Municipal Comissioner who helped make Bukit Brown Cemetery a reality. A beautifully restored Teochew tomb. A well-known banker. A cluster of 1830s graves. Intricate carvings, Sikh guards, even a set of naked angels.
These are among the tombs of pioneers you will find in Group 2 on Block 2 behind the Heritage Roundabout within the vast grounds of Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery, which closed as a municipal cemetery in 1973. Hill 2 is a quiet hill with gentle slopes, nice for a stroll. It is in the path of the proposed highway, with affected graves marked as 7 and 8 in the LTA map.
This DIY guide is to help you find your own way around Bukit Brown Heritage Park using this map, which is a division map according to the burial register We show some tombs, with links for more reading, and other interesting features.
Cheong Koon Seng
A well-known alumni of Anglo-Chinese School. Tomb whisperer Raymond Goh blogs about him here.
Cheong Koon Seng is associated with:
– The auction company he founded in pre-war Singapore;
– The Chinese Swimming Club, where he held the position of president for several terms;
– The Anglo-Chinese School, which has a ‘house’ carrying his name; and
– Koon Seng Road in the heart of Peranakan Katong.
Wee Chim Yean (1885-1926)
Wee Chim Yean is the Capitan China or Kapitan China of Bengkalis. Bengkalis is a place is the Riau archipelago off east coast Sumatra Islands. Read more from Rojak Librarian’s blog.
His tomb has beautifully intricate carvings:
See Tiong Wah
See was a Justice of Peace and the Municipal Commissioner who together with Kheam Hock was in charge of Bukit Brown. Raymond found his grave and pays tribute here.
For an explanation of his tomb panels, see this post on the love of flowers.
Part of the cluster
Lim Kim Seng
This blog post by Rojak Librarian will tell you more about Lim Kim Seng. Don’t miss these beautiful tombs.
Born in 1884, Lim Kim Seng is buried with his two wives and mother. They make for an exquisite Teochew tomb cluster. His tomb indicates he is both a Member of the British Empire and a Justice of Peace, signifying his standing as a Teochew community leader. In 1940, he helped found Ngee Ann Girls School (which in 1967 accepted boys and became Ngee Ann Primary School).
He sat on the board of directors of the Overseas Assurance Corp. with other Bukit Brown “residents”, Tan Ean Khiam, Ong Boon Tat and Lim Nee Soon (chairman of the board).
Stakes are attached beside their tombs indicating they are slated for exhumation. Lim Kim Seng – no. 1930; Teo Nghee Cheng (first wife) – no. 1914; Sng Chew Lan (second wife) – no. 1926; Sng Sye Chen (mother of Lim Kim Seng) – no. 1931. His tomb was just above See Teong Wah, who has a family cluster of more than 10 tombs.
Tan Lian Boh
Tan Chor Lam, alias Tan Lian Chye, was his famous brother. Tan Chor Lam was the president of the Tongmenhui and a leading revolutionary who supported the formation of the Republic of China. Read more here by Rojak Librarian.
(The Tongmenhui is a group of men who were part of a resistance front also known as the Chinese United League, United League, Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, Chinese Alliance and United Allegiance Society. It was formed by Sun Yat-sen and Song Jiaoren in Japan on 20 August 1905 when merging many Chinese revolutionary groups objecting to foreign rule.In 1906, a branch was formed in Singapore, following Sun’s visit there. Tan Chor Lam was among the first 3 members. Read more on Tongmenhui pioneers here)
Khoo Kay Hian (1878-1966)
At the turn of the last century, he established Kay Hian & Co (Pte) to deal in commodities and securities. The company beca,e one of the founder members of the Singapore Stockbrokers Association which was subsequently re-constituted under the name of the Stock Exchange of Malaysia and Singapore. (UOB Kay Hian Holdings (UOBKH) was formed in 2000 from the merger of Kay Hian Holdings and UOB Securities, the stockbroking arm of banking giant United Overseas Bank. ) His name lives on.
Tan Yong Thian
The tomb, recently restored by his grand daughter Rosalind Tan, is an example of a Teochew tomb, which has a different tomb design from the predominantly Hokkien tombs at Bukit Brown. She enlisted tomb keeper Lim took months to restore this tomb, which will narrowly miss the proposed highway, although there is uncertainty as to whether workers may encroach on this space for their needs.
From “Biographies of Prominent Chinese” (Biographical Publishing Co. Inc., Shanghai, 1925):
“Mr Tan Yong-Thian, better known as Tan Ah-Tian, a native of the district of Chaoyang, Swatow, in the province of Kwangtung, was born in 1855, of very humble parents. At the age of 27, Mr. Tan went to Singhapore, where he started life as a building contractor. After many years of hard labour, he had erected many buildings in the colony, and had succeeded in accumulating comfortable means. In 1895, he gave up his work as a building contractor with the intention of living in retirement.
Realising the great importance of the produce industry in the Straits, he made profitable investmnets in various plantations, such as gambier, pepper, citronella, cocoa-nut, and rbber. Feeling that he was too young and energetic to retire, he became actively engaged in the development of these plantations. They proved very profitable.
Mr. Tan decided to increase his earnings by establishing plants to distil and refine the raw spices from his plantations. He was particularly interested in patchouli oil distillation, an industry which had long since ceased to exist in the Settlements, for various reasons. He had put into operation an essential oil plant for the distilling of citronella on a small scale but he was not satisfied with this effort, and was the first Chinese to take up the distillation of patchouli oil.
Although the business was, for the first few years, confined to local trade, he devoted the greater part of his time to this business; and he succeeded in increasing the output to such an extent that foreign markets had to be found. Thus, eventually, the product was shipped to all of the principal commercial centers of the world. The oil is of the highest grade that it is possible to obtain, and is of the standard equal to the nest European production. The firm, Chau Seng Heng & Co. has become of the largest producers of essential oils in the Straits Settlements.
Mr. Tan is the eldest son of a large family residing in Singapore. He is married, and is the father of five sos and two daughters, Two of his sons, Tan Khim-chua and Tan Guan-chua, are joint partners in business with his eldest son-in-law.
Patience and perseverance have won for Mr. Tan the success he indeed deserves. A straightforward and courteous man, he is well liked by all who come into contact with him; but being of a reticent nature, and preferring to lead a quiet life, he is little known outside of a limited circle of friends.”
Lee Kim Soo (1887-1933)
Here lies a man who was behind matchsticks!
(postscript of tomb find: tombkeeper Lim aka Ah Tiong aka Ah Chye helped tomb whisperer Raymond Goh clear this grave at no expense. He joins the community of Bukit Brown brownies which serves the public and helps uncover tomb finds and clears the way for visitors to share what knowledge we uncover.)
His neighbour is also interesting: a tomb with fusion features
There is a cluster of headstones depicting different reign years from Chinese emperors. These are re-burials. With only the headstones and no shoulders, etc, this looks more like a memorial garden. The stakes indicate they will make way for the proposed highway. What will become of these historical artifacts?
Hill 2 is a small but beautifully lush hill, with many stakes. We encourage you to enjoy the vistas and explore the many exquisitely carved tombs while you still have access to them. We feature some highlights here.
Here’s a letter from descendants appealing for the highway project to be stopped.
Hill 2 has many intricately carved tombs.
Near the 1830’s tomb cluster, find a path off the road and look for an unusual tomb with Sikh guards and cherubic angels.
While not all of Hill 2 will make way for the highway, access in the future may be affected. Enjoy these vistas, the serenity and bird life before the character of Bukit Brown changes.
With the government’s announcement to build a proposed highway, the Land Transport Authority has published its notice of exhumation. To aid members of the public, tomb whisperer Raymond Goh has put it in this searchable format: click here
Tombs affected have been documented and photographed here
If you are looking for your relative, the number refers to the number on the stake, not the tomb plot.
On March 19, 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) issued the following statement with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the National Heritage Board (NHB)
19 March 2012
LTA finalises alignment of new road across Bukit Brown
Fewer graves affected than earlier estimated; More time for next-of-kin to register claims; Preliminary documentation for affected graves completed
Following the completion of topography studies and grave identification works, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has finalised the alignment of the new road across part of Bukit Brown Cemetery. LTA has designed a road alignment that minimises land take in the area and impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment.
The new road, which was announced in September 2011, will alleviate the congestion currently experienced along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours and cater to expected growth in traffic demand.
Given the undulating topography of the area, which has several hillocks, a section of the road has been designed as a vehicular bridge over the existing creeks. Under the bridge, eco-linkage can be maintained and wildlife in the area can continue to traverse between both sides of the road. The bridge section between the hill-locks and across the existing streams will minimise the impact on the hydrology of the area. Please refer to Annex A for the alignment of the new road.
Construction of the new road will begin from early 2013 and is expected to complete by 2016. While construction is ongoing, members of the public can still continue to enter the other portions of the Bukit Brown cemetery that are not affected by the road construction.
A total of 3,746 graves out of the more than 100,000 graves currently sited at Bukit Brown cemetery will be affected by the construction of the new dual-four lane road1 , lower than the earlier estimation of 5,000 graves. The full list of affected graves will be published in the newspapers. The list is also available on the LTA home page. Next-of-kin of affected graves can register their claims for the affected graves with LTA. Registration can be done by post, fax, online, or in person.
For more details, please refer to the following URL –
http://www.lta.gov.sg/content/lta/en/projects/exhumation.html.The affected graves can be exhumed under private arrangement by next-of-kin or under public arrangement by LTA. Public exhumation will begin from early 2013 onwards so that the next-of-kin of affected graves have more time to register their claims.
Commemorating Heritage Found in Bukit Brown
Civilian graves are the responsibilities of families, with burial arrangement a private matter of the families of the deceased. Internationally, few graves are preserved by the state and require archaeological value and major national significance (e.g. tombs of national leaders) to be considered.
However, given that elements of Bukit Brown have heritage value, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and LTA had commissioned the documentation of graves that may be affected by the new road. Dr Hui Yew-Foong leads these efforts, together with his team of researchers, field workers and volunteers, under the guidance of a multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee. The preliminary documentation of affected graves was completed earlier this month, and Dr Hui’s team will continue to document the family histories, stories, and memories associated with the cemetery, as well as the rituals carried out during the Qingming festival and exhumation of graves.
The Government is committed to commemorate our pioneers and document historical memories. The National Heritage Board (NHB) has featured the efforts of notable pioneers in: our national museums, various travelling exhibitions, marked historical sites, community heritage trails and heritage institutions such as the Malay Heritage Centre and upcoming Indian Heritage Centre. Supplementing such narratives is the National Archives, which provides documentation in the form of oral history and other archival materials. Together with commemorative namings (e.g., Joo Chiat district, Hong Lim Park), these are effective avenues to educate the public on our nation’s history, with wide impact and reach. The URA and the NHB will work with relevant agencies and stakeholders on further efforts to commemorate heritage elements found in Bukit Brown.
Jointly issued by LTA/NHB/URA
- Part of Seh Ong Cemetery will also be affected for exhumation
- A Working Committee, led by Dr Hui Yew-Foong, Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, is carrying out the documentation work for the graves affected by the new road at Bukit Brown cemetery. A team of researchers and fieldworkers have been recruited to document i) the graves, ii) the history, memory and rituals, and iii) the exhumations.
Sunday 18th morning @ Bukit Brown, Nature Society’s Angie Ng conducted a plant walk and shared what she knew about plants which are used as herbs in local dishes and fruit trees. Here are some of the highlights
Red Stem-fig tree ( Ficus variegata)
Ferns grow close to the ground
An edible fern found at the foot of hill leading up to Ong Sam Leong’s gravesite
Ferns also grow on hospitable rain trees
The False Curry Leaf Plant (Clausena excavata)
Salam Tree ( Syzygium polyanth )
The Napkin tree
And the most spectacular of the flowering plants : Wild Orchids
Read the NSS Position Paper on Bukit Brown
I was wondering if you knew if there’s a name list for all of the people buried at Bukit Brown? Because my father says my great-grandfather is buried there, but he cannot remember the location of the tomb, and we would like to find it if possible.
Start with the name of your great-grandfather and date of his death. The National Archives has made it easier to search online for his “address” which should state the block, division and plot number. You can find the records for the burial registry here
You can also try the newspaper archives for any mention of notices of death and if your great grandfather is a prominent member of the society in his lifetime, you may find more reports on him.
Once you have the block. division and plot number download this map
Finding an ancestral grave can be challenging if the family has not visited in a long while. The graveside may be overgrown. Also searching for plot numbers can be counter intuitive. The Bukit Brown Cemetery fell under 3 different administrations during its nearly 50 years of operations from 1923 – 1973 – the colonial government,the Japanese occupation and Singapore government. If on site, and you see tomb keepers in the area, they can be helpful. And if you still need help please contact us again. I wish you luck and hope you will be able to find your great grandfather by Qing Ming.
Please note Updated 3 of Map.
Hot off the press updated map from Goh brothers who have also done maintenance work on red and white markers. Self guided tours now a breeze. Enjoy
Having issues, go direct to the source
For an interactive rendition of this map, created by Pui Cuifen and assisted by Lim Su-Min, among other Bukit Brown elves, click here and zoom in.
The map below is useful for navigating Bukit Brown in tandem with map with tombs of interest.
This tomb marked as Y on the map belonging to Chew Geok Leong is an example of a “live” tomb.
No, the Sikh Guards don’t come alive at night. A “live” tomb is one where the deceased played a part in the design of his final resting place while still alive. In this case, Chew – a Chinese physician – conceptualised an elaborate design which included his own modest terra cotta army of 2 Sikh Guards . A “live” tomb is usually undertaken to ensure the well being of future generations on the recommendation of a Chinese Feng Shui master after a reading.
If you have any questions for Raymond, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bukit Brown Cemetery is named after George Henry Brown who came to Singapore in 1840 to start a shipping business. He bought up an area of roughly 200 acres which covered rolling hills. The Malay word for hill is “bukit” and “sua” is hill in the Hokkien dialect.
After Brown’s death the land passed through the hands of Mootapa Chitty ( a Chettair ) and Lim Chu Yi ( a Chinese businessman).
In 1872, it was bought by 3 clansman from the Ong Clan each paying $500. The land was donated to the Hokkien Clan Association without condition for dwelling, farming and burials. It was called “Seh Ong Sua”
In 1918/1919, the colonial government paid about $24.500 for a portion of the Ong burial site (97 acres) to be used as a Chinese Municipal Cemetery opened to all Chinese, rich or poor. From a private cemetery for the Ong Clan and the Hokkien community, it became a public cemetery known as Bukit Brown Cemetery in 1923.
Kopi Sua refers to the area near Mount Pleasant Road where Brown lived, which was originally named Brown’s Hill. One reason offered as to why it is called Kopi Sua – Hokkien for Coffee Hill – is that in the dialect there is no equivalent to the colour Brown. So “kopi” was the next best thing. The other reason is Brown attempted to grow coffee on the estate but it didn’t take.
What is now known as the Bukit Brown Cemetery includes 50 acres known as Lau Sua (Old Hill) which was opened and managed by the Hokkien Huay Kuan as a cemetery in 1892. So the short answer is Kopi Sua is not Bukit Brown Cemetery and vice versa. The Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery ceased operations in 1973
Useful Tips When Visiting Bukit Brown:
- To find your way there, this blog has very clear, idiot-proof pointers for using public transport (the very considerate blogger even provides road views for the navigationally-challenged).
- Don’t count on calling your friends for directions if you are late – poor phone signals means you may not reach your friends for directions. Poor signal also means probably no 3G for your smartphone. (Hiking in Bukit Brown is your best excuse when your boss asks why he/she cannot reach you.)
- Wear good walking shoes. Covered shoes recommended, not flip-flops unless you’d like to increase likelihood of experiencing the full Bukit Brown experience with a sting from a centipede, snake, or scorpion. Or horse poo?
- Bring water to enjoy the hikes and not dehydrate (the water also comes in handy for cleaning dust and dry grass off the beautiful tiles and carvings so you can take better photos)
- Pee before you go as there are no amenities nearby. Do not pee on graves unwittingly when looking for a bush!
- Have some snack bars or trail mix with you (you can always use this to re-enact Hansel & Gretel when you go off-trail)
- Bring repellent or wear long pants & long-sleeved shirts to protect against insect life. Few cab drivers will pick you up after your BB excursion if you’re polka-dotted and scratching like a flea-bitten macaque.
- Watch where you step: do not disturb ants or other nests to avoid being stung. There have been snake sightings:
- Watch where you step: be mindful there are tombs to be respected, tombs that have been exhumed and which you could trip into, and tombs with broken edges which could cut you.
- Do not step on the tombs. Walk around them. You can’t see the Bukit Brown residents but they can see you!
- Do not disturb any offerings (see point above; we told you to bring your own food and drink)
- Mind your head: there are over-hanging branches that could scratch your face, or spider webs above you. Cobwebs (and their residents) are considered fashionable only at Halloween. (Screaming may wake the dead.)
- Mind your feet: souvenirs include dog poo.
- Watch out for thorny bushes, scratchy grass or broken twigs.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat or carry an umbrella to prevent heat stroke. Drink frequently. A WATERPROOF hat however can also do duty as an emergency port-a-potty (loo roll not included, use of nearby flora not advised due to allergic rash potential) Umbrella can be used as walking stick. So hat or umbrella, you decide. Can’t decide? Bring both and be labelled kiasu
- Print out the walking map and information brochure. Here is one.
- Decide which tombs you want to see or which route you want to take (it’s unrealistic to do everything at one go)
- Go with someone as you could get hurt and no one knows you are there, or you have no phone signal to call for help.
- Do not feed the monkeys – only your guide(s).
- Give way to the horses: they are not all used to the crowds and can be startled. Don’t point your camera and use that flash on them. Step aside. Besides, they’re much bigger than you are – Think Kancil vs Bentley. No contest!
- In an emergency, use the emergency button on your phone to call for help. (Admit it – we know you always wanted a chance to test it out.)
- There aren’t usually any emergencies, especially if you listened to the above instructions not to pee in the bushes, disturb the offerings, or watch where you were stepping!