Just how large is the area of the Greater Bukit Brown complex consisting of Bukit Brown Cemetery, Seh Ong, Lao Sua and Kopi Sua? Mapping expert Mok Ly Yng has done the number crunching in this map
At nearly 400 acres, the Bukit Brown complex has over 200,000 tombs, which makes it the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China.
A member of the facebook group Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery recently posted a series of maps and articles which pointed to coolies living in Bukit Brown in 3 blocks, near Block or Hill 3. The coolies would most likely have worked on the maintenance of the tombstones and the cemetery.
According to the posts
“Both the 1958 town map & NAS’ BBC map show 3 blocks of “Coolie Lines” (ie. indentured labourer housing) along the tarmac road at Block 3 (at the demarcation between Div A & B ), a short distance before the “eco-bridge” that overlooks the stream.
The said “coolie lines” could’ve already existed when BBC (estd. Jan 1922) was still the private burial ground of Seh Ong clan. In Oct 1928, the structures were reported to be “in a very dilapidated condition, and it is proposed to rebuild them”. In Aug 1929, Lian Hup Co. won the tender ($6,200) to erect the proposed new “Coolie Lines”.
As it was common to have resident indentured coolies living in cemeteries, might some of the paupers’ or unknown/ unmarked graves at BBC belong to these resident coolies ?For instance, when ~237 WWII-era tombs at BBC were exhumed in 1965 for the realignment of Lornie Rd, the exhumation list included 2 plots whose residential addresses were stated as “coolie lines”. For the “Unknown” plot, the burial date was 05 Jul 1942, & the address was “5 Coolie Lines SHB” (in this case, the Cantonese coolie lines of S’pore Harbour Board).”
Extract from Infopedia on Coolies : Chinese coolies formed the early backbone of Singapore’s labour force, engaged mainly in hard physical labour. They were mainly impoverished Chinese immigrants who came to Singapore in the later half of the 19th century, seeking their fortune but serving instead as indentured, unskilled labourers. Coolies were employed in almost every sector of work including construction work, plantation work, in ports and mines and as rickshaw pullers.
The Archived Newspaper Reports:
* SG Free Press (23 Oct 1928) – Proposal to rebuild dilapidated coolies lines at BBC: http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article.aspx…
* SG Free Press (28 Aug 1929) – Lian Hup Co. awarded tender to rebuild coolie lines at BBC: http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article.aspx…
* ST (26 Mar 1965) – PWD Exhumation Notice for BBC (Lornie Rd alignment): http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article.aspx…
As part of Bukit Brown : Our Roots, Our Future, a series of talks were programmed to enrich the exhibition which was held at the Chui Huay Lim Club, the co-organiser of the exhibition.
Here are the video recordings, released with kind permission from the speakers.
Sunday, 20th June 2013
Mok Ly Yng – A Historical Survey Of Bukit Brown
This historical survey of maps reviews the geography and distribution of cemeteries in Bukit Brown and its environs. It also traces the development and changes of the area from the mid 19th century to the 21st century.
Speaker’s bio: Mok Ly Yng is a freelance GIS consultant and map researcher. He received his M.Sc. in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the University of Edinburgh. He had worked previously in the Mapping Unit and the National Archives of Singapore.
Dr Ho Hua Chew – The Ecological and Biodiversity Importance of Bt Brown.
Having become forested through several decades of wild vegetation growth after being degazetted as a cemetery, the area generally has become attractive to many wildlife, in particular the forest birdlife. The talk will focus on the important and interesting forest wildlife that is recorded in the area.
Speaker’s bio: Dr Ho Hua Chew is the Vice-chairman of the Conservation Committee of the Nature Society (Singapore) as well as a Council member of the Society. He has been involved in conservation projects for the Society as a volunteer since the late 80s, including the formulation of Sungei Buloh conservation proposal and the Master Plan for Nature Conservation in Singapore.
Charles Goh – All things paranormal in BBC
Singapore’s own ghost buster, shares stories from beyond the graves, and findings from his investigations in paranormal activities.
Speakers bio : Charles Goh is the founder of the Asia Paranormal Investigators (API) which is a paranormal research based Society based in Singapore. API that strives to systematically analyze any strange occurrences happening in Singapore and around the region. Charles a trained guide with STB credentials has conducted many night tours at Bukit Brown
A very big THANK YOU to Brownie Ang Hock Chuan for videoing the talks!
The iBBC App Guide is a FREE App to accompany you when you visit Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery. It has been developed by the The Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project led Dr Hui Yew Foong. Brownie Khoo Ee Hoon designed the artwork of the map. There will be physical markers on site to guide the way.
Download your App from the Google Android store now, here
Check out a video demo on how it works here
And once you have downloaded you can test the application here before heading to Bukit Brown!
Note: This is a sample of a few tombs. The the App itself has data of over 20 tombs introducing you to the pioneers buried there.
Those with accompanying numbers e.g. Tok Cheng Tuan 1948 are staked and and will be exhumed. to make way for the eight lane highway. You only have a few months left before you can catch this tomb in all its magnificent glory.
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.
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.
We are often asked about the distances over Bukit Brown. Cyclists and runners may find these useful:
For the greater Bukit Brown cemetery complex:
Mok Ly Yng says:
The Seh Ong Cemetery was made up of 5 hills since day 1. Lornie/Adam Road only cut thru the valley between Hill 4/5 (on the golf course side) and the rest of Hills 1-3 on the BBC side. Then later on, PIE came in and cut thru the lower areas of the Hills 1 and 2.
Seh Ong had 5 hills since the area was acquired in the 19th century. Still today, the hill tops are still around, but the ‘body’ of the hills are badly bisected by the two roads (Lornie/Adam Rds and PIE).
Kheam Hock Road also cut thru a valley between the Seh Ong Hills 1 (left) and 2/3 (right), does not affect the hill count.