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.

Propaganda Leaflets

“Propaganda” leaflets airdropped in the 50s (photo Catherine Lim)

Propaganda Chin Peng 1955 CNY

A 1955 Chinese New Year “special” designed to tugged at the heartstrings and homesickness at a time of celebration (photo Catherine Lim)

Safe Conduct Passes

Leaflets in 4 languages which provided “safe conduct” upon surrender. An indication that the communist insurgency had support from all ethnic groups ? (photo Catherine Lim)

Other Highlights:

- Treasures of the Rare Gallery - Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama (Old Testament Bible in Malay)

Treasures of the Rare Gallery – Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama ,Old Testament Bible in Malay (photo NLB)

Malay Bible

From the translated Malay Bible (photo Catherine Lim)

Exhibits on Java, Sawarak , Sumatra written by the “colonial masters ” stationed here, a reminder that Singapore was part of the “Straits Settlements”

Book 2 sketches

Thirty-two such silhouettes of different types of Malaysian people of the 20th C from “Shadows in The Malay Peninsular” by W.G. Stirling, London 1910 (photo Catherine Lim)

book 2

(photo Catherine Lim)

book on Sarawak_ NLB

Written by Margaret Brooke “Ranee of Sarawak (1849-1936) and consort of the Sir Charles Brook. The copy on display establishes the social connection between the Brookes and Swettenham (Governor of the Straits Settlements). Swettenham refers fo Ranee as Margaret darling” in 2 handwritten letters (photo NLB)

My Life in Sawarak_NLB

“Margaret darling” (photo Catherine Lim)


(photo Catherine Lim)

Expressing Raffles passion for  the biodiversity of the region.

Insect book

From “Descriptive catalogue of the Lepidopterous insectsnby Thomas Horsefield London, 1828/9 (photo Catherine Lim)

Poison Book

Malay Poisons and Charm Cures. John D Gimlette London, 1923 ( photo Catherine Lim)

And lets not forget, exhibits which clearly reminds us of the collector’s primary  interest,  Raffles himself.

Raffles baptism papers

Raffles Baptism papers (photo Catherine Lim)

Raffles Letter to Cousin

Handwritten letter by Raffles to his cousin (photo Catherine Lim)

Memoir of Raffles wth baptism_NLB

(photo NLB)

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


Contrary to perceptions that the Brownie volunteers of Bukit Brown spend all their time at the cemetery, the reality is we are often exploring or chasing – either  individually and sometimes ( when we can co-ordinate our busy schedules)  as a community  –  other heritage and nature trails (before they are decimated by development)

A sunny Sunday morning saw an opportunity to explore a charming, idyllic stream, embraced in nature’s natural air conditioning right smack in the forested area known as Lentor (Tagore) Forest of Teachers Estate.  Our guide was Leong Kwok Peng of Nature Society of Singapore (NSS).

Here are some photos of that morning, where some “frolicked” and others explored or at times did both. We all came out came out refreshed and also sad that we are  in imminent danger of this intimate stream being “canalised” in concrete or buried over in development plans.

A natural erection from an most unnatural angle_Lawrence Chong

Well, hello there are you pleased to see me? Photo captured by Lawrence Chong from a most unusual angle.

A natural erection

A more natural angle captured by Simone Lee

Brownies wet and wild_Simone Lee

And hello there again from 2 brownies, no they did not fall down from what looks deceptively like a long distance. It’s a stream so getting wet is par for the course (photo Simone Lee)

Cupping _Simone Lee

“I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden toilet pumps” – with apologies to Wordsworth , Simone thought of toilet pumps when she saw them. Photo by Ang Hock Chuan

Toliet pumps

(photo Simone Lee)

Fungi_Simone Lee

More fungi (photo Simone Lee)

Lector Stream Fern 2_Simone Lee

“Fern Gully” – not the scientific name, just a hark back to some old movie title (Photo Simone Lee)

More ferns _photo Catherine Lim

(photo Catherine Lim)

Leong Kwok Peng _Simone Lee

Our Nature Society guide Kwok Peng trying not to get his feet wet (photo Simone Lee)

Lighting Stream_Simone Lee

(photo Simone Lee)

Simone Lee photo by Ang Hock Chuan

Maybe she had a sip of the water “Youthful Exuberance” (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Simone Lee

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Brownies Streaming _Simone Lee

Brownies streaming….. (photo Lawrence Chong)

A little slope up and down _ SImone Lee

Not that difficult to get up and down with a gallant hand to this neck of the woods, just some light bush bashing through forested trek and voila you are there. (photo Simone Lee)

Join the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS)  FB group here and you can find more  photos on the stream and its environs.

The NSS wrote a position paper proposing a  phased development of the area leaving   the streams untouched. Their rationale was quite simple, since not all the  land was needed urgently :

“We leave a valuable stretch of forest as a land-bank with its ecological and biodiversity values for future generations to decide as to whether they want to preserve it or to exploit it for other uses. Tastes and needs can vary and differ from generation to generation. What is of no value today may be in great demand for a future generation. People, whether in the immediate or far future, may appreciate natural greenery and its wildlife more as these become rare or scarce —- apart from what is already there in our limited protected nature areas.”

To that we say, hear, hear and Amen. Please help to spread the word to your MPs!

You can read more about the position paper which can be downloaded here


By Sally Hall

Super Trees @ ukkt Brown (photo RJ Mitchell)

Super Trees @ Bukit Brown (photo RJ Mitchell)

The Amazing Health Benefits of a Walk, Run or Romantic Stroll through Bukit Brown Cemetery

Those who visit the Bukit Brown Cemetery often have very different, personal reasons for their attachment to this serene area. For some, it is all about connecting with others and discovering their roots; for others, it is about visiting a loved one and recalling the importance of those who have gone; still for others, Bukit Brown offers a unique escape into a paradisiacal area filled with heritage trees, a plethora of ecosystems and lush greenery, which instils a sense of peace and spiritual connection. If you find that every visit to this Cemetery leaves you feeling invigorated and renewed, there are documented reasons why this is the case. Time spent in Nature is more than a pastime; recent studies indicate that it is a necessary part of our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. These are just some of the reasons why visiting Bukit Brown Cemetery affords surprising benefits that will help you live a longer, healthier life:
Time spent in Nature boosts our immunity: A fascinating study carried out at Kyoto University, Japan, showed that those who regularly head for the Great Outdoors to walk, garden or perform yoga and meditation, have a stronger immunity and a better quality of life. In the study, participants took part in these activities weekly for four months, with results showing that these therapies combatted fatigue, improved mood, and enhanced function and immunity.

Nature battles stress: Chronic stress has been proven to be a causative factor for disease such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, yet owing to the competing demands most of us have to face in daily life, it is vital to find ways to release anxiety and stress. Studies have shown that simply contemplating a beautiful natural scene in a photograph, can lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, as well as lessen levels of aggression and post-operative anxiety. When we add more senses into the equation (by touching, listening to and using our sense of smell), these benefits are heightened. It is interesting to note that many of us try to protect our health by taking out health insurance, or following a healthy diet, yet we pay little heed to the negative effects stress can cause in our life. In addition to affecting us physiologically, chronic stress can also lead to anxiety, the most common mental condition in the world today.

Being in nature imparts important physiological benefits:In Japan, the simple yet enjoyable process of shinrin-yoku (or forest bathing) has grown exponentially in popularity, because of the many documented physiological benefits, including the lowering of blood pressure, the breathing rate and heart rate. To take part in shinrin-yoku at Bukit Brown, simply walk through the verdant areas in a mindful manner, trying to be as aware as possible of the trees and wildlife around you and using controlled breathing techniques to instill a profound sense of calm.

Nature improves the way our brain works:In many centers for the elderly and those suffering from anxiety, therapists are using horticultural therapy to connect patients with Nature and improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and dementia. This type of therapy has been found to increase cognitive and psycho-social functioning of elderly persons battling dementia, which is no surprise, since other studies have shown that simply working in an environment containing plants and flowers boosts creativity and enhances problem solving abilities. It comes as no surprise that so many Fortune 500 companies in the US are taking to filling their work spaces with plants.

Exercise is more effective in Nature:An important study carried out by researchers at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the US found that compared to indoor exercise, physical activity in the Great Outdoors gives us a heightened sense of vitality and positive engagement; to put it simply, we enjoy ourselves more when we are brisk walking or running in the midst of beautiful natural surrounds, than when we work out on a treadmill within the four walls of a gym. All these studies show that human beings have an inexorable link to Nature which should be fostered if we are to achieve a state of greater health and happiness. Fortunately, Bukit Brown Cemetery is accessible to so many people who wish to experience the majesty of Nature in a uniquely beautiful setting.

References, Health insurance, accessed April, 2015., Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature, accessed April, 2015., Health Benefits to Children from Contact with the Outdoors and Nature, accessed April, 2015.
A Taylor et al, Views of Nature and Self-Discipline: Evidence from Inner City Children, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2001. doi:10.1006/jevp.2001.0241, Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed, accessed April, 2015., Managing Your ADHD Students: Taking It Outdoors For Nature Therapy, accessed April, 2014.

About Sally Hall

FullSizeRender“Sally Hall worked for many years in the travel sector – firstly in hospitality and latterly on cruise ships. She met and married her now husband and they settled down to family life with their two children, although she has, for the present moment, given up globetrotting, she hopes when her kids are old enough she can get them as enthused about traveling as she is. Sally is now a writer and editor and works from home”

Join Beng Tang on a guided walk of Bukit Brown cemetery and learn more about the edible fruits and vegetables that you can find there.

During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the Japanese kept the rice to feed their armies so the civilians of Singapore survived on tapioca, sweet potato and yam. Come on a tour of Bukit Brown to see some of these plants and others that can be eaten.

This guided walk starts at 09.00am and ends at 12.00pm

Meeting Point: Bukit Brown entrance gates at Lorong Halwa
Difficulty: Average, some trekking required
Please bring umbrella or poncho / sun block / mosquito repellent.
Please wear covered footwear.

Please note: Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)

Meeting point is within the cemetery, just beyond the gates of Bukit Brown as you enter on the left where the site offices are located.

Please register at Peatix.

Places available are capped at 30 for better engagement.

Beng explaining about edible plants

Beng explaining about edible plants



Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice® 2013 Winner “Ranked #16 of 665 attractions in Singapore. “

6 November, 2013.

Latest Reviews

“Get there before its too late…This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven”

Visit Bukit Brown cemetery while you still can – before the bulldozers move in to create yet another expressway. This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven. Intricately carved statues guard many of the old gravestones, which are often adorned with gorgeous antique tiles painted with flowers and peacocks. There are several pathways to explore and so the cemetery also makes a lovely place just to visit for a ‘country’ walk. Kingfishers, monitor lizards, monkeys and nightjars are common sights, and some of the huge banyan trees are staggering. In recent months the ‘Friends of Bukit Brown’ have painstakingly signed and cleared pathways to the gravestones of many notable names from Singapore’s history, making this an even more interesting place to visit.
Visited October 2013

Beauty shots 2 (photo public domain)

Bukit Brown(photo public domain)

Singapore is a concrete jungle and if there is a garden, it is man-made, like Gardens by the Bay…..(except for) a historical site called Bukit Brown. 

Today, I had the privilege of touring a historical site called Bukit Brown. Bukit Brown is a cemetery, where many of Singapore’s pioneer are buried and may soon be “awakened” from their peaceful slumber to make way for 8 lanes highway.
I toured with volunteers of Bukit Brown, and learn about the tombs of Tan Kheam Hock and his family. History is being collected as I write this review. The tour is made even more interesting with the descendants of Tan Kheam Hock in our midst. A definitely worthy visit for any tourist to Singapore, to see a side of Singapore which money cannot buy.
As Bukit Brown tour is manned by volunteers with a passion to preserve the heritage and culture of this little city state, one will need to visit Bukit Brown FB page to make enquiries of any tours.
Visited October 2013

Beauty shots (photo public domain)

Bukit Brown, Tombs (photo public domain)

It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!

I joined a friend to witness the Cheng Beng festivity and was overwhelmed by the throngs of people with their prayer paraphernalia and the heavy traffic winds patiently through the hills. It was BUSY!

Then some 3 months later, I took a trip with the Brownies who gave free guided walks through Bukit Brown practically every weekends! It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!
Yes, we have the crowded Botanic Gardens, the monotonous MacRitchie & Pierce reservoirs, the hot Sungei Buloh Reserve and Chek Jawa Park is a little too far to reach but Bt Brown is way too cool! If you dare venture off the main track, you will encounter unusual structure, designs, engravings, statutes, reflecting the various cultures, beliefs & eras. You might encounter a monitor lizard, horse riders and almost always expats walking their dogs. Join the Sats & Suns groups of 10-20 people on the guided walks like the one I’ve taken, listening to the passionate guides who are bursting to share with you the stories of the hills.
Visited September 2013
Ally A

Beauty shots trees  3  (photo public domain)

Bukit Brown the birds nest ferns on the raintrees (photo public domain)

“The most beautiful place on earth”

Jo Prudence, descendant of George Henry Brown, after whom the cemetery is named.

A spectacular time-lapse aerial  video of Bukit Brown

More beauty shots of Bukit Brown here


31 October 2013

Bukit Brown is home to some 90 species of resident and migrant birds. These photos by Goh Yew Lin, capture  some of the birds feeding in the early morning. The “wild fruits” are the ripe figs of Ficus benjamina (Waringin, Weeping Fig). This strangling Ficus species is one of keystone tree species in Bukit Brown. Whenever these trees are figging, the birds go gaga over the fruit feast.

The Pigeons

Green pigeon with fruit Goh Yew Lin

Green pigeon feeding (photot Goh Yew Lin)

pigeon amidst a feast of wild fruit Goh Yew Lin

Green pigeon amidst a feast of wild fruit (photo Goh Yew Lin)

pigeon in flight Goh Yew Lin

Pigeon in flight (photo Goh Yew Lin)

pigeons a Hiding amidst a feast of wild fruit Goh Yew Lin

Pigeon hiding amidst the fruits (photo Goh Yew Lin)

Pink-necked green pigeon (female)  Goh Yew Lin

Pink-necked green pigeon (female) (photo Goh Yew Lin)

Pink-necked green pigeon (male)  Goh Yew Lin

Pink-necked green pigeon (male) (photo Goh Yew Lin)

Pink-necked green pigeon feeding Goh Yew Lin

Pink-necked green pigeon feeding (photo Goh Yew Lin)

The Kingfisher

This kingfisher was not perturbed by my presence, striking poses for a good five minutes. Goh Yew Lin

“This kingfisher was not perturbed by my presence, striking poses for a good five minutes” Goh Yew Lin

White-throated kingfisher, partly camouflaged Goh Yew Lin

White-throated kingfisher, partly camouflaged (photo Goh Yew Lin)

The Oriole

Golden Oriole Goh Yew Lin

Golden Oriole (photo Goh Yew Lin)

The Starling

Asian glossy starling  feedling Goh Yew Lin

Morning Vistas

Morning in Bukit Brown Goh Yew Lin

Canopy Goh Yew Lin


“It started off as a dream. A dream to create a video where one or more musicians play beautiful music as they explore the ‘invisible’ gem of Bukit Brown “

Environmentalist  Cuifen wanted to make Bukit Brown more “visible” to share its beauty and tranquility.

The result ” Ukelady meets Ukebaba  in Bukit Brown Conversations”

Please share, and share and share this video and let it go viral, so others can enjoy Bukit Brown too!

More on Cuifen’s  thoughts on Bukit Brown in her blog Conscious Steps

Cuifen would like to thank :

Ukelady – Yen Lin

Ukebaba – Su Min

Video editor – Jasmine

Video & mic equipment – Ee Hoon

On site, music & transcript support – Pei Yun

Story boarding was a team effort -off and on location, -with Mok and Cuifen.

(photo A.J.Leow)

(photo A.J.Leow)


By Lishan Chan

Bukit Brown is the burial place of many of Singapore’s pioneers, as well as home to a diversity of flora and fauna. What stands out to me, however, is the sense of enchantment that I feel whenever I go walking at Bukit Brown. Walking, for me, is a meandering immersive intuitively guided impressionistic wandering through paths or trails. Time stands still for an hour, a couple of hours.

Dawn - the best time to bird watch (photo: Goh Si Gium)

Dawn – the best time to bird watch (photo: Goh Si Gium)

Whether day or night, Bukit Brown is highly picturesque.

By day, I see a magical landscape made up of a large variety of luxurious vegetation. Scanning my eye over the scenery, I feel a sense of oneness with nature. The humidity casts a blanket of luminous mist across what feels like a warm and windless seaweed forest. To my untrained eye, I can only make out the fern-covered rain trees and the banyan trees with their straggling roots. Otherwise, it is a green blur of cascading foliage, rich and gorgeous, pulsing with life. Overhead, the cumulus clouds hang, and swifts circle the air.

 A Visual Delight - Sky Tapestry . (photo: Rosalind Tan)

A Visual Delight – Sky Tapestry . (photo: Rosalind Tan)

At night, I see moonlight filtering through the vivid black and thick branches of the trees. The silhouettes of trees, ferns, creepers and canopy mark out a spectacular yet somewhat desolate landscape. A bat majestically flits past as though in slow motion. I note the gravestones surrounded and taken over by an undulating expanse of cool forest and long grasses that dance to a breeze running as a wave through the cemetery. Sound and vision merge into a wholeness of experience, and I can almost see the deafening calls of insects and creatures of the night.

It is a real pity that this enchanting spot will be destroyed, as work for the eight-lane expressway through the cemetery begins.

the hospitable rain tree

The hospitable rain tree hosting ferns which in turn is home for the fruit bats


About Lishan Chan: Lishan blogs at Her book, A Philosopher’s Madness, was published in 2012.


Python Sighting

Spotted  on the 16th June Sunday Heritage Tour by brownie Steven Toong, in Hill 4, a beautiful  python.

(photo by Steven Toong)





Save the Dogs!

Puppy at Bukit Brown (Photo: Rosalind Tan)


(Photo: Save Our Street Dogs SOSD)


On behalf of these sentient creatures, we reproduce this eye-witness account and plea for the lives of the wild dogs of Bukit Brown:


“I cannot believe what just happened. We are here at Bukit Brown, assessing the situation before we start sterilization ops.As I followed the sound of barking into the woods, I suddenly hear weak whining. There, between my feet, is a trembling puppy, painfully skinny, covered in ants and dirt. Her teeth shows she is abt 4-6wks old, but she is the size of a peanut.

She had left her pack, maybe in search of food, maybe in search of a better life.. Or maybe she was just lost.

The poor dogs in bukit brown are all painfully thin. This girl ate up all the kibbles we gave her. Maybe it was good karma in her previous life, but she will never have to suffer the daily pain and agony which her pack has suffered; the painful hunger of never having enough to eat, or the terrible life of being witch hunted everyday of her existence.”

~ Dr Siew Tuck Wah

A complaint by a cyclist ( who was chased by a pack of stray dogs means that the dogs there are the next on the chopping board. Singapore’s insatiable appetite for culling animals will claim these lives next. “I would like to see the authorities round up the dogs. You can’t just let wild dogs run around terrorising people, so the AVA should try to catch them.” Again, these are innocent dogs who made the mistake of trying to protect what they think is their territory by chasing a cyclist. And by doing that, slapped a death warrant over their heads. Is it fair? We do not think so.
Editor’s note:
All Things Bukit Brown volunteers have this to say: We have guided at Bukit Brown, through the kampung where there are a pack of dogs. Show them respect by giving them a wide berth and not threaten their habitat, and they leave you alone. They bark loudly to defend their turf. We also move in groups, our pack in their eyes, and they give us a wide berth. We have not had any incident guiding there even among the dogs. There was once 14 of us were lost in Lau Sua due to a fallen tree diverting our descend. It was then that the dogs nearby sensed our distress and starting barking to guide us out. As we followed their barking to climb out of the thick undergrowth, we saw them lined up in a row down the hill to show us the path. We believe they knew we needed help and helped us out. They kept their distance once we were safely out.
No doubt the cyclist had a nasty experience by his account but others have had pleasant ones. This is our account, and a plea to try to respect their way of life, and keep them and us safe too.
Conservation is not done in bits and pieces. We must take the whole. The dogs have been there a long time, and their parents before them. They are part of the whole. Spaying them may be a good solution. Culling isn’t.


February 2018
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