Tour Guide: Group 16
A war hero who received a grand send-off when he died. A coolie honoured by his clan association when he was re-interred at Bukit Brown when it opened as a municapital cemetery. The paternal grandmother of the sitting Singapore president.
Group 1 on Block 5 near the cemetery gates is a good introduction to what lies within the vast grounds of Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery, which closed as a municipal cemetery in 1973.
This DIY guide is to help you find your own way using this map.
Tay Koh Yat (1880-1957)
He was a pioneer in Singapore’s public transportation, but also a feisty patriot who started and led his own self defence force of 20,000 during the onset of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore in World War 2. In 1938, Tay noticed that local transportation was inadequate and started the Tay Koh Yat Bus Company. He built up his fleet to 120 buses and became the largest bus operator among the 10 other bus companies.Tay Koh Yat’s grave comes with a generous forecourt and benches.
Fang Shan (__-1833)
At that time there was a small Fang Clan group of labourers (from Lieyu, little Kinmen) calling itself Boon San Association. This Boon San Association was established for the welfare of coolies working around the Singapore River at that time whereby most of them have surname Fang. It is now known as Boon San Lian Ngee Association
At that time, Mr Fang Ma Teng informed that in 1941, when he was around 30 years old, he remembered hearing about the history of this Fang pioneer from his seniors and the relocation of the grave. Apparently the group of coolies saw the the tomb of Fang Shang, and seeing the date of the tomb as 1833 and his surname Fang, recognized him as an early pioneer of their clan who came to Singapore.
The tomb was in a dilapidated condition due to so many years of abandonment, but the Fang Clan decided to relocate the tomb to Bukit Brown cemetery for two reasons:
1) To leave behind a legacy for the Fang Clan to remember their pioneer
Mrs Tan Cheng Siong (d. 1965)
Mrs Tan Cheng Siong, nee Lee Guay Eng, is mother of Tan Chin Guan, which makes her the paternal grandmother of Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
Hers is a Christian tomb, using more secular design features such as the lotus seed. The tomb also features both English and Mandarin script. It uses the Ming Guo (Ming Republic) calendar, based on the 1911 Revolution as year zero. The revolution marked the end of the Chinese imperial dynasties and led to the establishment of the Republic of China.
(Members of Sun Yat Sen’s Tongmenhui (United League), part of the Chinese diaspora who helped in the cause of the revolution, are buried in Bukit Brown.)
Tan Chin Guan’s name is inscribed on her tomb.
(Raymond Goh, amateur historian, has also found the grave of Tan Cheng Siong, the grandfather of the president on Block 5. See his letter to the president here. )