Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

November 2015

Nov 13, 2015 Channel News Asia

SINGAPORE: Authorities have called for a detailed study into the architectural, historical and community significance of two areas in central Singapore - Caldecott and Mount Pleasant.

This was revealed in a tender document published by the National Heritage Board (NHB) on the Government's procurement website. The Board told Channel NewsAsia that the study will guide its work in research, planning and outreach.

"The Mount Pleasant and Caldecott area is home to several notable sites and buildings, such as the existing MediaCorp Broadcast Centre, which will be relocating to Mediapolis at Buona Vista, the former Police Academy and colonial bungalows," said an NHB spokesperson.

The area of research is divided into two parts. One covers the Thomson Road and Marymount Road area, which is where the former Police Academy, the Singapore Polo Club and Kopi Sua Cemetery are situated. The other part involves the vicinity around Lornie Road, which includes buildings like MediaCorp Broadcast Centre, Masjid Omar Salmah and Marymount Convent School.

The research will cover aspects like the age of buildings and structures, historical and sociological importance of the sites, as well as information on notable personalities buried in the cemetery. Added to that are personal accounts and memories associated with the areas. A historian said the Government is commissioning the study before it decides on future development.

Said Dr Kevin Tan, who is the president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore: "They clearly want to make sure that any kind of planning decision on the area should be done on the basis of proper information, good information, historical data, so that going forward they know exactly what to do and they can't seem to have less information than the civil society actors."

The research will cover aspects like the age of buildings and structures, historical and sociological importance of the sites, as well as information on notable personalities buried in the sites.

One of the most iconic landmarks in the Caldecott area is Caldecott Hill. For nearly 80 years Caldecott Hill has been synonymous with broadcasting in Singapore. Come December, national broadcaster MediaCorp will start to move to its new premises in Buona Vista. When the move is complete, it will free up about 70,000 square metres of prime land. However, there are some limitations to how the area can be developed.

"Unfortunately, they do have some constraints," said Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director for Research and Consultancy at SLP International. "Firstly, it is surrounded by a lot of luxury landed houses, including some good class bungalows. Secondly, the roads are fairly narrow and there is very little possibility the roads can be expanded, hence that plot of land on Caldecott Hill may not be able to sustain very high density development.

"For example, I don't think it's possible to build office buildings or commercial developments on that hill because the traffic conditions are going to increase tremendously and this will lead to a lot of complaints from the residents in that area. Even during the construction period it will affect the existing residents. Hence, the development of that plot of land is going to be very gradual. It's going to take quite a long time and the most likely type of development is going to be landed residential houses."

Mr Mak said any conserved site must still serve a future need. Dr Tan added that deciding what to conserve goes beyond just the architectural merit of a building.

"A building is a building," said Dr Tan. "You can have one use of it today, you can switch to another tomorrow. But what are people's memories about a space that evoke certain emotions, that tie them to Singapore? I think that's what the state is finally getting around to and saying, 'We've really got to look at the entire social history, so that we understand why people feel the way they do about a particular space'."

One area that will definitely see redevelopment is the former Police Academy. The future Mount Pleasant MRT station along the Thomson-East Coast Line, to be completed by 2019, will be located within the site.

The research is expected to take 12 months, from the date the tender contract is awarded. NHB said the data collated will "contribute substantially to our existing pool of heritage knowledge, while complementing our broad-based island-wide heritage landscape survey launched in Aug 2015" aimed at building up a database of heritage sites, buildings and structures across Singapore.

Said the NHB spokesperson: "Due to the scale and objectives of the survey, it will not yield detailed information of all areas and buildings. Hence, it is important to complement the island-wide survey with research studies on localised areas of noteworthy heritage value. These studies are intended as deep-dive studies that involve comprehensive research and documentation of the areas, including the various sites, buildings and structures."

Nov 12,  ST Forum

Grave hunter Charles Goh (right) with brother Raymond squatting next to a lone grave in Outram. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

I read yesterday's report ("Unearthing history of early S'pore occupants") with interest and share the sentiments that more can be done to archive and collect historical information on tombs and cemeteries, as they present a huge amount of interesting findings.

In land-scarce Singapore, it is important for the authorities, such as the National Archives of Singapore, the National Library Board or the museums, to partner independent tomb explorers in collecting artefacts and information of significant historical value from places that are inaccessible to the public.

This is to allow the preservation of historical information found in these tombs and cemeteries, for future generations to know more about the history of Singapore and its early occupants.

There is potential to turn what has been collected into a public exhibition.

Since some of the findings hold important historical significance, more can be done to highlight these interesting artefacts and stories.

After the data collection is completed, public guided tours can be conducted and trails demarcated.

Through the independent tomb explorers' work, more Singaporeans could perhaps trace their family roots and share interesting accounts of their family lineage with the public, so that such historical information can be preserved as well as conserved.

It is also important that with the sharing of such experiences, the younger generation can be educated on Singapore's past, as history can be easily forgotten through the modernisation of society.

I urge the authorities to support the hard work and determination of these independent tomb explorers, in the hopes of archiving the past, and informing and educating the public on the historical value and impact of documenting these places, which might otherwise be forgotten.

Darren Chan Keng Leong

Nov 11, 2015 The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus

Tomb-hunting brothers' finds in MacRitchie area include account of 2 early landowners

Mr Charles Goh (far left), 47, and Mr Raymond Goh, 51, who are researching Bukit Brown and its vicinity, discovered the significance of two markers, which pieced together the story of Mr George Mildmay Dare and Mr Seah Eu Chin, who were among the first land owners in the MacRitchie area. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Deep in the heart of MacRitchie Reservoir Park once stood a lakehouse built in the 1890s and owned by Briton George Mildmay Dare, a former secretary of the Singapore Cricket Club.  (See correction note below)

Both Mr Dare and prominent local merchant Seah Eu Chin were among the first to own land at what was then known as the Impounding Reservoir, or Thomson Reservoir. The colonial government later acquired the privately owned land to widen the reservoir.

What remains today are two stone markers inscribed with the words "Dare" in English and "Seah Chin Hin" in Chinese for Mr Seah's plantation, as well as the stone and brick foundations of Mr Dare's former home. This account of the area's early occupants and how land use there evolved was pieced together in July by tomb-hunting brothers Charles and Raymond Goh, after they began studying the markers and land ownership records.

They also learnt Mr Dare's wife, Ms Annie Dorothea Caroline Earnshaw, was the first female motorist in Singapore and the first car owner here with the licence plate S-1.

The Gohs first found the artefacts in 2011 as part of their research on Bukit Brown and its vicinity.

Their quest to piece together the history of Singapore's early occupants takes them to thick forested areas every weekend, in search of remnants of the past such as markers and graves.

Raymond, a Hwa Chong alumnus who is well-versed in Chinese culture, is also focusing on the approximately 40.4ha Lao Sua cemetery near Mount Pleasant Road. He has dedicated the past year to studying the graves there.

Among Raymond's latest finds are the graves of 10 pioneers buried in Bukit Brown, who have roads named after them. These include businessman Kiong Siok Wee, one of the proprietors of the Singapore Free Press, who died in 1888 and was buried in the Hokkien cemetery adjacent to Bukit Brown. The Siok Wee Road near Chin Swee Road has since been expunged.

Raymond, 51, director of a healthcare company, said: "These early Bukit Brown graves hold the stories of Singapore's first generation of pioneers who came here soon after Stamford Raffles. We need to do research on them to learn where they came from and how and what they contributed to the island."

Last month, he uncovered the tombs of Chinese Singaporean Peranakans Chua Kong Yak and Ong Cheo Neo - the great-great-great grandparents of Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin.

Dr Chua said that his find has helped her to trace her lineage beyond just her great-grandfather. "The brothers' work has had a major impact on Singaporeans struggling to trace their roots. They help to demonstrate Bukit Brown's links to living individuals and families today," she said.

The brothers hope to set up a digital library repository by early next year to archive their finds since 2006. Raymond also plans to etch out a public trail in Lao Sua to highlight 50 tombs of interest.

Younger brother Charles, 47, head of workplace safety and health at a Japanese firm whose expertise lies in digging up land records, hopes for more support from the authorities. He said: "A lot of this historical work relies on our own steam, manpower and finances. We hope the relevant bodies can recognise the significance of our work and the historical value of Bukit Brown and its cemeteries which are rich in data. After all, we're making new discoveries each week."

Correction note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that George Mildmay Dare was a former president of the Singapore Cricket Club instead of a former secretary. We are sorry for the error.

Nov 7, 2015, The New Paper

It all started with a news report about Bukit Brown cemetery.

Mr Kostas Ikonomopoulos at the St Joseph Church cemetery.

A Greek national developed such a strong fascination with local history that he wrote a book about it. 
NATASHA MEAH (natmeah@sph.com.sg) speaks to the author and shares some of his more unusual stories

Greek national Kostas Ikonomopoulos, 39, was fascinated by the decision to build a highway and eventually a new town over the cemetery. Mr Ikonomopoulos, a permanent resident here, said he took on the challenge of uncovering Singapore's hidden past through unexplored places, including cemeteries.

For six months, he trekked around Singapore, including the surrounding islands. He visited up to 30 locations, including more than 15 cemeteries. He walked alone along rows of headstones. He rubbed dirt off the stones with his bare hands to uncover the names engraved beneath as mosquitoes feasted on him. At each cemetery, Mr Ikonomopoulos would take pictures and notes and examine the state of the grave. He would pay close attention to some names that grabbed his attention and then study the architecture of the place. His mission? To find out who these people were and what their lives were back then. He searched the National Archives of Singapore at the National Library Board, reading through both Malay and English newspapers to uncover stories and truths of the lives of people long forgotten.

Mr Ikonomopoulos, who moved here in 2010 and lives with his Singaporean wife and daughter, said: "People have a skewed perception of Singapore. They think Singapore is just Orchard Road and those who come here from other places think it's just a place to make money. "It seems that the focus of society is on the technical and material progress and the fact that country also has a cultural past gets overlooked." KRANJI BARRACKS For example, he said, the old military barracks in Kranji where the British used to station the soldiers during colonial times have been demolished or repainted a very bright white and now house banks and other enterprises. Things like colonial bungalows were also demolished to make way for high-rise buildings, he said. So he decided to write a book to capture the cultural past that would otherwise disappear.

Remains: A Singapore Journey was released on Sept 10. Remains: 
A Singapore Journey by Kostas Ikonomopoulos WHAT Book on Singapore's cultural past PRICE $19.26 inclusive of GST

WHERE TO BUY Online at www.ethosbooks.com.sg/ Booktique at CityLink Mall Books Kinokuniya

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