Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

2017

Tan Soo Bin's family album at Panglima Prang


1920s 
LEE BROTHERS STUDIO (Picture from National Archives)

Back row standing left to right: Lim Kian Beng (husband of Tan Peng Neo), Tan Eng Wan, Tan Eng Chiang, Tan Soo Bin 

Front row left to right : Tan Yew Neo, Tan Cheok Neo, Anna Chia Swee Neo (daughter of Chia Teck Kim), Tan Peng Neo, Song Guat Neo (Mrs Tan Jiak Kum), Tan Eng Ann (baby), Ang Geok Lan (Mrs Tan Jiak Kim), Yeo Yam Neo, Yeo Lim Neo, Tan Kee Neo (will updated corrections if necessary).

This picture should have be taken shortly after the death of Chia Teck Kim (DOD 22 Oct 1918) as he was not seen in this picture.  His wife Tan Peng Neo would have brought their daughter Swee Neo back to her parents house 

Compared to a earlier picture of Tan Jiak Kim and his family taken around 1917 shortly before he passed away (DOD 22 Oct 1917), the two children Tan Eng Wan and Tan Eng Chiang had grown by a couple of years 




Tan Jiak Kim third wife Geok Lan (also daughter of Ang Kim Tee) and 2 grandsons Eng Wan and Eng Chiang 
(pic originally from G.R. Lambert & Co)

Thanks to Anthony Sng, Matt Tan, Tan Koon Siang and Vivienne Tan for assistance.

Links :

See tomb of Chia Teck Kim and Song Guat Neo and her ancestors 

The Straits Times
Nov 18, 2017
By Lester Hio


The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) launched the Bukit Brown Wayfinder trail on Nov 18, 2017. It provides detailed signs and write-ups of tombs along parts of the cemetery. ST PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

SINGAPORE - History buffs can now make their own way through a trail of 25 tombs at Bukit Brown Cemetery, as the first self-guided trail of the area opens to the public.

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) launched the Bukit Brown Wayfinder trail on Saturday morning (Nov 18). It provides detailed signs and write-ups of tombs along parts of the cemetery.

The tombs, located at Blocks 1 and 3 of Bukit Brown Cemetery, were specially chosen because they are easily accessed along well-worn paths and contain diverse bits of Singapore's history and heritage, said the society.


These include the tomb of prominent businessman Ong Sam Leong and his family, which is the largest one, spanning 600 sq m - about the size of seven four-room HDB flats.

Other tombs include that of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation founder Tan Ean Kiam, and a mysterious "cemented tomb" with a mound made of cement, the reason for which still eludes researchers.

The trail can be accessed through Lorong Halwa, which lies at the portion of Bukit Brown Cemetery still unaffected by the construction of a major eight-lane road. The Land Transport Authority had razed parts of Bukit Brown to connect the MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover.

Visitors can download a 115-page online booklet from the SHS website which details the story and history of each tombstone, as well as walking maps of the trail and recommended routes to take.

The trail also contains information on the major rites and rituals still practised in Bukit Brown, as well as the flora and fauna that make up the cemetery's landscape.

The Wayfinder trail is the result of a multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development, along with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and the Land Transport Authority, together with volunteer groups SHS and All Things Bukit Brown.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who launched the trail, said the trail is another way for the public to access the history and heritage of Bukit Brown.

"This Wayfinder trail supplements the very intense volunteering work by the volunteers, who continue to lead regular walks to introduce Bukit Brown to Singaporeans and visitors," said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

Said SHS president Jack Lee: "The Wayfinder brings to life - so to speak - the people resting in the cemetery." Added Dr Lee: "We are privileged and grateful that some of these people's descendants have shared with us precious family photographs and oral histories for the Wayfinder."

Download the Wayfinder here:

http://www.singaporeheritage.org/bukitbrownwayfinder/

The Straits Times
Nov 13, 2017
by Christopher Tan

The 2km road has been delayed because the main contractor is facing financial difficulties.ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

SINGAPORE - The Bukit Brown road project, which has been fraught with issues from the start, has been delayed yet again.

This is the second delay since the project was announced in 2011. It was first slated to be completed by mid-2016, and then end-2017.

The 2km road, which cuts a swathe through a 95-year-old cemetery deemed by many to have heritage value, has been delayed because the main contractor is facing financial difficulties.


Singapore-listed civil engineering group Swee Hong was awarded a $134.7 million contract to build the dual four-lane road in August 2013 but faced cashflow problems soon after.

In February 2015, it filed an application in the High Court to propose a debt restructuring plan for its creditors.

Last year (2016), it raised up to $8 million by issuing new shares and warrants to Readymade Steel Singapore, a company owned by Indian infrastructural group Kridhan Infra. Readymade's subsidiary, KH Foges, is a sub-contractor of Swee Hong.

In July this year (2017), Swee Hong announced it had repaid its debts.

But its financial woes had already caused a slowdown in the Bukit Brown road project.

When The Straits Times checked on Monday (Nov13), the works looked nowhere near completion, even if part of a raised portion was taking shape.

Construction work going on at Bukit Brown Road Project

Diversion works in Lornie Road - believed to be for an underpass section of the new road - remained in place after several months.

A resident interviewed said those living in Sime Road had been told by authoritiesthat it would now only be completed late 2018.

"I'm not even sure it can be done by then," said the retiree who is in his 70s, who declined to be named. "It's causing us a lot of inconvenience already."

Besides the noise and dust, he said cracks had formed in a number of houses.

"My house now leaks when it rains," he added.

Swee Hong would not comment when asked when the project would be completed, and redirected the query to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The LTA has not responded to queries sent a week ago.

Besides Swee Hong's problems, the project was also held up by exhumation of graves which took longer than anticipated.

The new road links the MacRitchie viaduct to Adam Road via the Bukit Brown cemetery. The LTA said the road was necessary to cater to future traffic, which is expected to increase by 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020.

Heritage groups, however, said the cemetery should be preserved in its entirety, while green lobbyists said the road would damage the biodiversity of the forested area.

The delay to the Bukit Brown road project comes just months after another long-delayed project was completed.

The new Braddell Flyover opened in June after four years and repeated delays.

The Straits Times, Nov 9, 2017

by Melody Zaccheus
Heritage and Community Correspondent

A new book chronicling decades of civil society activism, launched on Sunday, details the efforts of 37 diverse activists who have campaigned for marginalised groups and championed niche but worthy causes.

Among some of the successes of the community: Removing a ruling that the bodies of Aids sufferers must be cremated within 24 hours of dying, and the ground-up efforts to save Chek Jawa, an inter-tidal habitat on Pulau Ubin, from reclamation for military use in 2002.

And when the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore lacked a 24-hour hotline for the public to report illegal wildlife trade, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society launched one of its own. Today, it handles 700 wildlife rescue cases each month.

Within the heritage sphere, groups such as All Things Bukit Brown have stuck their necks out for the retention of the 1922 cemetery.

The book also traces the development of civil society across other issues such as ageing, culture and faith, health, human rights and the rights of sex workers and women.

In addition, it pays homage to older achievements, including the Singapore Council of Women's pivotal role in bringing about the progressive Women's Charter in 1961, which greatly improved the socio-economic and legal status of women and families here.

The publication is clear evidence that advocacy has a place here.

It also showcases the journeys and struggles of activists who attempted to speak up for the voiceless segments of society.

As Nominated MP and Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun, who contributed to the book, said, it is the duty of existing activists to encourage other Singaporeans and citizens "not just to think for themselves, but others as well".

It is time to celebrate such activists.

Zaobao
2017年10月16日 3:30 AM
文/谢燕燕 


曾捐助天福宫创建的福建商人邱院的古墓本月9日起坟时的情景。(吕世聪提供)

从考古角度看,这项新发现令本地的文史工作者相当兴奋。过去出土的陪葬品,以玉器最为常见,这次却挖出有落款的孟臣壶,只可惜没找到壶盖和断落的壶嘴。

天福宫在1840年创建时,名叫邱院的福建商人捐了36元叻币。上个星期一,邱院那座已有175年历史的古墓因新加坡中央医院的扩建工程不得不起坟迁移时,工作人员在他的坟墓内挖出一只孟臣紫砂茶壶和保存完好的白瓷杯。出土陪葬品还包括一个陶药罐和另一个陶器的碎片。

从考古角度看,这项新发现令本地的文史工作者相当兴奋。过去出土的陪葬品,以玉器最为常见,这次却挖出有落款的孟臣壶,只可惜没找到壶盖和断落的壶嘴。


邱院的墓本月9日起坟时,本地寻墓人吴安全和吴安龙兄弟、福建会馆代表许振义、文史研究者吕世聪,还有国家文物局研究员吴庆辉都在现场,亲眼目睹了上述陪葬品出土,还帮忙清洗壶和杯,并在壶的底部发现“天香云外来,孟臣”的落款。

祖籍福建新江的邱院和我国早期文化人邱菽园是同乡。本地的海澄新江邱氏都以元代末年从同安迁到龙溪三都郑墩村(即后来的新江)的迁荣公为开基祖。“邱”本来是“丘”,清朝时因避讳和孔子之名孔丘一样,才从丘改为邱。

邱院的生平还有待考证与研究,但他能在天福宫创建时捐出36元叻币,显示他应该是开埠时期有点实力的商人。36元叻币在1840年是个不容小觑的数额,也因为如此,他的名字才会被刻在天福宫立于1850年的碑铭上。

邱院的墓碑立于“道光壬寅年葭月”(1842年),是由他的儿子邱元芳和邱元营所立。这座古墓在起坟时的位置在新加坡中央医院范围内。1992年之前,那里是石叻小学旧址。如果回溯到175年前(即邱院下葬时)则是我国最早的坟场恒山亭。恒山亭过去也被人们称为老塚(Tiong Lama)。

蔡氏先人蔡源流古墓 没找到遗骸或陪葬品
这次受中央医院扩建工程影响的还有一座立于1857年的清代古墓和黄姑娘神龛。属于蔡氏先人蔡源流的古墓同样在上星期一起坟,但承包商没有找到遗骸或陪葬品。最早找到这一古墓的吴安龙说,他找到墓碑时,墓碑已倒了下来,上周起坟时,发现墓碑是在一棵树下,可能因为墓碑已经移位,工作人员最后没有找到棺木或遗骸。

2014年10月,吴安全、吴安龙兄弟在红山锡克庙对面的中央医院园地内,发现10多个蔡姓古墓,相信是济阳蔡氏公塚(过去称为“龟仔山”)所留下的古坟。这些古墓的年代介于1850年至1883年之间。

吴安全说,在发现蔡氏古墓后,他们准备办导览团,却在这过程中找到邱院立于1842年的古墓。他今年带领陈笃生的后人参观天福宫时,再仔细阅读天福宫立于1850年的碑铭时,发现邱院的名字列在其中,才知道原来邱院是当年出钱建天福宫的人之一。他赶紧通知国家文物局和福建会馆。

卫生部今年9月5日在报章刊登通告,说明邱院和蔡源流的古墓,以及黄姑娘神龛受发展计划影响必须迁移,希望后人前来认领。济阳蔡氏宗祠出面认领了蔡源流的墓,但没人认领邱院的墓。

卫生部后来和国家文物局及环境局合作,对即将迁移的古墓和神龛做了记录,并安排把黄姑娘的神龛和邱院的骨灰安置在惹兰红山的阿南达弥提雅拉玛泰国寺。蔡源流的骨灰则由蔡氏宗祠安置在蔡厝港骨灰塔内。当局前天和昨天为这次迁移办了一场“黄籙大斋乙昼夜追荐功德道场”。



The story starts with the discovery of Wee Theam Tew's grave in Lao Sua....




The search for Wee Theam Tew's roots begin.....

Exhumation notice published in Nanyang Siang Pau in Sep 1971 of the exhumation of Wee Hee and his wife and Wee Kay Cheang and his wife




Straits Times 1971 Sep 17



Yuen Fu Li - posthumous name of 阮啓昌 Wee Kay Cheang

Year of death - 1882/1883 - correspond to the year he wrote the will and said he was sick

Wu So Chun - posthumous name of 吳德娘, Goh Teck Neo, Kay Cheang's wife

Sons: from the way they write, the middle son is the eldest as they copy from right to left ie
Tim Seng - 添成
Tim Tow - 添籌
Tim Beng - 添銘
Sia Neo - 霞娘

Yuen Chen Lan -1873/1874 posthumous name of Wee Hee

NB : Wee Hee wrote his will on 8th Aug 1871 and passed away on or around 1st March 1873

Chi Tai - Kay Tye - son mentioned in his will
Chi Chang - Kay Cheang
Mun Neo
Choi Yuen
Tim Chye - Theam (Cham) Chye mentioned in his will (presently of Amoy in China)
Tim So - Theam (Cham) Siew mentioned in his will (presently of Amoy in China)
Tim Tow - Theam Tew
Tim Seng - Theam Seng

Chuan Yi - should be Wee Hee wife Lim Gun Neo



Wife of Wee Hee reburied in Bukit Brown from Heng San Teng.
Tomb date : 1858 lunar 6th month
Mdm Gay Posthumous name - Qing Ee (Meaning Quiet One)

Sons : Kay Tye
Kay Cheang
Kay Seng
Daughters: Mun Neo, Chai Hoon

Wee Hee and Wee Kay Cheang burial land




Based on analysis of the respective wills and land deeds with the help of Charles,  I am now able to determine the final resting place of Mr and Mrs Wee Hee and Mr and Mrs Wee Kay Cheang.

They are reburied in CCK 482A12,13,14,15 on 15 Nov 1971 after the exhumation notice was published in Straits Times and Nanyang Siang Pau



Wee Hee



Mrs Wee Hee nee Lim Gun Neo



Wee Kay Cheang 



Mrs Wee Kay Cheang nee Goh Tek Neo


Wee Hee tablet



明贈義士號大總理諱錫禧阮府君禄位
The spirit tablet of Patriotic Guardsman Conferred By the
Ming the honourable Ruan, personal name Xixi, [who held the position of] General Headman

(Ref:  David Chng book)

Wee Hee and Chop Hong Seng




Singapore Free Press 1st Nov 1860




Wee Hee's will

Wednesday 16th Apr 1873 In Open Court
Present
His Honor Thomas Sidgreaves Esq
Chief Justice

It is ordered that Probate of the Last Will and Testament of Wee Hee sometimes called Wee Tian Siew deceased be issued to Wee Kay Cheang the Executor in the said Will named upon his taking the prescribed oath





Wee Kay Cheang's will (in Chinese)




----------------



Mrs Wee Theam Tew nee Tan Bee Choo



14 Dec 1939 Straits Times

Mrs Wee Theam Tew 68 yrs of age, of 49-A Emerald Hill Road, died on Dec 13, 1939 and was buried in BBHP, Blk 4 Sec C Tomb No 1787. She left behind 2 sons Chye Hin and Chye Hoe, two daughters, eighteen grandchildren including Tan Hock Chuan and 5 great grandchildren



Her husband Theam Tew's brother was Wee Theam Seng's whose 6 daughters were married to:

Kwa Siew Tee
Yeo Chiang Swee
Gaw Khek Swee
Gaw Khek Chiew
Lauw Pek Tjin
Tan Chin Tuan

Death of Tan Chin Hoon (son of Tan Koon Swee),  father in law of Wee Theam Tew, age 56, in 1899
Kabar Slalu 1924 Mar 22 Baba Tan Chin Hoon




----------------------------

The Story of Wee Theam Tew

Source :  One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore by Song Ong Siang


Source:  Twenty Century Impressions of British Malaya, pg 634

Mr Wee Theam Tew, one of the leading Chinese legal practitioners of Singapore, comes of a family who have resided in the Straits Settlement for 3 generations. His grandfather, Wee Theam Soo, came from China as a literary graduate, and together with Dr Lim Boon Keng's father and Mr Cheang Hong Lim's father, to whom reference is made on another page,  acquired the first opium farm in the colony. Mr Wee Theam Tew was educated locally, after which he entered a commerical house in Singapore and rapidly rose from the position of clerk to that of manager. He was however, attracted to the legal profession, and, enrolling himself as a student of Lincoln's Inn, he was called to the Bar in 1897.

Returning from London to the East, he was appointed secretary to the Prince of Su, the military governer of Peking,but after occupying that position for a short time, he came back to Singapore and commenced practice as a barrister. He has now attained an honourable position in the profession and built up an extensive practice

-------------------------------------------
Singapore Free Press 1897 Aug 12

Wee Thiam Tew became the second Chinese resident of Singapore to qualify for the legal profession in English



Straits Times 18 Jul, 1900

Wee Theam Tew calling to fight against the Boxers and the Manchus
STRAITS CHINESE FOR CHINA.
The Straits Times, 18 July 1900, Page 2



Straits Times 6 Feb 1901,  Wee Thiam Tew elected as Municipal Commisioner for Rochore Ward

















PRINCE CHUN'S ARRIVAL and Wee Theam Tew address on behalf of the Straits born Chinese
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942),
31 July 1901, Page 3





Wee Theam Tew takes up post in China

14 Aug 1902 Straits Times






10 Oct. 1902

阮添疇 Wee Theam Tew a Chinese fr. Singapore who says he and his father were born
there was introduced by Cowie, to talk abt. the Kalgan line. He says Chang Yen mao and
Wang Wen-shao sent for him to ask whether he cld. raise money in Singapore for a railway
to Kalgan. They said China had not the money, and the Russians who were pressing them
wd. certainly insist on doing it themselves if they did not. But there was an agreement that
it must be built by China herself, with her own money. Now he could easily get the money
in Singapore, and Chang Yen mao said the Govt. would give a guarantee of 5%. If he got
the concession wd. he be supported? For otherwise the Singapore Chinese wd. simply lose
their money.
I said I wd. think over it, and if I had anything to tell him, wd. send to him thro’ Cowie.
Teleg’d to Fr[ank]. Swettenham to ask about him.

Source:
The Diaries of Sir Ernest Satow,British Envoy in Peking (1900-06)_vol.1(1900-03)

14 Jan 1903 Straits Times - Wee Thiam Tew to return to Singapore


《南亭联话》清·李伯元

肃亲王联

阮添筹大状师,现为肃亲王聘作幕府参谋,闻王虚怀若谷,于阮君尤为敬礼。某日,王在邸第宴崇文门税务诸员,阮君预坐,位居王右。席间用摄光法以留小影,复亲笔题联一副赠之曰:“孺子亦知名下士;乐人多唱卷中诗。”上款书“添筹大法家雅属”,下书“肃亲王”三字。


Death of Wee Theam Tew in 1918








The Straits Times
Sep 6, 2017
Melody Zaccheus
Heritage and Community Correspondent



Mr Charles Goh with the shrine erected in honour of Madam Huang Su Ying. It now needs to be removed due to redevelopment works.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

She is commonly known as "Maiden Huang", or Huang Gu Niang. Said to have been born in 1866, the story goes that Madam Huang Su Ying worked at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) as a nurse until the early 1900s.

While attempting to save an old woman during a fire in a village near Kampung Silat, a house collapsed on her and she was never seen again.

A shrine was later erected in her honour under a tree in Hospital Drive, on the SGH campus, with believers praying to it for health.

Now, with the campus undergoing extensive redevelopment and expansion over the next 20 years, the shrine is to be removed and the Ministry of Health (MOH) has placed notices in the newspapers asking for its owner or caretaker to come forward before Oct 5.

According to Taoist blog Jave Wu Taoism Place, the shrine was set up in the early 1990s.

The story of Madam Huang is hard to verify but has circulated among some Taoist groups and the heritage community, said tomb researcher Raymond Goh, 53.



Tombs are like markers in history.

Trees will die but stones and rocks remain. We can create a picture of old Singapore from them, so that people can learn more about their roots and build a future from this foundation.

MR CHARLES GOH, who has been exploring Singapore for the past 16 years. He and his brother, Raymond, discovered the tombstone pictured above in 2014. It dates back to 1842.

If no one comes forward, rites will be conducted for its relocation on Oct 15, said MOH, and the tablet will be moved to the Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple in Jalan Bukit Merah.



Two Chinese graves in the vicinity, which experts say date back to the mid-1800s, will also have to make way for developments. Descendants or next-of-kin must make their claim with MOH by Sept 18.

The older grave dates back to the 11th lunar month of 1842. The deceased, Qiu Yuan, also appears on the donor plaque in Thian Hock Keng temple, Mr Goh told The Straits Times.

Mr Goh, a pharmacist, and his brother Charles, 49, first spotted the tomb in 2014 while doing a guided walk of the former Tiong Bahru and Tiong Lama cemeteries.

The grave is likely in its original position, making it one of the oldest Chinese graves that appears not to have been exhumed or destroyed by development. The oldest known to date is a few months older and stands on the fringe of the Botanic Gardens. It belonged to a man called Qiu Zheng Zhi.

Experts have said that old graves like these provide fertile material for studying the evolution of Chinese tombs in Singapore and the region. They also give insight into the people of the time.

Meanwhile, the other grave on the SGH compound dates back to 1857 and bears the name Cai Yuan Liu, added Mr Raymond Goh.

He said the old graves should preferably be kept in their original locations or incorporated into the campus' upgraded landscape.

But as plans have been made, he hopes the descendants of the two graves will step forward to claim the remains. If they do not, he hopes their respective clans will do so.

MOH said last year that four other 19th-century tombstones discovered on its grounds in late 2014 by the Goh brothers, plus a 3m-high boundary wall of a 130-year-old former lunatic asylum "will not be affected" by the redevelopment.

A ministry spokesman had said then it was "mindful" of the rich history of the SGH campus and would preserve its heritage features and structures as far as possible.

Mr Charles Goh, a senior safety manager of a construction firm who has been exploring Singapore for the past 16 years, said forgotten graves can still be found today in areas where development has not been invasive, such as nature reserves and military land.

In the past, large swathes of land used to be privately owned by clans and plantation owners, or were home to villages. Mr Charles Goh said landowners would apply to the municipal commission for approval of small burial plots.

"This explains why there are burial plots all over Singapore," said Charles, who has found graves in Upper Thomson Road, Tiong Bahru and Choa Chu Kang.

For instance, in 2008, he stumbled across 20 Christian graves from St John's Chapel in Jurong. The church had relocated after the Government acquired the land in 1992.

"Tombs are like markers in history. Trees will die but stones and rocks remain. We can create a picture of old Singapore from them, so that people can learn more about their roots and build a future from this foundation."

The New Paper

The presence of these statues among the ornate Chinese tombs is testimony to a shared heritage frozen in time

By VANDANA AGGARWAL, TABLA
Aug 06, 2017 02:30 pm



The statues of Indian guards, many of them Sikhs, loom over several tombs at Bukit Brown.

Officially established in 1922, this was a cemetery for the Chinese and approximately 30 pairs of these watchmen stand out among the ornate tombs.

SIKH PRESENCE IN SINGAPORE

Sikhs have been part of Singapore’s cultural, ethnic and political landscape since the early 19th century.

Originally from Punjab, India, many of them initially came to take up jobs in the army and police force.

Tall and muscular, with commanding personalities and a reputation for honesty and hard work, the Sikhs took on the additional roles of watchmen and bodyguards to the wealthy.

They were popularly known as jagas — Malay for guards — and were looked upon as brave and dependable.

IDENTIFYING THE SIKH GUARDS

In colonial Singapore many wealthy Chinese erected statues of Sikh guards at their tombs.


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

They played the role of guardians of the final resting place of these rich towkays.

These guards are an evidence of the social interaction among immigrant races in colonial Singapore.

There are some who show a hint of age with slightly protruding bellies, casually tucked out shirts and a slight smile on their faces.

Others stand tall and erect with piercing eyes and no-nonsense demeanour.

From the folds of the turban to the curls of the beards, these sentinels are life-like with incredible attention to detail.

On closer inspection, one notices that not all guards are Sikhs. Though some are depicted with turbans and sport moustaches, many are clean shaven.

Only some of the statues carry the kirpan (small sword). Among other things, Sikhism requires its followers to maintain a beard and carry a kirpan.

The guards were always made in pairs, replacing the traditional Chinese warrior gods who were erected to protect the dead from harm.

REDEVELOPMENT OF BUKIT BROWN

Closed in 1973, Bukit Brown lay relatively forgotten until 2011, when plans were announced to redevelop it and build roads and residential buildings.

It was expected that some graves with the Sikh guards were among those which would be affected.

In response to queries, a National Heritage Board spokesman told tabla! that, “only one grave with a pair of Sikh guard statues was affected by the road development through Bukit Brown Cemetery”.

“Following an assessment of its heritage value, the pair of Sikh guards is now part of the national collection under the care of the National Heritage Board.”

Mr Ishvinder Singh, 30, a third generation Singaporean, said he had no idea about the existence of these guards and was taken aback when he saw the pictures in 2011.

As a practising Sikh, he immediately identified with them.

“This was a time when I was having conversations with myself about my Sikh roots and Bukit Brown popped up.” said Mr Singh who is working as a project engineer in the US.

Creating the Sikh Heritage Trail, a free app, to interactively visit Sikh places of interest in Singapore, was an idea that germinated in Mr Singh’s mind.

A STORY OF OUR SHARED HERITAGE

One of the trails featured in the app is the Sikh guards of Bukit Brown.

He was helped in his research by Ms Vithya Subramaniam, 28, who is currently a teaching assistant at the National University of Singapore.

Said Mr Singh: “In this process, I reconnected with the Singapore story where Bukit Brown reminded me what it is to be a Singaporean; that we are willing to invite, embrace and accept differences, even taking them to our graves. Ultimately, I reconnected and reclaimed a Sikh identity that embodied a narrative closer to South-east Asia.”

Said Ms Subramaniam: “We have no hard evidence about where these statues came from.”

But, judging from the design elements and workmanship, she believes they were probably made by craftsmen in China and imported to Singapore by affluent Chinese Singaporean businessmen with the rest of the tomb materials.

The pioneers of Singapore entrusted their wealth and their lives to these trusted guards who will guard their masters in death as they had done in life.

MOST PHOTOGRAPHED TOMB


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

This is the tomb of Chinese physician Chew Geok Leong (d. 1932).

These Sikh guards protect what is undoubtedly the most photographed and well maintained of all the tombs at Bukit Brown.

They wear formal uniforms and apart from the gun, also carry a ceremonial sword (kirpan).

Mr Fabian Tee, a volunteer Brownie, pointed out that each guard had a role assigned to them as shown by the words painted next to the muzzle of the gun.

While one was a patroller, the other was a sentry.

Interestingly, the tomb and the guards were imported from China by Mr Chew and kept in his home, awaiting his passing.

THE BENGALEE GUARDS


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

The tomb of Mr Tan Boon Cheng is unique as it is housed in a crypt, an underground room or vault.

The two guards here are surrounded by household items of the caretakers who live within the building.

Having been sheltered, the stone is smooth and the detailing clearly visible.

Although the paint has faded, evidence of it still remains especially on the guards’ turbans.

Both guards are non-Sikhs and the caretakers refer to them as “Bengalee” —- a term commonly used in the olden days for Indians who arrived in Singapore after crossing the Bay of Bengal.

Note that the letters on the guard’s buckle seem to have been written upside down.

GUARD WITH A KIRPAN


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

Mr Peter Pak stands beside the statue of a Sikh guard at the grave of Mr Lim Kow Nah.

The statue is about 2 feet tall (about 60cm). Most guards are between 2 feet and 6 feet in height.

Notice the kirpan on the guard’s waist.

On the other side is a water pouch.


CAST IN CONCRETE


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

Though heavily eroded, this is a guard with Malay/Chinese features, and he watches over the grave of Mr Teng Bin Chai.

Unlike the others, it is made of concrete.

The broken parts of the gun and the metal rod jutting from the top of the gun, lend credence to this belief.

The eyes are rimmed with red paint and the colour may have been added at a later date to make the guard look fierce.

BROWNIES OF BUKIT BROWN


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

All Things Bukit Brown is a group of volunteers collectively known as the Brownies, who have been collecting, researching and documenting information about the cemetery.

They regularly conduct walking tours to educate people about this part of Singapore’s history.

Mr Peter Pak, 44, (above) is a senior project manager with the National Library Board. In his spare time, he volunteers as a Brownie.

Mr Pak has extensively documented and photographed the Sikh guards for the last six years in his blog, Rojak Librarian.


TALL AND STERN-LOOKING


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR



PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR
These burly, bearded Sikh guards still stand tall, doing the job entrusted to them decades ago.

The folds of the turban, creases in the dress, baggy trousers and stern demeanour show why Sikhs were given the job of protecting the dead.

The chain running from the button to the pocket may have had either a whistle or a watch at the other end.



OLDEST PAIR OF GUARDS


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

The grandest and largest tomb at Bukit Brown is that of Mr Ong Sam Leong (d.1918), a labour contractor.

The faces of the guards are almost identical except that one has a beard and is a Sikh, while the other only has a moustache.

They have their turbans tied up high with their ears exposed.

They also look more relaxed, with gentler features and hints of a pot belly.

Among the Sikh guards discovered so far at Bukit Brown, this pair is presumed to be the oldest.

EXCEPTIONAL DETAILS


PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

Standing almost 6 ft tall (1.83m) this Sikh statue is one of a pair that stands guard over the tomb of Mr Wong Chin Yoke (d.1943).

The detailing here is exceptional, from the folds of the turbans to the pocket flap, the ammunition belt and heels of the shoes.

Chinese foo dogs appear again, exemplifying the mixing of Chinese and Indian cultures.

GUARDING FROM THE BACK



PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR



PHOTO: RAKESH KUMAR

The tombs of Mr and Mrs Seet Tiang Seng have a unique feature in that the guards stand at the back overlooking the graves.

Mrs Seet (d. 1937) died before her husband and was buried here. He died 10 years later.

No Indian guards have been found on tombs built after 1945.

However, in this case the grave with the guards was already there and the burial took place later.

(Left) a close-up of the guard. He has a stern expression and carries a sword as well as a gun.

At his feet are Chinese mythical foo dogs, to ward off evil spirits.

Source

http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/sikh-guards-bukit-brown

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