At the corner of Seletar Club Road lies a small tombstone, oblivious to the joggers and cyclists who pass by the area. The inscriptions on the tombstone are fading away, after decades of exposure to the weather, but one can still manage to read the words: “Sacred to the memory of Jane, the beloved wife of JC Buyers, shipbuilder, who died on the 14th June 1867, aged 42. Also their sons John and James who died in infancy.“
From the inscriptions, Jane Buyers was the wife of John Craig (J.C.) Buyers, who was, according to records, a shipbuilder in Singapore between 1863 and 1885. Jane Buyers was probably born in 1826, followed her husband to Singapore in 1863, but unfortunately died four years later.
Buyers is a relatively rare English surname; like many others, the Buyers family were likely venturing out for opportunities at an overseas colony in the mid-19th century. A record of Pulau Brani’s history shows that J.C. Buyers and Daniel Robb opened a small ship-repairing dock, called the Bon Accord Dock, at Pulau Brani in August 1866. By 1869, the dock was able to produce and repair seafaring steamers, four of which were named Singapore, Heartsease, Fair Malacca and Pilot Fish. At 600 tons, Singapore was the largest vessel built in Singapore during that era.
Besides Bon Accord Dock, the Buyers and Robb firm also owned another dock at Telok Ayer, which was the birthplace of Bintang, a smaller steamer of 40 tons, in 1871. However, due to the stiff competition in the booming shipbuilding industry, Buyers and Robb ceased their operations in 1885, after two decades of existence.
The tombstone of Jane Buyers is one of the oldest in Singapore. By comparison, a Kampong Java Cemetery grave dated 1865, exhumed and reinterred at Choa Chu Kang Christian Cemetery in 1970, was recorded by the National Archives of Singapore. Other even earlier graves in Singapore included those of early Chinese settlers Qiu Zheng Zhi (1842) and Fang Shan (1833).
Elsewhere in Singapore, there are also several lone tombstones, such as the “water tomb” of a Fan-surname woman at MacRitchie Reservoir, and a Japanese tombstone hidden on the vegetated slope of Mount Faber.
The National Heritage Board (NHB) believed that Jane Buyers’ tombstone was relocated to Seletar from the Bukit Timah Christian Cemetery (1865-1907). But the reasons behind the tombstone’s relocation were unknown. In the mid-2010s, Rowers Bay was developed along Seletar Club Road and Lower Seletar Reservoir. The tombstone was preserved, and its surroundings have been enhanced with plants, garden tiles and storyboards, telling the brief history of Seletar and the story of Jane Buyers.
Published: 19 May 2020