Estimated to house 100,000 tombs in a vast land size of about 0.86 square kilometers, Bukit Brown Cemetery has been abandoned since its closure in 1973. It was opened in 1922 by the Municipal Council (Municipal Council oversaw the supplies of water, electricity, gas, maintenance of roads, lighting and other administrative things in Singapore before 1965).
A small portion of Bukit Brown Cemetery is cut off by Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and Mount Pleasant Road, forming present-day Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Mount Pleasant Road was formerly the place of residence of George Henry Brown (1826-undetermined), a British trader who arrived in Singapore in the 1840s and built his business here. Bukit Brown was therefore named after him, as well as a road called Bukit Brown Road in 1923 which had since been defunct.
The former body of Bukit Brown Cemetery was Seh Ong Cemetery, bought by three rich Hokkien businessmen Ong Kew Ho (undetermined-1889), Ong Ewe Hai (1830-1889) and Ong Chong Chew (undetermined) in 1872 as a burial and farming ground for the Ong clan. Before officially known as Bukit Brown, the area was known as Tai Tuan Shan (太原山) or Xing Wang Shan (新恒山). The hill’s more famous name Kopi Sua (咖啡山 Coffee Hill) was due to the nearby coffee plantations at Mount Pleasant.
Lornie Road, developed before 1965, is the major road to cut through Bukit Brown. There is a series of minor roads running in the cemetery itself. Many are nameless except for Sime Road, Kheam Hock Road and Lorong Halwa. Kheam Hock Road was named after the Municipal Commissioner Tan Kheam Hock (1862-1922), who pushed for the site to be expanded as a public burial ground for the early Chinese community.
Many famous Chinese pioneers were buried at Bukit Brown, such as Tan Lark Sye (1897-1975), entrepreneur and co-founder of Nanyang University, Eu Tong Sen’s mother Eu Kong (Eu Tong Sen Road was named after him), Lim Chong Pang (Chong Pang village), Chew Joo Chiat (Joo Chiat estate), Gan Eng Seng (Gan Eng Seng School) and Chew Boon Lay (Boon Lay new town).
The oldest grave in Bukit Brown cemetery belonged to a person called Fang Shan, whose death was in 1833, more than 40 years before the land was taken over by the Ong clan. The largest tomb belonged to Ong Sam Leong (1857-1918), businessman, plantation owner and contractor to the mines of Christmas Island. Occupying 600 square meters, about the size of 10 three-roomed HDB flats, Ong Sam Leong’s grand tomb was decorated with a 15m-long platform completed with stone statues of deities, lions and 2m-tall sikh guard.
There are currently a number of caretaker shelters in the cemetery. Often vacant, the small structures become places of refuge to several aggressive dogs which visitors need to look out for. The one in the picture below is situated along a small road called Sime Park Hill, off Sime Road. Another one is located at Lorong Halwa.
In September 2011, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the plan to construct a new road, parallel to Lornie Road, to cut through parts of Bukit Brown. About 5,000 tombs are expected to be affected. Fearing that Bukit Brown will be further developed as a high-end residential estate, Asian Paranormal Investigators (API) is campaigning a “Save Bukit Brown Project” to recuse this century-old place rich in history and heritage.
Published: 19 September 2011
Updated: 28 November 2019
I plead every Singaporeans to kindly save it from being demolished. The Bukit Brown cemetery is a place with rich history of Singapore. We had forgo so many historical sites in Singapore, please do not let the government do another irreversible mistake that will cause another regret for years to come.
A country without a place for people to remember their roots is like a country without a soul. In school we were taught to remember the source when drinking the water (饮水思源), now the government is doing otherwise (背道而驶). This is so disappointing.
Lastly, let’s show some respect to our ancestors and let them rest in peace.
well said Christy..
for those who are supportive of “Save Bukit Brown”, you can find out more at:
Hi, a small note here. Lornie Road was already constructed prior to 1965, as part of the outer ring road system.
Have added your blog to my links 😀
Hi, My name is Paul and I am one of Ang Seah Im’s grandsons. Bukit Brown Cemetery is the last resting place of my grandfather who was a prominent Chinese community leader in Telok Blangah in the late 1890’s and early 1900. Naturally I am interested in the preservation of Bukit Brown not only due to my grandfather grave site but also because it is the last resting place of many of Singapore’s well known pioneers who played a major part in the early development of Singapore. Check out their names. Should we discard and dishonor their memory for an expressway, housing project or in the name of progress. Should we destroy their memorial. I think not. They are founding fathers and we should honor and respect their achievements in playing a major part in shaping Singapore’s and its history.
It looks like LTA is going to have their way in any case. Sad that we cannot do anything much 😦
We can at least make some noise and as much publicity as possible and let people know that for the sake of progress, honoring the heritage of our deceased pioneers which may include the decedents of some government officials, seems unimportant. Maybe some of the decedents of those at Bukit Brown may come forward. Until i was sent a photograph of Seah Im’s grave site just recently I was totally unaware that he was buried there some 84 years ago.
You are right. Descendants of the pioneers buried in this piece of land should come forward together and appeal to the authority for them to change their plan.
My great-grandmother was buried there since 1938. She came to me through my dreams and have since direct me to search for her tomb in 2008. With help from NEA & NHB, I have finally found her grave. Extremely upset to hear that this historical place going to be destroyed by LTA. If the roots is being destroyed, the soul being displease, the country will not be as prosperous. No matter how many roads need to be constructed, it will never be enough!! Our ancestor is bearing all this mistake that we have made, but once destroyed, we will reap what we have sown.
Hi, can I know where is Mr Tan Lark Sye’s tomb located inside Bukit Brown?
I didn’t manage to find it either.. It is also not listed on API (Asia Paranormal Investigators) website
However, according to history, after Mr Tan Lark Sye passed away on 11 September 1972, his coffin was covered with Nantah flag and about six to seven thousand people turned up and accompanied his hearse to Bukit Brown cemetery for burial.
Sad truth: the southern part of Bukit Brown will be developed for public housing.
Because the ruling Lee Family are from the Hakka clan and they would like to see the Hokkiens, Teochiews and the Cantonese to be destroyed. The Lees has done too much damage to other ethnic groups including the Malays and Indians. This is very unfair for the Lee regime to do what they have done to our ancestors in singapore. It will be a great curse that will befall on the Lee family in time to come. Hope the future leaders would undo many of the wrong things that the ruling govt. has done thus far since 1959.
Mr Ng, for your information, the Hakka graves were the first to go.
I fully support the preservation of this valuable heritage of our forefarthers.Without thought of our past,we’re becoming a souless person that only cares for ourself without the thought of our posterity and the future of our country.Great and irreparable harms have been inflicted by callous and indifferent management of our state that it’ll spell doom to our country.
Please publish a book and all the photos of bukitbrown cemetery before they are all gone,just like the chirstian/Malay cemetery in Aljunie Road.so that our future generations will knows what is a cemetery looks like.now we have decide and give instructions to cremate and dispears our ashes into the sea,cause there’s no place for us to bury.very soon mount Vernon is going to built houses there and all the urns store there have to move.this place is very peaceful and calm.I don’t take photos on cemetery,incase I offended the ‘environment’.so if any publisher who is not superstitions please take as much photos as you can,least all the history will be lost forever,and the ‘other’s’ will bless and thank you
Yes really sad that there is no book abt Bidadari, I thought there was a report of 3 British ladies going to write a book about it. Luckily I took many pics of this place before it was demolished.
there are books & many informative articles with photographs on Bidadari cemetery, the latest being : SPACES OF THE DEAD, A Case From The Living. published by SINGAPORE HERITAGE SOCIETY , 2011. edited by KEVIN YL TAN
Righteous One : My maternal grandfather was buried at the Mount Pleasant site in the ’50s. Just visited his tomb stone recently. Understand from the caretaker LKY’s grandfather buried in the vicinity.
This cemetery has been on my to-visit list for a while now, and I’m glad I’ve finally scheduled a visit this weekend! As a young 20-year-old Singaporean, I think this cemetery has not gotten enough word about its heritage. I fail to understand why people flock to the equally historic KTM railway tracks to bid their goodbyes, but do not do the same for this beautiful cemetery. Sure, it might not be the best place to have your mug shot taken in front of it, but from what I’ve already read and seen from photographs and websites, this place just oozes culture and heritage.
Oops sorry I didn’t “mug shot” to be police photograph, but as in posing your mug in front of it just like many have done for the railway tracks.
First he went for your language , next he went for your culture , follow by your identity and money , lastly he went after your ah kong resting place.
u mean LKY (just kidding)
Dear Remember Singapore,
I’m Prof Faridah again, writing from Kelantan, Malaysia. I was born in Malacca and lived next to the Chinese till age 5. Many of my paternal ancestors were Chinese. I don’t know where the Chinese graves are but I suppose they are in Bukit China in Malacca. That place is well-kept and a good tourist spot. When I looked at your pictures of the graves in Singapore, I felt a bit upset that they are not well-looked after. I have a keen interest in graves (all types of graves) and I write a lot of history just based on information provided on the headstones. I visit museums or go to libraries to read up. That way history remains alive about the deceased. If the Chinese graves in Singapore are not preserved, then one day, you’ll lose much of the Chinese history in Singapore. Even if your govt wants to cut new roads through ancient graves, I think the communities and relatives can always request for transfer to another site or re-construction of a memorial and gather all in one big hall, with video about the old graves, book documentation, etc. There is always room for preservation and I think it will be good to preserve in one way or another. I treasure my Chinese ancestry even though I can’t read/write/speak any Chinese. Please look after the graves in Singapore.
Thanks Prof Faridah. There are currently many group petitioning for the conservation of Bukit Brown as a heritage site or a nature reserve, but it seems the authority will get their way no matter what. It seems like this century-old cemetery is destined to follow the footsteps of Bidadari Cemetery and other demolished Teochew cemeteries in other parts of Singapore.
The SG government likes to hide behind the word “pragmatism” when it comes to destroying our heritage places. Graveyards have to go in the interest of growth and development.
When I was a young man, I came face to face with an Egyptian mummy in a glass showcase in the London Museum. Despite separated by several millennia in time, I could sense the humanity of this forlorn figure who once held the power of life and death with a wave of his finger or a twitch of his face.
Similarly, without the tombs, carvings and other artefacts in their unmolested state at Bukit Brown, we can never truly connect with the lives of the pioneers of Singapore, the coolies and the towkays, whose blood, sweat and tears laid the foundation upon which later generations including our own helped build this thriving metropolis.
The living must speak up for the dead who have no voice. Until every square metre of golf course and unused state land is fully developed, let the dead remain in eternal repose. Perhaps Bukit Brown could be spruced up into a cemetery park where the living and dead can share quiescence in harmony with nature.
For too long we have let a powerful few run every aspect of our lives. It is not too late to take control and defend our heritage for ourselves and the generations yet to be born.
I seriously hope the government will think twice about destroying the cemetery(even though the picture looks eerie)as this is also part of our historic monuments,once history is destroyed it cannot be repaired as we want our future generation kids to know that the people who contribute to the society .History is dead but we are alive to tell about it ,i hope the history of Singapore will continue forever.
Say i am extreme i dont care.
it hurts so much to see our heritage and forefathers being destroyed and exhumed bcos of some bull shit reasons like cutting short their driving time and making profit profit profit at the xpense of the people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The last photo – is the structure still there? Didnt see it when I went there a few times. Cheers
The structure is situated along one of the tracks… It’s like a small house built over the tomb
Likely to be belonged to a rich and prominent figure
The caretaker wasn’t around then
When I walked past it, many dogs appeared out of nowhere and surrounded me, growling in low tones
I knew it’s a threatening sound made by the dogs, that I shouldn’t venture too near into their territories
So I left quickly
I hope that Singapore can demolish HDB flats instead of cemeteries, and maximize the use of land. As we all know, foreigners are coming in everyday and our city state is getting overcrowded. We should let Singapore grow by trade and service, instead of selling away precious land to foreigners, so that fewer of our heritage site will get annihilated.
hey you!!! let them demolish NOT HDB flats for when they do, WHERE do the poor live ??? our ancestors were foreigners too! stating this, at least the current oldest Chinese Cemetery (Traditional) ought to be preserved & well-maintained, in Remembrance & for posterity. A COUNTRY WITHOUT ROOTS IS MERELY A TRANSIT.
thanks for your time
Hate to say this but .. karma awaits for those intentionally disrupt the final resting place of ancestors who shed blood, tears and sweat for the development of this country in the name of profit…恶有恶报, 善有善报, 不是不报, 是时辰未到
The latest news 😦
5 August 2013
Tender to Construct New Road across Bukit Brown Awarded
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has awarded a tender to Swee Hong Limited for the construction of a new dual four-lane road connecting MacRitchie Viaduct to Adam Flyover via Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Announced in September 2011, the new road, which includes a bridge over existing streams, will alleviate the congestion currently experienced along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours as well as cater to expected growth in traffic demand. The tender will be awarded at a contract value of $134.7 million.
With the award of the tender, public exhumation of the graves affected by the road works will begin from 4th Quarter 2013. Since details of the affected graves were published in March 2012, LTA has received a total of 1,263 claims for affected graves.
LTA will be contacting the next-of-kin of affected graves who had registered their claims to make arrangements for exhumation.
Construction of the new road will begin in stages after exhumation of the affected graves is completed. While construction is ongoing, members of the public can continue to enter other parts of Bukit Brown Cemetery that are not affected by the road construction. Details of the access routes will be made available to the public when construction starts. The new road is
planned to be completed by end 2017.
Decided to take another walk round the cemetery last week, enjoying a quiet moment and the nature
A forgotten flight of steps
A small stream that runs through the vicinity
The tombstone of Fang Shan, the first person to be buried at Bukit Brown in the official records.
(Source: http://bukitbrown.com/main/?p=7355. A very well-written article “A Voice for the Unclaimed” from All Things Bukit Brown)
We are new to Singapore and have discovered Bukit Brown. We are stunned by its beauty and peace. It is very sad to know that the wonderful memorials and grand trees will be destroyed. Bukit Brown is unique and very special and we love it.
Is there any way you could do an article on Bidadari cemetery? I have fond memories of visiting my grandmother’s grave there as a child and also the beautiful gravestones and interesting sculptures that stood there.
Yes, I’m still consolidating the information of the old and former cemeteries in Singapore 🙂
Bukit Brown Cemetery placed on 2014 World Monuments Watch
09 Oct 2013
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Bukit Brown Cemetery has been placed on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, which compiles cultural heritage sites threatened around the world.
The cemetery – which houses the graves of pioneering Chinese immigrants – is one of 67 sites from 41 countries and territories.
Part of the cemetery will make way for the construction of a new dual four-lane road that connects the MacRitchie Viaduct to the Adam Flyover.
Responding to queries, the National Heritage Board (NHB) said the inclusion of the cemetery on the list supports its assessment that it is a heritage site rich in resources and memories.
A spokesman added: “NHB is working with stakeholders in the public sector and the community to document and promote the cemetery’s heritage. NHB will also explore how Bukit Brown Cemetery’s heritage can be preserved, retold and/or integrated with future developments for the area, while recognising the need to balance Singapore’s land use and housing needs with heritage preservation.”
A spokesperson for the Urban Redevelopment Authority said the government is aware of the heritage value at Bukit Brown Cemetery and has commissioned the documentation of graves affected by the construction of the new road.
However, Bukit Brown is needed to meet Singapore’s longer term housing needs.
She emphasised that the development of the remaining area of the cemetery will not take place so soon.
The spokesperson added: “Singapore has been consciously conserving both built and natural heritage in our urban planning… Elsewhere, we have also been actively conserving buildings, structures and streetscapes that are familiar and endearing to Singaporeans. However, planning for the long term in land-scarce Singapore does require us to make difficult trade-off decisions.
“We will have to continue to ensure that sufficient land is safeguarded island-wide, and find ways to make good use of our limited land in order to meet future demand for uses such as housing, industry and infrastructure.”
Other sites on the list include the Karo villages near Indonesia’s Lake Toba and Yangon’s historic city centre in Myanmar.
Leave some historic sites and do not forget our pioneers. We have today because of these pioneers.
I wonder if anyone remember a Chinese cemetery built around 1902 in Singapore called “正原总坟“ at a location called “北山亭” which should be somewhat related to the Xinhai (1911) revolution. If someone happens to know about it, please send me details at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
my great great grandfather is Tan Kheam Hock, my name is Tan Boon Shean, my grandfather is Tan Huck Wan, my father is Duke Tan Cheng Yew, I wasn’t even informed about the exhumation. Why is this??? Help please!!!!
Call me +6591155205 regarding the above, thanks!
An aerial view of Bukit Brown in September 2015.
The new road development has already cut a portion of it. Will there be more to come? 😦
(Note: The curvy road on the left is Lornie Road)
Singapore’s own tomb whisperer
03 July 2016
The New Paper
His is not an ordinary passion.
Mr Raymond Goh clears and examines tombstones to piece together information about the historical context of the deceased’s lives. Then, he tries to connect the deceased’s descendants to their ancestors’ burial sites.
Mr Goh, 52, tells The New Paper on Sunday: “I help to uncover Singapore’s lost history in our own backyard. Some of our cemeteries are heritage gems that are almost like living museums.”
The “tomb whisperer” has been shortlisted as an Outlook Inspiration by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He made it to the top 15 from an initial list of 50 inspiring people from around the globe. Three people will be picked as the ultimate Outlook Inspirations and results will be announced tomorrow.
Mr Goh, a pharmacist at a multinational company, was nominated for the part that he has played in discovering lost aspects of Singapore’s heritage with his finds during his weekly tomb-clearing expeditions.
He looks at details such as names of the deceased, names of descendants, dates and decorative flourishes. And one graveyard site that he has returned to, week after week, is Bukit Brown.
He says: “Of all the graveyards I’ve been to, the ones in Bukit Brown complex have the most variety and history.
“The tombstones can tell (Singapore’s) story all the way from its founding to modern times.”
Mr Goh has unearthed fascinating fragments of Singapore’s past that would otherwise have remained hidden indefinitely in overgrown, abandoned cemeteries.
The oldest tomb he has found in the Bukit Brown complex of cemeteries, where he focuses his work, dates all the way back to 1826, which he pointed out is “just seven years after Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles”.
Two years ago, Mr Goh stumbled across the final resting places of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s maternal great-grandfather, grandfather and grandmother. Before his discovery, he had read a recent “article about Mr Lee that mentioned his ancestors’ names”, and he remembered them when he read the inscriptions on their tombstones.
He and his brother, Charles, 48, have inspired a community called All Things Bukit Brown – also affectionately called Brownies – whose members are all equally passionate about Bukit Brown.
There are now “over 30 Brownies conducting guided walks”, estimates Mr Goh.
More than 17,000 people have gone on such conducted walks through the Bukit Brown cemetery complex since the programme began in 2012. Ms Claire Leow, 49, who co-founded All Things Bukit Brown to preserve Bukit Brown, expresses the community’s pride in Mr Goh.
She says: “We are proud of the Goh brothers, and Raymond in particular, for shining a light on our heritage and showing a way for others to… contribute to promoting our history and heritage.”
Mr Goh has developed unusual methods of gleaning information from the often dilapidated tombstones.
He demonstrates how he fills the gaps made by inscriptions with flour, which sticks in place and makes it easier to read the engraved letters or characters. But before he can examine the tombstones, he must first find them, he says, with a chuckle. That means climbing through the branches and thick foliage in the less-maintained areas. It also means suffering spider and wasp bites.
He says: “I sometimes get stung by insects, ants, spiders and wasps… These bites are painful (and cause) swelling and itching… and some of my tombkeeper friends have been stung by scorpions.”
But this doesn’t deter him from the task at hand.
And with the increased publicity he received when the Government announced plans to build an eight-lane road through the cemetery in 2011, Mr Goh found a surge in the number of requests from people wishing to find their ancestors’ tombs before they were exhumed.
He says: “Some people have asked me to help with locating their ancestors’ graves. Helping them is one of the most satisfying aspects of what I do.”
In the wake of his BBC Outlook Inspiration nomination, Mr Goh has found people he hasn’t spoken to in years congratulating him, including classmates from school and university. He even took some of his Secondary 4 classmates from Gan Eng Seng school – where they graduated 37 years ago – to visit their school founder’s tomb in Bukit Brown.
He says: “We sat around the tombstone and sang the school song, which we hadn’t sung for so many years, and I felt a lump in my throat. It was a very heartwarming moment.”
Bukit Brown gets back its 1920s gates
08 August 2016
The Straits Times
The historic 1920s cast-iron gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery have been carefully reinstalled after six months of conservation and refurbishment work.
The gates, perched on gateposts, now boast a shiny coat of black paint, a far cry from their previous state as badly corroded structures caked in layers of rust. Years of exposure to the elements had resulted in paint deterioration, plant growth and corrosion.
The gates were reinstalled last week following the refurbishment project by a team from Fusion Clad Precision – a contractor hired by the National Heritage Board (NHB).
Fusion Clad Precision’s conservation manager Serene Lee said the gates were carefully hoisted onto their old posts at the new location – a new access road near Lorong Halwa.
Ms Lee said other precautions taken included securing the gates with specially designed frames that came with strips of padding before installation.
“The gates were loaded and then off-loaded using an overhead crane vehicle.”
The refurbishment was an initiative by a multi-agency work group that the Ministry of National Development chaired. The group includes the NHB, the Land Transport Authority and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).
The heritage community is glad the gates have been reinstated. SHS executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua said the structures were among the few historic public gates still standing.
He said: “Gates and doors demarcate and delineate boundaries both physically and conceptually. This is a symbolic entry way for Bukit Brown Cemetery, which does not have a fence or boundary wall.”
All Things Bukit Brown co-founder Catherine Lim said that while the gates’ fresh, new look will take some getting used to, reinstating the structure “is the first step in restoring visitors’ sense of arrival”.
The whole structure is made up of two cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians and four free-standing square columns. About 20 per cent of the structure has been replaced to fix damage to its structural integrity and functionality.
The NHB said the original structure was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore, while its square columns were cast on the spot. Bukit Brown Cemetery opened its doors in 1922.
The NHB also uploaded the second video documentary of a three-part series about the refurbishment project on its heritage website Roots.sg on Saturday. The board said the documentary will provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the steps and techniques used at each stage of the refurbishment process.
NHB’s assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said the refurbishment project is part of NHB’s ongoing efforts to safeguard and preserve the country’s tangible heritage.
Some parts of Bukit Brown have been razed as the LTA constructs a major eight-lane road through the cemetery to connect the MacRitchie Viaduct to the Adam Flyover. This project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
nice but hunnted
SAVE BUKIT BROWN
SAVE BUKIT BROWN
SAVE BUKIT BROWN
SAVE BUKIT BROWN
SAVE BUKIT BROWN NOW😠😠😠
What has happened to the Lee Family now?
Bukit Brown is definitely an ideal historical site which can be ‘developed’ into an attractive and educational site for locals as well as tourists.
A relevant Consultant could be engaged to provide the necessary concepts and designing for such an attraction to rejuvenate the site.