Bukit Brown Cemetery

Estimated to house 100,000 tombs in a vast landsize 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 offically 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.

bukit brown cemetery11

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.

Currently there are a couple of caretaker shelters in the cemetery. Usually empty, the small houses are, however, manned by several 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 part of Bukit Brown. About 5000 tombs are expected to be affected. Fearing that Bukit Brown will be further developed as a high-end residencial estate, Asian Paranormal Investigators (API) are campaigning a “Save Bukit Brown Project” to recuse this century-old site, which has also been carefully preserved as an undisturbed natural area for decades.

Please preserve Bukit Brown and our heritage!

Published: 19 September 2011

Updated: 06 August 2013

40 Responses to Bukit Brown Cemetery

  1. Christy says:

    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.

  2. Icemoon says:

    Hi, a small note here. Lornie Road was already constructed prior to 1965, as part of the outer ring road system.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Nancy says:

    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.

  6. Andy says:

    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.

  7. Ng Choon Lim says:

    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.

  8. Soon Eng Huat says:

    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.

  9. Timid one says:

    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

    • aliogoi says:

      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.

      • Singapore HanRen says:

        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
        thanks

  10. AC Ho says:

    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.

  11. elroygoh02 says:

    There a Mount Pleasant Cemetery near Bukit Brown. Legend tells of a pontianak (malay female ghost) that haunt the cemetery. It wil attract men, attack them, let his intestines drop out and pull out their penis (private part).

  12. Krystalle says:

    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.

    • Krystalle says:

      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.

  13. yourahkong says:

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. Loy Chai Ee says:

    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.

  16. unknown says:

    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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. aliogoi says:

    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

  18. Julius Caesar says:

    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.

    • Singapore HanRen says:

      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

  19. Hon says:

    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

  20. 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

  21. 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)

  22. Vikki and Ella says:

    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.

  23. melissa says:

    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.

  24. 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.

  25. Ben says:

    Leave some historic sites and do not forget our pioneers. We have today because of these pioneers.

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