Harman Patil (Editor)

Former cemeteries in Singapore

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Former cemeteries in Singapore

A number of former cemeteries in Singapore were cleared of graves with the land redeveloped during the second half of the twentieth century. The cemeteries had closed when they were either full or were relocated. The records and histories of some of these cemeteries can still be found today.


Due to the problem of land scarcity in Singapore, use of land for spacious or defunct cemeteries is regarded as a waste of resources. As the need for land for urban development and public housing increased in Singapore was considered more pressing, former cemeteries and burial sites were gradually cleared to make way for redevelopment. By 1985, 21 cemeteries had been cleared, and an approximate 120,000 graves had been exhumed by the Housing Development Board.

Forbidden Hill Cemetery

Forbidden Hill Cemetery was an early Christian cemetery established in 1822 on Bukit Larangan (Malay for Forbidden Hill), near to the residence built by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The cemetery was discontinued at the end of 1865, and all traces of it had been wiped out by the different rebuilding developments and programmes. One of these major projects was the construction of the fort that came to be known as Fort Canning.

Fort Canning Cemetery

Following the closure of Forbidden Hill Cemetery, Fort Canning Cemetery was established in 1823. Located on the slope of Bukit Larangan, the cemetery's earliest graves were situated on the side of the cemetery that faced the sea. The original portion of the cemetery, as found in the register of Lands Held on Grants issued by Sir Stamford Raffles and J. Crawfurd, was listed as "Lot 576. Burial Ground" and as being 2 acres (0.81 ha) in area. When this small cemetery became full, application for a new burial ground was made in May 1827 by Reverend Robert Burn, the resident chaplain. This request was rejected.

On 6 October 1834, the cemetery was consecrated by Bishop Daniel Wilson, the fifth Bishop of Calcutta. Although the area facing the sea was usually reserved for Protestant burials and the ground on the inland side reserved for Catholic burials, the restricted size of the cemetery made it such that no formal segregation was carried out until 1845. In 1845, the cemetery was extended to contain the grounds to the east of the central path, and in 1846, a brick wall was constructed to enclose the entire cemetery. Two arches, designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber, superintending engineer of the settlement, were also built–one was on the southern, seaward side, and one was on the landside. By the end of 1863, the cemetery had become full, and in 1865, Fort Canning Cemetery was closed.

Although attempts were made in 1886 by Sir Frederick Dickson, the colonial secretary, to repair and preserve the remaining memorials, the condition of the cemetery continued to gradually deteriorate. Although more than 600 burials took place at Fort Canning Cemetery – with a third of this number consisting of Chinese Christians, only 400 legible stones remained when the cemetery was surveyed in 1912.

By 1954, the greater part of the cemetery’s gravestones and memorials had been removed, although some of the inscription plaques had been saved and placed within the north and south walls. Over the next 23 years, the cemetery was gradually cleared. By late 1977, only three original monuments still stood in their original locations. In the clearing of the graves, the authorities did, however, save a number of plaques which were then bricked into the west wall of the cemetery.

St Joseph’s Church Cemetery

St Joseph’s Church was a Roman Catholic chapel built at Bukit Timah for the Chinese congregation, and was named St Joseph at the request of the Reverend John M Beurel. It was opened on Sunday, 6 June 1846, and the first burial at the cemetery is recorded as being on 7 November 1846. Following that, over 400 burials are recorded to have taken place in that cemetery. However, in May 1984, it was recorded that the cemetery was badly overgrown with weeds and vegetation, and that a majority of the tablets were already broken. The church cemetery was reported by The Straits Times of 1 May 1984 to be closed, after existing at Chestnut Drive for more than a century.

Bukit Timah Cemetery

The Bukit Timah Cemetery was a Christian cemetery that existed from 1865 to 1907, and derived its name for the road along which it was situated. Land for the cemetery had been purchased from the Honourable East India Company on 22 January 1864. The cemetery was consecrated by Bishop McDougall of Sarawak, and the first burial took place on 15 April 1865.

Opened for burials on 1 April 1865, the cemetery was divided into two, with one an area designated for Roman Catholics and another for designated for Christians of other denominations. If one entered the main gate of the cemetery, the catholic section was to the left, and had its own mortuary chapel, while the Protestant portion with its mortuary chapel was to the right. These two divisions were separated by a broad central path. The area of the cemetery was later extended, with a new section opened for burials on the western side of the cemetery. A small road divided the older and newer sections, and was later named New Cemetery Road.

In 1907, burials ceased, and the cemetery was henceforth maintained by the Public Works Department. By 1956, however, the walls of the cemetery had been demolished, the grounds were overgrown by vegetation, and the eastern end of the area experienced frequent flooding. In addition, many of the memorials had collapsed. In 1971, the cemetery was finally closed to all visitors, and all the gravestones and memorials contained within were cleared. The Singapore Cemeteries Board managed to exhume some remains, but a majority of the memorials had been destroyed.

One military memorial, however, was saved, and was then transferred to the Ulu Pandan Military Cemetery.

12 gravestones, including those of Sir Elliot Bovill, Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements from 1892-1893, and Hans Hermann Eschke, the first German Consul-General in Singapore, were moved to Fort Canning Green. The other 10 graves moved were those of Wladimir Astafiew, Nelson William Cashin, William Cuppage, Arthur D. Forbes, George Thompson Hare, Chik Hassan, LDMA Hooglant, Jean Rudolph Lambert, Lee Khia Soon, and William Ronaldson.

Orchard Road Cemetery

The Jewish cemetery at Orchard Road was established in 1841 or 1838. The Trustees of the Jewish Synagogue held the land on a 99-year lease. The last burial took place on 8 Dec 1903 when Sam and Christy Dimmenberg were interred there. The cemetery survived the Second World War, but in 1983, the land was repossessed for development. The Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station sits on the site of this former cemetery.

Thomson Road Cemetery

The old Jewish Cemetery was located just to the north of Moulmein Road, and adjacent to the junction of Thomson Road and Newton Road. The cemetery was opened just before the First World War, and was not reflected in the 1907 town plan of Singapore. It was rumoured that one of the veterans of the Crimean War who had settled in Singapore had been buried at the cemetery, but no verification has been made for this. In late 1985, the cemetery was closed and the land area was reclaimed and cleared to make way for the site of a new MRT station.

Bidadari Cemetery

Bidadari Cemetery was a multi-religious burial ground opened on 1 January 1908. It was located at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Aljunied Road, and derived its name from the wife of Maharaja Abu Bakar of Johor, whose istana had stood there. The word “bidadari” is itself derived from the Sanskrit word “widyadari”, which literally means ‘nymph’ or ‘fairy’.

The cemetery contained burial sites for several religions and races, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus. When it was opened, the Roman Catholic and Protestant sections also each had their own chapel. The cemetery was also used for military burials, and was the resting place for a number of prominent individuals. One of these was the English sailor Augustus Podmore Williams, upon whose life Joseph Conrad based his novel Lord Jim.

Bidadari Cemetery was closed in 1973, and was then slated, in the Singapore government’s 1998 Master Plan, to be cleared to make way for the development of public housing and other facilities. In December 2001, the Housing Development Board began exhumation of the estimated 143,000 graves found in the cemetery. Exhumation was completed by the end of 2006, and the cremated remains from the exhumed were placed to rest at the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium. Due to religious reasons, the exhumed remains from Muslim graves could not be cremated, and were reinterred at Pusara Abadi Muslim Cemetery at Choa Chu Kang. The cemetery was thus cleared to make way for the development of a road interchange at the junction of Bartley Road and Braddell Road, and for the construction of the Woodleigh MRT Station situated along the North-East MRT Line.

Bidadari Garden, approximately 1,746.6 square metres, was then established at Vernon Park to commemorate 20 people who were considered important to Singapore's history, and who had been interred at Bidadari Cemetery. They include doctor and philanthropist Lim Boon Keng, Ahmad Ibrahim, and R. A. J. Bidwell–the architect who had designed the Raffles Hotel, Goodwood Park Hotel, and Chesed-El Synagogue. The old gates of the Bidadari Cemetery, which bore the lion emblem of the Singapore Municipal Council, were then placed at the entrance of Bidadari Garden.

Bukit Brown Cemetery

Bukit Brown Cemetery, also known to the local community as Kopi Sua or Coffee Hill, was a public Chinese cemetery that had been established in the early 20th Century. It was believed to be the biggest Chinese graveyard outside China, hosting about 100,000 graves. It is located between Lornie Road and Mount Pleasant Road, and off Sime Road and Kheam Hock Road, and is still in existence today, despite being abandoned. The cemetery was named after its first owner, George Henry Brown. Brown had been a ship owner who had arrived in Singapore from Calcutta in the 1840s, and had bought the area and named it Mount Pleasant. The land was then later bought by Ong Kew Ho and the Hokkien Huay Kuan, who gave it to the Ngee Ann Kongsi.

The 213-acre (0.86 km2) site at Bukit Brown had been acquired and passed into municipal hands by the municipal authorities in 1919 after pressure had been put on it to provide a municipal cemetery for the Chinese communities in Singapore. The cemetery was opened on 1 January 1922 and was managed as a public burial ground by a committee led by committee leaders Tan Kheam Hock and See Tiong Wah–who was at that time comprador of the Hong Kong Bank.

By 1929, Bukit Brown Cemetery accounted for about 40 per cent of all officially registered Chinese burials within municipal limits. The cemetery was eventually closed. In the 1970s, the cemetery faced the threat of being cleared for redevelopment, but it was eventually granted reprieve. Now, the cemetery is home to many bird species and wild life, and has as such become popular again–this time, with nature lovers.

It is the only built area that is near the Bukit Brown MRT Station (part of the Circle MRT Line). Since there are no other developments in the vicinity, the station will remain non-operational till a later date.

It was originally announced by Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in February 2012 that 5000, out of more than 100000 graves, would make way for a new 4-lane road that would cut through the cemetery. This number was reduced to 3746, from the original 5000, on 19 March 2012. It was also revealed that the rest of the cemetery would make way for a new public housing town in about 40 years time.

The National Archives of Singapore digitised and released online the burial registers of the cemetery between April 1922 and December 1972, as well as a location map of the cemetery in part to help descendants check if their ancestor's graves were affected by the development.

On 30 September 2015, it was reported that the cast iron gates of the cemetery were removed from their posts and would be reinstalled (after refurbishment) at the mouth of a new access road near its original location..By 2030 , they would change Bukit Brown into housing.

Ulu Pandan Cemetery

Ulu Pandan Cemetery was a military cemetery opened in September 1955, and was located to the south of Ulu Pandan Road, and approximately 100 yards (91 m) from its junction with Clementi Road. The cemetery was designated for the burial of servicemen and of members of service families. It is a multi-religious cemetery, and contained separate plots of land for the burial of people of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist religions.

To the left of the main entrance of the cemetery were a decorative iron gateway and a white chapel. Situated behind the chapel was the memorial–which had been transferred to Ulu Pandan from Pulau Brani–to the members of corps or royal engineers who died while serving in Singapore.

In 1971, the year of the withdrawal of British forces from Singapore, there was a total of 1580 graves in the cemetery, including the 146 that had been exhumed from the Bidadari Christian Cemetery on Upper Serangoon Road. Ulu Pandan Cemetery was eventually closed to make way for the Singapore urban development programme, and the remains of those interred there were exhumed and transferred to the Kranji War Cemetery in 1975.

Orchard Road

The Ngee Ann Kongsi, a charitable association representing the Chinese Teochew community, was incorporated in 1845. In the same year, the Kongsi purchased 72 acres of land on Orchard Road for use as a cemetery called Tie Swah Ting (Tai Shan Ting, 泰山亭). The cemetery was bounded by Paterson Road (Tanglin), Orchard Road, and Grange Road. A temple (泰山亭伯公宫) stood on the cemetery grounds.

The cemetery, which had 25,000 to 30,000 graves, was cleared in 1957, and some portions of the land were acquired by the government. The Kongsi built a 10-storey Ngee Ann Building on the site, which was demolished in 1985. The Ngee Ann City commercial and shopping complex was subsequently built there, with construction beginning in 1989.

Isolated cemeteries / graves

Tiong Bahru Cemetery There exist in the city urban area of Tiong Bahru two Chinese graves which house the famous merchant and philanthropist Tan Tock Seng and his daughter-in-law. They are sitting on top of a small hill overlooking Outram Road.

Kampong Bukit Coffee Chinese Cemetery On Pulau Ubin in north-east Singapore lies this cemetery which was used to bury the people living on this island. The cemetery is no longer in use.

Kampong Sungei Tiga Cemetery On the same island of Pulau Ubin lies another cemetery which is more than 150 years old. It is also no longer in use.

Lim Chu Kang Cemetery

Choa Chu Kang Cemetery Complex is the biggest cemetery in Singapore. Located in the west of the island in close proximity to the Tengah Air Base and at the confluence of the Old Choa Chu Kang Road, Lim Chu Kang Road and Jalan Bahar, it comprises the Chinese, Christian, Ahmadiyya Jama'at, Muslim, Parsi, Bahá'í, Jewish, Hindu and Lawn cemeteries. It is currently the only burial cemetery to remain in operation.

Also within its grounds, are several columbaria, including the state-run Choa Chu Kang Columbarium, and two private facilities, namely The Garden of Remembrance, a Christian columbarium and Ji Le Memorial Park, a Buddhist facility.

SMRT Services 172 and 975 passes through Choa Chu Kang Cemetery everyday, whereas 405 is the only service that operates during festive periods only.

Remaining Cemeteries

The Choa Chu Kang Cemetery is a state-owned, 318-acre (1.29 km2) public cemetery complex first opened in 1947, and is the only cemetery in Singapore still open for burials. More cemeteries will be built to house more dead people. In 1998, the burial period for all graves at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery complex was limited to a period of 15 years, following which the remains of the deceased would be exhumed. The existing graves 15 years old or older–amounting to some 17,000 to 18,000 graves in each of the two earliest cemetery blocks–were then exhumed.

Pusara Aman Cemetery and Pusara Abadi Cemetery are Muslim cemeteries located along Jalan Bahar and Lim Chu Kang road, respectively. These two cemeteries represent the largest burial area reserved for the Muslim community, and graves within are typically cleared of weeds and debris before Eid ul-Fitr, during which Muslims customarily visit them. Pusara Aman Cemetery is the older, and has at its edge a mosque which was built in 1975. Pusara Abadi Cemetery, on the hand, is newer, and is where the Muslims exhumed from Bidadari Cemetery are interred to rest.

The Kranji War Cemetery was officially opened by governor Sir Robert Brown Black in 1957. The cemetery contains the graves of some 4.458 Allied servicemen and women, and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery also contains the military graves of soldiers died during World War I whose graves were relocated from Bidadari Cemetery. In 1975, owing to the closure of the Pasir Panjang and Ulu Pandan military cemeteries, the War Graves Commission allowed for the use of the Kranji War Cemetery to house the remains of British and Gurkha soldiers and their families who were exhumed. At the north end of the cemetery, next to the Kranji War Memorial, is the State Cemetery. With an area of 2 acres (0.81 ha), the State Cemetery is reserved for the burial of persons who have made a significant contribution to Singapore, and is maintained by the National Environment Agency. Currently, only the graves of President Yusof Ishak (buried 25 November 1970) and President Benjamin Sheares (buried 15 May 1981) reside in the State Cemetery.

The Ying Fo Kuan Memorial is a Hakka cemetery located behind Blk 32 of Holland Close, a stone's throw away from today's Holland Village. It was built in 1887, when the Ying Fo Fui Kuan (应和会馆), the first Chinese Hakka clan association in Singapore, bought over a piece of land from the British government to meet the burial demands of the increasing number of association members. The area was then renamed the Twin Dragon Hills, and a Wu Shu Ancestral Hall was built next to it. The Ying Fo Kuan cemetery was acquired by the local government in 1965, and the remains from the coffins placed in urns and buried under neat rows of memorial stones


Former cemeteries in Singapore Wikipedia

Similar Topics
Darryn Anthony
Maria Mukhortova
Kyle Roller