The ‘Tombs of Malayan Princes’

16 07 2013

Lying somewhat obscurely and hidden at Jalan Kubor off Victoria Street is the Old Malay Cemetery. The cemetery, which is across Jalan Kubor from the Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah Cemetery, another old Muslim cemetery better know perhaps for an incident in 1972 involving two gunmen, is the oldest Malay burial ground in Singapore on record. Quite prominently identified on maps dating from the 1820s and 1830s, it is shown on J. B. Tassin’s Map (Map of The Town and Environs, Singapore) of 1836,  as the ‘Tombs of Malayan Princes’.


The burial grounds are described in a heritage trail guide put together by the National Heritage Board (NHB) on Kampong Glam:


In the early maps of Singapore, these burial grounds were marked as “Mohamedan cemetery” and “Tombs of Malayan Princes”. According to 19th century reports, there were three distinct burial plots here – a 5 1/3 acre Malay cemetery, the 3-acre Sultan’s family burial grounds located within the Malay cemetery and a cemetery for Indian Muslims. In 1875, the municipality closed down the Malay cemetery but agreed to the Sultan’s request that his family could continue to use the royal burial grounds. The sultan’s burial grounds were walled in and the graves were situated in elevated plots. It was noted in the early 20th century that non-Muslims were not allowed to enter them.

An extract of Tassin's map of 1836 showing the location of the "Tombs of the Malayan Princes".

An extract of Tassin’s map of 1836 showing the location of the ‘Tombs of the Malayan Princes’.

More information on the cemetery also came to light during a recent talk by A/Prof Imran bin Tajudeen of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Architecture. A synopsis written for the talk also provides some insight into the area and the cemetery:

Several old settlements existed in Singapore besides the Temenggong’s estuarine settlement at Singapore River before Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Among these, Kampung Gelam and the Rochor and Kallang River banks were also sites of historic graveyards related to old settlements of Singapura both before and during colonial rule. The Jalan Kubor cemetery is the only sizable cemetery grounds still largely undisturbed. It belongs with Kampung Gelam history but has been excluded from the “Kampong Glam Conservation District” boundary, and is important for several reasons. It forms part of the old royal port town that was developed when Tengku Long of Riau was installed as Sultan Hussein in Singapore, and is aligned along the royal axis of the town. It is also the final resting place of several traders of diverse ethnicity from the old port towns of our region – neighbouring Riau, Palembang, and Pontianak, as well as Banjarmasin and the Javanese and Bugis ports further afield. Some of these individuals are buried in family enclosures, mausolea, or clusters. Conversely, there are also hundreds of graves of unnamed individuals from Kampung Gelam and surrounding areas. The tombstone forms and epigraphy reflect this immense socio-cultural diversity, and were carved in Kampung Gelam by Javanese and Chinese stone carvers, except for a number of special cases. Several large trees of great age are also found in this lush ‘pocket park’.


St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching

7 07 2013

The capital of the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, Kuching, has some rather unusual pieces of architecture, the recently completed DUN Sarawak being one. Another is the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, consecrated in 1969 as St. Joseph’s Church, replacing a much older Neo-Gothic style church which was built by Chinese labourers during the reign of Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah in 1891. Elevated to a cathedral in 1976 when the Kuching Archdiocese was established, the building features an unusual roof structure somewhat reminiscent of that of the Church of the Blessed  Sacrament in Singapore. The roof in this case is made up of very dense belian wood.


Besides the cathedral’s building, what is also interesting is the parish cemetery next to it. The cemetery is where the graves of 21 Iban warriors who gave their lives during the Malayan Emergency, the remains of which have been recovered from various parts of Malaysia and Singapore for reburial at the cemetery in 2011.





When gunmen roamed the streets of Singapore: A showdown at Jalan Kubor

23 01 2010

Having mentioned in my post on the old Protestant Cemetery in Penang that I wasn’t particularly fond of wandering around cemeteries, I found myself drawn to another cemetery while passing through the part of Victoria Street near Kampong Glam one day. As I looked out at Jalan Kubor from the safety of the car, I remembered an incident that happened at the cemetery there when I was a boy of eight,  that had somehow left a lasting impression on me. In the incident, the final scene of what was a real-life drama had been played out at the Madrasah Aljunied Cemetery at Jalan Kubor. This involved two of Singapore’s most dangerous criminals, Abdul Wahab and Mustapha, the Hassan brothers on a December’s evening in 1972. Cornered at their hideout at the cemetery and desperate and outnumbered during what was to be a final confrontation with the police on the 16 December 1972, Wahab shot his younger brother and turned the gun on himself, bringing an end to a one and a half month long reign of terror which had begun with Wahab’s escape from Changi Prison where he was being held for armed robbery.

Jalan Kubor which literally means “Grave Road” in Malay.

The Hassan brothers were behind a gun smuggling syndicate set up together with a few others in October of 1972 and along with several accomplices, staged a series of daring armed robberies at several petrol stations in the Bukit Timah area as well as at a goldsmith’s shop in Geylang. In the period that followed leading up to their last stand at Jalan Kubor, the two had several encounters with the police, including a shootout at Labrador Park during which a policeman and Mustapha himself were shot, and a successful rescue attempt staged by Wahab to free Mustapha from police custody while he was being treated at Outram Hospital just a few days prior to the brothers deaths. The latter incident also involved the abduction of a taxi driver and a policeman.

The Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah Cemetery off Jalan Kubor and Victoria Street was where two gunmen met their deaths in 1972.

The early 1970s seemed to have had more than a fair share of gunmen. Many of these gunmen, as with the Hassan brothers, did not have second thoughts when it came to pulling the trigger. Shootouts between the gunmen and the police were all too frequent. One that involved another gunman on the run, Ng Ah Bai, in April 1973, saw a police detective killed. Closer to home in July 1970, a gunman Tan Chian Lai also known as Hun Cher, shot himself, after being cornered in a flat in Block 64 Toa Payoh. A massive manhunt had been launched for the reportedly trigger happy Tan, who had killed a watch dealer in a robbery at a shop in North Bridge Road. Just a few weeks before the showdown at Jalan Kubor, another notorious gunman, Lim Ban Lim, had been shot dead by police in a gun battle in Margaret Drive after being on the run for nine years, getting away with $2.5 million during that time. The alarming rise in such incidents led to the introduction of harsh penalties for gun offences – new laws were passed in 1973 stipulating a mandatory death penalty for anyone using or attempting to use a firearm to cause injury.

While trying to find out a bit more about the cemetery, I also stumbled upon an article relating to the exhumation of the grave of a certain Ngah Ibrahim, which reportedly was located in the cemetery. Ngah Ibrahim, originally from Perak, was notable for a fortune made from the tin mines of Perak and as the headman of Larut. He was apparently implicated in the assassination of the first British resident to Perak, James Birch and sent by the British into exile in the Seychelles, before ending up in Singapore, where he died in 1895.

in April 1973