Fort Canning Cemetery


Fort Canning Cemetery was one of the first burial grounds for Christians in Singapore.1 Located on Fort Canning Hill, the grounds encompassed two burial sites.2 The first was used from 1819 to 1822, and the second from 1822 to 1865.3 Fort Canning Cemetery was closed to further burials in 1865, and eventually converted into a park.4

Original burial site
The first burial site of Fort Canning Cemetery was located near the hilltop, close to the bungalow built by Stamford Raffles. At least three burials were made here. The first was that of John Casamajor, a Commercial Resident of the British East India Company and judge who was visiting from India. He died in Singapore on 1 February 1821. The other two burials were those of John Carnegy, a ship captain who died on 12 February 1821, and John Collingwood, a ship commander who died on 21 November 1821.5


The cemetery was discontinued at the end of 1822 after it was found to be too close to Raffles’s residence. There are no visible traces of this cemetery due to the various rebuilding projects on the site over the years, the most significant of which was the construction of Fort Canning.6

Second burial site
The second burial site was located on the slopes of Fort Canning Hill. This parcel of land was listed as “Lot 576 – Burial ground on Government Hill, two acres” in the register of lands issued by Raffles and the second Resident of Singapore, John Crawfurd.7


The small cemetery soon became full, and Reverend Robert Burn, the resident chaplain, applied for a new burial site in May 1827. In April 1830, after some delay, then Governor Robert Fullerton authorised Reverend Burn to select and report on a more suitable site, or submit a proposal to enlarge the existing cemetery. Reverend Burn opted for the latter and included in his proposal a plan to enclose the newly enlarged area with a wall. On 6 October 1834, the expanded cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of Calcutta, Daniel Wilson.8

Due to the restricted size of the cemetery, segregation of Protestant and Catholic burials was not enforced strictly until 1845. In the same year, the cemetery was again extended to include land to the east of the central path. In 1846, a brick wall and a pair of gates of Gothic design were built to enclose the cemetery.9 These structures still stand today and are one of the main attractions of Fort Canning Park.10

Around the time of the wall’s construction, two arches were built on the south (seaward) and the land-facing sides of the burial ground. The arches and wall were designed by Charles Edward Faber, superintending engineer of the Straits Settlement.11

Closure of the cemetery
By the end of 1863, the cemetery was full again, and a new site in Bukit Timah was identified as an alternative burial site. Although Fort Canning cemetery was closed to further burials on 31 March 1865, the last burial at the cemetery was that of Marie Dominica Scott in December 1868, probably because her parents had been buried there.12

Between 1822 and 1865, more than 600 burials took place at the Fort Canning Cemetery. Around one-third of these burials were those of Chinese Christians.13

Renovation
Despite a repair and conservation order for the cemetery issued by Colonial Secretary Frederick Dickson in 1886, and occasional clean-up efforts by members of the public, the state of the burial ground deteriorated.14

As the cemetery’s burial register had been lost, the government hired H. A. Stallwood, a clerk, to recompile the burial register by copying details from gravestones. However, his task was complicated by the poor condition of some of the tombstones, the haphazard and crowded layout of the cemetery, as well as in-filling at the older sections. Stallwood’s report was published in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1912.15 The report showed that a large proportion of the gravestones and memorials were still in place, as were the paths dividing various sections as well as the dividing wall that segregated the Protestant and Catholic burials.16

In 1953, City Council’s Committee for the Preservation of Historic Sites and Antiquities announced that the cemetery would be turned into a “Garden of Memory”. The cemetery was said to be in a “bad state of repair” in 1952 before the plan was kickstarted.17 To preserve the gravestones that could still be salvaged, they were removed and built into the walls of the former cemetery. The remainder of the grounds was then gradually cleared over the next two decades.18 Many of the tombstones and statues from the old cemetery were transferred to the garden compound of the Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator on Hill Street. The twelve gravestones that now stand in the northeast corner of the old cemetery grounds are not part of the original cemetery. Instead, they were moved from the former Bukit Timah Cemetery, which closed in 1971.19 Nonetheless, visitors could still find some of the original monuments of Fort Canning Cemetery at Fort Canning Green, the site of the former cemetery. These include the cemetery’s two Gothic gates, the James Brooke Napier Memorial that was built in memory of the infant son of William and Maria Frances Napier, as well as two dome-shaped cupolas.20

Prominent burials
There were a number of prominent burials at the Fort Canning cemetery. One of them was José d’Almeida – the Portuguese consul-general and one of the earliest European merchants in Singapore – and his family. Another well-known personality laid to rest at Fort Canning was George D. Coleman, the Irish town-planner and architect who designed and constructed many of Singapore’s roads and public buildings during the early colonial period. Other notable personalities include Charles Spottiswoode, Armenian merchant Aristakes Sarkies and Captain William Scott.21




Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 4-5. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
2. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 4-5 and 8-9. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
3. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 4-5, 8-9. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
[4. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 8-10. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
5. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
6. Harfield, A. (1988). Early Cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 4–5. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
7. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
8. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 5–7. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
9. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
10. National Parks Board. (n.d.). Your guide to colonial history trail in Fort Canning Park, p. 6. Retrieved 2016, March 23 from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/gardens-parks-and-nature/diy-walk/diy-walk-pdf-files/colonial-history-trail-at-fcp.pdf?la=en
11. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
12. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 7–9. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
13. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
14. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
15. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, pp. 9–10. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR)
16. Diagana, M., & Angresh, J. (2013). Fort Canning Hill: Exploring Singapore’s heritage and nature. Singapore: ORO editions, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DIA)
17. Yeo, J. (1953, August 4). Bright garden is arising from cemetery. The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; Tombstones to go into wall – at Garden of Memory. (1954, May 21). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Harfield, A. (1988). Early cemeteries in Singapore. London: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 929.5095957 HAR); Graves to become a garden soon. (1953, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 8; Colonial graves to make way for park. (1974, July 22). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Diagana, M., & Angresh, J. (2013). Fort Canning Hill: Exploring Singapore’s heritage and nature. Singapore: ORO editions, pp. 6, 38. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DIA)
20. National Parks Board. (n.d.). Your guide to colonial history trail in Fort Canning Park, pp. 1, 6. Retrieved 2016, June 16 from National Parks Board website at: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/gardens-parks-and-nature/diy-walk/diy-walk-pdf-files/colonial-history-trail-at-fcp.pdf?la=en
21. Diagana, M., & Angresh, J. (2013). Fort Canning Hill: Exploring Singapore’s heritage and nature. Singapore: ORO editions, p. 64. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DIA)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Streets and Places
Cemeteries--Singapore
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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