Pulau Ubin is an island located on the north-eastern coast of Singapore, with Selat Johore to the north and Serangoon Harbour to the south.1Its name is derived from its original Malay name, Pulau Batu Jubin, which means “Island of Granite Stones”.2Granite quarries provided the initial draw for early local settlement, and much of the island’s granite was used for Singapore’s early developments.3Today, Pulau Ubin is a nature and leisure island with amenities for rustic and outdoor recreational activities.
History In 1825, exactly one year after Singapore was ceded to the British,John Crawfurd, the Resident, made an expedition around Pulau Ubin, or Pulo Obin as it was spelt then, to take formal possession of it. Crawfurd’s party landed on the island on 4 August 1825, hoisted the British flag and fired a 21-gun salute. The island’s occupants then were a few woodcutters living in huts.4In the 1880s, there was a major move of local settlers to the island, and it is believed that a certain Encik Endun Senin, who had been living along Kallang River, had initiated this move. Chinese quarry workers soon followed. By 2000, the island had 250 residents, most of whom were fishermen.5
World War II The Japanese army occupied Pulau Ubin on the evening of 7 February 1942 during World War II. The next day, it began a heavy bombardment ofChangi. The Changi fortress artillery countered with great intensity but with little effect, destroying only rubber trees on the island. Despite its actions, the Japanese had no real intention of landing in the east. It was a tactic merely to distract the British. That night, the enemy made its assault across the narrowest part of theJohore Strait, and the defenders of Changi had to stand idle while the Japanese breezed through rapidly, gaining a stranglehold on the western part of Singapore island.6
Description Serangoon Harbour separates Pulau Ubin from mainland Singapore. Shaped like a boomerang and covered with low hills, this 1,000-hectare island was named for the light-blue granite found on its seven granite hills.7The granite has been used for many early developments in Singapore. These included theHorsburgh Lighthouse(1851) whose granite block walls were quarried and shaped at Pulau Ubin byIndian convicts, and theSingapore-Johore Causewaywhich was made with granite from Pulau Ubin as well as granite found atBukit Timah.8Today, Pulau Ubin’s five disused quarries still exist; they are Aik Hwa Quarry, HDB Granite Quarry, RDC Quarry, Ubin Granite Quarry and Ho Man Choo Granite Quarry. The last is used for military training.9
The rock cliffs on Pulau Ubin are ideal for abseiling, in which climbers scale down rock faces with ropes. With a secondary forest covering most of its western corner, the island was also renowned for wild boars and deer that attracted tigers from Johore.10
Pulau Ubin’s unspoilt territory is ideal for camping and simple pleasures like walking and exploring. There are many Malaykampongs(villages) here, with Pulau Ubin Village being the island centre. Wooden houses, duck ponds and stray chickens are common features of life here.11All these, together with the granite quarries, coconut and rubber plantations,mangrove swamps, fish and prawn farms, and traditional fishingkelongscombine to createa rustic atmosphere, making Pulau Ubin an ideal recreational getaway for Singaporeans. Presently, there are also two privately-owned shrimp and fish farms, seven Chinese temples and eight shrines.12
Pulau Ubin is accessible by a 10-minute boat ride from Changi Point. A day on the island is incomplete without a sumptuous meal at a seafood restaurant, and a visit to the colourful and magnificent Thai Ma Chor temple by the seashore.13
Nature and environment The island has an extensive variety of wildlife, including 141 species of birds, such as the buffy fish-owl and magpie robin, which are no longer found on mainland Singapore. Of note too is theRed Jungle Fowland theDugong(from Malay word duyong), a “whale-like sirenian mammal” which thrives in the tropical waters of the island.14There are swamps in the central parts of the island, and some of the most viable and extensive (and maybe the last) mangroves in Singapore.15Fringing the northern and western shorelines, these are vital sources of food for the wildlife that the island holds, especially migratory birds.16
Plans and developments In 1988, developmental plans drawn up for Pulau Ubin envisaged the island becoming a nature park complete with trails, shelters, camping sites, chalets and other basic amenities. Much of its natural environment would be preserved. In the 1990s, two new sites were proposed for development for rustic holiday and outdoor recreation retreats, to complement the existingNational Police Cadet Corpscampsites and the 257-hectare Outward Bound School.17
An expressway and aMass Rapid Transitrail system linking the island to the mainland are planned for 2030 and beyond. It is hoped that the island will retain its rustic charm as the last bastion of “kampong Singapore”, even as it serves as a venue for sports and recreational activities, and a getaway destination for Singaporeans.18 Legends One of the legends surrounding Pulau Ubin is the tale of three creatures, a pig, an elephant and a frog, who had challenged one another to reach Johor from the island. The last one there would be turned to stone. As it was, none of them made it. Pulau Ubin grew out of the elephant and the pig while Pulau Sekudu, translated as Frog Island, came out of the petrified frog.19
Variant names Malay name: Pulau Batu Jubin, referring to the granite stones which are believed to be more than 200 years old.20 Chinese name:Chioh-sua in Hokkien, which means Stone Hill.21 Other names: In Javanese, according to Pierre Etienne Lazare Favre (1812–1887) in Dictionnaire Javanais-Francais,ubin means “squared stone”, a reference to the granite stones.22
The information in this article is valid as at2001and 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.