Pulau Brani

Pulau Brani, which means "Isle of the Brave" in Malay, is an island located located south of Singapore's Central Region. The island was once the home of the Orang Laut. For a while Brani island had a brick kiln, a coal depot, a tin smelting plant, and a ship-repairing dock. It was also for many years a colonial, and later a naval, facility for the Republic of Singapore Navy until it shifted operations to Tuas.

There were several different names for Pulau Brani in the early Singapore maps: Pulau Ayer Brani, Island of Ayer Brannie and Pulo Brani. The island derived its name from a well at the top of the hill, the water of which was supposed to have had potent qualities. There was also a kolam (tank) formed out of the natural rock on the Tanjong Pagar side of the island which received the overflow from the well, and in which people used to bathe. The remains of this tank can still be seen. The island was once the location of two coastal villages of Orang Laut, also known as Singapore's sea gypsies.

Early developments
In late 1838, C. R. Princep wanted to construct buildings and a patent slip, but no lease could be issued until the area had been surveyed. In January 1846, former ship captain Jacob Clunis, designed and proposed the erection of a 300-foot (91-metre) long, 68-foot (20.7-metre) wide, 15-foot (4.5-metre) deep dry dock, in place of the patent slip that was never built by Princep. Clunis's idea also never materialised due to insufficient funds, so he erected a brickworks, and a yard for repairing small boats. However, these did not last as the government repossessed the island for defence purposes, and Pulau Brani became a small repair dock for British naval vessels. In March 1862, Messagerie Maritime Impales erected a coaling depot. In 1865, the naval coal depot was completed, with two coal sheds, a small house for the superintendent, a quay wall and a short wooden pier. On the west side of the island, shipwrights J. C. Buyers and Daniel Robbs opened a small ship-repairing dock that was 300-foot long and 75-foot (22.9-metre) wide in August 1866.

The eastern part of the island was for a long time known for its shallow waters and stretch of reefs – which were probably what caused the SS Himalaya to run aground on Pulau Brani in 1868. The Straits Trading Company set up a modern Western-style tin smelting plant in 1890. The facility was equipped with a three-ton reverberatory furnace for smelting tin ore shipped from the Malay states, Siam and Australia. In 1904, the Bon Accord Dock & Yard also had ship-repair facilities on the island.

World War II
The British destroyed rubber stocks and the tin smelting plant just before the fall of Singapore during WWII. Activities on the island resumed after the war. A 1966 map shows the Straits Trading Company still in existance on the island at the time. Pulau Brani, until the early 1990s, was home to the Republic of Singapore Navy.

More than half the island accommodates a container terminal and other port facilities, and a causeway links Pulau Brani with the mainland as a convenience to harbour operations.

Variant Names
Early names: In 1822 survey charts, the island was known as Pulau Ayer Brani; in 1846, Captain Edward Belcher of the British Royal Navy called it "Gage island".
Cantonese names: (1) San chu-shek tui-min (Opposite the new tin smelting); (2) Chha-tin ma-thau tui-min (Opposite Jardine's jetty)

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Bogaars, G. (1956). Tanjong Pagar Dock Company 1864-1905 (pp. 92, 105, 270) [Microfilm: NL 10999]. Singapore: G.P.O.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.51BOG)

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 494, 704). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC) 

Tregonning, K. G. (1967). Home port Singapore: A history of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890-1965 (p.16). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 387.5095957 TRE)

Singapore chronicles (p. 184). (1995). Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine Pub.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN) 

Firmstone, H. W. (1905, January). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula . Straits Branch Royal Asiatic Society, 4, 158.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 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.

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