The Singapore Stone

The Singapore Stone, sandstone slab, ancient relic, currently on exhibit at Singapore History Museum. The slab is one of three pieces of a large boulder discovered in June 1819 and blown up in 1843 to widen the mouth of the Singapore River. It had an indecipherable ancient script, pointing to a possible extension of the Majapahit civilisation on the island. 

A monolithic, weathered boulder made of coarse sandstone, the original Singapore Stone rose to about 3 m high and was 3 m wide. It stood at a promontory known as the Rocky Point, at the Southeast side of the mouth of the Singapore River. Its location was known at various times as Artillery Point, Fort Fullerton and the Master Attendants Office. The Merlion Statue had previously been located at an extension of that spot. Munshi Abdullah in 1819, noted that curious onlookers of all nationalities came in crowds to see the stone. Most significant, the rock had about 50 lines of indecipherable inscriptions which is believed to hold secrets to Singapore's ancient history. This rock had often been mistaken for another stone found nearby and revered as a religious object, called Batu Kepala Todak (in Malay means "swordfish rock" because of its shape) by the Orang Laut (in Malay means "sea gypsies").

Along with the ancient walls around Fort Canning, the stone points to an ancient civilisation linked to the Majapahit era which had set root on the island. The original rock was discovered in June 1819 by labourers clearing forest trees and jungle, on a spot called 'Rocky Point'. The first effectual study of the fragments was by epigrapher and Dutch scholar H. Kern. He succeeded in deciphering a few words, and gave the probable date of inscription as around 1230 AD. Even Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was involved in trying to decipher the inscriptions on this huge rock. Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (a.k.a. Munshi Abdullah) recorded Sir Stamford Raffles taking Rev. Claudius Henry Thomsen and himself, to see what he described as a 'remarkable stone' in October 1822. Other scholars believed the stone engravings to be in an ancient script, possibly in ancient Sanskrit, commonly used between the 12th and 14th century Majapahit era. Many historians believed these writings held the keys to Singapore's ancient past but none could decipher its contents.

In 1843, it was blown upon the orders of acting Settlement Engineer, Captain Stevenson, to clear and widen the passageway at the mouth of the Singapore River; and to provide space for Fort Fullerton and its living-quarters. Various sources note that George D. Coleman was responsible for the stone's destruction, but he had been on leave at the time of its blasting. Lt-Colonel James Low, who had opposed the blasting, arrived at the scene shortly after the blast and managed to salvage at least three slabs with the inscription. Two slabs were sent to the Royal Asiatic Society's Museum in Calcutta for analysis, where they arrived in about June 1848. The only surviving relic of the Singapore Stone is on exhibit at the Singapore History Museum, formerly the Singapore National Museum, at Stamford Road.

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Abdullah Abdul Kadir Munshi. (1969). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, 1797-1854 (pp. 13, 110, 165-167). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSEA 959.51032 ABD) 

Begbie, P. J. (1834). The Malayan Peninsula, embracing its history, manners and customs of the inhabitants, politics, natural history from its earliest records (p. 355) [Microfilm no.: NL 5827]. Madras: Vepery Mission Press.
(Call no.: RRARE 959.5 BEG) 

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867 (pp. 89-90). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC) 

Davies, Donald. (1954). Old Singapore (pp. 9-11) [Microfilm no.: NL 10071]. Singapore: D. Moore.
(Call no.: RSEA 959.51 DAV)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 1, pp. 4-5). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Miksic, J. N. (1984). Archaeological research on the "Forbidden Hill" of Singapore: Excavations at Fort Canning (pp. 13, 40-42). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 MIK) 

Singapore lifeline: The river and its people (pp. 17-19). (1986). Singapore: Times Books International. 
(Call no.: RSING 779.995957 SIN)

Tyers, Ray K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now (p. 144). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE) 

Wright, A. (Ed.). (1989). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources (p. 32). Singapore: G. Bras.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 TWE) 

The information in this article is valid as at 2001 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.

1826-1867 Straits settlements
Arts>>Art museums, collections and exhibitions
1819-1826 Founding and early years
Architecture and Landscape
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore

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