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Construction of Fort Canning begins 1st Mar 1859

Fort Canning was one of Singapore’s first British-built fortifications. Named after then Governor-General and later first Viceroy of India (1856–1862) Viscount Charles John Canning, Fort Canning was a redoubt following the contour of the top of Government Hill.[1] The purpose of the fort was to protect Singapore town from a sea attack,[2] oversee the security of the town, as well as to serve as a refuge for European residents in the event of social disturbance.[3] In fact, part of the impetus to build the fort was concern over the safety of European residents especially after the occurrence of a series of social strife, one of which was the Indian Mutiny in 1857.[4]

Construction of the fort was carried out by a force of between 500 and 600 convict labourers.[5] It began on 1 March 1859 and was largely completed by May the following year. The fort was handed over to the military in 1861 and became fully functional by 1864.[6] There were two parts to Fort Canning, namely, the main fort and the south battery. The main fort was equipped with eight 8-inch guns and two 13-inch mortars, while the sea facing south battery held seven 68-pounder guns.[7] Amenities such as the officers’ quarters, barracks and canteen were located in the main fort.[8] The entrance to Fort Canning consisted of a main gate with its distinctive Gothic archway located at the north side of the hill as well as a sally port.[9]

Following the completion of Fort Canning, Government Hill was renamed Fort Canning Hill.[10] The fort remained standing on top of the hill until it was decommissioned in 1907. During the period that the fort was in service, it did not witness any battles and its cannons were used for other purposes such as to signal the time of day and alert the town to fires.[11] In 1926, most of the fort, except for the main gate and sally port, was torn down to make way for a reservoir.[12]

1. Cameron, J. (2007). Our tropical possessions in Malayan India (pp. 240–241). Singapore: Ascanio Books. Call no.: RSING 959.503 CAM; Tyers, R. K. (1976). Singapore, then & now (p. 39). Singapore: University Education Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE.
2. Murfett , M. H., et. al. (2011). Between two oceans: A military history of Singapore from 1275 to 1971 (p. 83). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. Call no.: RSING 355.0095957 BET.
3. Murfett, 2011, pp. 82–83.
4. Murfett, 2011, pp. 82–83; Seet, K. K. (2000). The Istana (pp. 24–25). Singapore: Times Editions. Call no.: RART 725.17095957 IST.
5. Murfett, 2011, p. 84.
6. Murfett, 2011, p. 82.
7. Murfett, 2011, pp. 85-86.
8. Murfett, 2011, p. 86
9. Murfett, 2011, p. 86.
10. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S .A. (2003). Toponymics: A study of Singapore street names (pp. 127–128). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA].
11. Diagana, M., & Angresh, J. (2013). Fort Canning Hill: Exploring Singapore's heritage and nature (p. 38). Singapore: ORO Editions. Call no.: RSING 959.57 DIA.
12. Diagana & Angresh, 2013, p. 39.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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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