Fort Tanjong Katong

From 1879 to 1901, Fort Tanjong Katong stood on the eastern side of Singapore, adjacent to Katong Beach on what is now Meyer Road and Fort Road. It lent its name to Fort Road, which led to the base of the fort. Built by the British colonial government, Fort Tanjong Katong was one of the oldest forts on the island of Singapore.1 It formed part of a series of defensive batteries and fortifications along the southern coast of Singapore, which protected Singapore’s town and busy port. However, the fort’s isolated location was a major disadvantage. Moreover, with insufficient troops to man the fort and the lack of a clean water supply in the area, it was eventually abandoned by the military and later buried until it was rediscovered around 2001.2

Construction and upgrade
William Drummond Jervois (Sir), who was appointed governor of the Straits Settlements in 1875, suggested that key improvements be made to Singapore’s defence structures. In 1878, works began at Mount Siloso, Mount Blakan Mati and Tanjong Katong. The fortifications were designed by McCallum of the Royal Engineers, who was brought in from Hong Kong for the project. Construction of the battery at Fort Tanjong Katong began in March 1879 and was completed in September that same year.3

Built to protect Singapore from potential Russian invaders, Fort Tanjong Katong started with three 7-inch rifled muzzle loading (RML) guns, possibly manufactured by Armstrong. In 1885, the fort’s three-gun battery was replaced by a pair of longer range and more powerful 8-inch breech loading guns.4 The fort was an example of military camouflage built by the British to satisfy merchants who feared that they might be attacked from the east.5

Calls to demolish Fort Tanjong Katong surfaced within five years after the completion of upgrading works in 1888. These calls led to a debate lasting some 10 years between the Colonial Defence Committee in London and the Local Defence Committee in Singapore. By 1901, the fort was rendered obsolete. It was then abandoned and the guns removed and decommissioned. The fort was subsequently buried as this was easier than dismantling it and wasting manpower. The site eventually became a public park. A part of the bastion had remained above ground until it was buried in the late 1960s when land reclamation took place in the East Coast area.6

In 2001, the outline of the bastion wall became visible during a dry spell in Singapore, which prompted a local resident to contact the authorities to investigate what it was and its origin.7 In 2004, the Mountbatten Citizens Consultative Committee raised $200,000 for the excavation and in 10 months, with the help of volunteers and archaeologists, they managed to uncover nearly the entire perimeter of the wall as well as two infantry bastions. However, as there were no plans for the next phase of excavation, a decision to backfill the fort was made. The fort was reburied by the National Parks Board to protect it from the weather, prevent the chances of the dug-out pits breeding mosquitoes and so that no one would fall into the 2-metre deep holes.8

Fully uncovered by the archaeological excavation with traces of a moat and near intact perimeter wall, Fort Tanjong Katong was considered by local archaeologists as one of Singapore’s most important archaeological finds of 19th-century Singapore.9

Katrina van Dinter

1. Jeremy Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up – and Buried Again,” Straits Times, 9 April 2006, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lee Hup Kheng and Kevin Chan, “Hidden Fortress,” New Paper, 2 November 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lim Chen Sian, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project: Preliminary Site Report Version 1.2,” 2. Southeast-Asian Archaeology, accessed 24 January 2017.
4. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up”; Lim, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project,” 6–7.
5. R. N. Walling, “Fortress Carved Out of Jungle,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Lim, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project,” 6–7; Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”
7. Tay Tsen-Waye, “Work Begins to Unearth Fort,” Today, 25 October 2004, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”
9. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”

Further resources
N. Tan, “A Rare Photograph of Fort Tanjong Katong,” Blog, 12 July 2007.

Peter W. Stubbs, “Fort Siloso: Other Batteries & Defences,” accessed 22 March 2018.

Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2004). (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])

Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 191–93. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as of 2009 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.

National defence
Fortification--Singapore--History--19th century