Jalan Kubor Cemetery

The Jalan Kubor Cemetery is the oldest Muslim cemetery in Singapore. Located off Victoria Street, it contains the graves of many prominent Malays and Muslims from the 19thand 20th centuries. The cemetery is made up of three sections: one plot reserved for Malay royalty, an adjoining site for Muslim burials that came under the care of the Aljunied family, and a third area originally designated for Indian Muslims that later became popular with Bugis and Banjar merchants. The cemetery was the focus of a study commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB), which took place between December 2014 and May 2015. The study found gravestones with inscriptions in various scripts – an indication of the cultural diversity that once existed in nearby Kampong Glam. The cemetery is no longer in operation and has been earmarked for residential development since 1998.1

Legal disputes
A legal tussle over a plot of burial ground in 1898 furnishes some information on the beginnings of the Jalan Kubor Cemetery. In March 1898, the Supreme Court heard the case of Syed Abdul Rahman bin Ali Aljunied versus George d’Almeida, which was a dispute over an Arab burial ground on Rochor Road. The plaintiff, Syed Abdul Rahman, claimed that the burial land was part of a plot granted by Sultan Ali (son of Sultan Hussein Shah of Singapore) to Syed Omar Aljunied through a deed of indenture dated 1 February 1842. On 1 September 1852, Syed Omar willed the land as a living bequest, under the trusteeship of his family members, to be used as a burial ground for Muslims. Over the decades, the trusteeship of the land changed hands until August 1897, when Syed Abdul Rahman claimed possession of the land.2 The defendant, d’Almeida, claimed that he had purchased the land from Haji Abdul Gani, a dependent of Sultan Ali, by an indenture dated 20 September 1897 for $2,500. He also claimed that Abdul Gani had previously acquired the land by a grant made in fee to him by Sultan Ali on 13 March 1875.3

Syed Abdul Rahman’s claim to the land was dismissed on appeal as the original 1842 deed had been lost.4 It was not a happy ending for d’Almeida either. Interpreting the court’s dismissal of Syed Abdul Rahman’s claim as validating the legality of his land title, d’Almeida proceeded to build on and make substantial improvements to the land. However, d’Almeida was brought to court by the colonial government in 1907 for refusing to hand over the land.5 The judge ruled that the land reverted to the government as Crown land after the death of Sultan Ali in 1877, hence voiding the grant Sultan Ali made to Abdul Gani as well as the latter’s grant to d’Almeida.6

Sultan’s Burial Ground
The Jalan Kubor Cemetery in fact grew out of three separate burial grounds located in close proximity to one another. One section was referred to as Tombs of the Malayan Princes on an old map by the colonial architect G. D. Coleman that was published in Calcutta and London in 1836 and1839 respectively.7 This part of the cemetery was reserved for the royal household of Sultan Hussein, although the sultan and his son Sultan Ali were both buried in Malacca.8 In 1875, the municipal engineer’s report on burial grounds in Singapore referred to this section as the Sultan’s Burial Ground. It covered an area of 3 ac with the entrance at Victoria Street. Despite its status as the burial ground for royalty, the report observed that anyone could in fact bury their dead there, which resulted in the area being packed with graves. The area was also described as being “in a very neglected state” with no one looking after the place. The report thus recommended the closure of the burial ground by fencing it in.9 The great-grandson of Sultan Hussein, Tengku Hussain bin Tengku Haji Ali, was one of the last royal descendants to be laid to rest at the family’s burial ground following his death in 1954.10

Malay Burial Ground
Another section of the cemetery, which adjoined the Sultan’s Burial Ground, was referred to in the municipal engineer’s report of 1875 as the Malay Burial Ground. It was located in the part of Victoria Street near Rochor Canal and occupied an area of around 5.3 ac. Unlike the royal burial ground, this area was well maintained and already fenced in. The report noted that there was an average of 22 burials per month in the area for the past year. A registrar by the name of Mahomet Syed was also recording information such as the name, sex, age, residence, disease and date of death of the people buried there. The reported also pointed out that the area was commonly known as Syed Omar’s burial ground.11 The name was probably in reference to Syed Omar’s deed bequeathing the land for Muslim burials and the fact that Syed Omar was also buried there following his death in 1852.12 As more members of the Aljunied family were entombed there, the area also became known as the Aljunied burial ground. Syed Omar’s nephew, Syed Alwee bin Ali Aljunied, was another prominent figure of the Aljunied family who was laid to rest at the cemetery.13

Indian Muslim Burial Ground
The third section of the cemetery came into being when Sultan Ali granted a plot of land to the Indian Muslims residing in Kampong Glam for use as a burial ground. The land deed was dated 26 August 1848 for a plot of land at the junction of Victoria Street and Jalan Sultan.14 The municipal engineer’s report of 1875 referred to this area as the Kling (Cloth Sellers) Burial Ground. It was described as occupying three-quarters of an acre, only a small portion of which was then occupied. The area was next to the Sultan’s Burial Ground and could be entered from Victoria Street. The site was fenced in and well maintained by attendants who stayed in an onsite building.15 The burial ground later came to be known among the Indian Muslims as the Tittacheri Muslim Cemetery and Mosque and, from 1909, was administered by a group of trustees comprising well-known merchants from that community.16 In 1911, the government assigned the land and premises to the trustees for a period of 999 years.17

Between the late 1850s and ’60s, the three burial grounds that later became collectively known as the Jalan Kubor Cemetery caught the government’s attention due to high burial rates. Around 1858, the municipal commissioners were alerted to the overcrowded state of the “Mohamedan Burial ground in Campong Sultan” through a petition by the Malays, suggesting that the grounds had reached its limits. This resulted in the unhealthy practice of placing corpses near the surface, which triggered a noxious odour when sunlight hit the burial ground after heavy rains. Passing by the area during these periods was described as “equivalent to walking through a charnel house”.18 The squalid state of the area must have triggered the instruction to the municipal engineer in 1863 to examine the “Victoria Street Malay burial ground”, which was reported as being too full.19 An interesting note from one of the reports was that the Malay merchant marines in the form of “Javanese lascars” (sailors) were among those who were interned in the Victoria Street cemetery.20


In 1875, the municipal commissioners decided to close the Sultan’s Burial Ground after reading the municipal engineer’s report on the public burial grounds.21 The area was ordered to be fenced in in 1883,22 where previously it was open on all sides to any visitor.23 It was later enclosed by high walls.24 The Malay Burial Ground was closed for public burials in 1901, but it continued to be used by the Aljunied family until as late as the 1920s.25

The Indian Muslim Burial Ground at the junction of Victoria Street and Jalan Sultan was still in use after World War II. The Indian Muslims also built a mosque on the burial plot, but it fell into disrepair and was abandoned until around 1929 when it was taken over by the Malabar Muslim Jammaat. The Jammaat, together with merchant A. H. Siddique, collected funds and rebuilt the mosque in 1963. The mosque continues to function today, although the Indian Muslim Burial Ground is now closed.26 In 1997, the area was reported to contain around 300 graves.27

Graves of prominent persons
In October 2002, around 70 remains of the Aljunied family, including that of Syed Omar, were exhumed from the Jalan Kubor Cemetery and transferred to the surrounding premises of the Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque on Keng Cheow Street. The Singapore Land Authority had acquired the cemetery grounds in 1987.28

In 2004, the grave of Ngah Ibrahim, a 19th-century warrior from Perak, was discovered at the Jalan Kubor Cemetery. Ngah Ibrahim and his father-in-law, Mohamad Amin Alang, had been implicated in the 1875 assassination of Perak’s first British Resident, James Birch, and were exiled to Seychelles in 1877. On appeal, they were allowed to return to Sarawak, and then to Singapore, where they remained until their death. Ngah Ibrahim was buried in the Aljunied burial ground section of the Jalan Kubor Cemetery, while his father-in-law was buried in Pusara Aman Cemetery in Choa Chu Kang. The remains of both warriors were subsequently exhumed and returned to Perak.29

In January 2014, the NHB announced a project to document the history and the people buried at the Jalan Kubor Cemetery. The site has been earmarked for residential development in the Urban Renewal Authority’s masterplan since 1998, but development plans have not been announced.30 The documentation project discovered gravestones with inscriptions in multiple scripts such as Arabic, Malay, Javanese Aksara, Bugis Aksara, Gujarati, English and Chinese, indicating the cultural diversity of the people who lived or operated in the Kampong Glam area. The project also unearthed the remains of many prominent personalities.31 Among them were wealthy Bugis merchant Ambo Sooloh and his successful merchant father Haji Omar Ali.32 Another was the grave of Haji Abu Naim (also known as Haji Osman), a Malay merchant from Banjarmasin (in present-day South Kalimantan of Indonesia).33 Ambo Sooloh, who died in 1963, is probably the last person to be buried in the cemetery.34

Nor Afidah Abd Rahman

1. Melody Zaccheus, “Uncovering Secrets of 19th Century S’pore,” Straits Times, 5 September 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Supreme Court,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 29 March 1898, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “The Crown’s Land Action,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 15 October 1907, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “The Appeal Court,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 October 1898, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Action By Government,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 9 October 1907, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Crown’s Land Action.”
6. “The Crown Land Case,” Straits Times, 15 October 1907, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Kramats of Singapore,” Straits Times, 11 April 1939, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “The Sultans of Singapore,” Straits Times, 19 April 1939, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Municipal Engineer’s Office,” Straits Observer (Singapore), 21 September 1875, 3; “Municipal Commissioners,” Straits Times, 25 September 1875, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Tengku Hussain Dies, 49,” Straits Times, 17 August 1954, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Municipal Engineer’s Office”; “Municipal Commissioners.”
12. “Supreme Court”; “Domestic Occurrence. Death,” Straits Times, 16 November 1852, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “The Late Syed Alwee,” Singapore Free Press, 10 April 1926, 8 (From NewspaperSG). Although the newspaper report mentions Syed Omar, who bequeathed the land, as Syed Alwee’s grandfather, Syed Alwee bin Ali Aljunied is actually the son of Syed Ali bin Mohamad Aljunied, the cousin of Syed Omar. Syed Omar had five sons: Abdullah, Ali, Haroon, Junied and Abu Bakar. See. James William Norton Kyshe, Cases Heard and Determined in Her Majesty's Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements, 1808–1890, vol. 1 (Singapore: Singapore and Straits Printing Office, 1885), 439 (From BookSG); “The Jubilee Memorial,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 7 March 1887, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Ahmad Ibrahim, The Legal Status of the Muslims in Singapore (Singapore: Malayan Law Journal, 1965), 60–61 (Call no. RSING 342.087 AHM)
15. “Municipal Engineer’s Office”; “Municipal Commissioners.”
16. Ibrahim, Legal Status of the Muslims, 61; “Election of Mohammedan Trustees,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 10 February 1909, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Ibrahim, Legal Status of the Muslims, 61.
18. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 30 March 1861, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Municipal Council,” Straits Times, 26 September 1863, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Untitled.”
21. “Municipal Commissioners”; “Municipal Commissioners,” Straits Observer (Singapore), 8 October 1875, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Untitled,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 15 January 1883, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Municipal Engineer’s Office”; “Municipal Commissioners.”
24. “Kramats of Singapore,” Straits Times, 11 April 1939, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Social and Personal,” Straits Times, 10 April 1926, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Ibrahim, Legal Status of the Muslims, 61; Ahmad Mohd Don, “Perkuburan ‘Kaya’ Dekat Masjid Malabar…,” Berita Harian, 25 September 1984, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Aref A. Ghouse, “Kubur Lama Islam Mula Dicatat Dalam Mikrofilem,” Berita Harian, 31 May 1997, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Saini Salleh, “Dari Jalan Kubor ke Masjid Omar,” Berita Harian, 6 October 2002, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Warriors Back to Perak – 129 Years Later,” Today, 8 September 2006, 8; Zubaidah Nazeer, “I Was Close to Tears,” New Paper, 7 September 2006, 5(From NewspaperSG)
30. Melody Zaccheus, “NHB Project to Document Malay Cemetery,” Straits Times, 6 January 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Melody Zaccheus, “Uncovering Secrets of 19th Century S’pore,” Straits Times, 5 September 2014, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Mohd Don, “Perkuburan ‘Kaya’ Dekat Masjid Malabar…”; Daeng Paliweng, “The Bugis Merchant Haji Osman Pasendrik Ambo’ Dalle bin Haji Ali,” 21 August 2015; Jerome Lim, “Grave Losses, Blog, 20 December 2013.
33. “Jalan Kubor Cemetery,” National Heritage Board, accessed July 2015; “Hj Osman Hartawan Melayu Yang Terkaya?” Berita Harian, 5 August 1984, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Mohd Don, “Perkuburan ‘Kaya’ Dekat Masjid Malabar….”
34. National Heritage Board, “Jalan Kubor Cemetery.”

The information in this article is valid as of 9 March 2016 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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