Mount Pleasant is an area located in the central region of Singapore bounded by Thomson Road, the Pan Island Expressway (PIE), Bukit Brown Cemetery and Andrew Road.1 It is named after a hill located within its boundaries. The colonial government acquired the area in 1920 to build accommodation for high-ranking colonial officers, including senior police officers from the nearby Police Depot (later known as the Police Academy). These houses were among the grandest black-and-white bungalows built by the colonial government prior to World War II and 33 of them have since been preserved and refurbished for lease to the public. Mount Pleasant is also the site where the Singapore Polo Club has been based since the 1940s. Mount Pleasant Road, which runs through the area, is designated a Heritage Road and gazetted under the Parks and Trees Act in 2005, thus providing the surrounding trees and greenery with more legal protection.
George Henry Brown, an Englishman, was a shipowner who came to Singapore in the 1840s after living in Calcutta and Penang.2 While residing in Singapore, he purchased a piece of property off Thomson Road. Brown found a hill in the estate pleasant, so he named it “Mount Pleasant”. In addition, he named two roads in the area: Mount Pleasant Road and Mount Pleasant Drive. Brown later built a house on the hill to serve as his residence. The estate was also known as Brown’s Hill (or Bukit Brown) after the owner.3
Brown experimented with planting nutmeg and coffee at Mount Pleasant but was unsuccessful.4 He suffered a severe accident at the estate in 1881 and died in Penang the following year.5 After his death, the estate was put up for sale. At the time, the estate spanned 140 ac with three large houses, a carriage factory, a tapioca processing plant, a tapioca plantation and a large number of fruit trees.6 Part of the estate was subsequently bought over by the municipal authorities for use as a Chinese cemetery, which became known as the Bukit Brown Cemetery.7 In 1896, a tiger was found and shot on Mount Pleasant.8
From the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the Mount Pleasant estate was owned by the Alsagoff family, then headed for the most part by Syed Omar Alsagoff. The family let out houses on the estate to tenants.9 One of these tenants was William Kinsey, a European pioneer in Pahang, Malaya, who subsequently established himself as a timber expert and shipowner in Singapore.10 The Alsagoff family also had a stake in two plantations on the Mount Pleasant estate that produced crops such as coffee, pepper, tapioca and sugar cane.11
Black-and-white colonial bungalows
In 1920, the colonial government acquired the land and houses at Mount Pleasant, which then covered an area of slightly over 200 ac for the purpose of providing living quarters for government officers.12
By 1929, the Police Depot on Thomson Road was opened on a site next to Mount Pleasant.13 Large black-and-white bungalows were built at Mount Pleasant in the years leading up to the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) to provide accommodation for police inspectors-general and other high-ranking colonial officers. Developed in conjunction with the Police Depot, these bungalows are among the grandest government-built black-and-white houses in Singapore.14
Designed by architects from the British administration’s Public Works Department, the colonial bungalows bear a close resemblance to Tudor architecture. Typically surrounded by replications of large English landscaped gardens, many of these colonial houses are two-storey buildings constructed using mainly bricks and timber.15
These colonial bungalows were first leased out to the public in the 1960s.16 The refurbished bungalows have been managed by the private sector since 1999, although the Singapore government continues to retain ownership. The bungalows are currently managed by The Ascott Limited under the brand name “The Heritage” and are marketed as high-end residences for expatriates.17
Senior Police Officers’ Mess
With the establishment of the Police Depot for training purposes, then Inspector-General of Police H. Fairburn felt that a mess was necessary for rest, recreation and bonding. The Senior Police Officers’ Mess (SPOM) – then known as the Gazetted Officers’ Mess of the Straits Settlements Police Force – was completed in January 1931. The mess was for gazetted police officers, which meant those of the rank of probationary assistant superintendent and above.18
Located at 153 Mount Pleasant Road, the SPOM is a grand black-and-white bungalow first used as living quarters for unmarried gazetted officers, who were all Europeans until after the war. The mess was also used by the officers for a host of social activities ranging from fine dining to casual cocktail parties and the weekly dinner-and-dance held on Friday nights.19
During the Japanese Occupation, the SPOM was possibly occupied by Japanese officers, including the Japanese military police, or Kempeitai.20
In later years, the number of officers living in the mess declined and the SPOM was converted into an officers’ mess for formal events, networking, hosting guests and relaxation.21 The SPOM continues to serve as a venue for retreats and meetings by various Home Team departments and government agencies.22
In 2014, the SPOM was included in the Balestier Heritage Trail created by the National Heritage Board.23
During the Battle of Singapore, one of the colonial bungalows on Mount Pleasant Road was used as the headquarters of the Malacca Volunteer Corps.24
Some of the colonial houses at Mount Pleasant were appropriated during the Japanese Occupation to house senior officials in the Japanese army, while others were taken over by the Kempeitai.25 Mohan Singh, a leader of the Indian National Army, also resided at Mount Pleasant during this period.26 In addition, the estate served as one of several work camps established for prisoners of war who were tasked to build a Shinto shrine on the shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.27
Key postwar developments
Pan Island Expressway flyover
A flyover system was constructed at Mount Pleasant Road as part of the PIE during the latter half of the 1970s. The bridge, 60 m long and 19 m wide, is located near the junction of Mount Pleasant Road and Whitley Road.28
Mount Pleasant Cemetery
The widening of the PIE in the 1990s resulted in the Bukit Brown Cemetery being split into two sections. The section nearer to the Police Academy at Thomson Road became known as the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.29
Singapore Polo Club
In the 1940s, the Singapore Polo Club – one of the oldest sporting and social clubs in Singapore – moved from its first home on Balestier Road to Mount Pleasant Road. During World War II, the club’s Mount Pleasant site was converted by the Japanese into a gun emplacement area and then a squatter’s camp.30 The Singapore Polo Club continues to be situated at Mount Pleasant Road.31 Besides polo events, the club also provides horse riding lessons for its members.32
The Heritage Road Scheme was introduced by the National Parks Board (NParks) in 2001 to conserve scenic roads lined with mature trees and greenery. Mount Pleasant Road is one of the 55 Heritage Roads. Widening and realignment of these roads are not permitted unless there are compelling reasons for doing so.33 While trees and greenery at the green verges of these roads are protected, the mature greenery behind them is not.34
In 2005, Mount Pleasant Road was gazetted for conservation under the Parks and Trees Act, which extended the conservation of greenery to 10 m on both sides of each road.35 Trees along these roads cannot be cut down and no development is allowed within the 10-metre-wide buffer zone.36 However, private landowners at the time the law was passed were exempted from this regulation. The other four gazetted Heritage Roads are Arcadia Road, Lim Chu Kang Road, Mandai Road and South Buona Vista Road.37
The Mount Pleasant Heritage Road spans 1,353 m. It begins at the junction with Denham Road and ends at the PIE slip road. Mount Pleasant Road is flanked by mature saga trees. Wild-sown trees such as wild cinnamon, palms and figs can be found fronting the garden fences of the bungalows in the area. Of just three Burmese banyan trees in Singapore, two can be found along Mount Pleasant Road.38
Mount Pleasant Mass Rapid Transit station
Construction of the Mount Pleasant Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station began in January 2015 and is expected to be operational by 2021. Situated at the site of the former Police Academy on Thomson Road, the Mount Pleasant MRT station is one of 31 stations along the Thomson–East Coast line linking Woodlands to Bedok.39 The Police Academy was closed in December 2005 after 76 years in operation and police training has since moved to a new facility at Choa Chu Kang known as the Home Team Academy.40
A house on Mount Pleasant Drive was used as a filming location for Singapore’s first full-length English movie, Medium Rare, released in 1991.41
In 2002, one of the Burmese fig trees at Mount Pleasant was found bearing red figs with seeds. This was an unusual occurrence as Burmese fig trees in Singapore were then thought to be incapable of reproduction since they require a type of wasp native to Myanmar for pollination. The huge tree, estimated to be 120 years old at the time, has aerial roots that drape over the gates of a colonial bungalow. The tree is marked a Heritage Tree under NParks’ Heritage Tree Scheme.42
1. National Archives (Singapore), Map of Singapore City, 1954, survey map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. SP002068_4); Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd, Singapore Island & City Map (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2009) (Call no. RSING 912.5957 PER); Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory (Singapore: Mighty Minds Pub., 2015), maps 87–88. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSSD-[DIR])
2. Susan Tsang, Discover Singapore: The City’s History & Culture Redefined (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2007), 18 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TSA-[HIS]); Lea Wee, “Go Take a Stroll on the Spooky Side,” Straits Times, 16 March 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 52, 261 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 557. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
4. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 52.
5. “Friday. 23rd September,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 29 September 1881, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 52.
6. “Page 2 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 16 January 1883, 2; “Page 2 Advertisements Column 4,” Straits Times, 25 March 1884, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 52; Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 75. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
8. “A Tigress Shot,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 June 1896, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Page 2 Advertisements Column 5,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 2 May 1893, 2; “An Interesting Matter,” Straits Times, 26 November 1902, 5; “Page 12 Advertisements Column 3,” Straits Times, 15 May 1917, 12; “Syed Omar Alsagoff,” Straits Times, 18 May 1927, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. The Wanderer, “Mainly about Malayans,” Straits Times, 24 April 1932, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “An Interesting Matter.”
11. Maxime Pilon and Daniele Weiler, The French in Singapore: An Illustrated History (1819–Today) (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011), 82–83. (Call no. RSING 305.84105957 PIL)
12. “Legislative Council,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 May 1921, 12; “The Colony,” Straits Times, 31 October 1921, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Koh Buck Song, Home at Mount Pleasant: The Senior Police Officers’ Mess of the Singapore Police Force (Singapore: Senior Police Officers’ Mess, Singapore Police Force, 2007), 46 (Call no. RSING 363.22095957 KOH); “New Police Depot,” Straits Times, 20 September 1924, 9; “Plucky Police Officers,” Straits Times, 12 August 1929, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Julian Davison, Black and White: The Singapore House, 1898–1941 (Singapore: Talisman Publishing, 2014), 97. (Call no. RSING 728.37095957 DAV)
15. Annie Chia, “The State of ‘Colonial Properties’ in Singapore,” Singapore Monitor, 8 July 1984, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chia, “State of ‘Colonial Properties’”; “Page 15 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 24 March 1962, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Corinne Kerk, “Pidemco Unit Launches 33 Colonial Bungalows for Rent,” Business Times, 14 July 1999, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “The Heritage Singapore (Other Residence),” The Ascott Limited, accessed 12 May 2016; Uma Shankari, “Ascott Wins Bid to Manage Bungalows,” Business Times, 7 December 2010, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Koh, Home at Mount Pleasant, 41, 49, 50.
19. Koh, Home at Mount Pleasant, 11, 49, 52; “The History of a Mount Pleasant Black-and-White House,” Expat Living Singapore, accessed 12 May 2016.
20. Koh, Home at Mount Pleasant, 53.
21. Koh, Home at Mount Pleasant, 49.
22. Audrey Tan, “Heritage Race Explores Balestier: One More Stop for Trail,” Straits Times, 13 June 2014, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tan, “Heritage Race Explores Balestier.”
24. Joginder Singh, “Private’s Life Made Public,” Straits Times, 15 February 1982, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Expat Living Singapore, “History of a Mount Pleasant Black-and-White House”; Davison, Black and White, 97.
26. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 217. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
27. “The Adam Park Project: We Chat to Founder Jonathan Cooper about Digging Up Singapore’s History,” Expat Living Singapore, accessed 19 March 2012.
28. “$27M Pan-Island Expressway System to Be Ready in Mid-1977,” Straits Times, 13 April 1975, 5; “Work Begins on $2M Flyover at Mt Pleasant,” Straits Times, 15 December 1975, 13; “New Road Open Today,” Straits Times, 3 November 1979, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Tsang, Discover Singapore, 19; Crystal Chan, “Hardly a ‘Pleasant’ Final Resting Place,” Straits Times, 27 November 2004, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “History,” Singapore Polo Club, accessed 12 May 2016.
31. “Contact Us,” Singapore Polo Club, accessed 12 May 2016.
32. “About the Riding Academy,” Singapore Polo Club, 12 May 2016.
33. National Parks Board, A Guide to Heritage Roads of Singapore (Singapore: National Heritage Board, n.d.), 1, 3; Neo Hui Min, “New Laws Protect Local Trees,” Straits Times, 18 August 2001, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Parliament of Singapore, Parks and Trees Bill, vol. 79 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 25 January 2005, col. 504.
35. Parliament of Singapore, Parks and Trees Bill, col. 504; Parliament of Singapore, Heritage Roads in Singapore, vol. 89 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 12 December 2012, col. 1155; Tan Hui Yee, “Roads Now Safe Havens for Trees,” Straits Times, 12 February 2005, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Tay Suan Chiang, “Green with History,” Straits Times, 16 April 2011, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Tan, Roads Now Safe Havens for Trees.”
38. National Parks Board, Guide to Heritage Roads of Singapore, 3; Tay, “Green with History”; Neo Hui Min, “No Figment... This ‘Barren’ Tree Bears Fruit,” Straits Times, 10 December 2002, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Danson Cheong, “Work Starts on Two MRT Stations,” Straits Times, 25 January 2015, 2–3 (From NewspaperSG); “Thomson Line: Media Briefing,” Land Transport Authority, accessed 12 May 2016.
40. Selina Lum, “When Cupid Struck at Police Academy,” Straits Times, 11 December 2005, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Julia Goh, “Filming of S’pore’s First Full-Length Movie Completed,” Straits Times, 17 May 1991, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Neo, “No Figment...”; “Burmese Banyan,” National Parks Board, accessed 12 May 2016.
“Mount Pleasant Road,” National Park Board, accessed 4 February 2015.
Norman Edwards, The Singapore House and Residentia Life 1819–1939 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1990). (Call no. RSING 728.095957 EDW)
The information in this article is valid as of 24 May 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.