Pulau Brani, which means “isle of the brave” in Malay, is an island situated at the south of Singapore’s Central Region.1 It was once home to the Orang Laut.2 For a while, the island had a brick kiln, a coal depot, a tin smelting plant and a ship-repairing dock. For many years, it was also a British naval base and later a facility of the Republic of Singapore Navy.
In late 1838, Charles Prinsep, from the East India Company, wanted to construct buildings and a patent slip on Pulau Brani, but the area had to be surveyed before the lease could be issued. In January 1846, former ship captain Jacob Clunis designed and proposed the erection of a 300-foot (91-metre) long, 68-foot (20.7-metre) wide, 15-foot (4.5-metre) deep dry dock, in place of the patent slip that was never built by Prinsep. Clunis’s proposal also did not materialise due to insufficient funds. Instead, he erected a brick factory and yard for repairing small boats. However, these did not last as the government repossessed the island for defence purposes, following which it became a small repair dock for British naval vessels.3
Fort Teregah (sometimes spelled as Teregeh), a coastal battery with two 64-pounder rifled muzzle loading guns, was built on the southeast extremity of Pulau Brani in 1861, forming part of Singapore’s fortification works in the 19th century.4 The fort no longer played a prominent role in Singapore’s defence by the early 20th century, and it was abandoned by 1942.5
In 1865, a naval coal depot was completed on the island. It had two coal sheds, a small house for the superintendent, a quay wall and a short wooden pier.6 In August 1866, shipwrights J. C. Buyers and Daniel Robb opened a small ship-repairing dock on the west side of the island. Known as Bon Accord Dock, it was 300-foot long and 75-foot (22.9-metre) wide.7
As Pulau Brani was known for its “cross tide and dangerous mooring”, the Royal Navy decided not to use its wharf. In addition, the eastern part of the island was for a long time known for its shallow waters and stretch of reefs, which had probably caused the SS Himalaya to run aground in 1868.8
In 1890, the Straits Trading Company set up a modern Western-style tin smelting plant on the island.9 The facility was equipped with a three-ton reverberatory furnace for smelting tin ore shipped from the Malay states, Siam and Australia.10
World War II and after
During World War II, the British destroyed the rubber stock and tin smelting plant on Pulau Brani, just before the fall of Singapore.11 Activities on the island resumed after the war. A 1966 map shows that the Straits Trading Company was still in existence on the island at the time.12
Before the development of Brani Naval Base, the island was home to about 500 Malays and Chinese who lived in houses on stilts. Most of them worked on the mainland.13 In 1974, the naval base was officially opened by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore’s first naval base. It was then known as the Maritime Command Base.14 In 1983, the naval base was expanded with the addition of a second wharf. However, its limited area and competition with the port for space subsequently led the Republic of Singapore Navy to look for alternative sites in Tuas and Changi.15 In 1990, it was announced that Brani Naval Base would be replaced by a new naval base at Changi, which would be twice as big.16
In November 1991, a 330-metre causeway was built to link Brani Naval Base to the mainland.17 In March 2006, the Police Coast Guard vacated its Kallang Regional Base and moved its headquarters to Pulau Brani, occupying the site of the former Brani Naval Base.18
More than half of the island has been occupied by PSA Corporation’s container terminal and other port facilities. A causeway links Pulau Brani with the mainland to facilitate harbour operations.19
On 8 February 2007, the Police Coast Guard officially opened its new 8.1-hectare, $95-million training base at Pulau Brani, having moved from their previous Kallang Basin headquarters to Pulau Brani in March 2006.20
Early names: Pulau Ayer Brani21; Pulo Brani22
Cantonese names: San chu-shek tui-min (opposite the new tin smelting); chha-tin ma-thau tui-min (opposite Jardine’s jetty).23
1. Singapore Chronicles (Hong Kong: Illustrated Magazine Pub., 1995), 184. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
2. Betty L. Khoo, “Saga of Singapore’s Early Sea People,” New Nation, 15 December 1972, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. George Bogaars, The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company 1864–1905 (Singapore: G.P.O., 1956), 91, 93, 105, 270 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 BOG); “Tanjong Pagar,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, (1884–1942), 1 May 1896, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Ministry of Defence. Public Affairs Dept, Singapore, The Singapore Artillery 100th Year Commemorative Book (Singapore: Headquarters Singapore Artillery, 1988), 37–38 (Call no. RSING 358.12095957 SIN); H. T. Haughton, “Notes of Names of Places in the Island of Singapore and Its Vicinity: Extended Notes,” Journal of Straits Branch of The Royal Asiatic Society, 20 (1889): 75–82; G. M. Reith, Handbook to Singapore: With Map and a Plan of the Botanical Gardens (Singapore: Singapore and Straits Printing Office, 1892), 21 (From BookSG); “Monday, December 2, 1889,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 3 December 1889, 684; “Singapore Volunteer Artillery,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 17 January 1901, 3 (From NewspaperSG); The National Archives, United Kingdom, Pulau Brani Showing Teregeh Battery, 1893, Survey Map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. D2016_000296)
5. Ministry of Defence. Public Affairs Dept, Singapore, Singapore Artillery, 37–38.
6. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 704. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
7. “The Singapore Free Press,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 1 March 1866, 2; “Tanjong Pagar,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 1 May 1896, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore, 494, 704.
9. K. G. Tregonning, Home Port Singapore: A History of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890–1965 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1967), 16 (Call no. RSING 387.5095957 TRE); Soh Tiang Keng, “Straits Trading: From Tin to Hotels and Advertising,” Business Times, 18 October 1999, 4; “Straits Trading Co,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 July 1924, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “The Straits Trading Company Limited: Always A Part Of Singapore Celebrating 125 Years Of Transformation,” New Paper, 8 November 2012, 21–22. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Singapore Chronicles, 184.
12. Survey Department, Singapore, Town Subdivision Number XXIII, Telok Blangah Mukim, and Other Islands Mukim, 1969, Survey Map, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. SP005696)
13. “Brani Naval Base,” New Paper, 17 October 2000, 10; Arul John, “The Shark Man of Pulau Brani,” New Paper, 17 October 2000, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Brani Naval Base.”
15. “A New Home,” Straits Times, 5 May 1992, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Plan to Replace Brani with New Base at Changi,” Straits Times, 15 March 1990, 1; “New Changi Naval Base to Be Twice as Large as Brani’s,” Straits Times, 11 January 1998, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Brani Naval Base.”
18. David Boey, “Coast Guard Quits Oldest Base,” Straits Times, 24 March 2006, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Boey, “Coast Guard Quits Oldest Base.”
20. Loh Chee Kong, “That Desperate Swim to Enter S’pore,” Today, 9 February 2007, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “What’s In a Name,” Straits Times, 4 September 1990, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 304. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
22. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 5 February 1846, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
23. H. W. Firmstone, “Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula,” Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42 (February 1905): 154. (Call no. RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)
The information in this article is valid as at December 2018 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.