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Artefacts from Bukit Brown graves go on display

Items retrieved offer a glimpse of Singapore's history and traditions

Published on Jul 19, 2014 8:07 AM

More than 2,000 artefacts have been unearthed from Bukit Brown Cemetery since last year and a selection of these will go on display from today.

The items were retrieved from the more than 3,000 graves that have been exhumed since late last year to make way for a new road. The 233ha cemetery is home to nearly 100,000 graves.

Common objects dug out include miniature clay and porcelain vessels, replicas of cookware for use in the afterlife and accessories, such as jade and silver bangles, hairpins, as well as brooches used by Peranakan women to fasten their sarong kebaya.

The cemetery, which houses Singapore's oldest graves, has been held up for its rich biodiversity, cultural traditions and the unique architecture of its tombs. It also tells the story of Singapore's migrant history, with many prominent pioneers buried there.

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Background story

Some artefacts on display

Urn with lion head ornaments

This urn was used to re-inter bones exhumed from an older cemetery. It was from the grave of Madam Khoo Siok Hui, who died in 1836. Her grave was the oldest among those documented at Bukit Brown.

Madam Khoo and her son Chee Yam Chuan were among the early settlers of Singapore. Mr Chee later returned to Malacca and made his fortune in tin mining in Selangor.

Today, the Chee Yam Chuan Temple Trust continues to flourish in Malacca and Madam Khoo's ancestral tablet can be found in the temple. The story behind this family shows the close links between Malacca and Singapore in the early years.

Total Abstinence Medal (India)

The medal was awarded by the Total Abstinence Association if one abstained from alcohol for a period of time. This was found in the grave of Mr Khoo Seok Wan, a Chinese scholar and a prolific literary figure in early Singapore with at least 1,400 published poems.

He was a progressive man who supported education for local girls and contributed half of the funds for the founding of the Singapore Chinese Girls' School in 1899.

For a literatus like him to have an item linked to the British among his personal effects showed the cultural openness of the Chinese elite then.

Certificates and receipts

The documents show that the price of each burial plot in 1941 was still $50, as stipulated in the by-laws of the cemetery in 1921. Likewise, the cost of burial was still $15.

The documents were loaned by the family of Mr Kuah Thye Chor. Mr Kuah, whose grave is in Bukit Brown, was a leader in the hardware store business.

The documents also give a glimpse into the social welfare system then. The poor who could not afford to buy burial land could still bury their dead in smaller plots of land in a part of the cemetery called "Paupers' Division".