Forest at Greater Bukit Brown holds graves of early Singaporeans

Last month, tomb hunter Raymond Goh uncovered in Bukit Brown the grave of Mr Neo Chan Guan, the main contractor behind the national monument Chong Wen Ge.
Last month, tomb hunter Raymond Goh uncovered in Bukit Brown the grave of Mr Neo Chan Guan, the main contractor behind the national monument Chong Wen Ge.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Among the finds in Greater Bukit Brown are the 'lost' 1915 tomb of a private, and one linked to PM Lee

Behind landed properties in Trevose Place and unbeknown to most residents there, a wild forest has been safeguarding historic relics from the early 1900s.

Dense with overgrowth and crawling with insects, the slippery, hilly area houses the graves of early Singaporeans, such as the "lost" tomb of a young soldier who was with the Chinese Company of the Singapore Volunteer Infantry.

In January this year, tomb hunter and researcher Raymond Goh found the 1915 tomb of Pte Ho Siong Tong buried deep inside the forest.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had inscribed on a stone slab at the Kranji War Memorial that the 22-year-old was buried at the "(Wayang Satu) Chinese Cemetery but whose tomb is now lost".

The forested area off Kheam Hock Road is near the expunged former Wayang Satu kampung.

The tomb is one of Mr Goh's significant finds at Bukit Brown and Greater Bukit Brown over the past two years. There are around 200,000 graves in the area and Mr Goh, 53, has surveyed several thousands over the past 12 years.

Speaking to The Straits Times, he said: "Greater Bukit Brown has a wealth of stories of early Singaporeans waiting to be uncovered, and we need help from the authorities and the clans to step in to rediscover these stories so we can understand our roots better."

Mr Goh's discovery reveals fuller details of Pte Ho's life. The tombstone states that the soldier had died on June 12, 1915, and that his tomb was erected by non-commissioned officers and men from the company which he had served.

According to Bukit Brown volunteer Peter Pak, 44, a senior project manager at the National Library Board, Pte Ho's life was also detailed in the seminal book One Hundred Years' History Of The Chinese In Singapore by Song Ong Siang.

Pte Ho, who was accorded military honours at his funeral on June 14, had been one of the guards at Kallang Reservoir when he was reported missing on June 11.


Behind landed properties in Trevose Place, a wild forest houses the “lost” tomb of a young soldier who was with the Chinese Company of the Singapore Volunteer Infantry. In January, tomb hunter Raymond Goh found the 1915 tomb of Pte Ho Siong Tong buried deep inside the forest. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had inscribed on a stone slab at the Kranji War Memorial that the 22-year-old was buried at the “(Wayang Satu) Chinese Cemetery but whose tomb is now lost”. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The book states that his "boots and cap were discovered on the edge of the reservoir, and two days later the body was found floating".

Mr Goh also discovered the tomb of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's maternal great-granduncle, Mr Wee Theam Tew, in late 2015.

Located off Kheam Hock Road, Mr Wee's gravestone is flanked by two pairs of couplets with Chinese inscriptions. Below the stone slabs are the words "In Loving Memory of Mr Wee Theam Tew" in English.


Predominantly covered in Chinese script, Mr Wee Theam Tew’s gravestone is flanked by two pairs of couplets with Chinese inscriptions. Below the slabs are the words “In Loving Memory of Mr Wee Theam Tew” in English. Mr Wee, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s maternal great-granduncle, died on Jan 19, 1918. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Mr Wee died on Jan 19, 1918. The grave was buried in dirt and mud for decades.

Mr Goh said: "We dug and dug and when I saw Wee's name, it immediately connected. He was one of the few early lawyers in Singapore."

Late last month, Mr Goh also uncovered the grave of Mr Neo Chan Guan - the main contractor behind the national monument Chong Wen Ge - in Bukit Brown.

The pavilion in Telok Ayer was gazetted as a national monument, along with the Thian Hock Keng temple. Chong Wen Ge was built between 1849 and 1852. Mr Neo died in January 1858 at the age of 57.

Mr Goh said: "If I see a name that pops up in my memory bank of important figures, I will focus on it and do research, study the engravings and inscriptions and work with other volunteer researchers.

"Sometimes descendants are connected to these old graves."

Mr Goh is hoping more people and organisations can come forward to conduct research at the site. But first he wants to create paths for researchers to safely access these graves.

Mr Goh dreams of Bukit Brown and its surrounds becoming a heritage park.

For now, tomb keeper Soh Ah Beng, 53, accompanies Mr Goh on his weekend hunts and helps him to clear the overgrowth.

The duo continue to crawl through mud and thick overgrowth to access these relics and deepen Singaporeans' understanding of early Chinese settlers and pioneers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Forest holds graves of early S'poreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe