Remains of Chinese pioneer merchant, who donated land for Bukit Brown, moved from cemetery

It was the second time the remains had been moved. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - More than 130 years after his death, the remains of Mr Ong Chong Chew, whose generous donation of land led to the creation of Bukit Brown Cemetery where he was eventually buried, were moved to a Bukit Batok columbarium on Monday (March 15).

It was the second time the remains have been moved.

The hour-long exhumation process at the dilapidated cemetery unearthed bones, parts of a gold denture and a ring. They were the remains of a pioneer Chinese merchant whose resting place was ascertained only four years ago by a "tomb hunter" employed by the family.

The family said they decided to move the late Mr Ong from the cemetery to Seh Ong Charity in Bukit Batok after the Government decided to clear the land near Lornie Road for housing blocks.

The poor condition of the area, where, among other things, grave stones were covered by undergrowth or tilted by trees, offered "no dignity or respect to one of the pioneers of Bukit Brown", the Ong family said.

The late Mr Ong was one of three original land donors for the cemetery.

The relocation comes 133 years after his death in 1888. The remains were first moved in the 1920s from the family's Telok Blangah home to Bukit Brown Cemetery after burial at home was outlawed.

Madam Ong Chwee Im, 80, the great-great-granddaughter of Mr Ong, said: "As a family, we decided that the status quo was not acceptable or respectful. We wanted to find a place with more dignity. Since Ong Chong Chew is a patron of Seh Ong Charity, this became the logical place to relocate his remains."

Mr Ong was cremated at Choa Chu Kang Crematorium on Sunday before being moved to the charity, which is located on a parcel of land given by the Government to the land donors as compensation for requisitioning Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The relocation ceremony brought together eight family members who have not gathered in nearly 15 years. Two descendants of another co-founder of the cemetery, both of whom the Ong family had never met, were also present. Madam Ong had contacted them through a friend.

Bukit Brown Cemetery, with its more than 100,000 graves, many of which were for early Chinese immigrants, has been described as a social and cultural repository of early Singapore.

Prominent personalities interred include Mr Lim Chong Pang, after whom Chong Pang village was named and Mr Cheng Hong Lim, a Hokkien businessman who created Hong Lim Park.

Current plans are for all the remaining 200ha of the cemetery to be redeveloped as a housing estate by 2030.

The hour-long exhumation process at the dilapidated cemetery unearthed bones, parts of a gold denture and a ring. ST PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR

As part of Monday's relocation, the remains of Mr Ong's son, Mr Ong Kim Cheow, and daughter-in-law, Ms Tan Tay Neo, both of whom were also buried in Bukit Brown Cemetery, were also moved to Seh Ong Charity.

The graves of the two other co-founders of the cemetery, Mr Ong Ewe Hai and Mr Ong Kew Ho, have yet to be located.

The three men bought a 85ha plot of land in Bukit Timah that they donated to the community in 1872. It later became the cemetery for the Chinese community.

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