A number of former cemeteries in Singapore were cleared of graves with the land redeveloped during the second half of the twentieth century. The cemeteries had closed when they were either full or were relocated. The records and histories of some of these cemeteries can still be found today.
Due to the problem of land scarcity in Singapore, use of land for spacious or defunct cemeteries is regarded as a waste of resources. As the need for land for urban development and public housing increased in Singapore was considered more pressing, former cemeteries and burial sites were gradually cleared to make way for redevelopment. By 1985, 21 cemeteries had been cleared, and an approximate 120,000 graves had been exhumed by the Housing Development Board.
Forbidden Hill Cemetery was an early Christian cemetery established in 1820 on Bukit Larangan (Malay for Forbidden Hill), near to the residence built by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The cemetery was discontinued at the end of 1822, and all traces of it had been wiped out by the different rebuilding developments and programmes. One of these major projects was the construction of the fort that came to be known as Fort Canning.
On 6 October 1834, the cemetery was consecrated by Bishop Daniel Wilson, the fifth Bishop of Calcutta. Although the area facing the sea was usually reserved for Protestant burials and the ground on the inland side reserved for Catholic burials, the restricted size of the cemetery made it such that no formal segregation was carried out until 1845. In 1845, the cemetery was extended to contain the grounds to the east of the central path, and in 1846, a brick wall was constructed to enclose the entire cemetery. Two arches, designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber, superintending engineer of the settlement, were also built–one was on the southern, seaward side, and one was on the landside. By the end of 1863, the cemetery had become full, and in 1865, Fort Canning Cemetery was closed.
Although attempts were made in 1886 by Sir Frederick Dickson, the colonial secretary, to repair and preserve the remaining memorials, the condition of the cemetery continued to gradually deteriorate. Although more than 600 burials took place at Fort Canning Cemetery - with a third of this number consisting of Chinese Christians, only 400 legible stones remained when the cemetery was surveyed in 1912.
By 1954, the greater part of the cemetery’s gravestones and memorials had been removed, although some of the inscription plaques had been saved and placed within the north and south walls. Over the next 23 years, the cemetery was gradually cleared. By late 1977, only three original monuments still stood in their original locations. In the clearing of the graves, the authorities did, however, save a number of plaques which were then bricked into the west wall of the cemetery.
St Joseph’s Church was a Roman Catholic chapel built at Bukit Timah for the Chinese congregation, and was named St Joseph at the request of the Reverend John M Beurel. It was opened on Sunday, 6 June 1846, and the first burial at the cemetery is recorded as being on 7 November 1846. Following that, over 400 burials are recorded to have taken place in that cemetery. However, in May 1984, it was recorded that the cemetery was badly overgrown with weeds and vegetation, and that a majority of the tablets were already broken. The church cemetery was reported by The Straits Times of 1 May 1984 to be closed, after existing at Chestnut Drive for more than a century.
The Bukit Timah Cemetery was a Christian cemetery that existed from 1865 to 1907, and derived its name for the road along which it was situated. Land for the cemetery had been purchased from the Honourable East India Company on 22 January 1864. The cemetery was consecrated by Bishop McDougall of Sarawak, and the first burial took place on 15 April 1865.
Opened for burials on 1 April 1865, the cemetery was divided into two, with one an area designated for Roman Catholics and another for designated for Christians of other denominations. If one entered the main gate of the cemetery, the catholic section was to the left, and had its own mortuary chapel, while the Protestant portion with its mortuary chapel was to the right. These two divisions were separated by a broad central path. The area of the cemetery was later extended, with a new section opened for burials on the western side of the cemetery. A small road divided the older and newer sections, and was later named New Cemetery Road.
In 1907, burials ceased, and the cemetery was henceforth maintained by the Public Works Department. By 1956, however, the walls of the cemetery had been demolished, the grounds were overgrown by vegetation, and the eastern end of the area experienced frequent flooding. In addition, many of the memorials had collapsed. In 1971, the cemetery was finally closed to all visitors, and all the gravestones and memorials contained within were cleared.
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