Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Fort Canning Park - Ancient History of the past

Early history of Singapura begins here - Bukit Larangan
Early Site of the fortress,
The first home of rulers (kings),

Signal station, the oldest Christian Cemetery
The first ever lighthouse in Singapore,
Underground reservoir in early, the botanical gardens.
Government House on the hill, underground bunkers the battle box
Percival surrendered to Japanese.
Establishments of British, Japanese, Malaysian and Singapore Armed forces
The First and ever home of Singapore Commando and College where the staff.
Being part of my devoted interests about history, traditional and heritage culture of Singapore since young. Thus made me more demanding to find out about Singapore all over the islands.My grandma & grandpa had lived their life in the old villages since they were young in 1912s. Life was hard, full of wars and food rations hit them hard. Ancient history travelled back to the period, dated back centuries ago where there were small islands like Sumatra and Java as well as Malacca. I made two trips on weekends, to explore the Park and to recollect the history of the past, where it was once stood as Temasek, now known as Fort Canning Park. I remembered that I was once been at the Registry of Marriages at Fort Canning Park years ago.
There is a staircase leading to the Fort Canning Park, would take about 5 mins to the top which you can see the foothill that leading to the 14th Century of the footpath. This park is located between former Hill Street Police Station and Central Fire Station on Hill street.

At the top of the hill, stands Raffles House where Governor Sir Stamford Raffles used to live there since 1819. In front of the Raffles House, there is the flagstaff, a fountain and extremely right is the Lighthouse. Standing at the Raffles House that facing Marina Bay Sands with a clear view. Flagstaff
In front of the Raffles House, where the pole stands the most centuries is the "Flagstaff" built in 1820s, is the first communication device installed on the hill. It was the part of a communication system which used coded flags to convey a wide range of information to the public in port cities around the world. Many types of information were communicated by the different kinds of flags flown on the flagstaff. Flags giving information about different matters were flown on different areas of the flagstaff, thus making it easier to read the signals. Parts of the flagstaff had special names e.g. the truck, the halliard, the yardarm, and the gaff. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the public needed to know how to decipher the meanings of the various flags.
In Singapore, the merchants kept a close watch on the flagstaff so that they would be among the first to know when a ship arrived in the Singapore harbour. They would then sped to the ship wharves to receive the latest news and to bargain with the shippers for their housewares and others. As for the deadline, sending postal on an outgoing shop would also be indicated. The flags showed which country and often which company the ship belong to and where they were anchored.
If there was a disease such as smallpox on board, the ship would then be quarantined, and the flagstaff would indicate this. If a ship was carrying gunpowder, this would be reported. In addition, the shipping information, the flagstaff also gave such information as the locations of fires in the city. A regular fire bridge was established (at the foot of Fort Canning on Hill Street), fires were fought by volunteers who had joined. When Singapore mainly built of wood, fores were frequent and threatened to spread quickly. The next device set-up was the "Time Ball" in early19th century and it raised at 12.55pm and dropped at 1pm, it helped people to keep time. In 1860s, the telegraph came into general use. Singapore's first telegraph office was set up on the hill, near the flagstaff. But I couldn't see it at all.

Fort Canning Lighthouse
The Fort Canning Lighthouse was built on the highest point of the hill in 27 Feb 1902 by Riley Hargreaves & Co., helping to guide ships to safe anchorage. Singapore's history Fort Canning was one of the most prominent landmarks of Singapore for ships entering the Singapore harbour. The height of the hill is 120 feet/36.3 meters plus the height of the lighthouse tower is about 82 feet/24.3 meters that gave the light total elevation of 202 feet/60.6 meters, thus making it visible 18 miles/30 km away. Technically the light itself was of the dioptre occult type of the first order, visible for 17secs, followed by an eclipse for 3secs. The lighthouse keeper reached a watch room just below the light by climbing up a ladder inside a metal cylinder two meter in diameter. The light was focused by dioptre lenses and mirrors. The light was "eclipsed" darkened every 17secs by lowering a metal cylinder around the burner for 3secs, thus giving rise to the term "occult type".
The light was created by a burner of the latest type fuelled by Kerosene, which generated 20,000 candlepower. It was said to have been extremely reliable and its consumption of fuel, 320 liters per month, not excessive. This light source was used right up until 14 Dec 1958, when the lighthouse was cloned and a new signal light using electricity was erected on top of the Fullerton Building. The Fort Canning Light was cloned because in 1958, the tall buildings were making it invisible from the sea. The Fullerton Building light was taken down in 1979.
Ancient History of the Past
footpath to Archaeological Dig Archaeological Dig
This archaeological finds were uncovered by DI. John Miksic and his team as part of an excavation project commissioned by National Museum in 1984. Among the artefacts recovered were porcelain, earthenware and glass shards. These artefacts show that there could have been an old kingdom on Fort Canning Hill, with the possibility of glass and gold workshops. Hundreds years ago in 1330, our island was like a piece of ancient sandstone on the hill, known as Temasek before it became Singapura in 1392 where the Palembang prince lived after Javanese attacked. The prince named Paranesware took control of Temasek and attempted to turn into the new centre of trade between east and west Asia and renamed the site as Singapura. Five years later, he escaped another attack and formed a new settlement which became the great port of Melaka. In the next two centuries of Singapore's history are poorly known, but I guess that there was evidence that the traders visited Kallang and Singapore Rivers occasionally . Thus Singapore was known to the early European explorers as an important historial landmark. Royal Palace Shelter
Picnic Terrace near Royal Palace
The untold story of Fort Canning Park was once known as Fort Canning Hill where there was a Royal Palace being built in early 14th century and destroyed around late 1396. When the British arrived in 1819, the British natives referred to the hill as Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill where Malay living in Singapore refused to climb the hill, and later told that it was forbidden without permission from ancient rulers. The Government House was built at its peak and the hill was known as Government Hill dated back from 1819 to 1859.
Near the 14th century walk trail, there is a 'sacred place' in Malay, a Keramat is the traditional burial ground of the last king - the Keramat of Rajah Iskandar Shah. He was the last of the five kings to rule over Singapura in the 14th century and also the descendant of Sang Nila Utama, who founder of Singapura - The Lion CIty. Iskandar Shah's rule over Singapore but he was attacked by enemy. He had escaped on horseback with a band of bodyguards through a secret passage at the back of the hill. It was said that the last king of Singapura settled in a place where trees grew and founded a new kingdom called Melaka (Malacca) where he died 1420. Fort Canning Park was supposed resting ground for all the kings. However, the tombs were reportedly destroyed when the British converted Fort Canning into a fortress in 1859 to enhance security. So this new "Keramat" was finally erected many years later and has remained at the same spot ever since. A 14th century-styled Malay roof called a "pendopo" supported by 20 wooden pillars carved in a fighting cock motif of Javanese origin, shelters this structure. Many locals believe that the "Keramat" has mystical powers and healing, although the worship is not allowed by the law, but they still visit the place to pray. Guess so, isn't it?
Gate of Fort Canning The Government was demolished in 1859 to make way for a new Fort - "The Gate of Fort Canning" between 1859 and 1861. And later it renamed as Fort Canning Hill after Charles John Canning, who was then Governor-General and the first General of India. This Fort had army store kept weapons and guns - seven 68-pounder guns, eight 8-inch guns, two 13-inch mortars and some 14 pounder cannonades; barracks for Indian and European soldiers, a hospital and gunpowder magazines. During WWII, the hill was known as command post of Lieutenant-General Percival in 1942. Between 1923 and 1927, the old fort was demolished and what remains today is only the massive gateway.

9-pounder cannon facing main gate of Fort Canning
9-pounder cannon
This cannon is one of a pair which for many years were used as decorations for the main gate of Fort Canning. There are meant to shoot a 9-pound cannonball. Such guns were not used at Fort Canning, this type of gun dates from the early 19th century and had become obsolete before Fort Canning was built. This gun probably was used at an earlier fortification, such as Scandal Point which once stood at the east end of the Padang.
In 1867, at the main battery (South battery), there were 7 guns of 68-pounder size mounted behind a brick wall which defended Singapore, was erected. Within the wall were buildings to store gunpowder. The guns were mounted on carriages which could be pivoted to enable the guns to cover a wide arc of fire.
Due to the peaceful conditions of the late 19th century and early 20 century, the guns were never used against an enemy. The only time they were ever fired was to salute important visitors and to signal the time of day.
Fort Canning Visitor Centre (rear view) - Former Military British Barracks
Underground Reservoir Fort Canning
Along the footpath of the display cannon, the steep slope of the hill, stands the Fort Canning Visitor Centre (formerly known as British Military Barracks), where the public would gather information. In front of the centre, there are sculptures displayed everywhere, leads the staircase at top of the hill. At the top of the hill, is the Underground Reservoir Fort Canning was used as a football field by British forces and the Singapore Command and Staff College. As you can see the Fort Gate along the field, sculptures hanging on the trees surroundings. And there is a small door beside the tree on the brick wall of the shelter. Sally Port
Sally Port is a small door which lead in and out of fort. They are meant to help defenders to enter or exit the fort undetected and unnoticed, and can be used in case of an attack. The word "sally" means to make a sudden forceful exit. And if an enemy is surrounding a fort, the defenders can try to make sudden attack through a Sally port and surprise the enemy outside.
I heard that Fort Canning had at least three such Sally ports: one at Fort Canning, one on the northwest side of the hill, and one on the south near Hill Street. Now I only saw one Sally Fort!

The Battle Box(where Lt.Gen. Percival and his commanders made the decision to surrender to the Japanese on 14 Feb 1942)
History of the bunker (The Battle Box) - The final phase of the Battle for S'pore Lt.General A.E. Percival, Commander of the British Forces, shifted his headquarters to the underground bunkers (Battle Box) at Fort Canning. It comprised 22 rooms including a Communications Ccentre, sleeping quarters and bathroom. It had reinforced concrete walls more than 3-foot thick in places. The Battle Box was capable of withstanding direct hits from the heaviest bombs and artillery shells. The rooms also included gun operations and conference room, an escape hatch, sergaents and officers mess.
It was in the bunkers (the Battle Box) on 14 Feb 1942 that he met his senior commanders at 9.30am and make the decision to surrender to the Japanese was reached as a counter-attack was considered impracticable. At 11.45am , Percival left for Ford Motor Works, Bukit Timah to hand a letter to Lt. General Yamashita who demanded that Percival present himself personally. In the same afternoon Percival accompanied by Brigadier Torrance (General Staff), Brigadier Newbigging (Chief Administrator) and Major Wild (Interpreter) left Fort Canning bunkers to surrender to Yamashita at the Ford Motor Works. The surrender documents were signed at 7.50pm and all hostilities in S'pore ceased after that and 15 Feb is now commemorated in S'pore as Total Defence Day. The Battle box which inscribed as on how "The Day Singapore Fell on 15 Feb 1942", is the largest underground military operations complex in Singapore. It is part of the Malaya Command Headquarters during WWII. In 14 Feb 1942, Lt.-General Arthur Ernest Percival established his command post of the Malayan Command at the fort in his il-fated attempts to defend the island from the invading Japanese forces.The Japanese also used the fort for its military until the end of the Occupation in 1945, whereby the British army resumed control.Now the bunker is a visitor attraction known as The Battle Box and was opened in 1997 to the public as the museum as it currently stands.
Inside the battle box, there are specially audio and visual effects, high quantity animatronics and specially crafted figurines, that bring you back to the time of 14 Feb 1942 when the surrender decision was made by British Officers and Singapore fell to the Japanese. Surrounded by bombing outside The Battle Box and you will walk through the complex and experience the recreated events in its various rooms.

The Battle Box works very closely with the National Heritage Board and the Association of Singapore Attractions in its programmes and publicity. The facility is now managed by The Legends of Fort Canning Park.

Hotel Fort Canning
Formerly Military Headquarters of Lt Gen. Percival, Malaysian Armed Forces(1963-65) and the first Singapore Command and Staff College of the Singapore Armed Forces of Independent Republic of SIngapore. Later, the Fort Canning Country Club.
The legends - luxury boutiquie hotel, dine dining restaurant would soon replace the Country Club The history of Hotel Fort Canning dates back in 20th century. Considered as an iconic heritage hotel in Singapore, the Hotel Fort Canning building is the result of the restoration of a former British Military. This military building was built in 1926 as the Administration Building of the British Far East Command HQ. The General-Officer-Commanding Lieutenant-General Percival had an officer of this building. The Building was occupied by the Japanese Military during the Occupation (1942-1945). The British Military took it back after the war and used it as part of the British Military Administration. This building was taken over by the SAF (S'pore Armed Forces) when Singapore became independent. In 1970, the building was used by the S'pore Command & Staff College (SCSC). In 1976, the SCSC moved out of the building and it remained unoccupied until 1995, when it housed the Fort Canning Country Club.
The Legends of Fort Canning Park took over the premises in Nov 2002, and on 1 Nov 2010, the restored heritage building re-opened as Hotel Fort Canning, the hotel wing of The Legends of Fort Canning Park.
The Cupolas
These two small Cupolas are the monuments, designed by the important architect of early Singapore, G.D. Coleman (1796-1844). He also designed much larger structures with a similar shape. The roof top of the Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator at Hill Street once has a dome with such a structure on the top, but this was removed when the church was remodeled in 1854. Some people thought that these two Cupolas are tombstones, but these are not the tombstones.
There is no record of the date of construction or their purpose to live; they were probably meant as the place to rest and enjoy the peaceful surrounding and the quiet of the Fort Canning Green.
Gothic Gate
Old Christian Cementary The Old Christian Cementery was once a burial ground, used from 1822 until 1865. The Entrance to the Cemetery are marked by gateways designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber Superintending Engineer. The gateway is called Gothic Gate, the work of Gothic revival style in SIngapore. The southern half of the ground was allocated tot the Anglican community; other Christian denominations were given the northern half. Most of the Gravestones and other monuments had become very dilapidated and were removed in the 1970s. Over 600 people were buried in this graveyard and 1/3 of them were Chinese Christians.
ASEAN Sculpture Garden
The ASEAN Sculpture garden can be found outside Gothic Gate. These sculpture were created in 1981 for the ASEAN Sculputres Symposium in Singapore. As a symbol of ASEAN unity and cooperation, each member country - the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore - donated a sculpure to this garden in 1982. Brunei added its conribution in 1988 when it became an ASEAN member.
Today, Fort Canning has been converted into a Historical Park and most of the buildings have been converted for the Arts. What will remain on the Hill are the Old Gateway, the Tombstone inscriptions, the Administrative Block, the old Barracks, the underground reservoir and the bunkers.
It was a pleasant walk, no matter how long it takes me to this path of the forgotten lands that led me to a ancient times.
Here I am back to touch up this piece one by one to make up the history of the Fort Canning Park to reminisce the feelings of this place. I have put up the poem in my other blog which you might able to remember the ill-fated of the legends of the Fort Canning and the last king of Singapura that lived through the centuries that once forgotten.

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