A place familiar to local Singaporeans just as Fort Canning Hill and dubbed to be one of the most impregnable forts in Singapore during her stand against the Japanese occupation. A place that used to be exclusive only to the Malay rulers in the past. A fort that used to house General Arthur Percival when he was making key decisions in the Battle of Singapore. This place holds more history than one can imagine, so do not make the mistake of it's present day tranquility of what stress, and mayhem that took place on the grassy knolls of the Fort.
The History of Fort Canning Hill
And how it's name came about.
Close to 170 years ago, around the time Sir Stamford Raffles and Major General William Farquhar arrived in Singapore to start an establishment as an important trading port, Singapore held a much fonder name to the natives, Singapura to our immediate neighbours, Nanyang to the Chinese, Syonan-To during the Japanese Occupation, and Temasek to the much even older folks back in that time.
Fort Canning Hill, in present day as it is called, now holds a spectacle to lush greeneries, the tunnels which housed a british command centre, a tinge of medieval architecture of its remaining buildings, a 5 star hotel and... get this, a tomb belonging to a deceased Royal that has descendents spread out across the Malay Peninsula.
The Various Names of Fort Canning Hill
- Bukit larangan, early 1800S
- Singapore hill, 1819 -1823
- GovERNMENT hill, 1823 - 1861
- FORT CANNING HILL, 1861 ONWARDS
During the time Singapore was ruled by Malays, the fort was called “Bukit Larangan” or “The Forbidden Hill” in the Malay language. Our rulers at that time made that hill exclusive to the royals and their children. And the place was absolutely off limits to the commoners.
When Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore, he obviously wanted a place that was most probably considered off-limits to the locals, and that of a place where he could have view of the place that he was going to reshape for a prospering city port. He also figure that it would be the most ideal location for him to settle down that's considerably closed to the city plannings that he had in store for the city nation. Why not? Fort Canning was close to Boat Quay where the core of trade were taking place, it was close to the Orchard Road, and it was also close to the local Malay rulers who were living off Tyersall, Kampong Glam and Telok Blangah.
He had a house, a fairly simple construction made up of wood and atap roof structure, which has since been refurbished present day, and now called Raffles House.
As the city's planning progressed, Sir Stamford Raffle's resident atop Singapore's Hill was equipped to add for more occupancy to accomodate future Governors of Singapore and its residents, and hence that's where it got its name. It was also known as Bukit Tuan Bonham or Sir Bonham's Hill in Malay; named after the Governor of Singapore from 1836 - 1848. Sir Bonham later on moved on to be the Governor of Hong Kong.
Fort Canning got it's name after called Charles John Canning, the Governor-General of India who later went on to become the Governor of Hong Kong. It was established in the same year after decisions were made that Singapore lacked adequate harbor defence, and hence there was a build up in military presences in the hill for a period of time. The idea of transforming the fort into an impregnable one was scrubbed when it finally dawned on our colonial masters that the place was simply a logistics nightmare; there was no ample water supply, the already installed cannons were placed out of range that attackers would have already climbed the hill before the cannons were in effective firing range.
I was pretty much intrigued by Bukit Larangan in my younger days as much as I was a mysterious, Da Vinci-styled history enthusiast. In my younger days, I'd often wander the streets of Orchard Road until my friends and I reached Fort Canning Hill. Searching for cheap thrills amongst the poorly maintained bunkers, we found a hidden door behind one of the structures which I believed used to be one of the checkpoints that were guarded by soldiers which is unfortunately secured by a padlock this present day, more likely to deter drug addicts I guess.
Further to the east section of the hill, lies the tomb of a Malay ruler, Sultan Iskandar Shah, his devout followers still maintaining the integrity of his resting place to this day. You can’t miss it as the tomb is draped with yellow satin under a makeshift shrine.
This little hill apart from many other strategic places, was devised by the British strategically by placing artillery either aimed towards Johor, or out towards the sea, but unfortunately, no fighting ever took place during World War 2.