Fort Canning, a fort disused

Once dubbed “Bukit Larangan”, which translates to “Forbidden Hill” from the Malay language, this hill was the rumoured location of official residence of the rulers of old. The indigenous settlers then deemed the hill to be unapproachable, that only people of royal lineage could ascend. The founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford B. Raffles, took it as a sign that it was the perfect site to build his home and the official residence of the future governors of Singapore in. Hence it was renamed Government Hill, and also sited Singapore’s first Christian cemetery. Fort Canning only came to be in 1859, when the need for a British military base in the island-colony arose, and the governor’s residence was demolished to make way for barracks.

The cemetery was something I had always overlooked every time I visited Fort Canning, so I decided to have a good look this time. Can you imagine, these are only a few of the standing tombstones still standing today? There used to be a whole plot of them! So many familiar names, and even if they aren’t, they were definitely affluent enough in their time to have had such beautiful markers that stood the test of time over 200 years, built or commissioned by their friends, family or employers. Some even look as brand new as if they had only been erected last week. The engraving, the letter plating, the perfect form, unweathered…

These days, when one says “Fort Canning”, one is normally referring to either the entire hill, or the Fort Canning Centre, which is the building that used to be barracks during its military days. It is now the home of the Singapore Dance Theatre, but quite a bit of the building is open for the public to explore.

The lawn-facing 2nd storey corridor of Fort Canning Centre

The lawn-facing 2nd storey corridor of Fort Canning Centre

I realise my photo is quite slanted, sorry about that. So, how did Fort Canning get its name? You have Viscount Charles John Canning, who was then Governor-General and the first Viceroy of India, to thank for. I doubt he had any real connections to the construction of the fort, but it seemed that in those days, it was commonplace to name places after esteemed individuals. If you notice, his title of Governor-General of India is shared with a certain Earl of Elgin which I mentioned in my other photo-trip post about Singapore River’s heritage bridges. Viscount Charles Canning served this office from 1856 to 1862, and was the predecessor of the Lord Elgin.

View of the fort gate through a 2nd storey window of the Fort Canning Centre

View of the fort gate through a 2nd storey window of the Fort Canning Centre

Fort Canning saw a bit of action during its lifetime. It was the British Army’s headquarters in Singapore until 1941, served as a command post during World War II in 1942, overtaken and used by the occupying Japanese till the end of the war in 1945, went back to British property and handed over to Malayan-Singapore in 1963 to be used as the 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade’s headquarters until 1966 when independant-Singapore built the Singapore Command and Staff College on the hill, which opened in 1970. The entire hill has, for a good couple of years now, been a serene and peaceful park for quiet walks and jogs, managed by the local parks authority National Parks Board, while only a few structures remain as a reminder of its past purpose. The Gate of Fort Canning is one of them.

There are also the famous Gothic Gates, the Battle Box, the, the Raffles House, the (mostly decorative) cannons, the Keramat of the last King of old Singapura; but I didn’t have time to photograph everything. I was even starting to get dehydrated after spending 3 hours touring the hill and taking the photos I featured in this post, so I took cover in the nearby National Museum of Singapore (which sadly didn’t allow any tripod photography, so I don’t really have any good photos to show). It’s getting quite hot in Singapore lately; I guess the worst of the monsoon has finally passed us by. This photo-walk was also the first time in a very long while that I stuck to using my 18-55mm kit lens that came with Rosa, and used the artsy, as-good-as-point-and-shoot Intelligent Auto mode throughout. If you have any specific comments about the photos, do click on the individual images to leave a remark; any general comments or questions about Fort Canning, or suggestions on where I should attempt a photo-walk next, do leave them in the comments box below!

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