Mannequin of a soldier on Guard duty
Map of south east Asia

South East Asia

In the 1800s, Britain was the world’s greatest imperial power with colonies across the globe. It really was the “Empire on which the sun never sets”. In the far east, at the southern tip of the Malaya, just 2° north of the equator, is the island of Singapore. This was a strategically important Imperial possession, ideally located on all the major shipping routes.

Singapore, following the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles, had grown from a practically deserted place of little or no interest or significance to anybody, to become a busy commercial port. It had also become a very important coaling station for the Royal Navy and merchant ships.

Several forts defending the harbour were built in the early years of the colony, and many reports recommending additional defences for this importan colony began to be authored.

Records of the China Station dated 1859 contained a recommendation for a battery at ‘Point Rimau’, and others at Silingsing and Serapong. These were not acted on, and it was to be over twenty years and more reports before any action was takem.

The British Government, then, being aware of the important commercial and strategic values of Singapore, decided to modernise the existing defences of the island.

Singapore showing the location of fortsSince the last update of the defences, more powerful and longer ranging weapons had been developed, not only by Great Britain, but by countries which were considered to be potential enemies. Following surveys, it was concluded that it would be wiser to construct several new coastal artillery forts than to modernise the older existing ones. Many of these older forts were located in a poor fire position, and were not realistically capable of being enlarged. Indeed, Fort Canning was said to be more suited to controlling the civil populace than providing defence for the harbour.

New coastal artillery forts could be sited to take advantage of more powerful weapons with a greater range than the old forts’ armaments. The surveys located several sites which were deemed suitable for the proposed new forts; on Singapore Island itself, on Pulau Brani (Brave Island), and on Blakang Mati. New, well armed forts constructed in these locations would be ideally situated to protect the western and eastern approaches to the strategically important Keppel Harbour.

From Government House on Singapore Island, The Governor, Mr F. Drummond Jervois wrote on 28th July 1876:-

“In order to provide effectively for the protection of the Harbour (in which are situated the Coaling Stations, Wharves, Docks, Refitting Establishments and Storehouses), I would propose to place two works on the island of Blakan Mati, and a Battery on Mount Palmer . These works should be armed with guns sufficiently powerful to penetrate the strongest ironclad which is likely to make an attack on Singapore . The greatest thickness of armour protecting the batteries that an enemy’s ironclad cruizer (sic), in these waters, would carry, would in all probability not exceed 6 inches, and I would propose that the armament of the works should have reference to this condition. I would also propose to occupy Mount Faber before defence on the land side. The positions of the several works referred to, are shown on the plan herewith.

One work on Blakan Mati would be on Mount Siloso, at an elevation of 170 feet, and the other on Mount Serapong at an elevation of 303 feet above the sea.

The work on Mount Siloso would defend the Western entrance of the New Harbour; sweep the front of Blakan Mati and the south western coast of the island of Singapore; and also bring a fire to bear upon any vessel that might have succeeded in forcing its way into the New Harbour. I propose that this work should be an open battery, with all necessary accessories, and armed with six 10-Inch M.L.R. Guns.”

Whilst the forts were constructed, the armament eventually being emplaced at Siloso and Serapong was to be different to that suggested by the Governor.

Aerial view of pre-war Blakang Mati showing the location of coastal artillery batteriesThis aerial view of Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani shows the location of all the coastal artillery forts which were built on these islands. Mount Imbiah and Fort Teregah were never updated during their service lives.

Fort Teregah was abandoned during the early 20th Century and Mount Imbiah in the late 1930s. The remainder, with the exception of Siloso were not re-used after the Second World War.

Of all the forts built to defend Singapore, only Fort Siloso has been preserved. Remains of some other forts can still be found, but some are not accessible to the public. See the section entitled ‘Other Batteries & Defences’.