Rumblings & Doodlings of an Unsettled Mind: Johor Pride and Heritage in Temasek

Ramblings and doodlings of an unsettled mind!

Johor pride and heritage in Temasek


Johor State Emblem

Temasek, then Singapura and now Republic of Singapore have had very close ties with Johor. A lot of these heritage buildings and properties are still available for public visitation and functional, long after British rule and Singapore achieving its own Independence.

Excerpt from an article written by NST senior writter Fauziah Ismail:

SPIRITUAL SITE: Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim Johor Darul Takzim is the mosque next to Temenggong Abdul Rahman’s first residence in Teluk Belanga.

I have read and written about Teluk Belanga for this column but I don’t know where in Singapore it exactly is.

Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli, the secretary of the Johor Council of Royal Court and Chancellor of the Most Honourable Order of the Crown of Johor, provided me the answer in one of his emails on the state.

“Telok Belanga covered an area of about 80.94 hectares on what is now called Mount Faber,” he wrote.


Teluk Belanga, Temasek

In fact, I read that Mount Faber was originally known as Telok Blangah Hill but was later renamed after Captain Charles Edward Faber of the Madras Engineers, the superintendent engineer in the Straits (and brother-in-law of Governor Major-General William John Butterworth), who arrived in Singapore in September 1844.

It was Sir Stamford Raffles who persuaded the Temenggong to move to Teluk Belanga after Arab trader Syed Yassin who stabbed Singapore’s first resident Major-General William Farquhar was found hiding in the settlement.

Raffles had also provided compensation for the construction of houses for the Temenggong and his followers.


Masjid Temenggong Daing Ibrahim, Teluk Belanga, Singapura

“The buildings then were not pretentious,” Rahim wrote. “The residence for Temenggong Abdul Rahman and his family could hardly be known as a palace of modern days. This building was situated in an area known as Bukit Tanjong Aur. A mosque, octagonal in shape, was built and was also used as a Balai Rong Seri (Audience Hall).”

According to Rahim, the land was on lease from the East India Company with a proviso that if the Temenggong, his heirs or successors should prefer to move from Singapore and reside permanently in Johor, the company will pay him 15,000 Spanish dollars. In return, the Temenggong and his successors should relinquish all rights and title to all his immovable properties including land and buildings there.


The octagonal mosque

However, it was his grandson, Sultan Abu Bakar who successfully negotiated with the English for a permanent title of Telok Belanga on Aug 15, 1864. This land was one of the territories of Johor where the Johor flag was flown.

Sultan Abu Bakar built a palace on 17.5ha of land at Bidadari Estate in the Serangoon district of Singapore for his consort Enche’ Puan Besar Zubaidah. The palace was known as Istana Bidadari (The Singapore government subsequently acquired the land in 1904 and turned it into Bidadari Cemetery for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese, and Christians of different denominations).


The main prayer hall

It was sometime in 1860 that Sultan Abu Bakar purchased a landed property once owned by his legal adviser William Napier that was advertised for sale in March 1857 by Boustead and Co.

The house called Tyersall stood on 26ha of land in the Tanglin area in Singapore.

The house was demolished in 1890 and both Sultan Abu Bakar and his consort Sultanah Fatimah planned a new building, which had been described back then as “one of the grandest homes built in the Victorian Eclectic idiom, combining not only gothic and classical motifs, but also some Indo-Saracenic elements into the design”.


The corridor of the 160 year old mosque

The building was rectangular in shape with a central courtyard, a red-tiled roof and a tower nearly 21.3 metre high, was topped by a symbolic star and crescent.

Its architect was Datuk Yahaya Awaludin, who drew up the plans according to the wishes of Sultanah Fatimah. Yahya was the chief engineer in Abu Bakar’s Cabinet.

The building was completed in 1892, a year after Sultanah Fatimah’s death.


The plaque to the Royal Mausoleum at Masjid Temenggong Daing Ibrahim’s grounds

Sultan Abu Bakar named the palace “Istana Tyersall” and made it his official residence. Tyersall was described as “a lavishly appointed palace whose splendour made a great occasion.

“It was adorned with Chinese and Japanese curios collected by Sultan Abu Bakar on his travels. It was officially reopened on Dec 3, 1892 by Governor Sir Cecil Clementi at a ball attended among others by the rulers of Pahang and Riau and leading lights of Singapore and Johor society,” Rahim said

On April 4, 1895, Sultan Abu Bakar executed a will expressing his intention for Tyersall to become state property after his death for the use and enjoyment of his heir and successors.


View of the Royal Mausoleum from the cemetery in the grounds of Masjid Temenggong Daing Ibrahim Complex

Tyersall was destroyed in a fire, caused by faulty electrical wiring, on the morning of Sept 10, 1905. Part of its grounds excluding the building was acquired by the Singapore government in November 1990 under its Land Acquisition Act.

In the same will, Sultan Abu Bakar had bequeathed a house called Woodneuk and the surrounding gardens spreading across 12.14ha at Tanglin Singapore (adjacent to Tyersall) to Sultanah Khatijah.


The whole Masjid Temenggong Daing Ibrahim Complex. The green-roofed building on the left is the main mosque. The one on the right is the Royal Mausoleum. Not seen in the complex is the residential units of all the mosque officials incl the imam

Sultan Ibrahim bought the property from Sultanah Khatijah before she died. In 1930, the sultan and Sultanah Helen rebuilt Woodneuk into another magnificent palace.

Woodneuk, according to Rahim, was often mistaken for Tyersall because of its proximity. “The difference was that Woodneuk had a blue tiled roof,” he explained.

The palace and its grounds is now the private property of the current ruler, Sultan Iskandar.

Meanwhile, the mosque next to the Temenggong Abdul Rahman’s first residence in Teluk Belanga, is known as Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim Johor Darul Takzim. According to the Singapore Islamic Religious Council, the mosque is managed by the Johor government.


Some of the graves in the cemetery behind the mosque, next to the Royal Mausoleum

Adjacent to the mosque is the Makam Temenggong, where Temenggong Abdul Rahman and his son, Temenggong Ibrahim, are buried.

The mausoleum is the final resting ground of 34 other members of the royal family including Sultanah Khatijah, a consort of Sultan Abu Bakar (son of Temenggong Ibrahim and grandson of Temenggong Abdul Rahman), who died at Istana Woodneuk in Singapore on Feb 1, 1904.


The design and motive of the mosque is exactly like in Masjid Sultan Abu Bakar, Johor Bahru, Masjid Jame’ Bandar Maharani, Muar and Masjid Jame’ Batu Pahat.

This is what still the remaining part of the realm of a Johor-Riau Sultanate still being preserved. More over,  in a nation where the rulers now are immigrants from a distant land. There are more about private properties belonging to HRH Sultan of Johor, still in the republic. After a  long dispute, another major heritage of Tanah Melayu would be surrendered to the government of the day at the end of the month. The descendants of South China who are now the Government of Singapore decided the preserve the building as a heritage building.

We shall save that for another time.

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