Bukit Chermin

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Bukit Chermin (‘Mirror Hill’ in Malay) is a small 28m-high hill located next to Keppel Harbour, in the southwest of Singapore. It owes its name to the clearness of the water in the bay. The beaches at the foot of Bukit Chermin served as the cradle for the development of docking facilities in Singapore.

As early as 1819, shortly after the British arrived in Singapore, the Resident William Farquhar reported the discovery of a ‘new harbour’ inhabited by orang laut (sea gypsies). The development of the harbour has its roots in 1842, when Admiral (then Captain) Sir Henry Keppel arrived in Singapore to eradicate piracy in the region. He discovered the deep water anchorage in the harbour earlier observed by Farquhar, and returned many times later in his life to oversee its development. A survey of ‘New Harbour’ initiated by Keppel, completed in 1849, set into motion the development of the harbour. In honour of his contributions to the area, New Harbour and New Harbour Road were renamed Keppel Harbour and Keppel Road respectively, in 1900.

In 1855, an enterprising British sailor, Captain William Cloughton, bought a stretch of land at the foot of Bukit Chermin – Pantai Chermin (‘Mirror Beach’) – from the Temenggong of Singapore. This beach, stretching eastwards from Bukit Chermin, is the current site of the Keppel Bay residential redevelopment. While the first attempt to build a dock near the foot of Bukit Chermin failed, four docks were eventually built further east – Docks Number 1 (1859) and 2 (1870), King’s Dock (1913) and Queen’s Dock (1956). Of these four historic docks, three have been retained in the harbour redevelopment, while Dock Number 1 has been replaced with a similar water channel in the Caribbean at Keppel Bay condominium.

Bukit Chermin was inhabited as early as 1848, when W.P.W. Kerr of Paterson, Simons & Company Limited built the ‘Cliff House’ (which was demolished after a fire around the 60s) at its summit. Kerr, a prominent businessman, would become one of the founding partners of the New Harbour Dock Company. Four other bungalows were built on the slopes of the hill probably somewhere in 1900s, when the newly-formed Singapore Harbour Board took over running of the docks at Tanjong Pagar and Keppel Harbour. It served as the quarters for senior Harbour Board staff throughout the early 1900s till shortly after World War II.

The bungalows on Bukit Chermin belong to a very specific period of the ‘Black & White’, or Tropical Mock Tudor, house. The ‘Black & White’ houses quickly emerged in great numbers in the early 1900s and went away equally swiftly in the 1940s, creating a unique architectural phase in the history of architecture in Singapore. House Nos 20, 22 & 24 are typical of Black & White houses built by the colonial government in the early 1900s. These feature a masonry base elevating the house from the tropical damp, with the rest of the house built with half-timbered construction. The resultant architectural language is a clear and honest aesthetic expressed through the red brick columns, black timber secondary structure, and white plaster infills. and windows.

House No 30 is the grandest and the largest of the four existing bungalows on Bukit Chermin. It was inhabited by a high-ranking port official, possibly the portmaster, due to its size and seafront location. It can be seen clearly from Tanjong Berlayer, at the eastern end of Labrador Park.

The area was given conservation status on 5 Dec 2008.

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