Fort Tanjong Katong

Singapore Infopedia


From 1879 to 1901, Fort Tanjong Katong stood on the eastern side of Singapore, adjacent to Katong Beach on what is now Meyer Road and Fort Road. Built by the British colonial government, Fort Tanjong Katong was one of the oldest forts in Singapore.1 Fort Tanjong Katong – together with Fort Siloso, Fort Pasir Panjang, Fort Connaught and Fort Serapong – formed part of a series of defensive batteries and fortifications along the southern coast of Singapore, which protected Singapore’s town and busy port in the 19th century.2 Fort Tanjong Katong was abandoned by the military and buried until it was rediscovered around 2001.3

Construction and upgrade
William Drummond Jervois (Sir), who was appointed governor of the Straits Settlements in 1875, suggested that key improvements be made to Singapore’s defence structures. In 1878, works began at Mount Siloso, Mount Blakan Mati and Tanjong Katong. The fortifications were designed by McCallum of the Royal Engineers, who was brought in from Hong Kong for the project. Construction of the battery at Fort Tanjong Katong began in March 1879 and was completed in September that same year.4

Built to protect Singapore from potential Russian invaders, Fort Tanjong Katong was initially equipped with three 7-inch rifled muzzle loading guns. In 1885, the fort’s three-gun battery was replaced by a pair of longer range and more powerful 8-inch breech loading guns.5 The fort was an example of military camouflage built by the British to satisfy merchants who feared that they might be attacked from the east.6

Calls to demolish Fort Tanjong Katong surfaced in 1888, leading to a debate lasting some 10 years between the Colonial Defence Committee in London and the Local Defence Committee in Singapore. By 1901, the fort was rendered obsolete, as its isolated location was a disadvantage. Moreover, there were insufficient troops to staff the fort and no clean water supply in the area. The fort was abandoned, and the guns were removed and decommissioned.7 Subsequently the fort was buried, as this was easier than dismantling. The site eventually became a public park. A part of the bastion had remained above ground until it was buried in the late 1960s, when land reclamation took place in the East Coast area.8

In 2001, the outline of the bastion wall became visible during a dry spell in Singapore, which prompted a local resident to contact the authorities to investigate.9 In 2004, the Mountbatten Citizens Consultative Committee raised $200,000 for the excavation and in 10 months, with the help of volunteers and archaeologists, nearly the entire perimeter of the wall and two infantry bastions were uncovered. However, as there were no plans for the next phase of excavation, the National Parks Board reburied the fort to protect it from the weather, and prevent mosquitoes from breeding and people from falling into the 2-metre-deep holes.10

Fort Tanjong Katong is considered by local archaeologists as one of Singapore’s most important archaeological finds of 19th-century Singapore.11

Katrina van Dinter

1. Jeremy Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up – and Buried Again,” Straits Times, 9 April 2006, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Fort Siloso,” National Heritage Board, accessed 4 September 2023.
3. Lee Hup Kheng and Kevin Chan, “Hidden Fortress,” New Paper, 2 November 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Lim Chen Sian, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project: Preliminary Site Report Version 1.2,” 2, Southeast-Asian Archaeology, accessed 24 January 2017.
5. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up”; Lim, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project,” 6–7.
6. R. N. Walling, “Fortress Carved Out of Jungle,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 October 1935, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Lee and Chan, “Hidden Fortress.”
8. Lim, “Fort Tanjong Katong Raising History Planting Roots Project,” 6–7; Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”
9. Tay Tsen-Waye, “Work Begins to Unearth Fort,” Today, 25 October 2004, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”
11. Au Yong, “Buried, Dug Up.”

Further resources
Bill Clements, The Fatal Fortress: The Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819–1856 (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016). 

Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2004). (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])

Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 191–93. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as of October 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

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