Istana Kampong Glam

Singapore Infopedia

by Cornelius, Vernon


Istana Kampong Glam (also spelled as “Gelam”) was the seat and historic home of Malay royalty in Singapore. The first sultan, Hussein Mohamed Shah, never lived in the building as he died in Malacca in 1835. The present building was constructed in 1840 by his son, Tengku Mohammed Ali, who was later recognised as Sultan Ali Iskandah Shah. The Istana is located at Sultan Gate in Kampong Glam, in the Rochor area of the central region.1 Today, Istana Kampong Glam is preserved as the Malay Heritage Centre.2

In his 1822 town plan, Stamford Raffles allocated Kampong Glam to the Malays, Bugis and Arabs. On 14 March 1823, the location east of the European town and lying between Rochor River and the sea – amounting to 56 acres – was given to Sultan Hussein. Sultan Gate and the Istana then became the seat of Malay royalty in Singapore, beginning with Sultan Hussein who later ceded Singapore to the British East India Company on 2 August 1824. The estate was given to him as his “personal accommodation”.3

Sultan Hussein built his residence at Kampong Glam – a large, rambling attap habitation – and took his whole family and hundreds of followers from Riau to settle there. However, the sultan never resided in the present building, Istana Kampong Glam, as he died on 5 September 1835 in Malacca. His eldest son, Tengku Mohammed Ali Iskander Shah, was only 10 years old then. In 1840, when Tengku Ali arrived in Singapore to claim his father's estate as rightful heir, the colonial government gave him a monthly pension and allowed his family and heirs to continue living at the Kampong Glam estate. Tengku Ali built Istana Kampong Glam in 1840 at Sultan Gate. He was formally recognised by the British as the sultan of Singapore in 1855.4

Some attribute the design of the Istana to George D. Coleman as the architectural style seemed reflective of his work. The building is painted a strong yellow, the colour of Malay royalty. The entrance to Istana Kampong Glam is by Sultan Gate, off Beach Road.5

In 1896, Sultan Ali's three wives settled in court their dispute over the rights to the Istana Kampong Glam estate. In 1897, the court repealed this privilege of land ownership and ruled that no one could claim to be a successor. Hence, the estate belonged to the colony of Singapore and not to the sultan's descendants, although they were allowed to continue living there. In accordance with Section 2 of the 1904 Sultan Hussain Ordinance (Cap. 382), the land at Kampong Glam reverted to the state and became state property on 1 January 1905. It is administered by the land office in the same manner as other state land in Singapore.6

Historical landmark
On 7 July 1989, the historic district of Kampong Glam, bounded by Jalan Sultan, Rochor Canal Road, Arab Street and Beach Road, was gazetted a conservation area. In 1993, the government announced plans to develop Istana Kampong Glam since it was located in the 16-hectare Kampong Glam conservation area. Residents were given ample time to make their own housing arrangements. On 12 March 1999, it was announced that the Istana would be converted into a Malay heritage centre.7 After redevelopment, the Malay Heritage Centre was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in June 2005.8

Istana Kampong Glam was gazetted as a national monument on 6 August 2015.9


Vernon Cornelius

1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). Kampong Glam: Historic district. (1995). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 7, 14—19. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 KAM)
2. Malay Heritage Centre. (2016, June 14). Introduction. Retrieved 2017, March 7 from Malay Heritage Centre website:
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). Kampong Glam: Historic district. (1995). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 14—19. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 KAM)
4. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 275—276, 281. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
5. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 267. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
6. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). Kampong Glam: Historic district. (1995). Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, pp. 7, 14—19. (Call no.: RSING 363.69095957 KAM)
7. Old Istana may house Malay Heritage Centre. (1993, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Malay Heritage Centre. (2017). Introduction. Retrieved 2017, March 7 from Malay Heritage Centre website:
9. Zakir Hussain. (2015, August 1). Istana Kampong Gelam to be a national monument. The Straits Times. Retrieved from The Straits Times website:

Further resources
Barry, J. (2009). Istana Kampong Glam: Archaeological excavations at a nineteenth century Malay Palace in Singapore. Stamford: Rheidol Press.
(Call no.: RSING 666.309595709034 BAR)

Chang, K. S. (1990, July 25). Sultan Hussain's estate is state land. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chin, L. C. (1994, March 3). Singapore sultan's treasures in heir's Jakarta home. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

PKMS wants 1897 ruling on Kg Glam nullified. (1991, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Plans to speed up conservation work in Kampong Glam. (1991, March 13). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, J. (1990, July 23). Plans for Istana Kampong Glam. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 6 August 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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