Revolver, parangs in showdown at 1868 bungalow

Revolver, parangs in showdown at 1868 bungalow
Burkill Hall is an Anglo-Malay plantation-style house dating back to 1868. It is believed to be the last such bungalow in the region.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The stately Burkill Hall, now a popular wedding venue at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, was the site of a showdown in 1875 that involved a revolver and parangs.

Then Gardens superintendent James Murton had withheld the wages of Javanese coolies working there as they had allegedly stolen possessions from his office.

This resulted in a verbal spat, a physical struggle and a chase around the complex with their immediate manager. The situation came to a head when 30 armed coolies confronted Mr Murton, then in his early 20s, at Burkill Hall where he was living.

Mr Murton fired shots from his revolver over their heads in an attempt to disperse the group. He then locked himself in the bathroom till the head gardener had calmed the situation down.

This incident was uncovered by current Gardens director Nigel Taylor, who dug into newspaper archives to piece together historical anecdotes about the 156-year-old site as part of his research for the Gardens' Unesco World Heritage Site bid.

"There are all these stories you don't get in an annual report that are slightly soft in nature but are nevertheless more interesting than annual reports, which focus on bread-and-butter issues," he said.

Dr Taylor also learnt late last year that the two-storey Burkill Hall, which dates back to 1868, is an Anglo-Malay plantation-style house.

It is believed to be the last such bungalow in the region.

The Gardens is also home to a flight of brick steps, at its Plant House in Tanglin Core, made by Australian prisoners of war during the Japanese Occupation.

The bricks which they made are identified by an arrow carved into each one as an act of defiance.

Dr Taylor learnt that the former prisoners, who visited the Gardens in 1995, had jumped up and down the steps in excitement when they realised that the bricks they had made at a brickworks in Changi were still intact.

Researchers also learnt that Siamese King Chulalongkorn visited the Gardens in 1871 at the age of 18 as part of his first trip abroad.

They also dug up a photograph of the king at the Gardens in which he is seen wearing a Western jacket and holding a white hat.

 


This article was first published on July 6, 2015.
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