Fort Siloso And The 1915 Singapore Mutiny

On 15 February 1915 during the Singapore Mutiny, LTC Edward V Martin, Commanding Officer of the 5th Light Infantry asked for searchlight support from Fort Siloso to illuminate the grounds around his house at 7 Royal Road, Alexandra Barracks. However I have not been able to find a definite answer anywhere concerning how many searchlights were involved or their locations. In my earlier post In Search of the 1915 Fort Siloso Searchlight, I highlighted one searchlight post as a possibility. In this post I will attempt to answer the question by introducing another 2 structures, one of which at the old jetty seems to be an ideal candidate. I will show not only the locations, but also how they look like today, more than 100 years after the incident.

For background to the mutiny, also see my earlier blog posts

Singapore 1915 Sepoy Mutiny and Alexandra Barracks

Tanglin Barracks and The Singapore 1915 Sepoy Mutiny

The following quotes regarding the searchlight(s) give important clues about the matter :

LTC Edward V Martin  – Report in connection with the mutiny of the 5th Light Infantry at Singapore (1915) (From SECRET DOCUMENTS ON SINGAPORE MUTINY 1915 by T R Sareen)  :

Just before it was dark, I telephoned to Fort Siloso to throw the light on both sides of the house but not on the house itself…”  (pg 576)

“I telephoned to Fort Siloso searchlight and arranged for the ground to be lit up around the house…” (pg 582)

“I was in connection with Blakan Mati late in connection with the searchlights.” (pg 605). Notice “searchlights” in plural which may indicate more than 1 searchlight post, or it may refer to 1 searchlight post shining at different parts of 7 Royal Road (“both sides”) at different times.

Malcolm Bond Shelley (written in 1927), LTA in Malay States Volunteer Rifles at time of the mutiny. (From Sareen pg 802) :

“The telephone in the house was in good order and some time in the evening communication was established with Mount Siloso where a search-light was installed.  It was arranged that this search-light should be frequently shone on to the mutineers’ barracks so as to keep them under observation.  It was always an exciting moment when the search-light operator, in the course of seeking for the barracks, rested the light for a moment full on the house!  On those occasions the directions given over the telephone were forceful and peremptory, and the offending beam of light was quickly lowered on to the barracks below the house.” 

R W E Harper & Harry Miller in page 89 of their book “Singapore Mutiny” mention 3 :

“…it then became obvious that under cover of darkness, mutineers could easily move forward for an attack.  Martin telephoned the duty officer at Fort Siloso on Blakang Mati, explained the situation, and a few minutes later two searchlights steadied their brilliant beams along two sides of the bungalow, thus lighting up a considerable area of foreground and background. A third beam was switched on at irregular times on to the barracks…”  

The following is a road map for this blog post:

  • 1. Investigation of relative positions and terrain.
  • 2. Evidence from maps.
  • 3. Investigating the structure next to the old jetty (pier).
  • 4. Investigating the western structure.
  • 5. Video of the 2 structures.
  • 6. Evidence from England.
  • 7. Were searchlights at Pulau Brani involved?
  • 8. Final conclusions.
  • 9. Notes.

1. Investigation of relative positions and terrain .

The following from Google Maps shows the relative positions of the searchlight at the old Siloso jetty (at the bottom of the map) to the present Dragon’s Tooth, 7 Royal Rd (LTC Martin’s house) and 5 Cornwall Rd (vicinity of Native Officer Barracks).  Note that as the beam towards 7 Royal Road is to the right of the present Dragon’s Tooth, it will not be blocked by Batu Berlayar. 

Relative positions of the Siloso jetty structure to 7 Royal Rd (LTC Martin’s house),
5 Cornwall Rd (vicinity of Native Officer Mess) and Dragon’s Tooth

Centre of the beam from the old Siloso jetty structure passes through the lowlands between “Labrador Villa” and “Keppel Camp” towards 7 Royal Road. (The lowlands is presently an open field at Port Road)(More about this 1906 map later)
This contour map overlay from onemap.gov.sg shows location of 7 Royal Rd , confirming the location of 7 Royal Rd in my previous map with the blue arrow.
The above photo from Google Maps shows the flat open field (lowland) at Port Road through which the searchlight beam from the old Siloso jetty structure may have passed.

Height of the area around 7 Royal Road:

The above map shows that 7 Royal Road is on very high ground 145 feet (44.2m), thus making it easier for searchlights on the lower slopes near the beach at Fort Siloso, to illuminate the slopes around the house.

The searchlight illuminated the front of 7 Royal Road
The searchlight also illuminated the area behind 7 Royal Road.
Locations of front and back of the house

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2. Evidence from maps.

The following maps show 2 searchlights on the northern coast at Fort Siloso at about the time of the mutiny, one at the old jetty and another further west.  Both seem to be in line of sight of LTC Martin’s house at 7 Royal Road. (I am grateful to Peter Stubbs for bringing to my attention one of the maps and his valuable input.)

1902 map showing underground cables linking the 2 structures (No. 5 at the jetty structure, and No. 4 towards the west.) Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom. Accession Number: D2016_000063 Covering Date: 1902 https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b4e9cd4d-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad
Key for the 1902 map showing the red line as “Cables submarine or buried”

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1904 map shows No.1 EL (Electric Light) (next to the jetty) and No.2 EL further west
Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom
Accession Number: D2016_000069. Covering Date: 1904 https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b4fe3413-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad

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1906 map shows No.4 EL (Electric Light) at the jetty and No.5 EL towards the west. Both beams with 45 degree arcs.
Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom
Accession Number: D2016_000072. Covering Date: 1906
https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b503595b-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad

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1909 map also shows No.4 EL was located at the jetty.
Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom
Accession Number: D2016_000429. Covering Date: 1909 https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b8bc12cf-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad

Later I will show that the existing structure at the old jetty and the other slightly larger structure towards the west, have apertures pointing in roughly similar directions to the map. (And more importantly, the jetty structure points directly towards LTC Martin’s house at 7 Royal Road).  At the very least, the maps show that the searchlight beam from the jetty area pointed more towards the right (ie north) than the other one, which corresponds to the apertures of the 2 existing structures shown in this blog post.

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3. Investigating the structure next to the old jetty (pier).

(I came across this structure years ago when it was more easily accessible. Now there is a fence. Anyway there is a link to a video of the 2 structures later on in this blog post so you know how the 2 structures look like without having to go there. You’re welcome.)

Of the 2 structures, I believe the one at the old jetty is the one with the best location and orientation for shining at both LTC Martin’s house at 7 Royal Road, as well as the Native officer’s (and men’s) quarters in the vicinity of 5 Cornwall Road and will therefore start with this one.

Entrance of structure at old jetty
Aperture of structure at old jetty
Aperture of structure at old jetty from inside.

Photo taken from just outside the aperture of jetty structure.
7 Royal Road and 5 Cornwall Rd are to the right of Dragon’s Tooth.
By placing the edge of a compass at the edge of the aperture of the jetty structure, I got 330° (red reading)
Stitched Panoramic view taken from 2 feet inside the structure at jetty showing compass bearings (from mobile phone) and possibility of 45 degree arc of beam (357-307) with centre of beam pointing to 329 degrees.
Coordinates and bearings from structure at old jetty.
Azimuth 330.22 degrees to 7 Royal Rd.

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How did I derive the azimuths? As the following show, I first ascertained the coordinates of the various places using a phone mapping app:

Coordinates of structure at old jetty (using phone mapping app)
Coordinates of 7 Royal Rd (using phone mapping app)

I then input the coordinates into a website to get the calculated azimuths:

Calculated azimuth of 330.22 degrees from jetty structure to 7 Royal Road. Using https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/distance-and-azimuths

From this information, we derive the following :

The aperture of the structure next to the old jetty points directly towards 7 Royal Rd and is not blocked by Batu Berlayar. (Azimuths are from phone compass app). Note that 45 degree spread would mean 307.5 to 352.5 degrees (based on azimuth of 300 degrees), meaning 5 Cornwall Road is easily within the arc of the searchlight beam.

Conclusion so far :

A searchlight at the old jetty structure could have illuminated both 7 Royal Road and 5 Cornwall Road area.

Interestingly, I uploaded the old maps to  https://www.ursupplier.com/tools/angle_measurement/ and by visual inspection got the following results which are very close to our compass readings :

Overlay on the 1906 map – azimuth of the centre of the beam from the jetty structure shows 330° (270+60).
Overlay on the 1909 map shows 333° (270+63)

There! Congratulations for reading the 1st part of this blog post! Now make yourself a nice cup of coffee before proceeding. Its on me.

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4. Investigating the western structure.

The structure is not easily accessible as the slope above is very steep and I would not recommend people to try to go there.  I am grateful to Harry Carlito Bogard from Temasek Rural Exploring Enthusiasts for telling me about it a few years ago.

Entrance of structure to the west.
Aperture of structure to the west from inside.
Interesting looking bar near the ceiling. I wonder what it was for.
Aperture from outside the western structure
Close-up of hinges for steel shutter outside the western structure
Dragon’s Tooth – view from the aperture is blocked by foliage, so the photo was taken from in front of the western structure
Calculated bearings based on phone GPS location of the western structure

Compass bearings from western structure 300 degrees. Note that the edge of the ledge at the aperture is dirty and worn out, making it difficult to get an accurate reading. (How about my eyes? I have 4.)
As the above reading of 300 degrees is based on the searchlight being placed in the middle and pointing perpendicularly out (Taking middle as 300 degrees and 45 degree arc, gives us arc of 277.5 to 322.5 degrees), it would seem that a searchlight here might have been able to illuminate 7 Royal Road (and perhaps 5 Cornwall Rd area) only if the searchlight was swiveled to the right. A lot depends on the accuracy of the location coordinates used for the 2 structures as well as the compass bearings. A few degrees could make an important difference.

Remember that the above results are based on position coordinates of the western structure using phone GPS reading.

This is slightly different from the coordinates from the phone mapping app shown below, resulting in the difference of calculated azimuths of 326.59 phone GPS vs 331.9 mapping app (But as you will see later, the conclusion is the same) :

Based on position coordinates from phone mapping app.

It doesn’t matter:

The below 2 diagrams show that no matter which position coordinates of the western structure is used, if the searchlight was swivelled right (340.72), it would have been able to illuminate 7 Royal Road, provided the beam was not blocked by Batu Berlayar :

The above illustration shows that swivelling the searchlight to the right (maximum azimuth 340.72 )
should enable it to illuminate 7 Royal Road (and perhaps even 5 Cornwall Rd area). Note that the searchlight being 2 feet behind the aperture is a guess based on photos of searchlight posts.

Conclusion about the western structure:

A searchlight at the western structure may have been able to illuminate 7 Royal Road and 5 Cornwall Road.

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(Side note: What’s with the red line thingy? How did I derive azimuth of 340.72 degrees? Well, just elementary trigonometry – Try Once Again TANGENT formula. Remember? No? Same here. Come to think of it I can’t even remember where I chucked my precious Cambridge Mathematical Tables. Just kidding of course.

Into the dustbin. Why is it you always need something only after you have thrown it away?

For readers who like me, have thrown away their precious tables or can’t find their dusty scientific calculator, here is a youtube video that shows you how to use Excel to derive the angle in degrees : https://youtu.be/rM3gjUqo8io ie =DEGREES(ATAN(Opposite/Adjacent)). You can also use the built-in Windows Calculator. Type calc in the Windows search box and choose Calculator. When the calculator pops up, choose Scientific mode from the left menu (the 3 small horizontal lines on the left top corner), key in the ratio of the sides, eg 1.1619 (122/105), then under Trigonometry click on 2nd, then Tan-1 ; and it will show 49.28. So azimuth is 300+40.72 = 340.72 degrees. Or directly 0.86065 (105/122) gives 40.72 ie azimuth is 300+40.72 = 340.72 degrees 🙂

You could also use websites like the following that Peter Stubbs likes – http://www.csgnetwork.com/righttricalc.html?fbclid=IwAR3oUiheOEMUKCGn9c6UO7kox5hME77G2GX7oCJ9IbqD-S-VShaYH-gvi68 or http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/calrtri.htm?fbclid=IwAR2YrHvWCVeYKWc3DgqR_w33c7Q900MHTy5p4vQQwWDPi4jwEDBS6TZV91U.

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Now back to the investigation.

For those who are curious, the 1906 and 1909 maps show the middle of the beam pointing to 292 and 294 degrees respectively, as opposed to 300 degrees I got from my compass:

1906 map shows centre of the beam of the western structure has azimuth of about 292° (270+22)
1909 map shows the western structure has beam with azimuth 294°

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5. A youtube video of the 2 structures can be found here:

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6. Evidence from England that the 2 structures were searchlight posts.

The article below is extracted from A Guide to the Archaeology of the  20th century defence sites of Tyne and Wear – by R Whaley, J Morrison and D Heslop.  Published by Urban Design And Conservation, Newcastle City Council.   Downloadable from here : https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/services/planning-building-and-development/tyne-and-wear-archaeology  

4 Tynemouth Castle, Searchlight

Emplacement (HER 1572)

To allow the guns at Spanish Battery and Tynemouth Castle to fire at night, a searchlight was emplaced on the south side of Tynemouth Castle, near to the quarry, and just by the path that lead along to the pier. It was manned and maintained by the Tyne Electrical Engineers, who were based at Clifford’s Fort, and was in use throughout World War One. By World War Two it had been replaced by a new searchlight nearer to Tynemouth pier. There had been a similar emplacement at the Spanish Battery, which has now been demolished. This site is the best surviving searchlight emplacement on Tyneside, and remains in good condition. It is a low, concrete building with a large aperture at the front (now sealed up), out of which the searchlight would have shone. Although it is slightly overgrown, it is easily visible, and much of the original form survives

(information provided by Alan Rudd, 1995).

Tynemouth Castle Searchlight. Notice that the aperture of the searchlight post in the structure looks similar to that of the 2 structures at Fort Siloso. ie this is evidence that our 2 structures were searchlight posts.

The following 2 photos are from Google Maps:

The searchlight emplacement is now largely hidden by vegetation.
Position of searchlight and direction of beam

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7. Were searchlights at Pulau Brani involved ?

Singapore Mutiny by Mary Brown and Edwin A Brown:

“The RGA were all on Blakan Mati… The RE, including the Volunteers of the same arm, were on Pulo Brani, an adjacent island, the Volunteers being there especially for Searchlight duty.” – pg 15

“…across the sky stretched two narrow beams of light, the searchlights from Pulo Brani fixed on Col Martin’s bungalow.” –pg 49

The Singapore Mutiny, of February 1915 – Ian F W Beckett. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. Vol. 62, No. 251 (Autumn 1984), pp. 132-153 (22 pages). Published by Society for Army Historical Research. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44226425 :

“Most of the engineers and artillerymen were stationed on the two offshore islands  of Pulau Brani and Blakang Mati”. – pg 134

“There was desultory sniping during the night but any concerted attack on Martin was deterred by playing searchlights from Pulau Brani on the ground around his bungalow”. – pg 140

(Many thanks to Professor Beckett for his clarification about the source: The reference to searchlights from Pulau Brani comes from the account of A H Dickinson written in 1960 as contained in Mss Ind Ocn s 243 at Rhodes House Library, Oxford. There is a duplicate in the Imperial War Museum (Old reference  P277 AHD3). A reference to searchlights from Fort Siloso is in the Royal Commonwealth Society British Association of Malaysia Collection,2nd Draft Report by W Lowther, Reserve Straits Settlement Volunteer Corps, March 1915. From the same collection, searchlights from Fort Siloso  also mentioned in the account of M B Shelley of the Malay States Volunteers written in 1927.)

I think it is unlikely that Brani searchlights were involved because as the following maps show, the searchlights on Brani were at Fort Silingsing and Teregah (also spelled as Teregeh), on the east coast, facing the sea in the opposite direction from 7 Royal Road.  I am also indebted to Peter Stubbs for pointing out that the searchlights there were located on the lower slopes :

“The lights were low on the slope and would not have been able to bear on the house…You can see by the lie of the land and the contours that it would not be possible for either light to bear on the house. The lights would have been difficult to move to enable them to bear, and the power supply would require to be moved also.” – Peter Stubbs

The following maps show searchlights on the lower slopes at Fort Silingsing and Teregah on Pulau Brani pointing in the opposite direction from 7 Royal Road:

Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom. Accession Number: D2016_000421
Covering Date: 1914 .
https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b8a2ea43-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad
Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom. Accession Number: D2016_000428
Covering Date: 1913.
https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b8b8e56a-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad
Source: The National Archives, United Kingdom. Accession Number: D2016_000069
Covering Date:1904
https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b4fe3413-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad

For more info on Silingsing, see http://fortsiloso.com/batteries/wwII/silingsing/silingsing.htm

For more info on Teregah, see https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/cb2217c9-698f-4d02-bc49-308ca12b7c74

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8. Final conclusions.

a) The 2 existing structures at Fort Siloso I have been writing about were designed to be searchlight posts and were the ones shown on the maps. This is also the opinion of Peter Stubbs :

These were I’m certain, two CASL posts for small searchlights…They illuminated the harbour for the 12 Pounders emplaced in the old No.1 7 Inch RML emplacement by the Magazine.” – Peter Stubbs

Peter Stubbs also states that the 12 Pounders had disappeared from the list of mounted armaments by 1907 and that the emplacements may have been used for machine guns after that.

b) If there were searchlights there at the time of the mutiny, the searchlight at the old jetty area should have been able to illuminate both LTC Martin’s house (7 Royal Rd) and the mutineers’ quarters (5 Cornwall Rd area).

However as pointed out earlier, I am not so sure about the western structure. As I have shown, it probably could if the searchlight there was swivelled to the right.

(Short of documentation like unit reports or personal memoirs/letters of old soldiers based at Blakang Mati, I think the best that can be done would be – a) Trim the foliage that is blocking the view from the aperture of the western structure. But even then, high rise buildings along Alexandra Road would obscure 7 Royal Road. Which leads us to – b) A drone photo from above the structure pointing towards 7 Royal Road. Better still, a drone video of the path from the structure to 7 Royal Road. But it might require a special permit.) ; c) I doubt if anyone wants to do land surveying 🙂

c) It is unlikely that any searchlights on Pulau Brani were involved.

d) Finally, although some maps like this 1913 map (https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b8b8e56a-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad), and this 1914 map (https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b8a2ea43-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad) do not show the 2 structures, it is my belief (for what its worth :)) that the evidence as a whole points to the jetty structure being involved on 15 February 1915 during the mutiny and the western structure also being a possibility.

If there were 2 searchlights involved, then perhaps both could have illuminated 7 Royal Road, while the one at the jetty could have switched its beam intermittently towards the mutineers’ barracks at the vicinity of 5 Cornwall Road. If there were 3 lights involved, then perhaps the old searchlight (as described in In Search of the 1915 Fort Siloso Searchlight or another as yet unidentified one may have been involved (which would be another mystery to solve :))

Know of any better candidates for the 1915 searchlight(s) ? What do you think? Please share in the comments section.

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9. Notes :

A) The above discussion relies to an important degree on compass readings taken from the apertures of the 2 structures. However Compass North does not equal Geographic North (Map True North). Fortunately, the magnetic declination in Singapore is less than 1 degree (0° 7’ E   ie  0.116667°) and can be ignored for our purposes.

For more information on what is magnetic declination, you can go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_declination

B)  The old jetty/pier

From the information plaque for the old jetty.
From the information plaque for the old jetty.
Present day ruins of the old jetty.

C) The concrete slope near the old jetty/pier

View of the concrete slope from Siloso Road down towards the beach.
View of the concrete slope from the beach up towards Siloso Road

The concrete slope may have been used for hauling up guns and other heavy items from ships/the beach by “parbuckling” (see http://fortsiloso.com/history/1879/parbuckling/parbuckling.htm for a description of parbuckling).

Mock-up of parbuckling at Fort Siloso.
Source: The 9.2-inch Coast Defence Gun in Canadian Service. By Doug Knight (pg 31) https://www.vancouvergunners.ca/uploads/2/5/3/2/25322670/the_9.2-inch_coast_defence_gun_in_canadian_servicereduced.pdf

C) Forgotten 100+ year old structure in the forested area at Fort Siloso. Guess what it was 🙂

The following is a video of the structure:

If you still cannot guess what it was, here is a 1912 map showing the structure (no not a 100 year old British army KTV):


Blue arrow points to the structure – Latrine.
Source:  The National Archives, United Kingdom
Accession Number:  D2016_000412
Covering Date: 1911
https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/maps_building_plans/record-details/b88a78ef-57a3-11e6-b4c5-0050568939ad

(Important note: I’m afraid it is no longer open for business and paying 20 cents won’t make a difference. 🙂 ) On a more serious note, I visited the structure recently and was disappointed to come across litter (a discarded plastic drink bottle) on the ground.

D) Underwater World (13 May 1991 – 26 June 2016)

Some people may remember the Underwater World that used to be just next to Fort Siloso at 80 Siloso Road. Here is a video taken on 14 Aug 2016 after it had been closed but before it was demolished. When I was there, the turtles with accompanying fishes were the only exhibits still there :

Here is a news segment in 2016 announcing the closing of Underwater World:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymkxJm766eM

Author: amazingwalks

I like to go for walks and take photos with my mobile phone. Hopefully these blog posts will inspire you to see that you don't need to go abroad and spend a bomb for an interesting time. There is beauty, interesting scenery, amazing history and lessons to be learnt... sometimes hidden in plain sight. Please feel free to share your own walks and discoveries by commenting.

6 thoughts on “Fort Siloso And The 1915 Singapore Mutiny”

  1. Your topics are always interesting and educational. “Fort Siloso And The 1915 Singapore Mutiny” is also a compelling piece of investigative journalism.

    Liked by 1 person

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