Singapore: The Making of A Cosmopolitan City-State
Ong Wei Xiu Janine
The purpose of this essay is to find out how Pulau Ubin played a significant role in the development of Singapore since the late 1800s until today. I shall begin by giving a brief introduction of Pulau Ubin and go on to elaborate about how the island played a significant role in helping Singapore’s development in various aspects. This topic shall be investigated according to two main categories – granite quarrying and adventure island. I will then conclude the essay by commenting about whether Pulau Ubin will continue to play a significant role in Singapore’s development in the near future.
Brief Introduction On Pulau Ubin
Shaped like a boomerang, Pulau Ubin is the second largest offshore island of Singapore. Measuring a distance of about 7 kilometres across and about 2 kilometres at its breadth with area of around 10 square kilometres, the island lies towards the northeast of the city-state in the Straits of Johor. It is a stone island mainly “composed of igneous rocks of granite that are believed to be more than 200 million years old.”
Since the founding of Singapore by the British, the island has been known for its vast resource of granite. The first two lighthouses of the country were built with granite from Pulau Ubin. Subsequently, granite was fashioned for various purposes throughout the city-state’s history, including the building of the iconic HDB flats on mainland Singapore.
The exposure to sea, abandoned quarry lakes and secondary forests make Pulau Ubin a “natural choice for training”. The trend of adventure training on the island took flight when the Outward Bound School set up its first site on the island while answering the government’s call for the creation of a “rugged society” that could withstand the rigours of sudden nationhood in 1967. Other adventure campsites and facilities were later developed around the island to cater to the needs of outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
After the British founded Singapore, vast amounts of granite were found on Pulau Ubin. Works began in 1848 to extract the granite for building Singapore’s first lighthouse located in Pedra Branca, a small island 56 kilometres to the east of mainland Singapore. Captain James Horsburgh, a hydrographer who surveyed and chartered seaways and large bodies of water, realised that as Pedra Branca was a small rocky island that was not easily recognizable from a distance and it made the island a hazard for ships passing by. Hence, John Turnbull Thomson, a British civil engineer, built the Horsburgh Lighthouse (named after Captain James Horsburgh) in 1847 using bricks and mortar. However, it was not strong enough and could not last. Thomson then turned his eyes onto the granite stones of Pulau Ubin and had it fashioned in 1848 by stonebreakers and cutters to be used for the construction of the lighthouse. This helped Singapore to also claim ownership of the island that was often disputed for by the surrounding region.
Subsequently, a second lighthouse located in Pulau Satumu, the Raffles Lighthouse, was also built using granite from Pulau Ubin to mark the southernmost tip of Singapore’s territory. It proved to be of huge importance as it served as a safety marker for “one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes” in the “narrowest section of the Singapore Strait.
Apart from these two lighthouses that helped to mark out significant territorial points of Singapore, the granite from Pulau Ubin was also used for the construction of the Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia over a span of 5 years from 1919.
With more quarrying works to be done because of the large amount of granite needed by the British to build infrastructure on mainland Singapore, population started to rise on Pulau Ubin. Soon, the island became a major supplier of granite for the building industry. The...