Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 8 – Court House at Bukit Timah? (by Peter Chan)

It is unthinkable that Singapore’s courthouses can be located in a residential estate; among landed bungalows and kampungs. We all know the Supreme Court and Subordinate Courts are in the heart of town at St Andrews Road and Havelock Road respectively. Wait until you ask the question: Which Singapore school was turned into a courthouse? You will be stumped for an answer.

Chestnut Drive Secondary School was opened in 1969 but its opening was delayed several times because in 1967 the brand new school was temporarily converted into a courthouse to try detained supporters of the then largest opposition party, the Barisan Socialists, a split-away faction of the PAP. Some 200 Barisan supporters were handcuffed and tried at one go. My house was 150 meters from the school and every day walking to the bus-stop on main Upper Bukit Timah Road, I saw riot squad police, lawyers and flag-waving Barisan female supporters.



Behind the high fence was the school hall cum canteen viewed from Chestnut Drive.

The old school hall cum canteen became the court house. The bearded Mr. TT Rajah, an ex-PAP member himself defended the Barisan. Mr. TT Rajah if I am not mistaken is the father of Justice VK Rajah and the founder of the legal firm Rajah & Tann. We could hear the on-goings because the Public Address system was used during the court proceedings. I think Mr. Donald Yeo was the magistrate. Several times the judge shouted through the microphone to bring order to the courthouse because the Barisan supporters were jeering every time the prosecutor spoke.

Barisan detainees being led away to a waiting Black Maria van. In the background was the old school hall.

Chestnut Drive Secondary School still stands but an open field replaced the school-hall.

16 comments:

Hio Soon Huat said...

I was an ex student of Chestnut Drive Sec School from 1973 - 1974. I must admit that I did not know that it was a former courthouse. However I have fond memories of that school so much so that I brought my family for a visit about 3 years ago. At that time the school was going through some renovations. I told the security guard that I was an ex student and requested his permission to look around as it was the school holidays. He was kind enough to let me in. I showed my family where I sat when I was in secondary one. Nothing really changed much and I am thankful to Peter for blogging about my former school.
I had a wonderful teacher in Sec 2 and her name is Ms. Cheam. The most unforgetful word I remembered from her was when a student was late in passing up his homework and apologised for the delay. Her reply - 'I won't fail you if you pass up your work' Up to this day, her kind words is always in my mind.
I wonder if Ms Cheam is a reader of this blog... please post a commet or two if you are reading it... sure wish to know how things with her.

household name said...

The detainees look really cheerful, even with their handcuffs on!

Brian Mitchell said...

Yes that picture of the detainees is rather extraordinary - I guess that judicial means were being taken to try to solve a political issue. Would be interested to know what was the eventual outcome.

zen said...

The break-away Barisan Socialist was originally from the PAP, comprising mainly of leftist-inclined members, and were mostly Chinese educated. This grassroot based party nearly toppled the PAP through election led by a charismatic leader named Dr Lee Siew Choh, but later on unwisely chose to challenge the ruling party by taking politics to the streets. Singaporeans by and large wanted stability and progress, minusing all those slogan shouting on races, languages and ideology. This explained why this radical party had faded into oblivion from Singapore political history.

peter said...

No lah the late Mr Lim Chin Seong was the charamastic leader of the Barisan; Dr. Lee Siew Choh took over after Lim was detained during Operation Coldstore.

Is in the British National Archives in Surrey where one can read through declassified government documents such as Lim Chin Seong

zen said...

Peter you are right. Mr Lim Chin Seong was one of the founder members of Barisan and undoubtedly its leader, with Mr Lee Siew Choh leading the party at a later stage. Mr Lim was detained and expelled from Singapore. He subsequently got married and resided in UK. He came back to Singapore not too long ago.

Victor said...

Regarding places used by the government for unusual purposes, did you know that St John's Island was once a drug rehabilitation centre? Also, Portsdown Camp was recently used as a trial venue for immigration offenders.

zen said...

When the British left Singapore they left behind much land and buildings. I used to deposit our port daily casb collection st Sembawang to the branch Chartered Bank, and this small building was probably a sentry post of the former naval base, situating along Admiralty Road (East). Behind the bank is a huge greyish granite building now used as a drug rehabitation centre. The building was the former HQ of the British Naval Base which my father worked there for many years. It brings me sad memory of old parents, relatives, siblings visiting those drug addicts languishing within the grand building which is now being used as a prison.

peter said...

Victor,
U must tell us more about the courthouse at Portsdown Road

Zen,
The first drug rehab center in Singapore was in Teluk Paku Road, off Nicoll Drive. The other side of the center was the SAF Brass Band HQ. It is somewhere where the SIA hangers are located.

Victor said...

Peter - I got my information from newspaper reports in the 1990s, I think. I remember that because of the large number of immigration offenders then, they were tried in a temporary court set up within Portsdown Prison itself. I googled for information on this prison and found this MHA webpage which contains Mr Wong Kan Seng's 31 Dec 1999 speech on the occasion of the ground-breaking ceremony for the redevelopment of Changi Prison Complex. Among other things, he said:

"The Prisons Department has done well despite not having modern, purpose-built infrastructure. Most of the prison facilities were converted from old schools, quarters and military barracks. For example, Portsdown Prison was formerly a disused military barracks. The Kaki Bukit and Selarang Park Drug Rehabilitation Centres were respectively a primary school and British military quarters."

Lam Chun See said...

Indeed it is true that the British left behind many fine buildings. Many of them have been preserved and put to new use - e.g. the Selarang Barracks in Changi that Tom served in is not a drug rehabilitation centre. You can read his stories here and here.

Unfortunately, many of them have also be demolished. That's why it is good for us to blog about it here so that the knowledge is not completely lost to future generations of Singaporeans.

Lam Chun See said...

Oops. Correction. Selarang Barracks is NOW a drug rehabilitatin centre.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter, Victor. Do you know that the Tanjong Gul Camp has also been converted into some kind of drug rehabilitation centre or prison. I took a couple of photos when I drove past it last week. (Client busy and asked for short postponement of meeting)

I shall blog about old army camps one of these days.

peter said...

By chance when I went hitch hiking 2 years ago, I came across an abandoned detention center called the Bedok Reformatory Center. Then my memory went back to the 1960s when one of my neighbour's son was sent there because he was below age and not suitable for Changi Prison. We visited our friend and I remembered seeing those one storey buildings like the "Works Brigade" sites.

I walked right into the detention and took some photos whilst enjoying the view of Bedok Reservoir and the Acquarius Condo from the top of the hill.

In the early 1970s, we came to this place to do our Platoon Withdrawal TRG at the bottom of the excavated Bedok Reservoir. We had to evacuate casualties to the Bedok Reformatory Center, one of the casualty that I had to carry was none other than the present Chairman of NKF (Psst! lots of bark)

Victor said...

Disused army camps are a natural choice for conversion into penal institutions. They could be turned into prisons and DRCs very easily because security features like barbed wire fencing and CCTVs are already in place. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that soldiers are also subject to confinement and discipline in camp, not very unlike to what prisoners experience in jail.

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