The Fortification of Pulau Blakang Mati

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For centuries, the straits around Singapore have been a key passage within global trade routes. Commanding these waters, the island of Pulau Blakang Mati (the former name of Sentosa) was regarded as strategically important by colonial powers since the 17th century.
Siloso Road, Sentosa (S)099981 (main entrance of Fort Silso)
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For centuries, the straits around Singapore have been a key passage within global trade routes. Commanding these waters, the island of Pulau Blakang Mati (the former name of Sentosa) was regarded as strategically important by colonial powers since the 17th century.

In the 1600s, when colonial empires competed for strategic and commercial power, Flemish merchant Jacques de Coutre proposed a fort on Mount Siloso to exert Portuguese control over this area. De Coutre, in a series of memorials to Philip IV, King of Spain and Portugal, noted that the island had the defensive qualities of a natural fortress and recommended the installation of artillery. The Dutch, rivals of the Portuguese at the time, also considered building a fort on Blakang Mati, but neither of the plans came to pass.

It would be another 250 years before the island was put to military use as a defence outpost of the British Empire, when the construction of forts and batteries commenced in 1878. Under British rule, Singapore’s coastal defence system was designed to protect the town’s shipping and coaling facilities at Keppel Harbour. The entrances to the harbour were defended by artillery batteries on Blakang Mati.

By 1887, the straits around Singapore were well defended with Fort Siloso at the west of Blakang Mati, and Fort Serapong and Fort Blakang Mati East (later renamed Fort Connaught) at the east. There were also infantry redoubts (defensive emplacements) on Mount Imbiah and Serapong, a battery at Berhala Reping as well as underwater mines at the entrances to the harbour. The military infrastructure would grow to encompass barracks, a hospital, training, and sporting grounds in later decades.

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