Just next to Botanic Gardens, lie an abandoned and jungle like area. Yet few knew the glorious history and bloodshed behind it.
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Let's follow API Charles Goh and Raymond Goh as they dig out the lost history of this forsaken place.....
The history of Istana Tyersall
After moving to Johor from Singapore, the Maharaja wanted to maintain a presence in Singapore and had
Wong Ah Fook build him a palace on an extensive property next to the Botanical Gardens.
When it was completed, it was officially opened with a grand ball, which gave him the opportunity to hold another
extravaganza. While others Malay rulers might look down their noses at him,
he nevertheless impressed them with the display of his wealth and influence and his access to European society.
The new Istana Tyersall actually replaced an older palace by the same name that had been burnt down some years before.
It was declared opened by Governor Sir Cecil Clementi at a ball attended by the leading lights of Singapore and Johor
society. The architect was Dato Yahya, who drew up the plans according to the wishes of the late Sultanah Fatimah.
Newspapers reports tell us that the contractor was Wong Ah Fook Messrs. Howarth Erskine
executed most of the ironwork and Messrs John Little & Co carried out the upholstering.
The place is presumably still standing, sheltered behind a much overgrown part on Tyersall Road.
The Singapore Free Press 5 Dec 1892:
The New Palace at Tyersall, for Palace it is, stands in a commanding position on the summit of a hill.... The building is
rectangular in shape, being 210 ft by 174 ft deep, with a central courtyard. It is in the Corinthian style of architecture, freely
treated, with a red-tiled roof and a tower nearly seventy feet high in the centre... The large portico is seventy feet long and
there is ample accomodation for carriages on the Grand Terrace. The Entrance Hall is well proportioned, a broad flight of
steps leading to the first floor. To the right of the Entrance Hall are waiting rooms and offices, and to the left the spacious
Dining Hall seventy by twenty eight, but looking perhaps by reason of its size, rather out of proportion as regards the height.
Extracted from Wong Ah Fook, Immigrant, Builder and Entrepreneur
Sultan Abu Bakar - Owner of Istana Tyersall
(1833 - 1895)
Unfortunately New Tyersall was destroyed by a fire reported at 2:45 am on September 10th,
1905. The cause of the fire was faulty electrical wiring.
Other interesting extracts of Istana Tyersall:
A Motor Meet at Istana Tyersall
Pic source: 20th Century Impression of British Malaya
we drove to the Sultan's pretty villa, Tyersall, some two miles out of Singapore,
where we had (Liberian) coffee and cream, a luxury in the tropics, and examined His Highness's collec-
tion of Chinese and Japanese curios, imported by himself. The Sultana lives at Tyersall.
She is no longer young; but the Sultan esteems her highly, and consults her in everything. It is true he has
other, younger, wives, but only the Sultana is a power in the state. She possesses also the power of
the purse, for `in Malay marriage contracts it is agreed that all savings and "effects" are to be the
property of husband and wife equally, and are to be equally divided in case of divorce.' *
Sultanah Fatimah - beloved wife of Sultan Abu Bakar, Mistress of Istana Tyersall
(died 1891, before she could see the new Istana Tyersall completed in 1892)
(file pic from National Archives)
It is currently reported that the Sultan has already spent his share,
or rather invested it in improvements, jewels, furniture, and splendour; and it is rumoured she gives
him an allowance. Any way, they seem an amiable couple. He talks of re-building and enlarging her
house at Tyersall.
The fire-flies had come out by the end of our drive back to Kranjie, where we took the steam-
launch to return.
The Sultan looks at Singapore as if he were sorry he had sold it, and at times arises a sort of jealousy
of us; at once quelled by the remembrance of the advantage to himself and his hopes for the future
in following our example closely.
Extracted from : To Siam and Malaya in The Duke of Sutherland's Yacht Sans Peur (1889)
On the 10th December (1892), the Sultan of Johore held an "At Home" at Tyersall, which had then just been completed, on
the occasion of his investiture with the first grade of the First Class of the Order of the Double Dragon. One of the largest
gatherings of Chinese towkays assembled to witness the presentation.
The Chinese Consul explained that the Emperor of China had bestowed this honour upon the Sultan in token of the kindness
shown by the Govnernment of Johore towards the numerous subjects of the Chinese Empire dwelling within its territory, and
for the sympathy and goodwill manifested by the Sultan in sending aid to China for sufferers in the famine stricken districts
devastated by the recent great floods.
The Sultan in his reply said that the Chinese had done so much for his country that it was no exaggeration to say that,
without the Chinese, Johore would never have become what it was and might even have ceased to exist. He added that the
Emperor's subjects in Johore were his best friends and his people's best friends, and so long as they remained here, he
would never have occasion to entertain any anxiety for its continued welfare and prosperity.
Extracted from: One hundred year history of the Chinese in Singapore by Song Ong Siang
Woodneuk and Tyersall
Woodneuk is a nearby place next to Istana Tyersall which was the former Sultan favourite stopping place.
In his will (see below), "And I give and bequeath to my wife, Sultana Khadijah … the ground, house, furniture, and garden situated in the district of Tanglin in Singapore called “Woodneuk” … which is near by the Istana Tyersall."
Sultana Khadijah died in Woodneuk in 1904.
Istana Tyersall stood on the top of a hill near the gardens, in tile middle of a
well-laid out demesne. Near by was Woodneuk according to an early map.
Map of Istana Tyersall and Woodneuk. Pic source 1907 Map of Singapore by Reith, G. M. (George Murray)
This is an Picas archive picture of Woodneuk House. Note the difference between Woodneuk House and Istana Tyersall.
API was first alerted to the difference in the rooftile. Tyersall was red whereas Woodneuk was blue
A Court Case - "Tyersall' property at 2 Cluny Road
The dispute between the parties, which has its roots in a will made by the
late Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor on 14 April 1895, concerns competing claims
to the compensation of $25m awarded by the Collector of Land Revenue for
the compulsory acquisition of Lot 1049 of Mukim 2 (“Tyersall”). This property,
on which stands an old palace built by the testator more than a century ago, is
situated at 2 Cluny Road, Singapore.
The compulsory acquisition of Tyersall
On 30 November 1990, a Notice of Acquisition of Tyersall, pursuant to
s 10 of the Land Acquisition Act (Cap 152, 1985 Rev Ed), was published in the
Government Gazette. On 2 March 1991, the Collector of Land Revenue (“the
Collector”) held an inquiry to determine the appropriate amount of
compensation for the acquisition of Tyersall and to apportion the compensation
among all the persons with an interest in the said property. The inquiry was
adjourned a number of times and many years passed without the matter being
On 28 April 2004, the Collector placed an advertisement in the The
Straits Times to state that the inquiry would resume on 20 May 2004. The
Collector required all claims and statements of interest with respect to Tyersall
to be submitted by 27 May 2004. On 1 June 2004, the sum of $25m was
awarded as compensation for the compulsory acquisition of Tyersall. On 9 June
2004, the Collector obtained an order of court to pay the said compensation
into court because there was a “dispute as to the title to receive the
It is also evident that Sultan Abu Bakar’s expressed intention was for
Tyersall to become “State property” after his death because he drew a
distinction between Tyersall and his other private properties in Singapore. He
bequeathed a property known as “Woodneuk”, which is adjacent to Tyersall,
absolutely to his wife, Sultanah Khadijah. In his will, he provided as follows:
And I give and bequeath to my wife, Sultana Khadijah … the ground,
house, furniture, and garden situated in the district of Tanglin in
Singapore called “Woodneuk” … which is near by the Istana Tyersall.
API Remarks: This Tyersall property that was acquired by the state refer to the property at 2 Cluny Road.
The land surrounding the previous location of Istana Tyersall and Woodneuk house was not affected.
The land where the istana stood currently belong to :
The son of the current crown prince Tunku Ibrahim Ismail and the grandson of Sultan Iskandar - Tunku Ismail Idris (second in line to the throne)
An adjoining piece of land was also given to Tunku Ismail Idris in 2006 by Sultan Iskandar as a gift.
Tunku Ismail Idris
He is currently a cavalry officer of the Indian Army.
An Army Camp - Tyersall Park Camp
The following notes are extracted from Moon Over Malaya
- A Tale of Argylls and Marines, by Jonathan Moffatt & Audrey Holmes McCormick, two famous regiments from Britain, published in 2002
Tyersall park camp, the 2nd Argyll's home since Dec 1939, lay south of Bukit Timah Road and north of Tanglin Barricks.
On the west side of the beautiful Botanic Gardens, the site reverted to jungle after the war.
The land is still the property of the Sultan of Johore, but remains overgrown, undeveloped and inaccessible.
200 yards from Napier Road is the rusted remains of Argyll Gate and further on another side entrance. On the hillside to the south of the camparea are some fine houses including the French Embassy.
In those days Tyersall was a hastily constructed hutted camp erected on this land, accomodating two battalions, the other being 4/19 Hyderabads, a Brigade HQ and the Indian Military Hospital.
The attap roofed bamboo huts were of reasonable quality but made pretty crude comparsion with the more prominent Tanglin barracks. The huts were built on piers to keep out snakes and wildlife and wer about forty yards long with a verandah running the full length. Each contained about 30 beds, 15 down each side, allocated according to rank.
The fire that KILLED 700 people
At 3 pm on 12 Feb 1942, the Plymouth Argyll survivors found themselves involved in a major rescue operation. The neighbouring Indian military hospital had now spilled over into the Argylls' barracks area and was heavily bombed by Japanese medium bombers.
It is estimated that as many as 700 patients and staff died in the fires that followed, some unable to get out of the attap thatched huts, others having taken cover under them.
The huts burned furiously, flames rising thirty feet in the air. Argylls, Royal Marines and Gordons worked to save lives.
The hospital buildings were clearly marked with red crosses. The attack however may not have been an act of deliberate bestiality but provoked by the presence of carriers and transport parked by the Gordons in the hospital grounds.
Today only the names of Tyersall Avenue and Tyersall Road remind us of the site that few knew was
once an Army Camp and the site of a grand palace.
Also people tend to confuse Woodneuk House as Istana Tyersall.
Istana Tyersall should have been razed to the ground after the fire of 1905. Left behind are only small tiles and bricks and no observable structure at the actual GPS position based on the map.
The abandoned building which has been much photographed is that of Woodneuk House, the house Sultan Abu Bakar give to his fourth wife. Due to its proximity to the army camp, it could have been used sometimes by the military. The Johor Sultan at that time had good relationships with the military. (He was staying in Johor at that time)
We have this photo of Woodneuk from a website for the AIF 2/30 Battalion (Australian Imperial Forces). It was captioned "The Battalion's "Last Stand". A view of Tyersall Palace, as it stands today."
Makan Issue 269
Again it was erroneously labelled as Tyersall rather than Woodneuk.
We hope this article would helped to dispel the myths and urban legends associated with this place, and the confusion surrounding Istana Tyersall and Woodneuk House. (or Woodneuk Palace, if you prefer, since the Sultanah stayed and died there.