Keppel Harbour and the pirates

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Behind the grey superstructure is the area of Telok Blangah, and the little patch of green to the right is Keppel island. To the left of Keppel Island is the entrance ot the marina, and area which was the naval base for the British during the time of Raffles. Off picture further to the right is the island of Sentosa. These are the waters which had been controlled by Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman. In the 18th and 19th centuries, taking dues from ships passing by in your waterways was a traditional means of making money. It was done by rulers all around the coastal regions of the main trade routes from Europe to the Moluccas and to China. And, if the foreign ships failed to pay due respect, then seamen might board the ships, take everything, and kill everyone! So, the British referred to these men as pirates while to every one else, it was a normal trade.

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At one time, access to Keppel Harbour was marked by a rocky outcrop known as Dragon’s Teeth Gate, but it was destroyed in 1848 when the British wanted to widen the harbour and make access easier for their larger ships. There is now a fake Dragon’s Teeth Gate in Labrador Park, and I suppose the grey superstructure above has some resemblance to Dragon’s Teeth too?

It was said that the beaches around this harbour were littered with the bones of seaman who had succumbed to the pirates. Today, there is a long boardwalk around the coastal edge of Labrador Park (park at Carpark C) where you can get a great view of shipping activity, as this area is still very heavily trafficked.

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So, why is this called Keppel Harbour? Well it was Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Henry Keppel, who did more than most to rid this area of pirates and make the seas around Singapore safe. Afterall, Singapore had been chosen as the site of a trading base by Sir Stamford Raffles and Major-General William Farquhar because it was on a major sea trading route. But, they weren’t going to get too much trade if ships were too frightened to come anywhere near to Singapore. But, by making the seas safe, the British had effectively cut off a major source of revenue for Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman, and this is turn led to their loss of control in Singapore and the move of Malay rulers to mainland Johor.

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© Helen Gray 2020