Of Beacons, Obelisks, and Dragon’s Teeth

From as early as the 13th century, the waterway in Keppel Bay had been used as a passage for ships sailing from the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea. The first English references to the waterway appeared in the 17th century although their small number suggests infrequent use of it.

In September 1819, William Farquhar, whom Sir Stamford Raffles appointed as the first Resident of Singapore, reported that he discovered a ‘new harbour’ to the west of the settlement.

In 1848, Captain Henry Keppel discovered the sheltered, deep water harbour onboard the vessel, Meander. Repairs on the Meander were the first carried out in the harbour, known as New Harbour, where the Tanjong Pagar wharves would later be built. That name remained until 1900, when Keppel, then the Admiral, visited Singapore again. To honour him, the acting Governor, Sir Alexander Swettenham, renamed the harbour Keppel.

The Obelisk

​The original Western Harbour limit is marked by a white obelisk. It served as a reference point for seafarers to identify specific areas within the harbour. This obelisk still stands at Tanjong Berlayer Point (in Malay, “Tanjong” literally means “land’s end”).

Long Ya Men

Long Ya Men, or Dragon’s Teeth Gate, refers to a series of granite outcrop in Keppel Harbour. Known locally by the Malays as Batu Berlayer (Malay: Sail Rock), the historic rock formation near the present site of Labrador Park and its opposite shore of Tanjong Rimau on Sentosa Island, served as a gateway to the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. 

The origins of its name can be traced to the 14th century when an ancient mariner and trader, Wang Dayuan, is said to have sailed through this passageway. In his travelogue, he recorded that mariners from Fujian recognised these two granite outcrops as Long Ya Men because they reminded them of ‘the two pegs at the bow of their ships.’ These two pegs were known to the mariners as “Dragon’s Teeth.” 

The rocky outcrops became important navigational aids to Asian and early European sailors and traders who used Keppel Harbour to sail past Singapore. Beween 1405 and 1433, prominent admiral, Zheng He, made seven voyages to more than 30 countries to establish trade relations with countries west of China. He is believed to have sailed through Keppel Harbour. 

However, in the 17th century, the passageway was abandoned in favour of the wider Singapore Straits, which lies south of Pulau Satamu. These two granite outcrops were eventually destroyed by the Straits Settlements Surveyor, John Thomson, in August 1848, to widen the channel for larger vessels to sail through. 

Berlayer Becon

Built in 1930, Berlayer Beacon is a prominent light beacon at Tanjung Berlayer. Situated on an outcrop at the southernmost end of Labrador Park, Berlayer Beacon and the neighbouring Tanjung Rimau on Sentosa Island serve as a navigational guide for ships and boats approaching Keppel Harbour. 

The Berlayer Beacon flashed white light for 0.5 second and eclipsed for the next 4.5 seconds at an elevation of 30 feet. Its visibility was 10 miles and the light was unwatched. 

In 2005, the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Parks Board planned to demolish the beacon and replace it with a replica of the Long Ya Men or Dragon’s Tooth Gate. This proposal was met with opposition from the Singapore Heritage Society and the replica was built meters away from the beacon instead.

Information provided by My Community.