Koh Eng Watt and Yamada Ofuni (Bukit Brown)

In a corner of Hill 4 Section A in Bukit Brown overlooking Lornie Road, i encountered a pair of tombs, one belonging to Mr Koh Eng Watt, Esquire and the second, a blank tomb prepared for his wife but never engraved or used. Behind the tomb, is the tomb of a Japanese lady by the name of Yamada Ofuni. It is unique to find non-Chinese being buried in a Chinese cemetery and Madam Yamada Ofuni in this case is a good example. Further research discloses to me that Madam Yamada Ofuni is one of Mr Koh Eng Watt's wife. Mr. Koh Eng Watt, Justice of Peace, Labuan was appointed as member of the Board of Visiting Justice for the Settlement of Labuan in 1936. He is a shareholder of the Jesselton Ice and Power Company in 1925 and was a tax assessor in 1912. He was appointed as Justice of Peace on February 8, 1904. Koh Eng Watt owned land in Labuan that was for the growing of rubber. In 1920, Koh Eng Watt was granted a certificate of naturalisation making him a British subject.

Straits Settlement of Labuan
Labuan is made up of the main Labuan Island and six smaller islands (Burung, Daat, Kuraman, Papan, Rusukan Kecil and Rusukan Besar). Labuan became part of Singapore Settlement in 1907 until 1912 when it was constituted as a fourth separate Crown Colony settlement  in 1912. It became part of Malaysia, but under Sabah when Malaysia was form in September 16, 1963. In April 16, 1984 it was administered under Federal Territory.

Towchang cutting ceremony
There was a story of a party held in February 1912 at the Chinese Club of Labuan where Mr. Chua Kwee Hin, son of Mr. Chua Cheng Hee entertained his friends over dinner and ronggeng music. The occasion was a towchang cutting ceremony (cutting of queue, symbolic of subservience to the Qing dynasty that was by 1911 deposed ).  Koh Yew Teck, Koh Yew Keng and Choa Choo Liong were among the well known peranakans who removed their towchang. The first two, are sons of Koh Eng Watt and the last,  a nephew.

Koh Eng Watt

Mr. Koh Eng Watt passed away at his Singapore residence in No 24, Tiverton Road. He passed away on the afternoon of March 8, 1937 and is survived by two widows, three daughters, 2 grandchildren and 12 grandchildren. Listed on the tomb are the name of his daughters: Koh Hoon Lian, Koh Chit Lee, Koh Siok Choo and Grandson: Koh Kian Poh  Granddaughter: Koh Oen Neo.
source: NewspaperSG
Probate of his was granted to Koh Yew Seng, Chua Choo Liong (nephew), Tham Ying Yin (son-in-law) and Yamada Ofuni (wife).

Wife: Yamada Ofuni (Mrs Koh Eng Watt)
Yamada Ofuni , a Japanese lady passed away at the age of 72 on April 13, 1941. There was an acknowledgement of thanks by her family members to Bhikkhu Mahaweera and the English section of the Singapore Buddhist Association for the sutras and religious chants. Her tomb typical of a Chinese tomb, but that doesn't take away the fact that she is a Japanese woman in a Chinese cemetery.
Madam Yamada Ofuni 
Daughter: Koh Chit Lee 
Koh Chit Lee, the second daughter of Mr Koh Eng Watt married Mr. Tham Ying Yin, youngest son of the late Mr. Tham Heng Wan, J.P. of Singapore at Labuan in March 21, 1931. Their residence was called Labuan Villa. In 1955, in a house in Siang Kuan Avenue, off Sennett Estate, a mahjong was underway at 11 pm. However it was a mahjong under duress whereby two robbers armed with revolvers asked the unfortunate mahjong players to play while the house was ransacked. One of the players was Mrs Tham Ying Yin whose concern was her 3 grown up daughters sleeping on the first floor would not be harmed and fortunately the robbers left without harming them. (the 3 daughters of Mrs Tham Ying Yin were still fast asleep unaware of the robbery). They took away $85, two wristwatch, a gold ring, gold locket and gold coin. The ring was her wedding ring she has worn for almost 25 years.

For those who were interested, Mrs Tham Ying Yin was the sole winner of the mahjong game.

Other non-Chinese name tombs in Bukit Brown
Wiseje De Haay
Nek Mina


Untitled. (1907, November 18). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser
Labuan Note. (1912, February 12). The Straits Times
Jesselton Ice and Power Company. (1925, June 16). The Singapore Free Press
Domestic Occurrences. (1931, April 2). The Singapore Free Press
Untitled. (1936, January 8). The Singapore Free Press
Advertisement. (1937, March 9). The Straits Times
Acknowledgement. (1941, April 17). The Straits Times
Mahjong Played- At Pistol Point. (1955, October 12)
Crown Colony of Labuan. [website]. Wikipedia


  1. Greetings, This is a very interesting articles especially there is some history about Labuan island. Thanks for sharing Sir.

    Best regards,

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. He was not a director in Jesselton Ice and Power Company in 1925. In the newspaperSG the record mentioned he attended the meeting, he was a shareholder, holding 200 shares of S$10 ea.

    Directors for Jesselton Ice and Power Company in 1925
    Chee Swee Cheng
    Alexander William Cashin
    Joseph Aaron Elias
    David Mathie Stevenson
    John Hammond

  4. Thank you for this post. I am the grandson of Tham Ying Yin and Koh Chit Lee. My mother June Foong Ngor Tham was one of the daughters asleep upstairs. In 1955, she would have been 14 years old. I had heard of Yamada Ofuni from my family, but not much about of Koh Eng Watt. I met my grandfather in Singapore as a child, and saw my grandmother several times in Singapore and when she visited us in New Zealand. This is valuable history to me. Thank you again.


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