Saturday, February 14, 2009

Senang's dark past

"Over on your right are our three military islands Sudong, Pawai and Senang used for life bombing exercises by the SAF..." thus so recited everytime during our landfill tour while guiding on a typical Semakau intertidal walk. Pulau Senang, despite being called the island of ease or comfort in Malay had a horrifying dark history behind it some 40 years back. I learnt from this first-handed from a group of prison officers that I guided at Semakau last time.

In short, during 1960, Senang was used as an experimental prison facility to rehabilitate secret society members. Unfortunately, this experiment failed drastically and several officers, including the superintendent were killed savagely on the island during an organised riot. I tried searching the internet for more information but there were basically none, except a short extract from wikipedia and the national library. It seems as if this failed and shamed incident had been erased from the world wide web somehow...?

Luckily, there was still a tiny 100 page book in the National Library reference collection, titled "Pulau Senang, the experiment that failed" and I spent about 3 hours half lying on the comfortable sofa reading it. It was an enjoyable read, as the author said, ...almost like a fiction story that became true...

It all started when our first democratic government was formed, by PAP of course, in 1959. At that time, secret societies were rampant with many deaths from the numerous gang fights occuring in Singapore. In order to maintain law and order, hundreds of gangsters were arrested and jailed without trial. At the same time, the prison system was revamped to ensure proper conditions for the convicts to live in. Having such a high influx of people in Changi prison together with other ethics and security reasons, the Pulau Senang Rehabilitation Settlement was concieved.

Superintendent Daniel Stanley Dutton is the guy who brought this experiment to life. He held an idealistic presumption that "every violent lawless men could find their own way back to decent society given a proper chance and hard work." and he strongly believed that his purpose in life was to make good citizens out of thugs. An irish, he was an imposing figure much feared and respected by the convicts and was described as a natural leader and builder. Leading the first batch of gangsters into the wild Senang, they built everything from scratch; a settlement with roads, water and electricity, workshops, canteens, domitories, cinema and community hall.

Daniel Stanley Dutton
Daniel Stanley Dutton

According to this system, these gangsters were given a chance to return to society. After spending one year in Changi prison, they have the choice to volunteer to Senang whereby they will be taught a trade like plumbing, hair-cutting, farming etc. Their performance and attitude were monitored and eventually if the rehabitation goes well, a recommendation will be given to allow them to return to the society. If they do not volunteer in this programme and stayed in Changi prison, their chance of returning home is virtually zero. Dutton was the one person that determine whether they can leave as a free man.

This experiment was not a total disaster. In fact, in a short span of 3 years, 400 detainees were successfully rehabilitated at Senang. So what went wrong? On 12 July 1963, a massive mutiny occured with the gangsters armed with work parangs and changkols. The settlement was razed to the ground in a mere 40 minutes, with Daniel Dutton being brutally hacked and burnt to death, together with 2 other officers. Major James, his superior in Changi prison testified that the offenders had presumably thought that they will be freed by destroying Senang since there wasn't any space in the other prisons and also with Dutton's death, Senang could not be rebuilt. Several of them tried to escaped by the prison boat but it was rammed and sunk by a Custom boat that gave chased.

The aftermath
The aftermath

The riot was promptly stopped when re-enforcements arrived, with all the rioters surrendering volunteeringly. Some of them testified that this incident started because of the resentment that Dutton sent back a group of carpenter detainees to Changi prison as they refused to work on a jetty during the wee hours. But witnesses testified that the plot to riot hatch a few days even before this incident occurred. Even so, Dutton was complacent after informers told him the news as he felt there will be sufficient support from the other detainees in case anything went wrong. Somemore, firearms were prohibited in the island but this was because the fears of them being acquired by the gangsters since they vastly outnumber the officers.

The jetty in Senanag
The unfinished jetty.

And so 58 people were trialed and 18 were convicted of murder, where they were hanged on the same day. As a result of this riot, the penal experiment came to a halt and the island was out of bounds till 1968 when it was converted to a bombing range for the military.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parasitic worm on sea urchin?

For the past two days while guiding a group of students from MGS at Changi beach, I noticed this segmented like thing coiling around the mouth or Aristotle's lantern of the white sea urchin, Salmacis sp.

Leech? on urchin

I thought that it was a parasite initially (it does look like a leech) but r and ks mentioned that it could be part of the urchin's body. Until today, when I saw that the worm started to move about around its host's mouth am I certain that it is not part of its body! Such an interesting discovery. I wonder if this worm just scavenge on the food which this urchin feeds or is it a blood sucker?

Monday, February 9, 2009

1st Semakau walk for 2009

Today was our first Semakau public walk for the year!

Its an extremely hot day... but life can still be found at the intertidals.

Heart urchin
A heart urchin found by CH. It was probably a dead one, still it is the first time time I saw one in an almost complete state.

Pink Porites!
Corals can come in many colours. This is another of my first, a Porites coral that is purple in colour!

Spider conch
SS found this interesting spider conch that had a Porites coral growing on it!

Noble volute
Many noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) were found laying eggs here. I found a total of four doing it today 

Heart cockle
Another nice find is this heart cockle (Corculum cardissa), a bivalve that comes in a pretty pink heart shape.

Semakau walk 8 Feb
Here is JL showing the participants a swimming crab.

Knobbly seastar
And of cos, our star, the chocolate chip seastar!  

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Exploring Ubin

An interesting day at Pulau Ubin today, with many nice photographic opportunities. Below are just some of the better ones taken during the trip.

Male Golden orb web spider
The reddish male golden orb web spider, Nephila philipes. Look at how small it is compared to the female which it is on!

White-rumped shama
A beautiful white-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) flew very close to us, allowing a close up shot. It is a rare resident here and threatened due to bird trade.

A Tawny Coster butterfly, Acraea violae sits comfortably, giving me a chance to get a macro shot of it. This is possibly a female with its slightly faded wings.

Fuffy white caterpillar
AG found this fluffy white caterpillar on the leaf litter. I wonder what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn out to be.

Stingless bees
LK spotted a hive of stingless bees that made its home from a hole at the gate of Chek Jawa.

Blue stripped hermit crab
At Chek Jawa boardwalk, the tide is still very high so we couldn't see that much things around. However, at the mangrove area, there were lots of blue-stripped hermit crabs around, showing of its stunning electric blue colour.

Giant Mudskipper
Mudskippers are another prominent inhabitant in the mangroves. This is the Giant Mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri), one of the largest species in the world.

The find for the day is this bagworm moth (Family: Psychidae) which I have been wanting to see this for quite a while. This caterpillar builds its home by cutting branches off the plant and pasting it on its body. It is amazing how this architect actually managed to create it in a nice spiraling fashion. You can see a newly added branch at the end that is still greenish in colour.

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