Most of us know St John’s Island as the place for a relaxing getaway. Just South East of Sentosa, the island is a big hit with would-be fishermen and nature lovers, with white sandy beaches, clear waters, and vibrant plant life. It has bungalows and a holiday camp for stressed-out city-dwellers. Read more about St John’s Island in our Southern Island guide.
Not many people know about St John’s island and even less know about its gruesome history.
Cholera and leprosy were a big deal in the late 19th century, so St John’s Island was converted into a quarantine station and burial ground. All vessels heading into Singapore were forced to call at this port before passing through to the mainland. The island was also used as a penal settlement for political prisoners and gangsters.
In the heart of the compound lies a sinister human-sized chessboard of unknown age, likely built at the height of British colonialism. During the Japanese occupation, the Imperial Army took over and used the island to house prisoners-of-war (POWs) en masse.
Legend has it that the Japanese soldiers lined the POWs on this board and used them as live chess pieces – with every “captured” prisoner being beheaded on the spot. Even today, people hear screams coming from the board at night.
We think this landmark is one of the most frightening – it reminds us all that there are times when human nature is darker and more violent than any ghost story.