More Than Meets The Eye: The History Of The Southern Islands

Among Singapore’s Southern Islands, the busiest and most well-known would undoubtedly be Sentosa – home to tourist attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore, SEA Aquarium and more. However, did you know that there are several other islands located south of the main island of Singapore?

As the saying goes, there is more than meets the eye. In this article, we explore the rich history and interesting stories of four of these stunning islands – St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island, Sisters’ Island and Kusu Island.

1. St. John’s Island

This tropical island, formerly known as Pulau Sakijang Bendera in Malay, is located about 6.5 kilometres south of the main island of Singapore. Its history dates all the way back to 1819, when it was used as a mooring (a place where a boat or ship is moored) by Sir Stamford Raffles before his momentous meeting with the Temenggong to establish Singapore as a British colonial port.

Did you know that St. John’s island was actually referred to as the “quarantine island”? In the late 1800s, it served as a quarantine facility for cholera-infected immigrants and Beri-beri victims. The island then became a drug rehabilitation centre when widespread immigration was halted in the mid-twentieth century.

However, history aside, it has been totally transformed and is now a popular tourist site! The island has been a peaceful haven for visitors to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city for years.

2. Lazarus Island

You would probably have seen pictures of the pristine beaches of Lazarus Island circulating on social media. However, contrary to popular belief, this picturesque island is more than just an Instagrammable spot; but one rich in history!

In the 1800s, Lazarus Island was home to several prison confinement sheds that were used to detain convicts. Unfortunately, these sheds proved to be ineffective when a prisoner had successfully escaped, and a fire destroyed the sheds in 1902. The island was also utilised as a burial ground for individuals who passed on from infectious diseases on the nearby St. John’s Island (Fun fact: Lazarus and St. John’s Island are connected by a causeway!).

Today, it is an idyllic island featuring arguably the best beach in Singapore. Simply hop on a ferry to Lazarus Island to enjoy its clear lagoon and sandy beaches for the perfect weekend getaway.

3. Sisters’ Island

The legend of Sisters’ Island is a popular one amongst Singaporeans. The ancient legend tells the tale of two sisters who were forced apart by a group of pirates. In their attempt to reunite, they had drowned, and a storm raged until the next day. Two islands then appeared at the spot the two sisters had drowned, and villagers named the landmark Sisters’ Island.

Sisters’ Island may not be as commonly visited as St. John’s or Lazarus Island, but it is still home to Singapore’s first marine park! Aimed to conserve Singapore’s native marine biodiversity, the area around Sisters’ Island features a variety of sandy shores, coral reefs and more. Unfortunately, the island is currently closed for enhancement works until 2024. However, you may still charter a ferry in the meantime!

4. Kusu Island

Kusu Island is a must-see for all those passionate about culture and history. In Chinese, “Kusu” means “tortoise”. With a mix of colourful temples, live tortoises, and holy shrines, the annual pilgrimage to the island attracts individuals from all over.

There are various legends surrounding Kusu Island, with two stories, in particular, being the most popular and commonly told. One story tells the tale of how a turtle had saved a Chinese and a Malay fisherman who were on the verge of drowning when their boat capsized and brought them ashore to the island. Another story describes how a turtle turned itself into an island and saved a group of sailors from drowning during the ninth month of the Lunar calendar.


Now that you have learnt a little more about the history of Singapore’s Southern Islands, why not make a trip down to see and experience them yourself?

If you would like to visit any of these culture-rich islands, do not hesitate to book your ferry tickets with Singapore Island Cruise here. Established in 2007, Singapore Island Cruise is the country’s first and original ferry services company. We have been providing scheduled ferry services to St. John’s Island and Kusu Island daily ever since our establishment! So, what are you waiting for? Book your tickets today! Note: Be sure to check out our ferry schedule and important information here before making your booking.