11th June 2021
“There is an underground tunnel that connects the fort at St. Paul’s Hill with the fort at St. John ‘s hill. This is to allow soldiers to strategically move in secret from one fort to the other when Melaka is under siege from the enemy.”
– Local legend
How did the idea of such a long underground tunnel become implanted in the minds of the locals? It may have arisen when the locals saw a hole in the ground within the fort on St. John’s Hill, which has since been covered up. Residents must have thought that the hole was a secret route that connected the fort for troops to get there and back. There did exist a hole within the fort on St. John’s Hill. There is a saying that the hole was used as a place of storage of gunpowder by the Dutch.
Here is another interesting story that was reported to have happened in Melaka around the 1900s. After some rubbles were cleared inside the old gateway at St. Paul’s Hill, it was discovered that there was a hole, which local assumed is the entrance to the tunnel.
The authorities decided to release two wild boars into the unknown abyss, since they thought sending men into the tunnel would be too risky. Due to wild boar’s high survival skill, they decided to make use of it. Two hours later, it was reported that the boars were seen to emerge on the slopes of St. John’s Hill, which is exactly one mile (1.6KM) away from the old gateway (St. Paul’s Hill). Therefore, it was concluded that there must be an underground tunnel that connected the two ancient hills. It was further deduced that the tunnel between the two forts must have been for strategic purposes.
There was also a story circulating that several archaeologists from Germany were exploring the underground pathway in the early 1990s and quit after their tracker dog was mauled by a creature inside. Again, we’re hearing the same stories about mysterious mythical creatures living in the tunnel.
However, in August 2020 there was a news article published by Berita RTM where an old secret tunnel linking St Paul’s Hill to St John’s Hill has been found, with the state museum body saying more explorations will follow. Melaka Museum Authority also known as PERZIM General Manager, Datuk Khamis Abas said he always believed that the underground pathway existed, based on research by archaeologists.
“It was probably used as a secret escape route by the Portuguese. We only recently confirmed its existence,” he told The Star yesterday”.
– Datuk Khamis Abas, General Manager (Melaka Museum Authority)
On 23rd August 1982, the New Straits Times published an article entitled “Plan to excavate tunnel under two old churches.” In the article, it was reported that Melaka State Government proposes to unearth an underground secret tunnel which believed to be connecting the church on St. Paul’s Hill and the fort of St. John’s fort. Back in the 15th century, there was a private Catholic Chapel built by the Portuguese. However, it was later destroyed in 1628 by the Acehnese attacks.
It was believed that the underground secret tunnel have been buried or filled with earth by the British during the demolishment of both Portuguese and Dutch strongholds in their bid to capture Melaka.
If you pay a visit to the ruins of St. Paul’s Church today, you will find such an unsual arch on the floor inside the church which was used to support the base of an enormous pillar in the centre sanctuary of the church. The unsual arch was believed to be the entrance to the catacombs under the church which is now covered with laterite stone.
However, there was no mention of any findings of the tunnels under the ruined church of St. Paul’s Hill. The Historical Guide of Melaka that was published in 1936 by the Melaka Historical Society which were mostly made up of European colonials and priests who were then based in Melaka. Also, Dennis De Witt who is the author of the book “Legends of the Secret Tunnels of Malacca”, mentioned that even if the legend were true, it is impossible to dig a tunnel from St. Paul’s Church to St. John’s Fort through Banda Hilir, which used to be a swampy area. He believes this legend to be only a myth, considering the tropical climate and the wet land structure in Melaka then.
The only possible answer to the question of why the Melaka Historical Society did not find the evidence of any cavities when they conducted excavation under the old church is that it could simply have been that the underground passages were filled in with earth to either protect the old tombs or to make sure that there was no future maintenance required for the old church.
Therefore ladies and gentlemen, that’s the spill for this week. We hope you learn something new and may this aspire you to learn and talk more about Melaka’s history and the interesting stories behind it. Stay tuned for the Legend Two: Porta The Santiago Old Gateway. In the meantime, do share your thoughts on this legend with us on our social media posts at @vivify.mp