Oct 6, one of our Brownie Bianca posted in our Bukit Brown facebook about their adventures looking for remnants of a village called Kampung Tawakal. She and 4 other Brownies Keng Kiat, Andrew, Simone and Beng Tang had decided to search for the remnants of Kampung Tawakal after attending a talk by Cultural Medallion winner Mr. Isa Kamari on his memories of his childhood days growing up in Kampung Tawakal at Bukit Brown.
Bianca wrote : “We found some interesting tombs and decorations. One was a large tomb whereby the panel of the wife was still a bit visible but the husband’s panel had toppled over further, so it was hard to capture the inscriptions clearly. Please help if you can decipher any of it!
The double tomb had beautiful and special carvings as well. Another tomb had interesting birds - they were near each other.
We entered the cemetery from behind SJI bus stop in Whitley Road.”
It was then that both Bianca and Simone posted close up of the tomb pictures to ask if we could decipher the tombs.
Now, this pair of tombs is actually quite big and has now been inclined
to an angle that it is not easy to read. Even the tombkeeper in charge of that area does not know who they are. The tombkeeper’s father was the tombkeeper engaged by the Hokkien Huay Kuan then to take care of the cemetery.
I have seen this pair of tombs before. When I was looking for Chia Ann
Siang’s tomb, one of the information of the whereabouts of his tomb was as follows as given by National Heritage Board to Anthony Sng :
"We now learnt that the private cemetery (registered under Chia Keng
Beng as the trustee of the estate of Chia Ann Siang, deceased)
could be located within the perimeters of the Hokkien Huay Kuan burial ground at Mt Pleasant/Whitley Interchange.
So the first thought that came into my mind was to go up to Kopi Sua
(which has been cut off from the other Kopi Sua at the Mt Pleasant side
by Whitley road) to look for Chia Ann Siang. It was then that I saw these this pair of tombs.
At that time, I was unable to decipher this pair of big tombs. But
these 5 Brownies with their excitement and Bianca, our Dutch Brownie and Simone, our newly minted Brownie ’ challenge led me to try to find out more about this tomb. And How many of our pioneers has this special surname Kiong?
As I have helped descendants in Bukit Brown look for their ancestors with Kiong surname, I am actually familiar with this surname.
In fact, whenever I am in Telok Ayer Street, I would drop by and pay my respects to Mazu.
One of the deities there is Bodhisattva Sangharama, and there is a plaque there
It was a 1852 plaque donated by a Kiong Kong Tuan who was listed as a director of a Fujian region.
At that time even Tan Kim Ching who donated another plaque was listed only as a believer from that Fujian region
This came as no surprise, because at that time in 1850s, Kiong Kong Tuan was the top 3 leaders of the Hokkien society at that time as seen in this Thian Hock Keng main plaque
Who was that Kiong Kong Tuan who was in fact the No 2 Chinese Hokkien at that time?
Extracted from Song Ong Siang, in his classic 100 year history of the Chinese in Singapore
On the 20th April 1826, out of 51 leases, the earliest of the existing titles to landed property in Singapore issued
in exchange for location tickets to those residents who had cleared and built on lands comprised on such tickets -
22 were registered in favour of Chinese. Tan Che Sang secured 5 and Si Hoo Keh 4 titles to land in Commercial Square
and Malacca and Telok Ayer Streets, while Choa Chong Long and Kiong Kong Tuan got a title each to land in Malacca.
On the 8th of June 1831, a dinner was given to all the influential residents by Choa Chong Long to celebrate his 44th birthday.
He was born circa 1788 in Malacca, as his father was the Captain Cina there when the settlement was under Dutch rule.
Wealthy and influential though he was (for at one time the natives called on the hills near Tanjong Pagar, now demolished,
Bukit Chong Long), he was apparently a man that you could not impose or take liberties with. To this day, the following pantun is still remembered:
"Tinggi tinggi rumah Chek Chong Long
Di bawahna buat kedai kain
Alang-nya bisa ular tedong
Boleh-kah tangkap buat main?”
Tinggi tinggi rumah chek long
Di bawah nya di jual pokok
Gua tak takot ular tedong
Karan gua ular sendok.
Mr Long’s house is very high, under it is a cloth shop,
maybe there is a snake, can i catch it to play with?
Mr Long’s home is very tall, under it is a tree,
I am not sacred of a little snake
as I am an even bigger snake than it is !!
(Second stanza and English translation courtesy of Matt Tan)
Mr Kiong Kong Tuan came from Penang, where he had carried on business a merchant and established himself in Singapore. He married
a daughter of the well known Choa Chong Long, by whom he had an only son, Kiong Seok Wee, and several daughters, one of whom becamethe wife of Wee Bin of the steamship firm of Wee Bin and Co. Mr Kong Tuan also figured as the Spirit Farmer for some years. His had a spirit factory at Pearl’s Hill, and the site is still known among the Chinese
as Chiu long san (spirit factory hill). He died at the age of 64 years
on 16th Jan 1854. Mr Kong Tuan was the grantee of that large tract of land comprising 20 acres which has now become a thickly populated Straits Chinese residential quarter with Chin Swee Road as the main artery, and Cornwall Street and Seok Wee Street as side streets. His son, Kiong Seok Wee did not fancy spirit farming. He went into business with his brother in law Wee Bin, but the partnership was short lived.
He died in 1888 at the age of 49 years, leaving 6 sons and 2 daughters,
the elder of who became a daughter in law of Tan Kim Ching.
The youngest son of Seok Wee is Kiong Chin Eng, chief clerk and cashier at the General Hospital, a man of liberal education and a first class player both in tennis and chess.
Pic from Song Ong Siang book. Mrs Kiong Chin Eng was the sister
of Helen Yeo, Mrs Song Ong Siang.
Lianhe Zaobao on 4 Jul 1983 has an article on Kiong Kong Tuan written by David Chng.
Kiong Kong Tuan has married a daughter of Choa Chong Long. Chong Long has ever housed Sir Stamford Raffles and his wife in his house before.
Both Kiong Kong Tuan and his father in law Choa Chong Long were the
Chinese leaders at that time. Choa has donated $400 to build Heng Shan Teng and was only placed behind Seet Hood Kee and Tan Che Sang. Kong Tuan himself was ranked 5th in terms of donation for Heng San Teng, at that time, the organization in charge of the Hokkiens before Thian Hock Keng.
In the 1830s, Kiong Kong tuan tried planting coffee, but failed Later he
set up a spirit factory in Pearl’s Hill and succeeded. In the 1850s, he
was the top 3 in the Hokkien organization.
In the year 1830, there was a big court case involving Kiong. It was a
business dispute between Syme & Co which deal with various goods
with branches in Batavia and Manila. What happened was that in Feb of
that year, there wa a big fire, and Syme & Co has sold the goods to a
Ong Tuan, as a result the company was chasing for 14,635 spanish
dollars from Ong and his two business partners Si Lee and Kiong Kong
Now, Kiong Kong Tuan has actually preparing to break off the partnership with Ong sometime in late 1829 and has notified Ong on Oct 1829 of the breakoff. But the main witness Tan Che Sang, also a well known Chinese,testified by cutting off a chicken’s head that during the discussion meeting in Dec 1829, there was no mention of Kiong Kong Tuan leaving the partnership.
Although Kiong does not have any monetary interest in this transaction
of goods between Syme and Ong, he was deemed by the court to be liable as he was seen to be a partner of Ong. In fact, the deal was made with Ong by Syme because of the presence of Kiong as a partner of Ong, even though Kiong does not gain from this deal.
Because of this court case, the Chinese started to publicize in the
newspapers on record whenever they are leaving a partnership or company, so that they will no longer be liable for any debt incurred from then on.
Before Kiong Kong Tuan died in 1854, he actually tried his hands on nutmeg. He seen to be some kind of success, as seen by the auction of his nutmeg plantations:
He was also the Opium farmer during the 1840s, and was mentioned by Logan 1848 Journal of the Indian Archipelago “On the habitual use of Opium in Singapore by R Little”
When I was young, I stayed in a 1 room flat in Jalan Kukoh. It was just next to Chin Swee Road. I still remembered the old men told me about the nearby Chiu long san and of the spirit factory there. I also attended Outram School in York Hill for a short while.
Could this pair of tombs be related to this pioneering Kiong family? For once the year don’t match (It was erected in 1890), as Kiong Tuan Kong was reported to have died in 1854. However, the “wife” tomb yield some clues. From the pictures posted by Bianca and Simone, I could determine the names of the children : Han Tiong, Chin Sian, Chin Hock, Chin How, Chin Kiat and youngest Chin Eng. Yes I have no doubt that this is the tomb of Mrs Kiong Seok Wee as I have seen some of these names in the archives.
How about the other tomb?
It was a couple tomb, with a posthumous name for Mr Kiong and another posthumous name for Madam Choa. But I take a closer look at the children and grand children name. One of the children was Seok Wee, and one of the grandson was Han Tiong. Yes, there can be no doubt in my mind that this is the tomb of Kiong Kong Tuan and his wife Mdm Choa, daughter of Choa Chong Long. They are relocated tombs when Kopi Sua was established in the late 19th century.
The Brownies has uncovered one of the foremost Chinese pioneers in the mid 19th century, a top leader of the Hokkien society and a leading businessman at that time.
Attempts will be made to alert the descendants of this pioneering family and also the Hokkien Huay Kuan and Thian Hock Keng, as the tombstone of one of their founding member is in danger of collapse.
Compiled by Raymond Goh
A tomb relocated in Bukit Brown sits quietly in one corner in Blk 3.
For quite sometime, nobody could decipher the tomb.. But now, slowly but surely, as the tomb begins to speak its story from beyond the grave,
the pieces of puzzles are being put together to tell an unusual story…….
From the morning call of the rooster till dusk we trained hard,
We kill the corrupt officials, we love the people
We protect the virtues of the people, we seek masters to turn the tide.
We have great ambition to establish ourselves and let our names live,
With great marital arts, we fight courageously like tigers and galloping horses
Brandishing our knives and waving flags, we will triumphantly return.
With moral support we will build our country and land and our reputation will spread thoughout the ages
We pray for heaven protection we hope for safety for our troops!
Above was the mission statement for the Little Dagger Society, a society that has arose interest in China.
What is this Little Dagger Society? And how does a stone in Bukit Brown tells the story?
In his book Amoy and the Surrounding Districts published in 1872„ George Hughes, commissioner of Imperial Maritime Customs at Amoy wrote:
There had existed for many years amongst the Chinese
at Java, Singapore, Malacca, and Penang, a secret
society, the ostensible object of which, was mutual assistance and protection. It contained men of all classes, and its rules were so strictly observed, that, it is said, piratical members, meeting on the high seas the vessels of trading members, were content to accept the sign of the society, and to allow the vessels to pass on unmolested.
This society was originally called San hup hui, or the society of the three (persons) united, or as it has been aptly translated, the Triad Society. The three referred to, are heaven, earth, and man, the three great powers of nature, according to the Chinese doctrine of the universe. It became the Tian Di Hui, or Society of Heaven and Earth, during the reign of Chien-lung, (about 1795) when it was distinctly political, and had attained such magnitude and power, as to serious endanger that monarch’s government. And it was not until eight years after, that the snake was
scotched, but not killed, by the seizure and execution, of many of its members.
This society, or an offshoot of it, was introduced into Amoy, during the years 1848-9, by a Singapore Chinaman, named Tan-keng-chin, ‘a compradore in the employ of Messrs. Jardine, Matheson &Co. The
society rapidly took root and the Viceroy despatched to Amoy to investigate its character, and to suppress it, a resolute old anti-foreign Taotai, named Chang, the same who served as Wei-yuan to
the Governor General Lin, when 20,291 chests of Opium were surrendered by the British, and burnt at Canton in 1839.
Chang’s first act was to arrest Tan keng-chin, (1851, Jan 2) on a charge of conspiring against the government, the only evidence against him, was a book, found in his house, containing the names and residences
of the members of the society; but this was deemed sufficient, and Tan was subjected to horrible tortures, to make him confess further particulars. Meanwhile Tan keng chin, being a British born subject, the English Consul, on hearing of his arrest, went, accompanied by three other gentlemen, to the Taotai’s Yamen, to demand his rendition. He was told that the prisoner was at the Hai-fang-ting’s (the Magistrate’s), although it is said that he was then under torture at the back of the Yamen.
At the Hai-fang-ting’s he was told that the man was at the Taotai’s. The Consul was not successful in obtaining possession of Tan,
who was tortured to death. His body was found on the following morning, on opening Jardine, Matheson’s hong, dressed as usual, and seated in a sedan chair, opposite his master’s door.
The death of Tan Keng Chin caused a diplomatic row between China and Britain. From the correspondence records between UK and the Qing
Government,as referenced by Peng Shi Chi, Negotiations of Jurisdiction over Anglo Chinese in Amoy during late Qing period (1842 - 1911):
Tan Keng Chin has a total of 8 brothers. His mother was not a Han Chinese, but can speak and write English (nonya !)
Tan Keng Chin’s brother Tan Keng Sing was the interpreter for the British consul office in Amoy earlier. His brother Keng Hee was doing business in Amoy but got into trouble a couple of times during 1847/48, although it was settled by the consul office. However in 1849, it was discovered that Keng Hee was one of the leaders of the Amoy San Hup Hui and he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment and a fence. After that Keng Hee left Amoy and was prohibited from entering for 3 years. Also soon Tan Keng Sing was implicated in the Little Dagger Society, and was asked to leave the consul office. He later moved to Hongkong to continue his activities.
Tan Keng Chin have registered himself as a British subject in 1849 Jul 12, at that time the translator M C Morrsion employed him and considered him as a person of good character who did not mingle with undesirable characters. It was this testimony that the British consider Tan Keng Chin was wrongly arrested at that time and was a scrapegoat for his brothers who were involved in the triad activities.
Keng Chin’s death was the first time a foreigner was arrested and tortured to death in Amoy for Britain. Subsequently the British Consul office came out with a name list of 60 persons who were registered as British subjects in Amoy and should not be arrested by Qing government and should only be dealt with by the Britain herself. The name list contains the names:
Tan Keng Sing, Tan Keng Hee, Tan Keng Cheow, 3 brothers of the dead Tan Keng Chin.
But in 1851 Jan 21 when Zhang arrested more members, including a leader Ong Chuan, who exposed that Tan Keng Chin was their overall leader. (Two other leaders Kang Guan and Kang Chuan managed to escape) At Ong Chuan hideout, they found publications and other material which made the Qing govt believed they are right. Furthermore they found out that Tan Keng Sing and Tan Keng Hee which were on the name list of British subjects in Amoy, were brothers of Keng Chin and also members of the Little Dagger Society
In 1853 when the Little Dagger Society regrouped itself and even controlled Amoy, Britain adopted a neutral stand. According to the assistant Consul John Backhouse investigation t that time, among the 6 leaders of the Little Dagger Society, 3 of them are Singaporeans, including Tan Keng Sing. Among a 40 km radius surrounding Amoy, there were 30,000 Little Dagger Society.
Leon Comber in his book on the Triads, Chinese Secret Societies in 1950s Malaya and Singapore (published by Talisman Publishing and Singapore Heritage Society in 2009) wrote:
“After Tan died, the leadership of the Society then passed to one Huang Wei who with a force of 2,000 men rose in arms and captured Amoy. It was said that many members of this force were Chinese from Singapore. A desultory campaign lasting several months then ensued between Huang Wei’s men and the Imperial
Manchu forces. The fighting was evidently carried on in a very gentlemanly fashion as it ceased at nightfall, only to be resumed again in the morning.
In 1853, the Small Dagger Society evacuated Amoy, and by mutual agreement arrived at with the Imperial forces, they were allowed to sail away unmolested in their junks, mostly to Singapore and elsewhere in the Malayan Archipelago. This was the signal for the government troops to enter Amoy and put it into the sword. Many atrocities were committed on the innocent inhabitants an in one day alone, it was estimated that 2000 people lost their heads.
It was noteworthy that within 6 months of the Smaller Dagger Society rebels setting sail for Singapore, there was open conflict between two powerful Chinese secret societies in Singapore which culminated in the great Singapore riots of 1854. A discussion of these riots is outside the province of this book but suffice to say it appears likely that the Small Dagger Society members swelled the ranks of the Ghee Hin Society in Singapore and helped them fight against their implacable rivals, the Ghee Hok Society.”
(Note: The Little Dagger society in Shanghai called themselves Ghee Hin to outside parties).
One member of the Little Dagger Society who managed to escape from the Qing authorities was Oei Tjie Sien.
He was a quartermaster who later sailed to Semarang and built a business empire. His son was Oei Tiong Ham, the sugar king.
Some remnants of the Little Dagger Society who escaped from Amoy including the leader Huang Wei stayed on in China to continue their struggles against the Qing dynasty in China and in Taiwan. Their struggles continued until 1858 when Huang Wei felt all was gone and decided to escape, first to Vietnam, then to Java.
From the time Tan Keng Chin established the Little Dagger Society in Amoy in 1850 until the end of the revolt in 1858, this was the largest uprising in Minnan history, and strongly dented the governing authority of the Qing empire. It was a glorious episode in recent China history.
Even the Tonganese archives recorded Tan Keng Chin as a notable.
Write up of Tan Keng Chin from the Tonganese archives
The Tianyun Taiping tomb from Bukit Brown
The tomb inscriptions read as:
The 28th generation Royal Mother Tan Family Mdm Lu
7 sons were listed in this tomb of Mdm Loo
Keng Hee, Keng Sing, Keng Cheow, Keng Choon,
Keng Ho, Keng Hoon, Keng Siew (the tomb only listed one character per son due to lack of tomb space. Even the grandsons were listed as numerical digit 9). Keng Chin name was not listed as he was killed n 1851. (For deceased children, their names were not usually inscribed in the tombstones of the parents.)
Tianyun Taiping Ping Chen fifth year Eight Month Fifteen Day (1856)
What is this Tianyun Taiping Ping Chen fifthYear?
What is interesting is the use of the Tian Yun calendar by the Little Dagger society in Shanghai, use only for 3 years whereby 1853 is the first year, and 1855 is the 3rd year.
This Little Dagger Society in Shanghai was led by Lau Li Chuan who was killed in battle in 1855. So 1856 would be the 4th year if there is a continuity of that era.
Whereas the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom started by Hong Xiu Quan uses a calendar with Taiping starting from 1851 and lasted till 1864. Then 1856 would be the 6th year of the Taiping Era.
Taiping Tianguo 13th year (1863) Heavenly father, Heavenly brother, Heavenly king rationing voucher for rice for a certain Ong Yew Tian.
But this tomb use the Tanyun Taiping 5th year. Keng Chin two partners Kang Guan and Kang Chuan escaped after Keng Chin was arrested and killed in 1851 and regrouped themselves in 1852. Would that be the start of the Singapore Taiping era whereby the Sky of Heaven changed?
Another researcher Walter Lim felt that the Tianyun (following Shanghai Little Dagger Society way of counting) could start from 1852 instead of 1853, when Chew Lip Choon, another Tian Di Hui
Leader started a rebel movement in 1852 and later joined the Little Dagger Society in Shanghai in 1853. He was killed in battle in 1855.
Some notes on the Tan Brothers. This is the first time we can know from the tomb the whole list of 8 brothers and linked them together to their mother who is not a Han Chinese.
Tan Keng Hoon - GM of opium and Spirit Farms of French Cochin China,
St 1876, Jan 1
Tan Keng Sing - copartners in Singapore and Saigon Opium Farms, with Cheang Hong Lim, Gan Swee and Tan Keng Ho ST, 1879 Feb 1
Among the Singapore Chinese long established in Cochin include Tan Keng Sing
who traded timber and looked after logging ships and commission. It seems that the company is mainly developed in 1865 , as
evidenced by the Courier of Saigon August 5, 1865 (quoted from Descours - Gatin , Opium and Finance
colonial , I, p. 55 ) :
"Notice : Mr Tan Keng Sing / Tan Keng Ho / Tan Keng Hoon (…) suppliers of ships have
the honor to inform people that they would be interested given a great extension to their trading house based in Saigon in 1861,
under the name Tan Keng Sing brothers / Logging ship. Commission / Wood construction / Export . Import . “
January Ban Hap : “We have the honor to inform people that from 1 July we are the contractors opium farm
for French Cochinchina . All communications relating to this little farm
can be addressed in the future Mr. Ban Hap and Co. farmers opium / Offices Sai
gon house Tan Keng Sing brothers. / Saigon on 1 July 1865. / Ban Hap and co. ”
We know by epigraphic sources Tan Keng Ho, noted as residing in Annam , gave $ 1,000 during the creation of Po Chiak Gong, the Tan ancestral temple in Singapore 1878 and $400 at its finish in 1883 (see Chen Ching Ho & Tan Yeok Seong - hua Xinjiapo
wen beimingjilu , A Collection of Chinese Inscriptions in Singapore , p. 267 and 272).
Song Ong Siang , One Hundred years’ History of the Chinese , p. 271-72 , note about Tan Keng Hoon :
He was born in Singapore , was Opium farmer in Saigon at the
Time of the Old time death in 1877. He left a considerable property in Both places , Including the well-known Bukit Pasoh estate . Dying intestate , the whole Time of the Old great wealth Eventually Passed
to His only daughter , Tan Yean Neo Have you married Ang Teow Guan , the son of Ang Kim Cheak . “
(Taken from Tan Keong Sum (brother of Keong Saik) - Accounts of Travels in Vietnam, published in 1888 by Singapore Lat Pau
(reference from David Chng)
Elsewhere I have shown that they were already
well established from the start of the 1850s, with Singaporean-born men like Tan Keng
Sing 陳慶星and his brothers, Tan Keng Hoon 陳慶雲(died 1877) and Tan Keng Ho 陳慶和, who traded in wood and also acted as consigning and commission agents forshipping. Later Tan Keng Hoon worked in the opium trade while his brother, Keng Ho,carved out a leading place for himself in the rice trade.
Extracted from “In the Track of the Straits Baba Diaspora: Li Qinghui and his “Summary Account of a Trip to the East” (1889)”
More tombstones related to this Taiping era tomb are being discovered as the days go by as more tombs speak out from beyond their graves..
Compiled by Raymond Goh
For visitors to narrow Heeren Street, now known as JalanTun Cheng Lock,
in historic Malacca town, they will find some Baba and Nyonya houses.
One of the old yet beautiful structures offering a majestic view of the
surrounding area and a homely ambience in the bustling Jalan Tun Tan
Cheng Lock is the Chee Yam Chuan temple.
In 1906, his grandson Swee Cheng got together with his uncles to build
an ancestral home in memory of Yam Chuan to ensure that his name did not slip into obscurity. This ancestral home is perhaps one of the most
beautiful ancestral homes in the country.
This is where the descendants of Yam Chuan, now the 10th generation of
Malaysians will gather during festivals like the Chinese New Year to
offer prayers to their ancestors.
Above Extracted from “Style and grandeur of Mansion
Chee Yam Chuan’s descendants and their ancestral home”
NST, Feb 23, 2000
From the research notes done by Prof Tan Tie Fan on the Chee Ancestral temple and passed to David Chng before he died, published in Asia Culture 16:196 - 206
In the temple, there is a list of death anniversaries of the ancestors which was written in 1934.11.5
For the 13th generation, it listed Ancestor Tiong Eng and Siok Hui
there was no death dates listed in this list. This would be the posthumous names of the parents of Chee Yam Chuan and his wife
For the 14th generation, it listed Father Chee Yam Chuan and Mother Kah Soon , which is the parents of the one who made the list.
In between the 13th and 14th generation, there is a mention of 2nd wife
of Chee Kim Guan, Goh Him Neo
Here Prof Tan noted that the list in 1934 mentioned Goh Him Neo as birth
mother of Yam Chuan was most likely in error.
This is because he found the petition for the prayers for the salvation of the ancestors, it was written
that both the birth years of Yam Chuan and Him Neo was Geng Chen (which is 1820),
Yam Chuan was Geng Chen 12th month, whereas Him Neo was Geng Chen 2nd month
Taken from Twenty Century Impression of British Malaya, first published
Chee Swee Cheng traces his ancestry back through 9 generations of
Malacca Born Chinese, the first representative of the family to settle
in the territory having come from China more than 150 years ago. Mr Chee is a wealthly man, following the business of opium and spirit farmer and planter. His great grandfather was the late Mr Chee Kim Guan His great grandmother Go Him Neo, who is 92 years of age, appears in the family group photo which we reproduce. Mr Chee Swee Cheng’s grandfather, the late Mr Chee Yean Chuan, who was born on May 24, 1818, at Malacca, founded the form of Messrs Leack Chin Seng, general merchants of Singapore. He was also a nutmeg planter at Malacca and Singapore and speculated largely in land and buildings. He died onJul 28, 1862, leaving 7 sons and 2 daughters, and bequeathing a large estate both in Malacca and Singapore.
His sons were Messrs Chee Jin Siew, Chee Him Bong, Chee Hoon Bong, Chee Lim Bong, Chee Hee Bong, Chee Quee Bong and Chee Beck Bong.
His photograph, as shown here, was reproduced from the original negative taken about 50 years ago.
Chee Yam Chuan
Chee Swee Cheng and his relatives including his grandmother Goh Him Neo, mentioned as 92 years old in the book.
Now this 20th century impression of British Malaya was published in 1908, Goh Him Neo born in 1820 would be around 90 at that time, it would also mean that Goh Him Neo would not be the birth mother of Yam Chuan as Yam Chuan was born n 1820 as well.
It was reported that Chee Kim Guan died on 13th Jan 1839 and has 2 sons Chee Yam Chuan and Chee Yam Siang. So who is this Siok Hui who was the birth mother of Yam Chuan and the first wife of Kim Guan?
There is a cluster of old tombs relocated from another cemetery to Bukit
Brown in Block 2. Nobody knows who they are or where they are from. We can’t even find the burial records in the archives.
Recently the government decided to build a road cutting across Bukit Brown Cemetery, affecting more than 3,700 tombs. This cluster of old tombs was one of those affected. Till date no one has claimed them.
As the government has just awarded the road tender, recently I went
down to take a last look again at the tombs. There is a gut feeling in
me, that there are some pioneers belonging
to their cluster. Perhaps it is in the beauty of the inscription scripts, in
the grandeur of the stones, or just the desolate condition that possibly the first generation of pioneers that come to Singapore and helped build a nation would soon be gone that intrigued me to take a closer look.
I was struck immediately by this tomb of the Chee family. Some thing triggered inside my mind. The tomb was dated to 1836, just 17 years after Singapore was first founded.
One of the sons listed was Yam Chuan. As I have done some research
before on the Chee properties in Singapore, I have heard about Chee Yam Chuan temple.
So I asked the tomb, Are you the mother of Yam Chuan? There was dead silence. I offered my prayers to her and went back home to rest. That night i took out David Chng book of tomb inscriptions of Malacca and Singapore to read if I can find any related information.
Amazingly, David Chng has during one of this trip to Malacca Ayer Keroh copied down the tomb inscription of Chee Yam Chuan which was buried in Ayer Keroh (David Chng believed that this tomb may not be there anymore). There it was mentioned that the eldest son was Kiat
I went down to the old cluster the next day. There was some soil
covering the last character of the grandson. I scrapped away the dirt.
It revealed the distinctive name of the Kiat Bong. The tombstone of the lady was a Mdm Khoo. She has the posthumous name : Siok Hui.
Siok Hui tombstone showing son Yam Chuan and grandson Kiat Bong.
With 3 names : Siok Hui, Yam Chuan and Kiat Bong, I have no doubt in
my mind that I have found a grand old ancestor of the Chee family, the
first wife of Chee Kim Guan, one of the first group of Chinese who came from Malacca to Singapore and was in the first Committee of the Chamber of Commerce formed in 1837 in Singapore.
My prayers at her tomb about her identity has been heard. It is just a couple of months away before exhumation is scheduled to begin for the proposed road development.
Also rediscovered in Bukit Brown - Chee Quee Bong, son of Chee Yam Chuan and his wife Chew Kiat Neo, relocated tomb in Blk 4 Section A. Quee Bong used to be a big landowner and partner of the opium and spirit farm of Johor with Kheam Hock (buried in BB), Cheah Teow Eang (buried in BB).
Tomb picture of Chee Quee Bong
Tomb picture of Chew Kiat Neo
From 100 years of the History of the Chinese
The death of Chee Quee Bong, at the age of 57, occurred at his residence in Cecil Street on the 25th Nov. Born in Malacca, he was one of a large no of sons of Chee Yam Chuan.
Chee Yam Chuan was the son of Chee Kim Guan, who was one of the two Chinese merchants elected to serve on the first Committee of the Chamber of Commerce formed in 1837, and
whose great grandfather had come from China and settled down in Malacca. Chee Yam Chuan was so highly respected, that at the age of 21, he was elected head of the Hokkien community
in Malacca. He died in July 1862, leaving a large estate in both Settlements Mr Chee Quee Bong was connected with the Straits Opium Farm at the time of his death, besides being a large property owner . Chee Kim Guan died in Singapore 3 years after Siok Hui died (if we take the date of inscription of her tomb as death year. Till date, his tomb has still not been found.
Compiled by Raymond Goh
In 1847 Seah Eu Chin wrote on the annual remittances by the Chinese to their families in China:
(Journal of the Indian Archipelago and East Asia, I, 35-36, 1847) :
The attachment of the Chinese to their parents and families
is one of the most interesting features of their character, and it is
interesting to watch the modes in which it develops itself amongst
those who have emigrated to the Archipelago, and remain for
many years, and often for life, cut off from all direct intercourse
with their homes.
During the past month, some of the Streets in the business
quarter of Singapore were occasionally densely crowded by Chinese.
These were principally coolies from the Gambier and
Pepper plantations, who had come into town for the purpose
of sending their annual letters and remittances to their families
in China by the Junks which were leaving on their return voyage.
Chinese men at the Kangkar of a gambier and pepper plantation in Singapore circa 1900
These letters and monies are either entrusted to a comrade from the same part of China, who, fortunate enough to have accumulated a small competency, is about to revisit his native land ; or they are delivered to a passenger with whom the remitter may be acquainted ; or, lastly, they are confided to one of those men, to be found in almost every Junk, who make it a regular business to take charge of such remittances.
Such persons are designated Seu Pe Ke, and come from all the different places of any importance from which emigrants are in the habit of repair-
ing to the Straits. The remitter entrusts his money to the agent from his own part of the country, who for his trouble, either receives a commission of 10 per cent., if the money is to be carried in species, or is allowed to invest it in goods, the profit or loss on which is his, as he must pay over in China the exact sum that has been delivered to him. These persons frequently for years exclusively pursue this business : not the least remarkable of the thousand-and-one modes by which the ingenuity of the Chinese in making money develops itself: until they have realized sufficient to enable them to embark in more extensive pursuits.
Remittances are made by all classes of the immigrants. While the
merchant sends his hundreds of dollars, the poor coolie sends his
units or tens.
Many of these coolies, being unable to write, are obliged to have
recourse either to an acquaintance : if they are so fortunate as to
possess one having a tincture of letters : or to one of the public
letter-writers whose stalls, like those of similar professors in many
cities of Continental Europe, are to be found in the streets, with
their owners ready to be the instruments of communication for those
who cannot write themselves. The Chinese letter- writer’s stall is
a very simple affair: consisting in general of a small rude table, a
little bundle of paper, a brush, some China ink, and a stool on which
the operator sits. These stalls are usually placed at the side of the
street, and sometimes in the public verandahs ; while, in the outskirts
of the town, they may be found established under trees, or in the
shadow of walls. The person who wishes to send the letter stands
or squats himself upon his hams beside the writer, and states what he
wants to have written, and the letter being finished is delivered to him,
while he rewards the writer with 3 to 6 cents, according to circumstances.
In 1876, there was a riot when the colonial government wish to set up an a postal system
to collect all China bound letters and remittances in Singapore. there was a riot by some quarters
who feel that they would lose their monopoly over this money remittance services.
Need for reliable and trustworthy remittance service was still needed as some businessmen overcharged and some
absconded with the money.
Eventually there developed a well known and reliable agency whom the coolies and workers can trust
with their hard earned money. It was established in 1880 by Guo You Pin known as Tian It Pue Kuan (Pue is Hokkien for letter,
besides the letter to the family in China, it would also contain money) Tian It at its height of its operation has 33 branches in China and 7
branches in South East Asia including Singapore.
The reason why Tian It became such a famous and successful Pue Kuan can be attributed to its founder Guo You Pin.
It was said that during one of his trips from Philippines back to China,
when he was carrying lot of money, his ship was sunk by a typhoon, but he was rescued.
In order to keep his customers’ trust in his company, he sold off his property and based on the
receipts that he kept in his pocket, managed to pay back all the remittance he was entrusted.
Tomb of Wee Keng Yeow in Hill 2, Bukit Brown
The tomb of Wee Keng Yeow in Bukit Brown has an epitaph bearing the inscription about Tian It Remittance Agency.
It said that when he was 30 years old, he travelled south to Singapore and founded the Tian It Remittance Agency.
He set up his base in Telok Ayer. One such remittance letter has his Singapore Silat Company Chop
mentioning Wee Keng Yeow Tian It, and his shop address in Telok Ayer. It was from a Chinese named Lim Kian Song in Terengganu sending to his brother in Hiacheng Sandu to transfer to his wife Mdm Tan
Tian It closed its operation in 1928. Although its operation was short, it played a very important
role as a pioneering establishment and model for later postal and remittance services.
Wee Keng Yeow died a few years later in 1934 at the age of 62, his tomb was one of the best kept tombs in Bukit Brown and his pioneering efforts in setting up a reliable and trustworthing money remittance centre such that even neighbouring states use his company was testimony in his hard labour and his good reputation will be always remembered.
Eng Hoon St in Tiong Bahru
Portrait of Koh Eng Hoon, from Song Ong Siang’s book
Koh San Hin
Koh San Hin’s tomb in Bukit Brown. His Chinese name Hin is different from that of the archives.
Soh Hong Chuan and Koh Leng Tian Neo’s tomb in Bukit Brown.
It was erected in 1921 when Leng Tian Neo died,
From the tomb inscription, we learnt that Soh Hong Chuan came from a family of 6 brothers and 1 daughter, and Mdm Lee’s tomb was erected in 1884,
Koh San Tee and his two wives Choo Cheng Neo and Chua Siew Neo are buried in Bukit Brown in a triple tomb.
Tomb of Koh San Tee and his two wives (Tag No 1053,54,55)
Compiled by Raymond Goh