Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tan Chay Yan (1870 – 1916)

Chay Yan Street in the Tiong Bahru Area is named after a rubber planter, Tan Chay Yan (1870 – 1916). Chay Yan was the eldest son of Tan Teck Guan and the grandson of Tan Tock Seng.

He was known as the first rubber planter in Malaya. In 1896, he planted the seedlings on a 40-acre plantation in Malacca. It turned out to be a success. He then went on to plant rubber on a 3000 acres site. Many followed him later. He could take credit for the prosperity of the Malaysian economy which was boosted by its rubber plantations. Chay Yan also planted rubber trees in Chao Chu Kang, Singapore, with prominent Chinese like Lim Boon Keng, Lee Choon Guan and Tan Jiak Kim.

Educated at a high school in Malacca, he was appointed a Municipal Commissioner at 21 and a Justice of Peace at 24. In 1900, he was elected a member of the Straits Chinese British Association in Singapore and later President of its branch in Malacca. Chay Yan donated $15,000 in the name of his father to a medical school which was to become the King Edward VII Medical School, the forerunner of the University of Singapore’s Medical Faculty.

An orchid variety, Vanda Tan Chay Yan, was named after him. The peach-coloured Vanda Tan Chay Yan is considered one of the most outstanding hybrids produced in Singapore and has established Singapore firmly on the world orchid map. Vanda Tan Chay Yan was awarded a First Class Certificate, the highest award given by the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, at the Chelsea Flower Show in England in 1954.

A road in Malacca was also named after him in view of his contributions to the country's revenue.

Tan died of malaria at the age of 46. A relative believed he could have caught it during the long hours spent at the rubber plantations. His wife, Chua Ruan Neo, a tenth generation Nyonya here, continued with the family tradition of giving. The couple had seven children - six daughters and a son.

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