Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tan Tock Seng [AD 1798 - 1850]

Yesterday, I was walking along Outram Road and I decided to check out something which I have been longing to do so. (By the way, Outram Road is at the edge of the Tiong Bahru Estate)

This used to be the road that led to the main entrance of Gongshan primary school. The school has since moved to Tampines and the old school was demolished.

I once competed in an Inter-School basketball tournament in this school compound, though I am not sure which school we competed against. It could have been Havelock Primary School or Redhill Primary School. Anyway, whoever our competitors were that day, my school, Tiong Bahru Primary School, was thrashed. Part of my primary school song contained these words.....we will bring you honour, and glory! I could not utter those words with pride that day and I never played basketball again ever since.....not because my team lost, but because I scored an OWN goal and I was so embarrassed. What a blur sotong I was.

Anyway, the reason why I walked up the slope was because my curiosity won over my usual inertia.

I always knew there was a tomb along Outram Road but never bothered to find out who was buried there. It was someone important for sure. I even speculated that it could be Tan Kim Seng since it is close by to Kim Seng Road. I am so glad that I took the trouble to find out.

Here's my findings :

There are 2 tombs here on Outram Hill. And one of the tomb contains the remains of the founder of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Mr Tan Tock Seng himself.

The final resting place of Tan Tock Seng

The larger of the 2 tombs found on Outram Hill

Surprisingly, Mr Tan's tomb is the smaller of the two. The bigger and grander one belongs to Tan Tock Seng's daughter-in-law (Chua Xiao Hui). According to fengshui or geomancy, it seems that the location of the bigger tomb is more appropriate for females.

Based on information from
Asia Paranomal Investigators, there used to be 3 graves here but one of them has since been removed. (I urge you to go and check out their website as they have many interesting information which I never knew!)

I must confess, prior to this, I only know that Tan Tock Seng was a successful businessman who is also generous and he setup some hospital for the poor. That's about all that I knew. If your knowledge about this great guy is as shallow as mine, here's the expanded version (ripped from Tan Tock Seng Hospital Website)

Mr Tan Tock Seng was born in Malacca in 1798. He was the third son of an immigrant from Fujian province in China. As a young man full of entrepreneurial drive but no worldly goods, Tan Tock Seng ventured to Singapore to start a small roadside business. He would buy fruits, vegetables and fowl from the countryside and hawk the fresh food in the City.

Hardworking and thrifty, he saved up enough money to open a shop in Boat Quay and proved to be a fine businessman. It was likely that he spoke English and he made his fortune when he entered into some speculation with an English friend, Mr J.H. Whitehead. When Mr Whitehead died in 1846 at age 36, he was buried at Fort Canning and a tombstone was set up bearing this inscription:

"... as a token of affection on the part of a Chinese friend, Tan Tock Seng."

Mr Tan owned large tracts of prime land, including 50 acres at the site of the railway station and another plot stretching from the Padang up to High Street and Tank Road. Other assets were a block of shophouses, an orchard and a nutmeg plantation which he co- owned with a brother. In time, he became an influential Chinese leader and was the first Asian to be made a Justice of the Peace by the Governor. He was skillful at settling feuds among the Chinese.

He was known for his generosity and his most famous gesture was the gift of $5,000 to build the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844. But he also gave widely to other charitable causes, for example, the burial of destitute Chinese, as a proper funeral was important for the Chinese, rich or poor. He was also one of the founders of Singapore's oldest temple, the Thian Hock Keng at Telok Ayer. This became the centre of worship for the Fujian Chinese.

Mr Tan died in 1850 at age 52. An obituary in the Singapore Free Press described him as one of Singapore's "earliest settlers as well as most wealthy inhabitants." The paper also praised his contribution as a Justice of Peace:

"Much of his time was engrossed in acting as arbitrator in disputes between his countrymen, and many a case which would otherwise have afforded a rich harvest to the lawyers, was through his intervention and mediation nipped in the bud."

He left behind his widow Lee Seo Neo, who owned a large coconut estate in Geylang. Like him, she was unstinting in her support of the hospital and paid for a female ward. He also left behind three daughters, who were each bequeathed $36,000 in cash. His three sons, including his eldest Tan Kim Ching, inherited his land parcels.

To put everything in perspective, this tomb existed even before the Tiong Bahru Estate was built!

Another thing I have profited today is a better appreciation for the Outram area. All information pertaining to Outram could be found here : OUTRAM INFO


SGalf said...

It seems that only 2 things around the 3 hills are more than a 100 years old. (1) The underground reservior and (2) these 2 tombs.

Everything else is gone! The original TTSH is gone, the outram prison was demolished to make way for the Outram Park flats (those rainbow coloured blocks built in) in the 60s. Now, those rainbow blocks are gone as well.

Hope the old dental HQ at outram will not be sacrificed for some luxurious condo.

By the way, I also thought SI PAI PO meant I know my grandma was referring to the location which was formerly known as SEPOY PLAINS and not SGH.

pinto said...

Interesting that you mentioned the Outram Road Prison. I was reading a WW II book where the writer was held at Outram Road for about two years. I never figured out exactly where it was located.

SGalf said...

My dad told me that he would go hang around the prison's perimeter to watch movies. The prisoner was watching from the correct side of the screen while he would watch from the reverse side of the screen! And he input his own "conversation" into the movies!

waverunner said...

Hi can anyone provide details regarding the underground reservoir which one of the above users mentioned?

SGalf said...

Hi waverunner, I think the underground reservior is located within the Pearl Hill Park, next to Pearlhill apartments.

waverunner said...

Heyy there! Is it accessible to public?