Tiong Bahru – Tan Tock Seng’s Grave

The graves of Tan Tock Seng, Chua Seah Neo, and Wuing Neo is second in this series of posts about places of interest we visited along the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. Tan Tock Seng was one of Singapore’s most important early pioneers. He was born in Malacca in 1798 but moved to Singapore in 1819, shortly after Sir Stamford Raffles founded the trading settlement. He started out by Selling fruits, vegetables and poultry, but quickly picked up English and entered into a business partnership with John Horrocks Whitehead (1810-1846), an English trader. It was largely due to their joint speculation in land that Tan became inimensely wealthy Tan was the first Asian to be appointed a Justice of the Peace.

Today, Tan is best remembered as a philanthropist who donated $7,000 (a princely sum then) towards the construction of a Chinese Pauper’s Hospital in 1844. The hospital was initially located atop Pearl’s Hill but later moved to the junction of Serangoon and Balestier Roads. Now known as the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the hospital moved to its current location off Moulmein Road in 1909.

Tan Tock Seng died in 1850 at the age of 52, leaving behind his wife Lee Seo Neo, 4 sons, and 5 daughters. He was buried in an unknown location. The land on which these tombs lie was acquired by his son Tan Kim Ching (1829- 1892) in 1877 as a family burial plot. Kim Ching’s wife, Chua Seah Neo, was buried here when she died in 1882. It is possible that Tan Tock Seng’s remains were exhumed and re-interred in this spot around the same time. Tan Tock Seng’s granddaughter-in-law, Wuing Neo, was also buried here.

As you walk around the plot, you can’t miss the the resting place of Madam Chua Seah Neo and Madam Wuing Neo who both passed on in year 1882. Madam Chua was the granddaughter of Kapitan Chua Su Cheong (1750-1802) of Malacca and was married to Tan Kim Ching J.R (1829-1892), the eldest son of Tan Took Seng J.P. (1798-1850).

Besides being the first Siamese Consul General in Singapore, Tan Kim Ching in 1850 succeeded his father as the Kapitan China of the Straits Chinese community. He was one of Singapore’s leading Chinese merchants at that time and a power broker, having played a significant role in ending the Larut wars in 1874 which led to British intervention in Malaya. He was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1865 and an Honourable Magistrate in 1872.

Tan Kim Ching was a member of the Royal Court of Siam and had introduced British governess, Anna Leonowens to the King of Siam to be an English tutor for his children forming the basis of the famous musical entitled “The King and l” by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Madam Wuing Neo was the daughter of Wuing Boon Whatt, Singapore’s first Chinese to practise law in the Straits Settlement. She married Tan Soon Toh, the son of Tan Kim Ching and grandson of Singapore’s pioneer, Tan Tock Seng. In the Singapore Directory of 1890, Tan Soon Toh was recorded as the Siamese Vice-Consul in Singapore holding the Royal title, “Khoon Rasada Borirax”.

His son, Tan Boo Liat was the President of the Hokkien Huay Kuan and an active supporter of Dr Sun Yat Sen and the Kuomintang. During Dr Sun’s last visit to Singapore in 1911, Tan Boo Liat hosted him in his mansion called the Golden Bell which still stands today.
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Text taken from plagues at grave site.

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