Rising through the Ranks at Guthrie & Co.

Gan Eng Seng
Gan Eng Seng

A Businessman and Philanthropist

A Hokkien businessman, comprador (middleman), community leader and philanthropist who founded and contributed to various educational and medical institutions for the betterment of all people in Singapore.

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shared Guthrie & Co.'s
Guthrie & Co.

A Merchant House

A leading merchant house that traded British goods for Straits produce in the mid-1800s.

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A Businessman and Philanthropist

It is a great honour to be promoted to chief comprador
Compradors—the term meaning buyer in Portuguese—were indispensable employees to European merchants. They acted as middlemen who handled the merchant firm’s dealings with traders by selling manufactured goods on behalf of European merchant houses and buying Straits produce from native traders. The comprador would collect payment on behalf of the firm, hire labourers for loading and unloading goods, and act as a broker for the firm.
at Guthrie & Co.
Founded in 1833 by Scotsman Alexander Guthrie, Guthrie & Co. was a successful merchant house that traded British goods—cotton, wool and manufactured goods—for produce from the Straits such as spices, coffee, tin, ebony, beeswax and ivory, as well as goods from India, Java, Borneo, the Malay Peninsula, Siam and Cambodia. The merchant house was also involved in ventures beyond the import-export trade, managing estates and acting as an agent for banks and insurance companies. By 1900 Guthrie & Co. managed six banks, five insurance companies, two shipping companies and 23 other agencies.
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Rising through the Ranks at Guthrie & Co.

Guthrie & Co.
Guthrie & Co.

A Merchant House

A leading merchant house that traded British goods for Straits produce in the mid-1800s.

A Merchant House

After 13 years of faithful service, Mr. Gan Eng Seng has been promoted to chief comprador. He will be our main representative managing the purchase of Straits produce from Chinese businesses and the sale of manufactured goods.
Thomas Scott
Thomas Scott

A Guthrie & Co. Partner

Born in 1832, Scott was made senior partner of Guthrie & Co. in 1867. He discovered and hired Gan Eng Seng, and continued to support him throughout his career.

A Guthrie & Co. Partner
Circa 1874
Congratulations on becoming the chief comprador! I still remember our first encounter at Collyer Quay
‘Collyer Quay’ initially referred to a sea wall running from Fort Fullerton—where the Fullerton Hotel stands today—to Telok Ayer Market. It was named after its designer George Collyer, a member of the Madras Engineers under the Indian Army. At first, no road ran along the sea wall, so workers had to access their offices via a shared verandah through the buildings. The road that was eventually built was named Collyer Quay, and became an important route in Singapore’s financial district. The Guthrie & Co. office was situated there in the 1850s. Today, The Arcade stands in its place.
back in 1861. You were busy offloading gambier from the tongkangs
The Singapore River was narrow with limited water volume. That required ships to anchor in the bay and their cargo to be transported on lighters—smaller craft such as tongkangs—down the river to be unloaded at godowns. Tongkangs used to be rowed, but became larger and were powered by sail in the 1860s. European merchant houses preferred to use tongkangs because their large size, ranging from 20 to 120 tonnes, meant that the cargo could be well-protected in the outer harbour. Local offices would also only insure goods that were transported on tongkangs.
to our godown
The godown was said to originally refer to a cellar or place to which one had to ‘go down’, and later came to refer to a warehouse. In fact, before World War II, the Singapore Japanese community used the term gudan-zoku—meaning the godown group—to describe the Japanese business elite who worked in trading companies, banks, shipping firms and other multinational Japanese companies. This was because these companies were mostly located around the old godown area near Commercial Square (present-day Raffles Place).
when we had a little chat. I was immediately struck by your great personality and hired you on the spot. My hunch was right. Since then, you’ve risen swiftly through the ranks: from sweeper to tally clerk and then to storekeeper. The partners at Guthrie & Co. have been very impressed.

As the chairman of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company
The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company was formed to build better facilities for the repairing of vessels. On the west side of Tanjong Pagar, the company built wharves and a dry dock called Victoria Dock that could be drained dry for inspecting and repairing ships. At one point, the company owned the wharf frontage that spanned the entire length of New Harbour (today’s Keppel Harbour) and controlled all of Singapore’s shipping business. Concerned about its inadequate facilities and potential to monopolise a vital industry, the Straits government eventually took over the company and renamed it the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board.
, I’m also pleased that you’ve been appointed our company’s labour contractor.

Philanthropy was Crucial to Filling Welfare Gaps

Gan Eng Seng
Gan Eng Seng

A Businessman and Philanthropist

A Hokkien businessman, comprador (middleman), community leader and philanthropist who founded and contributed to various educational and medical institutions for the betterment of all people in Singapore.

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shared Thong Chai Medical Institution's
Thong Chai Medical Institution

A Chinese Medical Hall

A charitable medical clinic established in 1867 that continues to offer free medical consultation and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to all today.

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A Businessman and Philanthropist

I will continue to support the Thong Chai Medical Institution—a worthy cause for the entire Singapore community.

Philanthropy was Crucial to Filling Welfare Gaps

Thong Chai Medical Institution
Thong Chai Medical Institution

A Chinese Medical Hall

A charitable medical clinic established in 1867 that continues to offer free medical consultation and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to all today.

A Chinese Medical Hall

Some 25 years have passed since our organisation started. Today, we moved from Upper Macao Street
Today, it is better known as Upper Pickering Street.
into our new building at Wayang Street
The old building that used to house the Thong Chai Medical Institution remains at its original site at Eu Tong Sen Street, which was formerly part of Wayang Street. A rare surviving example of Southern Chinese secular architecture, the building has four halls positioned along a central axis separated by two courtyards. Each hall bears a sloping roof of green glazed Chinese tiles with painted ornamental bands depicting Chinese scenery and culture. These detailed features have been preserved thanks to the careful restoration work by skilled craftsmen from China. Meanwhile, the Institution continues to offer free medical services at Chin Swee Road.
, thanks to the kind contributions of our most noteworthy patron, Mr. Gan Eng Seng. We’ve also been generously supported by various members of the Hokkien and Cantonese…
Sir Cecil Clementi Smith
Sir Cecil Clementi Smith

Straits Governor

Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1887 to 1893. He promoted education, quelled secret societies, and created the Chinese Advisory Board to facilitate communication between the government and the Chinese community.

Straits Governor
14 Nov 1892
When I first heard of Thong Chai Yee Say
This was the original name of the free clinic, meaning Thong Chai Medical Society in Cantonese.
and their mission to help the poor and the sick, I found myself impressed by their welfare work for the community. Hence, I decided to do my part by exercising my right to transfer ownership of government land, empowered under the Crown Lands Ordinance. On behalf of Queen Victoria, I granted a piece of land at Wayang Street to Thong Chai to build its own premises.

Today, I officially announced the grant and declared the premises open. I feel proud to have done my part to help Thong Chai further its charitable causes.
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Thong Chai and the Birth of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce
Besides housing a free clinic, the Thong Chai building served as the headquarters for Chinese guilds. Most notably, it was the birthplace of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which united the Chinese beyond differences in dialect and clan identities.
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The Establishment of the Anglo-Chinese Free School

Gan Eng Seng
Gan Eng Seng

A Businessman and Philanthropist

A Hokkien businessman, comprador (middleman), community leader and philanthropist who founded and contributed to various educational and medical institutions for the betterment of all people in Singapore.

Explore
shared Sir Cecil Clementi Smith's
Sir Cecil Clementi Smith

Straits Governor

Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1887 to 1893. He promoted education, quelled secret societies, and created the Chinese Advisory Board to facilitate communication between the government and the Chinese community.

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A Businessman and Philanthropist

A momentous day for the Anglo-Chinese Free School!

The Establishment of the Anglo-Chinese Free School

Sir Cecil Clementi Smith
Sir Cecil Clementi Smith

Straits Governor

Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1887 to 1893. He promoted education, quelled secret societies, and created the Chinese Advisory Board to facilitate communication between the government and the Chinese community.

Straits Governor

It is very important that a school like this should be founded by a Chinese resident, Mr. Gan Eng Seng. I know of no similar institution in the colony devoted to the study of English as well as the Chinese language, the knowledge of which is an essential part of…
Tan Keong Saik
Tan Keong Saik

A Municipal Commissioner

The successful co-founder of the first joint Singapore-European shipping company—the Straits Steamship Company. A Municipal Commissioner, Tan was highly regarded by the British for his opinion on policy matters.

A Municipal Commissioner
Circa 1893
The school was founded by Mr. Gan Eng Seng some years ago for parents who could not afford to send their children to other schools. He did not imagine the school would become so important. The school had achieved the most satisfactory results, and the increased demand for admission rendered a new building necessary. Mr. Gan Eng Seng applied for a grant of land from the British government through Sir Cecil Clementi Smith—the spot where the new building has been raised. It is capable of accommodating 300 boys and cost $5,000.
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Efforts to Expand Malay Education
Beginning from the mid-1800s, the colonial government became involved in expanding Malay-medium education, seeing to the establishment of vernacular schools. Community leaders set up madrasahs that offered affordable education, and Eunos Abdullah fervently campaigned for Malay boys to learn English.
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The 1898 Bullock Cart Strike

Gan Eng Seng
Gan Eng Seng

A Businessman and Philanthropist

A Hokkien businessman, comprador (middleman), community leader and philanthropist who founded and contributed to various educational and medical institutions for the betterment of all people in Singapore.

Explore

A Businessman and Philanthropist

I hear that almost all the Chinese bullock cart
In the 1800s and early 1900s, bullock carts were a major means of transportation and consisted of two-wheeled carts being powered by a pair of young castrated cows or bullocks. Bullock carts were used to move goods at the port, transport bricks at construction sites, and distribute water to people in town. Kreta Ayer, which means water cart in Malay, got its name from the bullock carts that would ply the road in Chinatown to distribute water drawn from wells on Ann Siang Hill.
owners have stopped working their carts today in protest. They are unhappy over a municipal prosecution against a few owners who were fined for having unsanitary stables. Last night, a few Indian and Chinese drivers even went to my mandor
In late 19th century Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, this term referred to an overseer or foreman.
and…
A Journalist
Circa 1898
The bullock cart strike is still ongoing. The streets are unnaturally quiet, and the few operating bullock carts are accompanied by a police guard. But people who have connections with bullock cart contractors face little difficulty
The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company had their own bullock cart contractor, which presented a great advantage during a strike like this one. Instead of dealing with a bunch of angry drivers, the company only had to negotiate with one person—Gan Eng Seng—to keep their bullock cart system going.
. Since the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company’s bullocks are at work, for the most part the carts are still moving between the wharves and the town.
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The Different Chinese Groups in Early Singapore
By the early years of the 20th century, Singapore’s Chinese population had grown rapidly. Despite the growing sense of a common Chinese identity, Chinese communities retained strong in-group networks, dialects, cultures, and a dominant presence in various trades and occupations.
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Gan Eng Seng’s Death

Singapore Free Press
Singapore Free Press

A Local Newspaper

First published on 8 October 1835, the Singapore Free Press was the second English-language newspaper to circulate in Singapore.

A Local Newspaper

Mr. Gan Eng Seng, one of the most prominent Chinese merchants and contractors of Singapore, died this morning at 3:30am of blood poisoning caused by a prick on the thumb from a piece of iron, after a short illness.
Thomas Scott
Thomas Scott

A Guthrie & Co. Partner

Born in 1832, Scott was made senior partner of Guthrie & Co. in 1867. He discovered and hired Gan Eng Seng, and continued to support him throughout his career.

A Guthrie & Co. Partner
Circa 1899
When Gan Eng Seng made his will on 9 June 1897, he appointed the partners of Guthrie & Co.—John Anderson, my son Robert Frederick McNair Scott and I—as the executors and trustees of his will.

He is survived by four wives in Singapore and one wife in China. His first wife Kho Chwee Neo will inherit his house at 87 Amoy Street and receive $250 a month. To his second wife, Kho Eng Geok, he left $50 a month and one of his houses at Upper Serangoon Road.
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