Tan taking over Eu Chin & Co.

Tan Seng Poh
Tan Seng Poh

A Wealthy Opium Farmer

A Teochew businessman from Perak and the first Chinese Municipal Commissioner. He made his fortune through opium revenue farms and other businesses.

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A Wealthy Opium Farmer

Congratulations to my brother-in-law, Seah Eu Chin
Seah Eu Chin was a prominent Teochew merchant and philanthropist who came from China in 1823. The success of his gambier and pepper plantations earned him the title ‘Gambier King’. His wealth and charitable contributions cemented him as the leader and philanthropist of the Teochew community and an effective mediator for the British. He was well-known for rallying 13 Teochew clans to form the charitable welfare organisation Ngee Ann Kongsi.
, on his retirement, and may you enjoy many fruitful years studying classical Chinese literature! It’s been a long career since I first started out as an assistant at your firm, and it still amazes me how the business has expanded over time—from pepper…
A Scottish Merchant
Circa 1864
Congratulations to both of you, Seah Eu Chin and Tan Seng Poh! Eu Chin, your scholarly command of Chinese and your knowledge of English have made you an overseas representative of the Chinese literati, and I look forward to your future works.

Seng Poh, I’ll be doing business with you from now on. I’m looking forward to catching up with you next week.

A Monopoly on Opium in Singapore and Johor

Tan Seng Poh
Tan Seng Poh

A Wealthy Opium Farmer

A Teochew businessman from Perak and the first Chinese Municipal Commissioner. He made his fortune through opium revenue farms and other businesses.

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A Wealthy Opium Farmer

In 1862, I acted as Heng Bun Soon’s agent and took over the Singapore opium farm. Four years later, I’ve won both the Singapore and Johor opium farming contracts that give me monopoly rights to sell opium in both territories. While Cheang Hong Lim still controls the licence for the…
William Giuseppi Gulland
William Giuseppi Gulland

A Prominent Merchant

A prominent European merchant in Singapore and a partner in the merchant house Paterson, Simons & Co. He was also a Legislative Council member and a connoisseur of Chinese porcelain.

A Prominent Merchant
Circa 1866
All this talk about cultivating your relationships brings me back to the time when the Sultan of Johor called your bluff. You asked for the rent to be reduced, with some excuse or other about not being able to pay the full amount.

After considering the request, the Sultan told you that since he was your friend, he hardly wished for you to lose your money. If you were struggling to pay, he’d be perfectly willing to accept another offer and release you from the contract! He certainly got you there!
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The Opening of Alexandra Gunpowder Magazine

Tan Seng Poh
Tan Seng Poh

A Wealthy Opium Farmer

A Teochew businessman from Perak and the first Chinese Municipal Commissioner. He made his fortune through opium revenue farms and other businesses.

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A Wealthy Opium Farmer

I’d like to say a big thank you to my friends and family who attended today’s opening of the New Gunpowder Magazine
A gunpowder magazine is a building designed to store gunpowder safely. Clarke Quay used to be the site of the colonial government’s gunpowder magazine prior to its conversion into a godown centre.
at Tanah Merah Kechil, which was jointly organised by its proud owners, Lee Cheng Tee
Lee Cheng Tee was a shipowner who conducted business through his firm Cheng Tee Wat Seng & Co. His company traded rice extensively with Saigon when the city was occupied by the French. He married a daughter of Tan Tock Seng.
and me.

We engaged two steamers, Telegraph and Johore, to…
A Colonial Secretary
Circa 1869
The opening of the Alexandra Gunpowder Magazine is an impressive success for Singapore, which relies on gunpowder magazines to protect itself against internal disturbances and foreign naval attacks
In the 1840s, naval forces were Singapore’s main defence in the event of war. Artillery supplies sent to Singapore in August 1851 included heavy iron guns equipped with hollow shot, 250 common shells, and five cartridges of canister shot—an indication of the authorities preparing for disturbances within Singapore and the possibility of foreign naval attacks. Several incidents during the 1850s sparked further concern over Singapore’s internal and external defences, such as the presence of a Russian naval squadron in the South China Sea during the Crimean War (in which the British and Russians were fighting each other), the 1854 Singapore riots, and the 1857 Indian Mutiny.
. But ever since the floating magazine Princess Royal was lost, we had no choice but to keep gunpowder in open tongkangs
The term tongkang referred to a cargo-carrying craft with a rounded hull and a double-ended bow, which was usually operated by Indian boatmen in the early 1800s. Tongkangs used to be rowed, but in the 1860s became larger in size and were powered by sail. Europeans favoured the use of tongkangs for their large size. Ranging from 20 to 120 tonnes, tongkangs offered good protection for their cargo in the outer harbour. Local offices would also only insure goods that were transported on tongkangs.
—at great risk and expense, I must add.

The new Magazine can hold all the gunpowder likely to come to Singapore, and its handsome jetty lets cargo boats access it easily. It will definitely be of use should the Larut Wars
The Larut Wars were a series of disputes between the Ghee Hin and the Hai San secret societies over tin mines in Perak, Malaysia. The first conflict broke out in 1861 over the control of the water course for mining. A gambling quarrel escalated and sparked the second war in 1865. The third broke out in 1872 over boundary claims on the mining land, and the fourth in 1873 until the Straits Governor finally intervened to safeguard the Straits Settlements’ commercial interests. The Pangkor Treaty was signed in 1874, ending the warfare and being the first step to the eventual British rule of the Malay States.
ever resurge. It’s truly an occasion for celebration, Seng Poh.

The Great Opium Syndicate

Tan Seng Poh
Tan Seng Poh

A Wealthy Opium Farmer

A Teochew businessman from Perak and the first Chinese Municipal Commissioner. He made his fortune through opium revenue farms and other businesses.

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A Wealthy Opium Farmer

Cheang Hong Lim
Cheang Hong Lim was a well-known Chinese community leader and philanthropist in the 19th century. In addition to his business interests in opium and spirit farming, he also engaged in shipping and real estate. He built shophouses at Chin Swee Road and Havelock Road, and established several temples including the Geok Hong Tian temple at Havelock Road and the Fuk Tak Chi temple at Telok Ayer Street. In 1891, the colonial government recognised him as the leader of the Hokkien community in Singapore.
, Tan Yeok Nee
Tan Yeok Nee was a rich merchant in Singapore and Malaya. He came down to Singapore from Guangdong, and worked as a peddler in clothes and textiles. His frequent visits to the Malay kampong at Telok Blangah led to him becoming close friends with Maharaja Abu Bakar, the ruler of Johor. Tan built his business empire in Johor, and opened four shops in Singapore for the trading of gambier and pepper. He retired and returned to China in 1900.
and I have come to a consensus. We will merge the Singapore, Riau, Melaka and Johor farms into one, and this will be known as the Great Syndicate.
A Reporter
Circa 1870
I must commend you on your achievements, for this arrangement couldn’t have been easy. You must have incurred significant financial losses to accomplish this. I certainly hope that the formation of the Great Syndicate will stop the violence and smuggling among former rivals.

When Cheang Hong Lim’s brother, Cheang Hong Guan, took charge of Singapore’s opium and spirit farms, you were in charge of the Johor and Riau opium farms. The competition between the two of you prompted more smuggling and a resurgence of violence. Fortunately, Cheang Hong Guan has since gone bankrupt, leaving Cheang Hong Lim in charge.

The First Chinese Municipal Commissioner

Tan Seng Poh
Tan Seng Poh

A Wealthy Opium Farmer

A Teochew businessman from Perak and the first Chinese Municipal Commissioner. He made his fortune through opium revenue farms and other businesses.

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shared Town Hall's
Town Hall

Municipal Council Office

A building that housed various government agencies including the Municipal Council. It was later converted into a theatre, and is now known as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

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A Wealthy Opium Farmer

I am glad to have been elected to the position of Municipal Commissioner, and I look forward to serving my community in my new role.

The First Chinese Municipal Commissioner

Town Hall
Town Hall

Municipal Council Office

A building that housed various government agencies including the Municipal Council. It was later converted into a theatre, and is now known as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

Municipal Council Office

Mr. Tan Seng Poh has accepted the position of Municipal Commissioner. He is the first Chinese appointed to this influential position. His local experience, philanthropy and business prowess make him an ideal fit for this leadership role in Singapore.

Congratulations, Mr. Tan Seng Poh, and may there…
A Eurasian Student
Circa 1870
Congratulations sir, and thank you for raising $5,000 for Chinese scholarships at Raffles Institution. It’s been a great honour to be part of the inaugural Chinese class of 1865 together with other European and Eurasian students. We’ve been learning the various Chinese dialects with our teacher’s help.

When I graduate, I’ll assist the police with investigating secret societies. There’s currently a dearth of interpreters, and the few who are currently assisting the police are likely to be either secret society members themselves or those afraid of the societies’ retribution.

Tan Seng Poh’s Death

Tan Keng Swee
Tan Keng Swee

Son of Tan Seng Poh

The son of Tan Seng Poh who took over the opium farm after his father passed away. He was the first Chinese racehorse owner in Singapore.

Son of Tan Seng Poh

It gives me great sorrow to announce the passing of my father, Tan Seng Poh. In life, he was known for his giving and charitable spirit, his astuteness in business and his excellent work as a Municipal Commissioner, where he gave the public the full benefit of his ability. The…
The Straits Times
The Straits Times

A Local Newspaper

An English newspaper in Singapore that was first published on 15 July 1845.

A Local Newspaper
25 Jan 1880
At the funeral of Tan Seng Poh today, all manner of Chinese and nearly all European residents turned out to pay their last respects to an old and well-regarded member of society. He was known for his generosity and good nature among the Chinese community, and there was scarcely a European who did not regard Mr. Seng Poh as one of their friends. His name was always on the list of regular donors to charitable causes.

Undeterred by the broiling sun, thousands attended the solemn procession, lining the roads from Hill Street to Thomson Road. He will be sorely missed.
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