Tan’s Arrival and Beginnings in Singapore

Tan Tock Seng
Tan Tock Seng

A Peranakan Merchant

A wealthy Peranakan merchant and philanthropist in the 1800s who helped build the Thian Hock Keng temple and what is now the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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A Peranakan Merchant

Back in 1819, the return of harsh Dutch rule to Melaka was a far cry from the Rajah Melaka
This was an affectionate title coined by Melakans for William Farquhar, Melaka’s official British Resident from 1803 to 1818. Farquhar was held in such great repute that when he announced his landing in Singapore, a mass exodus of Melakan men—especially Indians and the Peranakan Chinese—immediately followed him there.
’s successful residency. Upon news of him landing in newly-founded Singapore, I joyfully left Melaka and followed him south. The risk was huge. The Dutch could have caught me. Pirates in the…
A Peranakan Trader
Circa 1827
Congratulations Tan Tock Seng! In the early days, there was little to eat in Singapore besides fruit and fish caught by the Orang Laut, so Farquhar sent messages to Melaka asking for supplies and settlers. I jumped at the chance! The scarcity meant we could sell foodstuffs and necessities at highly inflated prices. With such a lucrative market waiting for us in Singapore, the Dutch ban definitely did nothing to stop me from coming and doing business here!
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Tan’s Wealth and Close Ties with Europeans

Tan Tock Seng
Tan Tock Seng

A Peranakan Merchant

A wealthy Peranakan merchant and philanthropist in the 1800s who helped build the Thian Hock Keng temple and what is now the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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A Peranakan Merchant

Years ago, I was glad just to have enough space for a small business. It is surreal to realise how much land I own today
Tan Tock Seng owned a spectacular amount of property: 50 acres (20 hectares) of land, a 14-acre (5.7-hectare) fruit plantation opposite the Old St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital at Tanjong Pagar, a nutmeg plantation, an orchard, and land from the Padang through High Street to Tank Road.
. I wish not to brag, and instead take this moment to thank my friend Mr. John Horrocks Whitehead of the mercantile firm Shaw, Whitehead &…
John Horrocks Whitehead
John Horrocks Whitehead

A British Merchant

A prominent merchant in Singapore working in the mercantile firm Shaw, Whitehead & Co., and Tan Tock Seng’s business partner and friend.

A British Merchant
Circa 1838
Thank you, my friend.
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Tan’s Funding of Thian Hock Keng and Temple Festivities

Tan Tock Seng
Tan Tock Seng

A Peranakan Merchant

A wealthy Peranakan merchant and philanthropist in the 1800s who helped build the Thian Hock Keng temple and what is now the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Explore
shared Thian Hock Keng Temple's
Thian Hock Keng Temple

A Hokkien Temple

Meaning The Temple of Heavenly Blessings in Hokkien, Thian Hock Keng is one of Singapore’s oldest Chinese temples. Tan Tock Seng financed the bulk of its construction.

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A Peranakan Merchant

As the leader of the Hokkien community, I thank you for your very flattering expressions.

Tan’s Funding of Thian Hock Keng and Temple Festivities

Thian Hock Keng Temple
Thian Hock Keng Temple

A Hokkien Temple

Meaning The Temple of Heavenly Blessings in Hokkien, Thian Hock Keng is one of Singapore’s oldest Chinese temples. Tan Tock Seng financed the bulk of its construction.

A Hokkien Temple

Today, the statue of Ma Zu
Known as the mother of the heavenly sages, the sea goddess Ma Zu (or Ma Cho Po) was the patron deity for all seafarers and those who depended on the sea for a living. It was believed that she could heal the sick, guide lost ships, and perform miraculous rescues in the waters. It was said there was an altar dedicated to her in every junk. The worship of Ma Zu dates back to the Song Dynasty and continues to flourish today, with temples in southern China and countries in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.
from China has finally arrived in Singapore. Many Chinese immigrants—sinkeh—like us owe our safe journey across the South China Sea to her blessings. Hence, to announce her arrival and our temple’s formal opening, it is only right that we conduct a grand, magnificent procession.…
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
Circa 1840
The procession for Ma Zu was a real spectacle for all! A long parade of nearly the third of a mile to the resounding clangour of gongs, vibrant banners of every colour and dimension dominated the pale blue sky. Little girls dressed in colourful Tartar and Chinese costumes were carried aloft on decorated platforms, charming the crowds. The Divinity—Ma Zu herself—was conveyed in an elegant sedan chair made of yellow and black silk, the same colours her surrounding guards were dressed in. It’ll take a month before the temple is fit for her installation. When she is properly deposited in the temple, another procession will mark the occasion.
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Tan Leading the Chinese Pauper Hospital’s Construction

Tan Tock Seng
Tan Tock Seng

A Peranakan Merchant

A wealthy Peranakan merchant and philanthropist in the 1800s who helped build the Thian Hock Keng temple and what is now the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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A Peranakan Merchant

Governor Butterworth invited me to discuss the proposal for a new pauper hospital. He explained how it is only right for me to set up a place of refuge for my unfortunate countrymen who have been crowding the streets while sick from repulsive diseases, and imposing themselves on the public’s…
A Peranakan Secretary
3 Feb 1844
Today, Mr. Tan Tock Seng chaired a public meeting to discuss the pauper hospital on Pearl’s Hill. Mr. Tan donated $5,000 while Mr. Cham Chan Sang, a recently deceased Chinese merchant, bequeathed $2,000. The three resolutions passed and signed by prominent Chinese community members and European merchants are: the erection of a Pauper Hospital is absolutely necessary; funds for its maintenance should come from the island’s General Revenue
General Revenue refers to funds available for general budgetary purposes, including those raised from taxes, fees and charges. As a free port without many duties, early Singapore lacked the necessary government revenue. The problem was resolved with revenue farming. This involved the government auctioning monopoly rights for selling alcohol and opium, and for operating gambling dens.
; and the government should prevent sick paupers from migrating to Singapore.
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Tan Becoming the First Asian Justice of the Peace

William J. Butterworth
William J. Butterworth

Straits Governor

Governor of the Prince of Wales Island (present-day Penang), Singapore and Melaka from 1843 to 1855.

Straits Governor

In recognition of his diverse contributions to the Chinese and the community at large, it is an honour for me to make Tan Tock Seng a Justice of the Peace
The British appointed the Justice of the Peace to help govern the burgeoning Chinese population, as the administration was poorly funded and the British officials could not speak Chinese dialects. Tan held the office until his death in 1850.
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A Teochew Tailor
Circa 1844
Congratulations again, Mr. Tan Tock Seng. This is not just an honorary title, but a recognition of your valuable ability to bridge communication gaps between Singapore’s major communities, when British officials can barely speak Malay or Chinese dialects. Meanwhile, you can speak English on top of both languages, and have been a dedicated arbitrator and mediator for the community. Thank you so much for your service!

Tan Tock Seng’s Death

The Straits Times
The Straits Times

A Local Newspaper

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

A Local Newspaper

[DOMESTIC OCCURRENCE — DEATH] At Singapore, On Sunday Feb. 24th after a short illness; Tan Tock Seng Esqr. J. P. aged 52 years.

We regret to announce the decease, on Sunday last, of TAN TOCK SENG Esqr. A Justice of the Peace, and one of our worthiest…
A Hokkien Nurse
Circa 1850
Every morning at work, I pass by the dedication slab inscribed with our founder’s reasons for setting up the Chinese Pauper Hospital. It went something like this: "People in the same village look out for each other. Many in Singapore infected with illness have no clothes, no food, no home. How can one see this and not feel pain? Since I started my business, I have wanted to help these abandoned people. Luckily, Colonel Butterworth attended to my dream and urged me to build a clinic. Now people have a place to rest in.”

His benevolence motivates me every day.
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