Monday, March 10, 2008

My Chew Joo Chiat Story Part II

Chew Joo Chiat's Other Businesses

In 1904 he had a shop Chop Seng Chiong at Beach Road. In 1908 he was a ship chandler with an office at Philip Street. He supplied provisions and spare parts to ships that called at Singapore. In the same year he had a timber trading business with a saw mill at Beach Road. He imported logs from  mainland Malaya and Indonesia and exported them to the west.

In 1919 he founded the Pacific Bank and was the bank's first chairman. He presided at the meeting. The following year he and his friends opened the Batu Pahat bank in Johore. He was one of the Board of Directors and a major shareholder. In 1920 he founded two tin mines. They were the Trengganu Corporation and the Ulu Pacca Corporation. He was their chairman and presided in all their meetings. They were incorporated in Singapore and their office was at 96 Market Street Singapore.

Above document is a page from a publication on The Developing Economies of Malaysia. It showed that in 1919 Chew Joo Chiat was the first Board Chairman of the Pacific Bank

My great-grand father, Chew Joo Chiat became a very wealthy land and property owner, not only in Joo Chiat but also in Eunos, Changi, Thomson Road and Weld Road. He also owned a rubber estate (64 acres) at Bukit Timah Road and another at Changi Road. Inspite of his wealth  he never own a car. He rather walked to his estates and back daily.

Chew Joo Chiat's Family
After the turn of the century he had his residence at No 65 Joo Chiat Road to be near his plantations. His house was a unique three storey building with a front balcony overlooking the road. It had a fenced in forecourt and a gate with steps leading to the road. There was an air-well in the centre part of the building for natural lighting and ventialation. At the air well was a well and the water was used for cooking, drinking and washing. He also built a permanent opera stage across the road so that he could engage Teochew opera troupe to stage  shows during his birthdays and Chinese festivals. The opera show was his only entertainment. During his birthdays he invited his business associates for dinner and a few chosen friends to view with him the opera show from the balcony.

His family in China enjoyed his prosperity as he remitted regularly money to them. Their lives had been upgraded to the upper class. It enabled his eldest son Chew Cheng Liam to marry a rich family's daughter. She had bounded feet and a maid (slave girl) to attend to all her needs. In 1915 Chew Joo Chiat sent for his two sons Chew Cheng Liam and Chew Cheng Swee and Cheng Liam's family (his wife, 2 children and a maid) to join him in Singapore. They lived with Chew Joo Chiat in his three storey house. Later the two sons built their own homes along Joo Chiat Road and moved out. Like most Chinaman of his era, he was addicted to the persuit of wealth but never enjoy the luxury of life inspite of his wealth.  He died on 5th February 1926 leaving behind 2 sons, Cheng Liam 请廉 and Cheng Swee 请水, 3 daughters Gui Neo桂娘,Xian Neo羡娘,Su Lan素蘭, 5 grandsons Ann Sim安心, Ann Chi安持,Ann Siong安相,Ann Fu安扶,Ann Jing安静 and 3 grand-daughters Choo Neo珠娘,Pen Zhi盆治,Dan Zhi丹治。

Chew Joo Chiat never return to his homeland at Her San 和山, Fujian福建 province in China since he came to Singapore. His root in China had been cut off permanently. On the other hand, he left a living legacy in his adopted land, Singapore. In Joo Chiat area many roads are named after him, such as Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Place, Joo Chiat Terrace, Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat Avenue and Joo Chiat Walk, and Joo Chiat Square. Joo Chiat market at Joo Chiat Road had demolished and replaced by Joo Chiat Complex. Joo Chiat Police Station was at East Coast Road. It had stopped functioning as a police station but the building is still there. Today Joo Chiat is a living legacy. In February 2011 Joo Chiat was awarded the first Heritage Town in Singapore.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Chew Joo Chiat Story Part I

My name is Philip Chew and Chew Joo Chiat 周如切 is my great grand-father. His eldest son, Chew Cheng Liam 周清廉 and his family were living at No. 73 Joo Chiat Road. I was brought up there. In the house, there was an ancestral worship altar with a copper urn containing a few burned joss sticks. Chew Joo Chiat's photo was hung against the wall, above the altar. Each morning my uncle (my father's half brother) paid the family's respects by offering 2 small cups of Chinese tea on the altar and prayed with 2 lighted joss sticks. But to commemorate his death anniversary each year, there would be an array of food,  fruits and kuey kuey (nonya cakes) for him to 'eat'. The altar was extended with a table to accommodate the articles displayed for offering. I was too young to understand the ritual and my relationship to this man. I came to know my ancestry when I was older.

Today there are websites, books and articles published about Chew Joo Chiat. Quite rightly the authors based their research on archival records, memories of old residents, but scan informations could be gleaned about my great grand-father from these writings. Futhermore, I discovered inaccuracies or gaps in these publications. I thought then that I should find out as much as I can for my children and grand children. Thus began the journey 'My road to Chew Joo Chiat'.

Chew Joo Chiat was born in 1857 at a place called HeShan (和山) in Fujian Province, China. His father was a peasant and he married very young. At age 20 he already had 2 sons Chew Cheng Lian 周请廉 Chew Cheng Swee 周请水 and 2 daughters Chew Xian Neo 周羡娘 Chew Su Lan素蘭.

In 1877 at the age of 20 years, Chew Joo Chiat left his family in China and sailed to Singapore which took about 10 days by sailing boat. The boat was overcrowded and the people was badly treated. He landed in Singapore as a young man penniless. He experienced poverty and aimed to make a fortune for himself and also to better the lives of his family back home. He worked very hard to achieve his dream. Starting from a small business and  endowed with resourcefulness and business acumen he became a successful businessman.

He married a Peranakan girl Tan Quan Neo 陈颧娘 in 1890 and a daughter Chew Quee Neo 周桂娘 was born in 1891. They were then living at No 475 Geylang Road. Towards the end of the 19th century he became a housing developer submitting plans to the authority to build shophouses and residential houses at Geylang Road 3 1/2 ms. opposite Paya Lebar Road.  He went eastwards towards Changi Road and bought a piece of  forested land owned by the Alsagoff family to grow spices such as gambier, nutmeg and pepper. Spices were in great demand by the Europeans then. He cleared the area of trees, short brushwood and lallang. The fallen trees were used as firewood to boil the gambier leaves in order to extract its commercial product. About 1900 he purchased the Confederate estate lands from the families of Dr Robert Little and others. His final foray of land for his spice plantation was in 1903. He bought more than one acre of land for $35,000.00 from Henry William Crane at Joo Chiat Place and Crane Road area. It is believed that Crane Road is named after HW Crane. When copra became the cash crop he turned his land into coconut plantations (The flesh inside the nut when dried became copra. Oil extracted from copra was used to manufacture many kinds of products from food to soap and shampoo).In 1913 he bought many freehold building allotments fronting the Confederate Estate Road to increase his land bank for housing development.

The east coast beach then was very popular with foreign expatriats as well as the rich and wealthy locals. Some of them had houses for their mistresses or concubines. As a result the shore line was dotted with seaside houses and holiday bungalows. There were sea pavalions with living quarters along the coast. Chew Joo Chiat owned one of them. Access to them was through a dirt track consisting of Joo Chiat Road, a short stretch of dirt track from Geylang Serai to Joo Chiat Terrace and Confedrate Estate Road from Joo Chiat Terrace all the way to the sea. It was owned and maintained by Chew Joo Chiat. In 1916 the Municipality wanted to buy from Chew the dirt track for the construction of a motor roadway. Initially he refused to sell it but on hindsight he saw the benefits of a road infra structure going through his coconut plantations. He not only could transport his copra to town faster for export but also increase the value of his land and properties. So, he bequeathed it to the Municipality without a compensation. In 1917 after the road had been paved, the Confederate Estate Road was renamed as Joo Chiat Road after Chew Joo Chiat for his generosity.

Construction of the new road to the east coast beach also coincided with the population growth in Singapore. The town area had become ovecrowded. The increased in population and the subsequent demand for housing resulted in the gradual fragmentation of the coconut plantations. Chew foresaw a housing boom and divided his land into building plots for the development of shophouses, terraced houses and bungalows. He also laid roads there. Many people moved to live in the east especially near the east coast. The Peranakans and the Eurasians form their enclave in Joo Chiat. The area became the best residential suburbs for the middle class, and is second only to Tanglin area.

By 1920, Chew was a well known landed property, coconut and rubber estates owner, principally in the districts of Siglap and Changi. The district of Siglap, was bounded by Joo Chiat Road/Marine Parade Road/Telok Kurau Road/Changi Road thus making one square area of his land.

The Singapore house, 1819-1942 by Lee Kip Lin
Notice (NL microfilm) 16 June 1908 Straits Times p.10
Property Sales (NL microfilm) 7 November 1913 Straits Times p.10
Property Sales (NL microfilm) 15 March 1916 Straits Times p.10
Joo Chiat Road (NL microfilm) 27 March 1917 Straits Times
Joo Chiat A Singapore name (NL microfilm) 8 October1948 p.4
History of Joo Chiat - June/July 1998 Contact p.18
Bukit Timah Rubber Estate (NL 1761)