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.

References
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)

26 comments:

Ivan Chew said...

Hey cousin! Thanks for sharing the story of our great-grandfather, and I suppose you'll also share stories about grandfather Chew Cheng Liam. I'll blog about how we got connected as cousins. Soon... :)

Just a suggestion - from time to time, maybe you want to point out what were the inaccuracies you've come across other blogs that mention Chew Joo Chiat.

Ivan Chew said...

Oh, one more thing -- I'm sure some visitors to your blog will ask who you are, and are you really related to Chew Joo Chiat.

So I suggest you also blog about your "credentials" as the descendant of Chew Joo Chiat. E.g. you can mention your interview with the Archives, and being cited in the book "Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy". Sharing how you were contacted to contribute to the book would also be an interesting anecdote.

Philip Chew said...

Hi Ivan, I have already posted my credentials in the second part of "My Chew Joo Chiat Story"
Thank you once again for your invaluable feedbacks and ideas.

timesofmylife said...

Interesting, both of you (Ivan and Philip) are cousins? Good and interesting blog, Philip!

PChew said...

Yes, Ivan and I are cousins. I have not seen him since he was born until recently.

Thimbuktu said...

Congratulations on the launch of the "My Chew Joo Chiat Story" blog, Philip.

Since you told me about this personal project several months ago, I have been waiting for the blog. I enjoy reading the interesting Joo Chiat stories which I am sure other readers will also find intriguing, esp the topic on the railway line at Joo Chiat.

You are certainly aging actively with good exercise for your memories :) Carry on blogging.

Cheers!

Philip Chew said...

Thanks James for coming on board.

Pufferdog said...

Hi Mr. Phillip,

I'm currently doing research work for an upcoming television program on little known facts of the various parts of Singapore and while doing the research for the Joo Chiat/Katong area, i chanced upon your blog. I find it very informative and would love to hear more from you, mind if you email me back at siva@tantrainc.sg? Hope to hear from you soon.

william chew said...

Hi Philip,

My name is William and I'm the son of Chew Cheng Swee and one of the youngest grandson of Chew Joo Chiat. No one left except me, who visited his graveyard yearly and paid respect to him on Ching Ming festival. This was generated from my past away mother till now.

FYI, I have given a few of the photos to the community centre when they interviewed me.

Philip, you are older than me and is his great grand son. Are you sure we are realated?

Philip said...

Hi William, yes, we are relatated. Your father, Chew Cheng Swee and my grand father, Chew Cheng Liam are brothers with the same father and mother. Though younger, you are my uncle. During the Ching Ming Festival, you visited your father's graveyard or Chew Joo Chiat's graveyard?
William, I am now in US visiting my son and his family. I'll get back to you when I return to S'pore in third week of July.

Leslie said...

Dear Sir

It is indeed inspiring and wonderful of you to share your memories of Old Joo Chiat.

I have been living in the area for the last 37 years of my life and have fond memories of the place. In fact, last year, i decided to buy my own apartment right in the heart of Joo Chiat Road.

Unfortunately, i am very sad and disappointed that the Joo Chiat area is now more known for the Vietnamese hookers than for it's heritage.

It is a sad fact that could be prevented with more care, enforcement and strategic planning from the authorities, including URA, NHB, MOM, MHA and the area's MP.

I certainly hope that one day, i can pass my equally wonderful memories of Joo Chiat to my children, rather than have the place go down the drain as a slum for the sleaze trade and foreign workers' quarters.

Philip said...

Hi Leslie, I do hope the sleeze in Joo Chiat will go away. There is a 'Safe Joo Chiat' group which has 118 members in the Face Book. They are trying to secure a sleeze-free Joo Chiat.
Join the Face Book as a member to know more.

fy said...

Hi Philip,
I read about Chew Joo Chiat on 8 Days, so I google and landed here. My surname is Chew too and I am a resident in Joo Chiat. Are we related? =P Anyway, thanks for your sharings, Will read more on it when I am more free.(:

Philip said...

Hi fy, to be sure whether we are related, you have to let me know the names of your great grand father downwards. I have about 150 names of Chew Joo Chiat's descendants.

Ben Chew said...

Hi is Chew Cheng San, a son of Joo Chiat.If he is then we are related!

Philip said...

Hi Ben, Chew Cheng San is not the son of Chew Joo Chiat. He is the son of Joo Chiat's brother Chew Joo Beng. We are related in this way. If you want to know more, give me your email address and we can communicate. I'll not publish you email address.

Pelita said...

Hi Philip,

Out of curiosity, what happened to the family lineage of the Peranakan wife, with whom Chew Joo Chiat had a daughter? Are you in touch with them?

Philip said...

I am not in touch with the family. Some lived in Batu Pahat, Johore and some in Singapore.

Sieweng said...

My mother-in-law's father is Chew Cheng Siong who is the son of Chew Koh Beng. My mother-in-law said Koh Beng is Chew Joo Chiat's brother. Can you confirm?

Philip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philip said...

Yes, Chew Koh Beng is Chew Joo Chiat's brother. Chew Cheng Siong has 4 daughters namely Chew Kim Yam, Chew Kim Bee, Chew Kim Cheok and Chew Kim Boon. One of them is your mother-in-law. I would like to have her imput for Chew Koh Beng's family tree. I am currently in contact with Chew Koh Beng's great grand-children in Australia, Ireland and Singapore.

Sieweng said...

My mother-inlaw's name is Chew Siok Yam. She is the only girl without Kim in her name. Her brothers are Chew Ann Sim, Chew Ann Lian, Chew Ann Tong, Chew Ann Cheng, Chew Ann Soo And Chew Ann Kheng. Ann Tong and Ann Cheng are twins. All Chew Cheng Siong's children are in Singapore except for my mother-in-law who moved to KL after her marriage. Siok Yam married Tan Chong Kee. They have 3 sons: Tan Choong Leong, Choong Seng, Choong Eng. Choong Leong's son Tan Wai Hong, daughter Tan Wen Lynn. Choong Seng is my husband. We have 2 daughters, Hui Yean and Hui Min. Hui Min lives with her husband in Bedok. Choong Eng has 1 son, Teik Joon who works in Singapore.

Philip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ahmad Zainudin said...

Hi Cousin
Philip Chew

I would come to see you to know more about The CHEW JOO CHIAT FAMILY TREE
WE WILL KEEP INTOUCH YA.

Thank you cousin.

D A Z
Kuala Lumpur

Ahmad Zainudin said...

Hi Cousin
Philip Chew

I would come to see you to know more about The CHEW JOO CHIAT FAMILY TREE
WE WILL KEEP INTOUCH YA.

Thank you cousin.

D A Z
Kuala Lumpur
0125196326

Priscilla said...

Chew Quee Neo is my great grand mother