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周素蘭.
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)