Sunday, April 19, 2009

Visting Chew Joo Chiat's grave

I visited Chew Joo Chiat's grave on Saturday 11 April 2009 morning. Together with me were my uncle and his son, and a female cousin from another Chew family. My uncle was familiar with the location of my great grand-father's grave for he visited the grave annually like a pilgrimage. Our visit that day was still within the Qing Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival). The burial ground is known as Bukit Brown Cemetery and it is more than one hundred years old. Many graves there have been neglected and in very bad shape. Some were completely covered by overgrown vegetations. I am very glad that my uncle and his family was the only Chew's descendants maintaining his grave. If not for him I was not able to see my great grandfather's grave.

It would be quite a task to find Chew Joo Chiat's grave without the direction of my uncle and his son. The ground was wet, soggy and slippery due to the heavy downpour the day before. Following the well trodden track was easy except to watch out for the muddy water while meandering our way carefully to the site. From the open track we turned right towards the overgrown vegetations and made our way the site. It reminded me of my school days as a boy scout when I had to depend on a compass to hike through thick bushes and overgrowth to reach my destination. Once through the barrier of overgrown vegetations Chew Joo Chiat's grave appeared before us. It was a double tomb grave. One tomb contained the body of Chew Joo Chiat and the other which is still empty was for his peranakan wife. I was told that she was buried at another cemetery.

I examined my great grandfather's tombstone and found the Chinese characters inscribed on it were still legible. It had the names of his 2 sons, 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren. In the book 'Joo Chiat a living legacy' Chew's grandson Lee Beow Guan stated that he had 6 sons and 4 daughters. The number of Chew's children with their names on the tombstone showed that Lee's memory had failed him.
I looked at my great grand-father's tomb and wandered how he came from China to Singapore as a pauper and died a millionaire. My imagination went back to the year 1877 when he arrived here as a 20 year old young man without a penny to his name. But later he became very wealthy owning property, coconut and rubber plantations in various parts of Singapore. According to records, he was also a major share holder of 2 banks (Pacific Bank & Batu Pahat Bank) and two tin mining companies in Malaya (now Malaysia) and presided at their meetings. He died on 5th February 1926.

Dirt track to Chew Joo Chiat's grave

Going through the overgrown vegetations

Offering prayer and burning joss papers

A photo for souvenir

A double tomb grave

Empty tomb of Chew Joo Chiat's peranakan wife


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Anonymous said...

Philip, so where does your peranakan root come from? I read your family account with interest and notice unlike many Singapore pioneers, Chew Joo Chiat was not a peranakan himself. Neither were your grandfather and granduncle as they came from China.

Philip said...

I am not a peranakan but associated with peranankan families through Chew Joo Chiat's second wife, a peranakan and my wife's perankan family.

Derene said...

Hi Philip,

Great Blog! I am Irene from PricewaterhouseCoopers and we spoke on the phone today regarding the heritage project I am working on. I would like to email you to give some background of our project- could I have your email address please?

Philip said...

Call me for my email address

Ashley Ash-Ri said...

Hi, I happen to be doing some back ground research on Joo Chiat area and chanced upon your blog. Wondering if your great grandfather's grave is affected by the bukit brown construction.

Philip Chew 周炳镜 said...

Ashley Joo Chiat's grave is not affected by the road construction.