Tan Che Sang



Tan Che Sang (b.1763, Fujian, China–d. 2 April 1836, Singapore) was one of the earliest merchants from Malacca to come to Singapore when Stamford Raffles set up a British settlement in Singapore in 1819.1 A tycoon known for his addiction to gambling, Tan’s prominence in the early colonial period was evidenced by a large turnout at his funeral.2

Early years
Tan, who was Hokkien, was one of the most prominent Chinese pioneers in the early years of the British settlement in Singapore.3 Born in Fujian province, China, Tan left his native city in 1778 at the age of 15 to build his fortune – succeeding first in Riau, then Penang (where he stayed for 10 years), followed by Malacca. He arrived in Singapore in 1819, and lived on the island until his death in 1836.4

Wealthy tycoon
Upon news of a newly established settlement in Singapore in 1819, merchants – especially those from Malacca – streamed into the island and established warehouses along the left bank of the Singapore River.5 Tan was one of those merchants; he bought a warehouse from William Farquhar, then Resident of Singapore, and became an agent for early Chinese junks.6

Farquhar had built this warehouse with a detached house across his Residency. Located at High Street, the site of the warehouse comprised an area of 51,558 sq ft, and is part of the High Street Centre Building.7 Later, under the Raffles resettlement plan of 1822–23, Tan moved his warehouse to Commercial Square (now known as Raffles Place), but kept this High Street site until his death in 1836. Tan was issued a title, lease No. 298, on 11 June 1827 for this High Street site.8 He stipulated in his will that this site be reserved permanently for ancestral heritage purposes, and was not to be sold.9

Following Tan’s death in 1836, his descendants became embroiled in major lawsuits over his legacy.10 In one such action instituted by Wee Swee Lum, the executor of his late daughter Tan Swan Neo, against a Lee Boon Neo and others in 1880, the court held that on the true construction of the will, the direction reserving the warehouse was void as creating a perpetuity, and that Tan Che Sang had died intestate in respect of such property. The court thereby ordered a sale of the site in 30 lots.11

Tan also benefited from Raffles' project of partitioning the city in order to manage the town’s land use. The blueprint for this project was the Jackson Plan, which was also notably the first town plan of Singapore. Under this plan, Raffles reclaimed land near Commercial Square and auctioned off parcels of it. During the auctions, location tickets or grants were issued under Raffles' name, which allowed for the occupation of the land after payment was made.12 Tan acquired several sites for his business, as proven by more than five lease titles that were issued to him between 1826 and 1828.13

From 1826, leases were issued in exchange for location tickets held by residents who had cleared and built on lands on the tickets. The exchange was to legalise occupiers who owned land and buildings in Singapore Town, after the London Treaty of 1824 officially made Singapore a British territory.14

Although Tan was one of the richest tycoons in those days, he was reputed to be a miser and a gambler. He tried to curb his gambling habit by cutting off the first joint of one of his little fingers, but the extreme measure proved ineffective.15 Tan was also known to have hoarded his wealth in iron boxes – as banks were non-existent in those times – and slept among them.16

Although it was said that Tan was close to Farquhar and dealt directly with him, he “had no social contact with the ruling community, and was a strange, withdrawn man, an inveterate gambler obsessed with making money...”.17

Tan had also built a house in Kampong Glam – one that he did not occupy. Instead, the house was first sold to a Mr Ker and then later to Christian Baumgarten, Singapore's Registrar at the time.18

Death
Tan died on 2 April 1836. His funeral on 13 April saw a turnout of around 10,000 to 15,000 people who came to pay their last respects. The final procession passed through the commercial part of the town on its way to the Hokkien burial ground.19



Author

Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. 许云樵 [Xu, Y. Q.]. (1961). 《马来亚丛谈》[Malaiya cong tan]. Singapore: Youth Book Company, pp. 27—28. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959.5 HYC); Yen, C. H. (2017). Ethnicities, personalities and politics in the ethnic Chinese worlds. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., p.139. (Call no.: RSING 305.8951 YAN)
2. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 17–18. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d; Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 216. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Funeral of a Chinese miser. (1836, July 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835—1969), p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. 许云樵 [Xu, Y. Q.]. (1961). 《马来亚丛谈》[Malaiya cong tan]. Singapore: Youth Book Company, pp. 27—28. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959.5 HYC); Yen, C. H. (2017). Ethnicities, personalities and politics in the ethnic Chinese worlds. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. p.139. (Call no.: RSING 305.8951 YAN)
4. 许云樵 [Xu, Y. Q.]. (1961).  《马来亚丛谈》[Malaiya cong tan]. Singapore: Youth Book Company, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959.5 HYC); Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 13—14. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 16–17. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d
5. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 9. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website:
http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d
6. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore,1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 13—14. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Leong, F. M. (2004). Early land transactions in Singapore: The real estates of William Farquhar (1744–1839), John Crawfurd (1783–1868), and their families. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society, 77(1) (286), 23–42, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
7. Leong, F. M. (2004). Early land transactions in Singapore: The real estates of William Farquhar (1744–1839), John Crawfurd (1783–1868), and their families. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society, 77(1)(286), 23–42, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
8. Leong, F. M. (2004). Early land transactions in Singapore: The real estates of William Farquhar (1744–1839), John Crawfurd (1783–1868), and their families. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society, 77(1)(286), 23–42, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
9. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 18–19. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d
10. 许云樵 [Xu, Y. Q.]. (1961). 《马来亚丛谈》[Malaiya cong tan]. Singapore: Youth Book Company, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959.5 HYC); Every name tells a story. (1990, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 14–15. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 19. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d 
12. Leong, F. M. (2004). Early land transactions in Singapore: The real estates of William Farquhar (1744–1839), John Crawfurd (1783–1868), and their families. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Society, 77(1)(286), 23–42, p. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS)
13. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 35–36. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d
14. Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 35–36. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website:
http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d
15. Funeral of a Chinese miser. (1836, July 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835—1869), p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 17. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d

16. 许云樵 [Xu, Y. Q.]. (1961). 《马来亚丛谈》[Malaiya cong tan]. Singapore: Youth Book Company, pp. 27–28. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 959.5 HYC); Song, O. S. (2016). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore: The annotated edition. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 17. Retrieved 2017, July 11 from National Archives of Singapore's Citizen Archivist website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/citizenarchivist/Annotate/LoadFile?fileId=43edc08a-73f5-4622-b290-3916b869233d

17. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
18. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 216. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
19. Funeral of a Chinese miser. (1836, July 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835—1869), p. 1; 2 Chinese views of Malaya more than a century ago. (1961, August 25) The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2006 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Businessmen--Singapore
Pioneers
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Singapore--History--1819-1867
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers