Joseph Aaron Elias



Joseph Aaron Elias (b. 1881, Calcutta, India–d. 16 July 1949, Singapore), also known as Joe Elias, was a successful entrepreneur and well-known personality in Singapore’s Jewish community. He held offices as a justice of peace and municipal commissioner of Singapore. Elias Road and Amber Road were named after his family.1

Early life
Born in Calcutta, India, Elias was the eldest of Aaron and Sarina Elias’s seven children. His father had amassed considerable wealth from the opium trade. In 1902, Aaron Elias passed away from cancer, and Joe Elias, then aged 21, was thrust into the role of head of the household.2

Business interests
Fortunately, Joe proved to be particularly adept and entrepreneurial. The family grew richer from investments in stocks and real estate. Elias was a man of diverse business interests. He established a company named Tampenis Cement Tile Works Ltd, which manufactured flooring tiles and imitation marble. He later sold off the company when competition from the Chinese grew keen. He was also the director and investor of other businesses such as rubber and tin-mining, including Pajan Rubber Plantation, Indragiri Rubber Estate, Kuchai Tin Mines and Linguis Tin Mines.3

Elias later established a refrigeration business known as Fresh Food and Refrigerator Co. Ltd. The firm had its refrigerator, ice-work and warehouse at the docks of Keppel Harbour. To complement his refrigeration business, Elias started a retail store that rivalled Cold Storage on Orchard Road. Although known for its excellent service, price-cutting and the Great Depression saw the company’s profits dip. It was eventually sold to Cold Storage in 1931.4

In addition, Elias was involved in the newspaper business. He took over the running of the Malaya Tribune, a newspaper known for its hard-hitting editorials. The erstwhile Pavilion Cinema on Orchard Road (where Orchard Gateway now stands) was also another one of his business enterprises.5

Public life
In 1918, Joseph Elias was named a justice of peace, and in 1920 was appointed municipal commissioner, a position he served continuously, disrupted only by World War II. He was made a trustee of the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1927 and the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in 1929. Elias was also part of the Housing Commission whose 1918 report was then considered the most comprehensive survey of Singapore’s current and future housing needs.6


Interests
Elias was a horse-racing and motoring enthusiast. One of the first to import racehorses into Singapore, he was instrumental in suggesting that a racecourse be built at Bukit Timah. At one point, he had around 35 horses in his stable on Grange Road. Elias was also frequently seen driving his open-top sports car around the city.7

Buildings and streets named after the Elias family
Joe Elias formed the Singapore Building Corporation, which built Amber Mansions, one of the earliest blocks of flats in Singapore. Named after his family clan name, Amber Mansions was built in 1921 at the corner of Penang Lane and Orchard Road. At the time, Amber Mansions introduced a new and innovative concept to building design and use. The complex housed a shopping arcade on the ground level, with residential apartments above and an inner court where children could play. Many Jewish businesses and families relocated there. The building was demolished during the early 1980s to make way for the construction of the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.8


Amber Road in the Katong area was also named after the family clan name. Joe Elias and his brothers owned several estates along Amber Road, which used to stretch from Grove Road (now expunged) to Tanjong Katong Road. The most palatial of the properties was their family mansion known as the Elias Mansion. The Elias Mansion later became part of Sea View Hotel. The family also owned a holiday bungalow in Pasir Ris. The road leading to the bungalow was named Elias Road.9

Death
Elias died at his home on 16 July 1949. The funeral was held at the Jewish Cemetery on Thomson Road. Elias and his brothers never married, so the family line was continued by his sister Miriam, who married her second cousin David J. Elias from Calcutta in 1914.10

Family
Father: Aaron Shalome Joseph Elias
Mother: Sarina Elias née Balzer
Brothers: Ezra, Isaac (Ike), Raphael (Ralph)
Sisters: Miriam, Esther, Rebecca11



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia




References
1. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, pp. 77–78. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Death of Mr. J.A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, pp. 54, 56. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Elias, L. (2014, February 28–March 3). Personal email correspondence with Linda Elias, great-niece of Joseph Aaron Elias, regarding the spelling of her great-grandmother's name, Sarina, and the family's clan name, Amber.
3. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, pp. 54–55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Death of Mr. J.A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, p. 16; Koh, L. (1992, December 4). Hidden treasure. The Straits Times, p. 1; Page 11 Advertisements column 3. (1918, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, pp. 54–55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
5. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, pp. 54–55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
6. Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, pp. 78, 193. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: a study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Death of Mr J. A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, pp. 1, 16; Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Singapore and Straits directory [Microfilm no.: NL 1187]. (1918). Singapore: Mission Press, p. 35; Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 564. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
7. Death of Mr. J.A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, p. 1; C. F. S. (1949, July 19). Mr. J.A. Elias: An appreciation. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Death of Mr J. A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, p. 16; Than, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Elias, L. (2014, February 28–March 3). Personal email correspondence with Linda Elias, great-niece of Joseph Aaron Elias, regarding the spelling of her great-grandmother's name, Sarina, and the family's clan name, Amber.
9. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Koh, L. (1992, December 4). Hidden treasure. The Straits Times, p. 1; Lee, K. L. (2007, January 10). No. 23 wasn’t Cashin Mansion. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 57. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830–1945. Singapore: Herbilu Editorial & Marketing Services, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT); Death of Mr. J.A. Elias. (1949, July 17). The Malaya Tribune, p. 1; Funeral of Mr. J. Elias. (1949, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Bieder, J. (2007). The Jews of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 959.57004924 BIE-[HIS]); Elias, L. (2014, February 28–March 3). Personal email correspondence with Linda Elias, great-niece of Joseph Aaron Elias, regarding the spelling of her great-grandmother's name, Sarina, and the family's clan name, Amber.



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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
Elias, Joseph Aaron, 1881-1949--Biography
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Jewish merchants--Singapore--Biography
Jews--Singapore--History
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore