Tan See Boo



Tan See Boo, alias Tan Si-bo (b. 18 June 1833, Amoy, China–d. 25 November 1884, Singapore),1 was a Chinese missionary and pastor. He arrived in Singapore in 1856 to begin his missionary work for the Presbyterian Church. He established the first Chinese Gospel Hall in Singapore in 1867.

Early life
Tan was born on the first day of the fifth lunar month in 1833 in Amoy, China to a privileged family. He was disowned by his father when he converted to Christianity.2 He was converted by Reverend William Burns, the first Presbyterian missionary to China.3


In 1856, Tan came to Singapore to work as a catechist for the Presbyterian Mission.4 He began with a salary of £28, which was doubled in 1857.5 He worked in a small building which was used as a mission chapel. The chapel was located in the compound of Sophia Cooke’s Chinese Girls School at Beach Road.6 This congregation moved to the Malay Chapel at Prinsep Street by 1860, with some Chinese Christians gathering for weekly worship as a result of Tan’s ministry.7

The Glory Presbyterian Church
In 1857, Tan and Reverend Benjamin Keasberry went to Wayang Satu to preach to Chinese immigrants. After the meeting, they were invited to start a preaching station in Bukit Timah. Tan managed to convert 11 Chinese, four of whom became missionaries to the Chinese. The congregation grew and was soon granted land by the government to build a church. With the support of the congregation at the Malay Chapel, sufficient funding was obtained. In 1862, Glory Presbyterian Church was erected in Bukit Timah.8 

The Chinese Gospel Hall
In 1862, Tan left the Presbyterian communion with Reverend Alexander Grant to found the Chinese Mission of the Plymouth Brethren.9 In 1866, both resigned from the Presbyterian Church.10 Tan did so because he differed from the Church on two issues. Firstly, he believed that baptism was only for believers and had to be carried out by immersion. Secondly, he believed that a Christian worker must look only to God for his financial support.11 On 8 May 1867, eight months after his resignation, Tan was re-baptised by John Chapman. Together with five other Chinese, he was among the first converts in the Straits Settlements who were baptised by immersion.12


At that time, the fledgling Chinese congregation looked to Tan for leadership. When he resigned from the Presbyterian mission, other Chinese Christians also left and joined the Brethren. Until 1867 when the Chinese Gospel Hall (CGH) was established, the Chinese congregation under Tan held their meetings at the Bethesda Chapel.13 Tan solicited donations to build a church, and had collected $2,000 by 1865. In 1866, he donated his wife’s jewellery towards the building of the church.14 

CGH was also known as the Chinese Presbyterian Church,15 and locally as Hok Im Kuan or Hok Im Koan. It was located at the junction of North Bridge Road, along a small lane parallel to Bras Brasah Road. The 5,000-square-foot compound was leased to Tan from the Presbyterian mission for 99 years at $60.16 Tan became CGH’s ruling elder and lived with his family at the back of the church premises.17 

CGH fell into a dilapidated condition after three decades of use and had to be replaced. The building re-opened on 20 February 1900, with about 150 members present at its dedication.18 In 1941, it was bombed and completely destroyed in World War II. After the war ended in 1945, Tan’s grandson sold the land and used the money to build a larger CGH in Geylang.19

Family
Tan was twice married. His first wife, Yeo Geok Neo, was a graduate of the Chinese Girls School in Singapore.20 They married in 1858 and she died in 1863 at the age of 22. Tan remarried in 1864 in a church in Penang. His second wife was Ang Choo Neo, also known as Primrose Vanderhoven Ang Choo Neo. She was the adopted daughter of a Dutch captain.21 She died in 1936.22


Tan had several children. The elder son by his first wife, Tan Teck Soon, was born in 1859. He was educated at Raffles Institution and became the first scholar to be awarded the Guthrie scholarship for the Chinese in 1873. Teck Soon was known for his literary accomplishments.23

With his second wife, Tan had eight sons, one of whom was adopted, and three daughters. However, seven of the children died young. One of his sons, Tan Yew Wee, became a medical practitioner and another, Tan Yew Ee, had a successful dental practice in Singapore.24 

Tan died at the age of 51 in 1884 in Singapore.25



Author
Lee Hwee Hoon




References
1. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
2. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
3. Hunt, R., Lee, K. H., & Roxbogh, J. (Eds.). (1992). Christianity in Malaysia: A denominational history. Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publishing, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 275.95 CHR)
4. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
5. Harcus, A. D. (1955). History of the Presbyterian Church in Malaya. England: Presbyterian Historical Society of England, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 285.25951HAR[RFL])
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
7. Sng, B. E. K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819–2002. Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, p. 72. (Call no.: RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
8. Sng, B. E. K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819–2002. Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, pp. 52, 72. (Call no.: RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
9. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
10. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 264. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
11. Sng, B. E. K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819–2002. Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
12. Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 275. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
13. Sng, B. E. K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819–2002. Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, pp. 78–79. (Call no.: RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
14. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
15. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
16. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
17. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
18. Sng, B. E. K. (2003). In His good time: The story of the church in Singapore, 1819–2002. Singapore: Bible Society of Singapore, p. 80. (Call no.: RSING 280.4095957 SNG)
19. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, pp. 23–24. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
20. Song, O. S. (1985). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
21. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, pp. 20–23. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
22. Funeral of Mrs Tan See Boo. (1936, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Song, O. S. (1985). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
24. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, pp. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])
25. Tay-Chee, G. (2003). Of sighs and smiles. Singapore: Armour Publishing, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAY-[HIS])




The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion>>Christianity
Tan, See Boo, 1833-1884
Missionaries--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Religious Leaders
Religious leaders