Lee Cheng Yan



Lee Cheng Yan, also known as Lee Cheng Yam, (b. 1841, Malacca, Straits Settlements–d. 18 May 1911, Singapore1), was a merchant and philanthropist. He was one of the founders of the Straits Steamship Company (part of Keppel Corporation today), and helped start a number of schools in Singapore.2

Early career
Born to a Straits Chinese family in Malacca, Lee arrived in Singapore in 1858.3 Soon after his arrival, he started Lee Cheng Yan & Co. (company chop Chin Joo) in Telok Ayer Street.4 The company dealt with general trading and acted as a commission agency firm.5 In its later years, Lee Cheng Yan & Co. would diversify into shipping, financing and property.6

Within a decade of its establishment, the company became one of the more prominent Chinese trading houses that conducted business with Europeans.7 In 1883, Lee toured Europe with Tay Geok Teat,8 another Malacca-born businessman,9 paying special attention to the manufacturing towns in England. The local press billed the two businessmen as the first Straits-born Chinese to visit Britain for commercial purposes.10

Straits Steamship Company
In 1890, Lee worked with Dutchman Theodore Cornelius Bogaardt, Mansfield & Company directors and other Chinese tycoons including Tan Jiak Kim and Tan Keong Saik to form the Straits Steamship Company.11 Straits Steamship was started with a nominal capital of $10 million and five ships initially plying the ports of Malacca, Penang and Singapore, transporting tin ore and other cargoes such as gambier, pepper, tapioca and rice.12 Later, the company ferried passengers, largely Chinese labourers bound for the mines and plantations in Malaya.13


Community involvement
Lee held a keen interest in the affairs of the Chinese community,14 and was well regarded as one of the leaders of the Hokkien community.15 He retired from day-to-day operations of his company during the 1890s, and handed its reins to his son, Lee Choon Guan, in order to participate more actively in community service.16

He was invited to serve as one of the Hokkien representatives on the Chinese Advisory Board,17 set up by the British colonial government in 1889 to facilitate better ties between the government and the Chinese community.18 Besides being a representative on the Chinese Advisory Board, Lee also took on the role of Justice of the Peace.19

One of Lee's main concerns was education.20 He founded and endowed the Hong Joo Chinese Free School on Serangoon Road, which had a starting intake of 70 scholars.21 He was also one of the original trustees of Gan Eng Seng School and a board member of the Toh Lam Chinese School (later known as Tao Nan School). In addition to his involvement in education, he served on the committees of Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Po Leung Kuk,22 a charitable organisation for orphans.23  

Lee was also one of the founder members of the Ee Hoe Hean club in 1895, along with other wealthy Hokkien businessmen like Lim Ho Puah, Tan Cheng Siong and Tan Jiak Kim.24 In 1906, Lee chaired a meeting of community leaders during which it was decided that public subscriptions for the Chingay procession be stopped, and the Hungry Ghosts Festival ceremonies be abolished, on the grounds that these activities ran contrary to Confucian values, and that the money expended would be better used in education. The meeting was notable for being among early efforts at reform within Singapore’s Chinese community.25

Properties
Lee was also known for his four villas - Magenta Cottage in Killiney Road,26 which was his main residence, Hampstead Bath in Upper Bukit Timah, Mandalay Villa in Amber Road27 and a seaside bungalow at Changi Point.28 He specified in his will that Magenta Cottage could only be sold 21 years after the death of his last surviving grandson. The cottage was eventually sold in May 1991.29




Author

Alvin Chua




References
1. The late Mr. Lee Cheng Yan. (1911, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Death of Mr Cheng Yan. (1911, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
4. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
5. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON); Singapore chronicles. (1995). Singapore: Illustrated Magazine, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Tegonning, K. G. (1967). Home port Singapore: A history of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890–1965. Singapore: Oxford, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 387.5095957 TRE)
7. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
8. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
9. The late Mr Geok Teat. (1893, April 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Two Singapore Chinese citizens in Birmingham. (1883, August 23). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Singapore chronicles. (1995). Singapore: Illustrated Magazine, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS]); Tegonning, K. G. (1967). Home port Singapore: A history of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890–1965. Singapore: Oxford, pp. 13 & 17. (Call no.: RSING 387.5095957 TRE)
12. Tegonning, K. G. (1967). Home port Singapore: A history of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890–1965. Singapore: Oxford, pp. 17, 20, 23. (Call no.: RSING 387.5095957 TRE)
13. Tegonning, K. G. (1967). Home port Singapore: A history of Straits Steamship Company Limited, 1890–1965. Singapore: Oxford, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 387.5095957 TRE)
14. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
15. Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history 1819–2000. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 162. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
16. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Death of Mr. Cheng Yan. (1911, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Government gazette, 31st Jan. (1890, February 4). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Annual report on the Chinese Protectorate. Singapore, for the year 1889. (1890, April 29). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS); Singapore chronicles. (1995). Singapore: Illustrated Magazine, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
20. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
21. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
22. Koh, T. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 292. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
23. Chief Justice host to 100 girls. (1931, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2002). Ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia: A dialogue between tradition and modernity. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 215. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 ETH)
25. Chinese topics in Malaya. (1931, December 10). The Straits Times, p.16; The Singapore free press. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 1906. (1906, December 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Singapore chronicles. (1995). Singapore: Illustrated Magazine, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
27. Death of Mr. Cheng Yan. (1911, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu, G. (1999). Singapore: A pictorial history 1819–2000. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 225. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LIU-[HIS])
28. Lee, P., & Chen, J. (1998). Rumah baba: Life in a Peranakan house. Singapore: National Heritage Board, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 305.89510595 LEE)
29. Singapore chronicles. (1995). Singapore: Illustrated Magazine, p. 102. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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
Community leaders
Merchants--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
Lee, Cheng Yan, 1841-1911