Edwin Tessensohn



John Edwin Tessensohn (b. 8 April 1855, Malacca–d. 26 September 1926, Singapore1), better known as Edwin Tessensohn, was a prominent citizen in colonial Singapore. He was the president of the Singapore Recreation Club for 25 years (non-consecutively between the years of 1894 and 1926) and helped establish the Eurasian Association in 1919. His dedication to public service earned him wide respect in the community and led to his appointment as the first Eurasian legislative councillor in the Straits Settlements in 1923.2

Early life and professional career
Tessensohn was born in Malacca, and at the age of 15, moved to Singapore where his widowed mother believed educational opportunities were better.3


He served the British India Steam and Navigation Company for 49 years through their successive local agents, principally Boustead and Company. He worked in Boustead’s shipping department for 37 years and rose to the important position of comprador (a local who managed dealings with Asian clients for Western businesses in the East.4) Tessensohn helped to establish the Clerical Union in 1920 and was elected into its first committee as vice-president. He retired from Boustead in 1921 and opened his own firm – Edw. Tessensohn & Co, dealing in land, estate, shipping and commission agents — the following year.5

Community work
Singapore Recreation Club (SRC)
Tessensohn enjoyed cricket and tennis and forged an early association with the SRC, becoming one of its auditors three years after it was formed by a group of Eurasians in 1883. He was later elected club president and served four non-consecutive terms totalling 25 years between 1894 and 1926. In 1904, he laid the foundation stone of its clubhouse at the Padang, built to accommodate the growing audiences at matches.6


Being a focal point for Eurasian men even in non-athletic matters, the SRC’s patronage doubled in size during Tessensohn’s long tenure in leading the club. His leadership of the SRC started a family tradition as a number of his descendants, including his son and two great-grandsons who later went on to become presidents, also served in the committee.7

Eurasian organisations
Besides his involvement at the SRC, Tessensohn contributed to other Eurasian groups. He was secretary of the Mutual Improvement Society, which organised intellectually stimulating lectures, debates and classes for members of the Eurasian community, and later was patron of the Eurasian Literary Association, a precursor to today’s Eurasian Association, which organised similar events, at his home on Sophia Road.8


Around the late 1910s, communal divisions were hardening and many Eurasians felt the need for the presence of a body to defend their interests and promote their advancement. That led to the founding of the Eurasian Association and Tessensohn became a member of its committee (1919–22) as well as its patron. Not long afterward, he encouraged the formation of the Portuguese Amateur Dramatic Company and also acted as patron.9

Volunteer Corps
Tessensohn actively participated with the Singapore Volunteer Corps from 1874 until 1875; but most Eurasian members eventually left, feeling underappreciated. During World War I they were keen to support the war effort and Tessensohn, among others, proposed forming a Eurasian Company. In 1915, he was invited to discuss the idea with a senior officer and helped organise a public meeting to consider the issue. The assembly rejected the government’s invitation to perform clerical and administrative tasks for the corps, but after securing an offer to enlist on equal terms as other volunteers, the Eurasian Company was established in 1918 with 100 initial members; Tessensohn was later appointed to the corps’ advisory committee.10


Religious, educational and youth organisations
A devout Catholic, Tessensohn’s faith was mirrored in some of the activities he was involved in. For instance, he was a warden of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for 30 years and was elected to its management committee.11 He was also secretary of the Singapore chapter of the charitable St Vincent de Paul Society when it was established in 1884 and became a committee member of the Singapore Catholic Club, a gentlemen’s social club, in 1901.12


Besides spiritual matters, he also took an interest in youth and education. In the 1920s, Tessensohn was vice-president of the Singapore and South Malaya Boy Scouts Association, as well as a patron of the St Joseph’s Old Boys’ Association.13 He was associated with Malaya’s first two tertiary institutions, helping to organise fundraising for the new King Edward VII Medical School in 1911, and sitting on the executive committee of Raffles College between 1923 and 1926.14

Public service
In 1915, his community contributions and abilities were officially recognised when he was appointed a municipal commissioner of Singapore. He eventually became the Municipal Council’s senior member, sat on the Rent Assessment Board, chaired the Cemetery Committee, and was also a justice of the peace from 1922.15


Municipal elections were abolished in 1913, but to enforce a government that was more reflective of a multi-cultural society, the colonial authorities later invited the Malay, Indian and Eurasian communities each to nominate a representative to the Straits Settlements Legislative Council. The Eurasian Association recommended Tessensohn, and Eurasians throughout Malaya felt great pride when he took office in January 1923.16

Death and honours
On 26 September 1926, Tessensohn died at Singapore General Hospital and was buried at Bidadari Cemetery. He had been named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire earlier that year, but was never invested.17 The following year his eldest son, who had been appointed to his old seat on the Municipal Council, received the insignia from the governor.18 A road north of Little India was also named in Tessensohn’s memory. In 2001, he was included in a set of four postage stamps honouring Singapore’s pioneers.19


Family
His parents were John and Elizabeth Tessensohn (née Koek, later Fernandez).20 His grandfather was Adrian Koek, the honorary chief justice of Malacca,21 and his brother-in-law, Abraham Couperus, was governor of Malacca before the British invasion.22


Tessensohn married his first wife, Clementine da Silva in 1875, who bore him a son, Reginald John.23 She died around 1900. In 1904,24 he married Emily Chopard, daughter of a president of the SRC,25 and the couple had one son, Ernest,26 and one daughter, Irene. Chopard passed away in 1922.27 His great-grandchildren include George Edwin Bogaars, head of Singapore’s civil service from 1968 until 1975.28



Author

Duncan Sutherland




References
1. Death of the hon’ble Mr. E. Tessensohn, O.B.E. (1926, September 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Recreation Club. (1983). SRC 100 anniversary: Centenary celebrations, 1883–1983. Singapore: The Club, pp. 32–33. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN); S’pore pioneers to be featured on new stamps. (2001, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
2. Singapore Recreation Club. (2008). Singapore Recreationg club celebrates 1883–2007. Singapore: Singapore Recreation Club, pp. 41–42, 392. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN); S’pore pioneers to be featured on new stamps. (2001, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
3. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
4. Death of the hon’ble Mr. E. Tessensohn, O.B.E. (1926, September 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Untitled. (1922, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore Recreation Club. (1983). SRC 100 anniversary: Centenary celebrations, 1883–1983. Singapore: The Club, pp. 32–33. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN); Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 97, 100, 105–106, 175. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
7. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 97, 100, 105–106, 175. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN); Singapore Recreation Club. (2008). Singapore Recreation Club celebrates 1883–2007. Singapore: Singapore Recreation Club, pp. 41–42, 392. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN)
8. The mutual improvement society. (1879, April 29). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 3; Untitled. (1918, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 8; Untitled. (1920, May 4). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 97, 100, 105–106, 175. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN); Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
10. Braga-Blake, M. (Ed.). (1992). Singapore Eurasians: Memories and hopes. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 97, 100, 105–106, 175. (Call no.: RSING 305.80405957 SIN)
11. Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. (1916, January 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5; Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. (1927, January 7). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
12. Singapore Catholic club. (1901, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 2; Society of “St. Vincent de Paul”. (1884, November 29). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 305.80420595 TES)
14. Untitled. (1923, February 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Singapore Recreation Club. (2008). Singapore Recreation Club celebrates 1883–2007. Singapore: Singapore Recreation Club, pp. 41–42, 392. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN); Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 305.80420595 TES); S’pore pioneers to be featured on new stamps. (2001, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Singapore Recreation Club. (2008). Singapore Recreation Club celebrates 1883–2007. Singapore: Singapore Recreation Club, pp. 41–42, 392. (Call no.: RSING 796.0605957 SIN)
17. Death of the hon’ble Mr. E. Tessensohn, O.B.E. (1926, September 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Splendid public service. (1935, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 13; The late Mr. J. E. Tessensohn. (1927, November 1). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. S’pore pioneers to be featured on new stamps. (2001, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Death. (1927, March 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
22. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES); Turnbull, C. M. (1983). ‘Melaka under British colonial rule’. In K. S. Sandhu & P. Wheatley (Eds.), Melaka: The transformation of a Malay capital c.1400–1800 (pp. 242—296). Kuala Lumpur: ISEAS; Oxford University Press, pp. 243, 245. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5141 MEL)
23. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
24. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
25. Wedding at Catholic cathedral. (1906, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
27. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)
28. Tessensohn, D. (2001). Elvis lives in Katong: Personal Singapore Eurasiana. Singapore: Dagmar Books, pp. 33–35, 37, 40. (Call no.: RSING 305.804205957 TES)



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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
Colonial administrators
Colonial administrators--Singapore--Biography
Ethnic Communities
Heritage and Culture
Law and government>>Public administration
Tessensohn, John Edwin, 1855-1926
Personalities>>Biographies>>Colonial Administrators