Seah Liang Seah



Seah Liang Seah (b. 1850, Singapore–d. 14 September 1925, Singapore) was a wealthy local-born Chinese merchant who was known for being the Chinese representative on the Straits Settlements Legislative Council.1 He was a keen proponent of British rule and co-founded the pro-British Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA).2

Early life
Seah was the second son of Teochew tycoon Seah Eu Chin. He received a bilingual education, learning Chinese at home under a private tutor while studying English at St Joseph’s Institution.3 He first joined his father’s company, Eu Chin and Co., as a secretary and later took over the management of the family’s trading business. Seah also jointly owned a pineapple processing factory that produced pineapples sold under the Lion brand. The factory was later wholly bought over by Seah, who consolidated it under his firm Chin Giap & Co.4

Public service
Upon the death of his brother Cheo Seah in 1885, Seah succeeded him as chairman of Ngee Ann Kongsi, which had been founded by his father as a welfare organisation for the Teochew community.5

In 1883, Seah was nominated by Governor Frederick Weld as a member of the Legislative Council, becoming the second Chinese member appointed after Hoo Ah Kay (popularly known as Whampoa).6 Seah served his first term until 1890 when he resigned due to ill health and disagreements with other members of the council.7 In that same year, Seah was appointed as one of the Teochew representatives for the newly formed Chinese Advisory Board, which aimed to look after the interests of the Chinese community.8

In 1894, Seah was reappointed to the Legislative Council for a second term but resigned again in January 1895 to protest against a tax imposed by the British government to increase the Straits Settlements’ contributions towards British military expenditure.9 However, owing to his experience, Seah continued to be appointed occasionally as a temporary member of the council to stand-in for members who were absent on leave. During this period, Seah was also a member of the Municipal Commission, which oversaw public works in Singapore.10 He resigned from the Commission in 1897.11

Seah was a charitable man who donated to many causes in his lifetime. In 1889, he gave 400 silver taels to a drought relief fund in central China. He also donated to other funds such as the Prince of Wales War Relief Fund in 1914 and the King George’s Fund for Sailors in 1918.12

Loyal British subject
A British subject by birth, Seah was a staunch supporter of British rule. At the 50th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1887, Seah recited the congratulatory address on behalf of the Chinese community in Singapore.13 He also initiated the plan to commission a statue of Queen Victoria. The statue was completed two years later and erected in Government House (now the Istana).14 When the Queen died in 1901, Seah interrupted a wayang (a Malay word meaning “a theatrical performance employing puppets or human dancers”) at a wedding that he was attending to mourn the occasion.15

Seah was one of the key organisers of the King Edward VII Memorial Fund established in 1910 to commemorate the reign of the English monarch. Proceeds from this fund were later donated to the Straits and Federated Malay States Government Medical School. The school was renamed the King Edward VII Medical School in 1913 and then King Edward VII College of Medicine in 1921 (now the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, part of the National University of Singapore).

In August 1900, Seah, together with other prominent Straits Chinese such as Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, founded the SCBA, which aimed to promote loyalty among the Straits Chinese towards the British Empire.16 Seah also contributed articles on various topics to The Straits Chinese Magazine, a periodical established in 1897 by members of the association.

Personal life
First married at the age of 17, Seah eventually had three wives who bore him six sons and six daughters. His third son, Eng Tong, took over the leadership of Ngee Ann Kongsi in the mid-1920s and was later appointed a Justice of the Peace.

After the death of Whampoa, Seah purchased the former’s old residence, one of the most prominent landmarks in 19th-century Singapore, in 1895. Seah moved into the mansion and renamed it Bendemeer House.17 Seah hosted many dignitaries during their visits to Singapore, among them the Chinese viceroy Li Hongzhang.18 He also organised garden parties in his home, which were attended by luminaries such as the governor and other members of the colonial bureaucracy.19

Later life and legacy
Seah passed away in 1925.20 His funeral was well attended by both Chinese and European dignitaries, with the last rites performed by Buddhist priests specially engaged from Siam (now Thailand). He was buried at the family burial ground along Thomson Road.21

Seah’s will caused much controversy and led to multiple lawsuits among his descendants owing to its unusual provisions. It specified that his estate was not to be distributed until 21 years after the death of English monarch King George V’s last surviving child. In the interim, Seah had three of his sons designated as trustees of his estate. It was only in 1996 that his estate was finally distributed, with Seah’s surviving male descendants sharing the bulk of his S$13 million fortune.22

Seah’s name remains memorialised through Liang Seah Street, a road constructed in 1926 that links North Bridge Road and Beach Road.23



Author

Yong Chun Yuan



References
1. Legislative Council. (1911, May 13). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The New Chinese M. L. C. Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1894, April 12). The Daily Advertiser, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Yen, C. H. (2002). The ethnic Chinese in East and Southeast Asia: Business culture and politics. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 296. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105 YAN)
3. Tan, B. H. (1978, February 17). Seah Liang Seah. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tan, B. H. (1978, February 17). Seah Liang Seah. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 429. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
5. Yen, C. H. (2002). The ethnic Chinese in East and Southeast Asia: Business culture and politics. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 295. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105 YAN)
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON); Yen, C. H. (2002). The ethnic Chinese in East and Southeast Asia: Business culture and politics. Singapore: Times Academic Press, p. 295. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105 YAN)
7. The Legislative Council. (1890, December 10). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
8. Tan, B. H. (1978, February 17). Seah Liang Seah. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The military contribution. (1895, January 12). Straits Mail, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 213. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
10. Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Straits Chinese and public life. (1897, July 9). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. King George’s fund for sailors. (1918, June 19). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 227–228. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
14. Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 249. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
15. Untitled. (1901, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Straits Chinese British Association. (1900, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
18. Tan, B. H. (1978, February 17). Seah Liang Seah. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. The garden party. (1906, February 21). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Mr. Seah Liang Seah. (1925, September 14). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Millionaire's funeral. (1925, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, O. B. (1996, December 13). Over 300 may gain from quirky will. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Municipal Commission. (1926, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further Resources
Seah, L. S. (1897). The duties of parents and teachers [Microfilm: NL267] The Straits Chinese Magazine, 4th Qtr, 147-149. Singapore: Koh Yew Hean Press

新加坡潮州八邑会馆. (1969). 新加坡潮州八邑会馆四十周年纪念暨庆祝新加坡开埠百五十周年特刊,1819-1929. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING Chinese q369.25957 XJP)



The information in this article is valid as at 14 May 2013 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
Politicians
Seah, Liang Seah, 1850-1925
Businesspeople
Entrepreneurs
Persons by political role
Businesspeople--Singapore--Biography
Pioneers
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
Philanthropists

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