Loke Yew



Loke Yew (陆佑) (b. 9 October 1845, Xinhui, Jiangmen, Guangdong, China–d. 24 February 1917, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya1) was an influential tycoon in British Malaya. Through tin mining and revenue farming, Loke amassed a vast fortune and became one of the richest men in Malaya.2

Early life
Loke Yew was born in 1845 in a village located in the Xinhui district of China’s Guangdong province.3 In 1858, compelled by unrest and economic hardship in his homeland, Loke immigrated to Singapore, where he worked as a shop assistant in a sundry shop on Market Street.4 Four years later, he saved enough money to open his own provision shop named Tong Hing Loong.5

After spending the next five years expanding his business in Singapore, Loke left it in the care of a manager and left for Perak in peninsular Malaya in 1867.6 He began investing in the tin mines of Larut (now Taiping) in Perak. During the 1870s, a series of armed conflicts collectively known as the Larut Wars broke out between two rival Chinese secret societies in Perak over the control of the tin mines. While the violence adversely affected his tin-mining business, Loke profited from provisioning food supplies to fighters of the Ghee Hin secret society, of which he was a member.7

Business empire
Loke’s mining operations were revived after the British established a political presence in Perak following the Pangkor Treaty of 1874, which ended the tumult. He then began successful mining ventures in Kinta, also in Perak.8


Loke diversified his business, moving into revenue farming, having been granted revenue farms in Larut by the colonial administration. During the 1890s, Loke collaborated with influential Chinese entrepreneurs in Selangor to operate spirits, opium and gambling farms. With support from colonial officials, he and his partners established a monopoly on the spirits and opium farming and subsequently expanded to Singapore, other Malay states and even Hong Kong. Revenue farming became his dominant source of income.9 From the 1870s to the 1900s, Loke controlled major tin mining and revenue farming operations in states such as Perak, Selangor and Pahang.10

In addition, Loke’s business extended to pawnbroking services for Chinese labourers working in the Perak tin mines, and he was also contracted to supply food for British troops stationed in the area.11

The stable income generated by the revenue farms allowed Loke to branch out with other businesses. These included opening a rice plantation in 1898 at Ulu Bernam, Selangor,12 which he later converted into a rubber plantation, one among many he owned. Loke also bought stakes in major local firms such as the Straits Steamship Company and The Straits Trading Company.13 In addition to these businesses, he built and acquired properties in Singapore and the Malay States.14 Even though Loke had lost his licences for the Malayan revenue farms by 1907, by then he had already established a vast business empire.15

With his wealth and resources, Loke was able to construct roads and railways to improve accessibility to his various assets, and thus became instrumental to the infrastructural development in the Malay States. For example, Loke was awarded a vast tract of land for a tin mine in the Bentong district of Pahang in exchange for bearing the bulk of the cost for constructing a road in the area.16 At his 2,400-acre (around 9.7 sq km) coconut plantation at Kuala Pahang, Loke installed an eight-mile-long (approximately 12.9 km) railway to facilitate transport.17

Public life
Loke served as the inaugural president of the Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which was established in 1904 to represent Chinese business interests in the state.18


He was on friendly terms with many colonial officials including Frank Swettenham, the first resident-general of the Federated Malay States (FMS). The authorities reportedly turned a blind eye when Loke flouted government regulations in several of his mines.19 In acknowledgement of his services to the British crown, Loke was conferred the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) on 1 May 1915 at a public ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.20

Two years earlier, Loke had been embroiled in a legal tussle with the Port Swettenham Rubber Company, which had evicted him from land jointly owned by both parties. A naturalised British subject since 1903,21 Loke appealed to the Privy Council in London and eventually won the case.22

Philanthropy
A keen contributor to charitable causes, Loke donated many plots of land to be used for the public good. He also built a food distribution centre in Kuala Lumpur, where he dispensed free rice to the poor when World War I broke out.23 In support of British war efforts, Loke invested $1.5 million dollars in a 1916 war loan arranged by the FMS government.24

A major beneficiary of his charity was the University of Hong Kong, to which Loke gifted $50,000 in 1912, on top of granting the school a $500,000 interest-free loan.25 In 1916, he established a scholarship to sponsor poor Chinese students from Malaya for studies at the university.26 In recognition of his contributions, the university conferred him with an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1917, and renamed its main hall Loke Yew Hall, where a bust of him stands. In Singapore, Loke’s philanthropic deeds included a donation of $50,000 to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which in turn named five wards after him.27

Later life and legacy
Loke had four wives, seven sons and four daughters.28 Loke died on 24 February 1917 and was survived by his fourth wife of three years, Loke Cheng Kim. He was buried at the family cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.29 At the time of his death, his estate was valued at around $89 million.30 Loke Yew Street, a bylane connecting Armenian Street to Hill Street in Singapore,31 and Jalan Loke Yew in Kuala Lumpur are named after him.32

Family33
Wives: Leung Xue, Leung Jun, Lim Shuk Kwei, Lim Cheng Kim.
Sons: Wan Piu, Wan Chok, Wan Chiew, Hon Chow, Wan Wye alias Alan Loke,34 Wan Yat, Wan Tho (one of the founders of a film distribution and exhibition company that would later evolve into the film, leisure and entertainment company Cathay Organisation35).
Daughters: Yuen Hing, Yuen Ying, Yuen Theng, Yuen Peng alias Lady Yuen Peng McNeice

He had at least 10 grandchildren.



Author

Yong Chun Yuan



References
1. Towkay Loke Yew dead. (1917, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Loke Association of Malaysia. (2014, April 29). The Loke Yew bronze statue in front of his grave [Photograph]. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lokeassociationmalaysia/photos/a.1491300407752832.1073741836.1490711434478396/1491300641086142/?type=3&theate
2. Tregonning, K. C. (1963, May). Straits Tin: A brief account of the first seventy-five years of The Straits Trading Company, Limited. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 102. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 
3. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 255. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
4. 陆佑博士 [Lu You boshi]. (1964). In 马来亚古冈州六邑总会特刊 [Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui tekan] (pp. 51–52). 槟城, 马来西亚: 马来亚古冈州六邑总会 [Ipoh, Malaysia: Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui], p. 51. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS q369.2595 MLY); Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 697–698. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
5. Davies, D. (1958, January 12). Emigrant at 13, he had the Midas touch. The Straits Times, p. 12; Towkay Loke Yew C.M.G. (1917, February 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. A captain of industry. (1920, September 23). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 255. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
8. A journal in the federal capital. (1931, December 5). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 697–698. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
9. Tregonning, K. C. (1963, May). Straits Tin: A brief account of the first seventy-five years of The Straits Trading Company, Limited. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 36(1)(201), 102. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Towkay Loke Yew C.M.G. (1917, February 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10; The Hongkong Opium Farm. (1908, July 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5; Page 4 advertisements column 3. (1903, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 255. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
11. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 255. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
12. Untitled. (1898, December 28). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & Dick, H. (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 259–260. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
14. Government land sold. (1902, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 5; Page 17 advertisements column 2. (1909, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 17; The Loke Yew estate. (1924, October 25). Malayan Saturday Post, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 259. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
16. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick, H. (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia. New York: St Martin’s Press, p. 257. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS); Towkay Loke Yew in London. (1907, October 24). Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Untitled. (1914, March 23). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Selangor Chamber of Commerce. (1904, March 30). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retreved from NewspaperSG
19. Butcher, J. (1993). Loke Yew. In J. Butcher & H. Dick (Eds.), The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 255–261). New York: St Martin’s Press, pp. 256–257. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
20. Towkay Loke Yew honoured. (1915, May 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Untitled. (1903, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
22. Privy Council appeal. (1913, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Untitled. (1914, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. F.M.S. war loan. (1916, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Godley, M. R. (1981). The Mandarin-capitalists from Nanyang: Overseas Chinese enterprise in the modernization of China, 1893–1911. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 309.15103 GOD)
26. Treasure was buried in the files. (1955, September 23), The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Godley, M. R. (1981). The Mandarin-capitalists from Nanyang: Overseas Chinese enterprise in the modernization of China, 1893–1911. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 13–14. (Call no.: RSING 309.15103 GOD)
28. 陆佑博士 [Luyou boshi]. (1964). In 马来亚古冈州六邑总会特刊 [Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui tekan] (pp. 51–52). 槟城, 马来西亚: 马来亚古冈州六邑总会 [Ipoh, Malaysia: Malaiya gugangzhou liuye zonghui], p. 52. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS q369.2595 MLY);
29. 陆佑博士 [Dr Loke Yew]. (1964). In 马来亚古冈州六邑总会特刊 [Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui tekan] (pp. 51–52). 槟城, 马来西亚: 马来亚古冈州六邑总会 [Ipoh, Malaysia: Malaiya gugangzhou liuye zonghui], p. 52. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS q369.2595 MLY)
30. The Loke Yew estate. (1922, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study in toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
32. Yip, Y. T. (2013, August 30). Loke Yew’s legacy. The Star. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
33. 陆佑博士 [Dr Loke Yew]. (1964). In 马来亚古冈州六邑总会特刊 [Malaiya gugangzhou liuyi zonghui tekan] (pp. 51–52). 槟城, 马来西亚: 马来亚古冈州六邑总会 [Ipoh, Malaysia: Malaiya gugangzhou liuye zonghui], p. 52. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS q369.2595 MLY); Khoo, E. (2014, February 28). Loke Yew . Retrieved from Overseas Chinese in the British Empire website: http://overseaschineseinthebritishempire.blogspot.sg/2009/08/loke-yew.html
34. Death of Mr. Alan Loke. (1941, October 17). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. See, A. (2014, July 18). Flashback Friday: Precursor to Cathay Organisation set up on July 18, 1935. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 



The information in this article is valid as at 26 November 2015 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
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry
Personalities
Economy