Hoo Ah Kay



Hoo Ah Kay (also known as Whampoa)1 (b. approx 1816, Whampoa, Guangdong, China–d. 27 March 1880, Singapore2) was a prominent Chinese businessman who ran Whampoa & Co., expanding it after the death of his father. With an uncommon mastery of English,3 Hoo became the first and only Chinese to be an extraordinary member in the Executive Legislative Council.4 He took the Oaths of Members of the Legislative Council on 23 May 1870.5 He served as the honorary treasurer of the first Committee of Management of Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844.6 He was also noted for entertaining diners at his Whampoa home (renamed Bendemeer House when the property was sold to Seah Liang Seah after Hoo’s death) and his fascinating Whampoa Gardens.7

Early Life
Hoo was born in Huangpo (Whampoa), near Canton (Guangdong, China).8 He arrived in Singapore in 1830, as a 15-year-old eager to work for his father.


Career
His father had set up a provision shop located at the junction of Bonham Street and Boat Quay, supplying beef, bread and vegetables. Hoo inherited the business after his father's death.10 The company, Whampoa & Co., had adopted the name of his birthplace, and as Hoo grew in fame, the company’s name became synonymous with his own. By 1840, Whampoa & Co., then located at Telok Ayer, had established itself as a ship chandler to the British Royal Navy.11 There were only three other ship chandlers in 1854 – W.S. Duncan, John Steel & Co. and Mr Dare.12 Hoo’s fluency in English gave him an edge in business and social interaction and he gained business from Europe. However, these ventures brought him only losses.13 


One such unsuccessful business was Whampoa’s Ice House, an ice-house set up in 1854, which was located close to Coleman Bridge at Boat Quay. The godown was constructed on land that had been part of the exchange for Whampoa’s Tanglin plantations14 where the Singapore Botanic Gardens15 now stands. The ice-house became a landmark of sorts with its Victorian wrought-iron balustrades. Although the ice trade under the initiative of American Frederick Tudor boomed in an age prior to refrigerators, the demand for ice proved too low for Whampoa’s business to succeed in Singapore. However, his bakery venture fared better. The bakery opened in 1854 at Keong Saik Street and moved to Club Street as late as the 1980s.16

Accomplishments
Hoo held positions of Consul of Russia, China and Japan.17 When the Legislative Council was first formed in 1867, he was one of its Unofficial Members.18 In 1869, he became the first Asian member of the Legislative Council and within a few years was made an extraordinary member of the Executive Council, the first and only Chinese to have held this seat.19 On 10 May 1876, he received the honour of Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (C.M.G.) at a public investiture ceremony held by the Straits Settlements Governor.20 The honorary C.M.G. was bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria for his great contributions to society.21

The general public, however, knew Hoo for his Whampoa House at Serangoon Road22 with its expansive gardens.23 Whampoa’s Gardens, called Nam-sang-Fa-un in Cantonese,24 was opened to the public during Chinese New Year and was a popular place for gatherings during that season.25 

Death
Hoo passed away on 27 March 1880. In accordance with his personal wish for his resting place to be in China,26 his remains were shipped on 31 May 188027 and buried on Danes Island opposite Guangdong.28

Family
Sons: Hoo Ah Yip, Hoo’s eldest son was educated in England and managed Whampoa & Co. for a time before he died shortly after. Hoo Keng Choong, his second son, had died early while his youngest son, Hoo Keng Tuck, who initially worked for Joaquim Bros. (now Allen & Gledhill), eventually took over the family business.29 



Author

Bonny Tan




References
1. Davies, D. (1954, December 5). Whampoa’s showpiece of the island. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Tyers. R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
3. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p 52. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
4. Did you know? (2009, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 108. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Legislative Council (1870, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
7. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 54, 55. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON)
8. Did you know? (2009, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 108. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. ‘Whampoa’ was the first of Singapore’s towkays (1954, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The Chinese in Singapore. (1994, March 16). Asiaweek, 20(11), 35. (Call no.: RCLOS q950.05 A)
11. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
12. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 373. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
13. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 659. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
14. Tyers. R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
15. Tyers. R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now.  Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 178. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
16. Tyers. R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE); Ngiam T. H. (1977, June 28). Singapore’s first ship chandler. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Tyers. R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then and now. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
18. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 659. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
19. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
20. Tate, D. J. M. (1989). Straits affairs: The Malay world and Singapore: being glimpses of the Straits Settlements and the Malay Peninsula in the nineteenth century as seen through the illustrated London News and other contemporary sources. Hong Kong: John Nicholson Ltd., p. 46. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 STR-[HIS])
21. Ngiam T. H. (1977, June 28). Singapore’s first ship chandler. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Teo, H. W. (1984, June 7). Whampoa’s house of splendour. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. The house that Hoo built. (1984, October 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
25. Moore, D. (1969). The first 150 years of Singapore. Singapore: Donald Moore Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MOO-[HIS]); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
26. ‘Whampoa’ was the first of Singapore’s towkays (1954, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Wednesday, 12th May (1880, May 15). Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 659. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
29. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])



Further resources
Lim, P-L. (1983, November 6). Singapore's first heroes. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore Free Press. [1935]. One hundred years of progress: centenary number, October 8, 1935 [Microfilm no.: NL 3615]. (sec. 4-5). Singapore: Singapore Free Press.

Tan, S. (1990). Streets of old Chinatown: Singapore. Singapore: Page Media, p. 35.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TAN-[TRA])



The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we can 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
Biographers
Pioneers
Hoo Ah Kay, 1816?-1880
Businesspeople--Singapore--Biography
Events>>Historical Periods>>Founding of Modern Singapore (1819-1941)
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
People and communities>>Social groups and communities