Sir Manasseh Meyer

Manasseh Meyer (Sir) (b. 1846, Baghdad, Iraq - d. 1 July 1930, Singapore) was a pioneer Jewish businessman who was responsible for the building of Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street and Chesed-El Synagogue at Oxley Rise. A key figure in the early Jewish community in Singapore, he was knighted by the British in 1929 for his contributions to society.

Early life
Educated in Calcutta, India, he came to Singapore in 1861 when he was just 15 years old. His uncle, Joshua Raphael Joshua, had established himself in Singapore under the company Joshua Brothers and was instrumental in bringing Meyer and his brothers, Rubin and Elias, to Singapore. Meyer continued his education in St Joseph's Institution before returning to Calcutta in 1864 and continuing his Hebrew studies. He took on an appointment as an apprentice in book-keeping, assisting in his maternal uncle's business.

In 1867, 21-year-old Meyer launched out on his own in Rangoon (now called Yangon, in Myanmar), setting up a business and remaining there for six years. He returned to Singapore in 1873 to start an import-export business and grew the company, which he called Meyer Brothers, into the largest local importer and exporter in Indian trade. Raphael Sassoon, another pioneer in the local Jewish community, was Meyer’s partner in the company and later joined him as a trustee of the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.

Meyer's wealth further expanded as he moved into acquiring properties, with the largest number of purchases done between 1890 and 1892. By the 1900s, he had become a major property owner in Singapore. His properties included Adelphi Hotel; Sea View Hotel (located at a road he named Meyer Road); Meyer Chambers at Raffles Place; Meyer Mansions on Coleman Street; Killiney House (which became Meyer’s family home after he bought it from Thomas Oxley and renamed it Belle Vue in 1890); a property named “Joshua” at Tanjong Katong (constructed in the 1890s as Meyer’s second family home); and Teutonia Club (later renamed Goodwood Hall, now renowned as the Goodwood Park Hotel).

Between 1893 and 1900, he served as municipal commissioner, where his knowledge of property and local matters proved invaluable. He was later appointed member of the Straits Committee on Currency.

Contributions to society
Meyer’s generosity benefited those within and outside his community. His most notable contributions to the local Jewish community were in securing land for the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and in building the Chesed-El Synagogue. He set up the Manasseh Meyer Trust, later renamed the Sir Manasseh Meyer Trust, which helped educational and charitable institutions. During World War I (1914 to 1918), he donated $20,000 to the British military effort. He also gave $150,000 to the former Raffles College, where a building was named after him. The Manasseh Meyer Building now forms part of the National University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah campus and has been gazetted as a national monument.

Wives: Khatoon, his first wife whom he had married by the time he returned to Singapore in 1873; Rebecca, whom he married after Khatoon’s death, died in January 1915.
Sons: Isaac; his twin brother Jacob; Reuben.
Daughters: Hannah; Rama; Rachel; Mozelle.

Bonny Tan & Valerie Chew

Lim, E. W. K., & Kho, E. M. (c2005). The Chesed-El Synagogue: Its history & people (pp. 20-35). Singapore: Trustees of Chesed-El Synagogue.
(Call no.: RSING 296.095957 LIM)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, pp. 463-464). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

Nathan, E. (1986). The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830-1945 (pp. 8-11, 28-37, 193). Singapore: HERBILU Editorial & Marketing Services.
(Call no.: RSING 301.45192405957 NAT)

Sir M. Meyer dies at age of 84. (1930, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from NewspaperSG database.

Solomon, E. (1996, March). Chesed El Synagogue. Shalom Singapore, 4, 4-5.
(Call no.: RSING 305.629605957 SS)

The perfect ways of honour [Microfilm: NL 576]. (1929, March 1). The Straits Times, p. 10.

Further resources
Jews in Singapore [Sound recording]. (1986). Singapore: Oral History Dept.
(Call no.: R 305.892405957 JEW)

List of images
Lim, E. W. K., & Kho, E. M. (c2005). The Chesed-El Synagogue: Its history & people (pp. 20-21). Singapore: Trustees of Chesed-El Synagogue.
(Call no.: RSING 296.095957 LIM)

Makepeace, W., Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. St. J. (Eds.). (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, p. 462ii). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE)

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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. 

Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Reuben Manasseh Meyer, 1846-1930
Community leaders
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Jewish pioneers--Singapore--Biography
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Jewish businesspeople--Singapore--Biography

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