Seah Eu Chin



Seah Eu Chin (佘有进; She Youjin) (b. 1805, Guangdong, China–d. 23 September 1883, Singapore1) was a wealthy Teochew merchant who made his fortune from the cultivation of pepper and gambier. A prominent member of the Chinese community in early colonial Singapore, Seah is also well known as the founder of Ngee Ann Kongsi.

Early life 
Seah was born in 1805 in the Chenghai county of Guangdong province, China. His father, Seah Keng Liat, held an appointment in the district of Puning and provided his son with a traditional education in the Chinese classics.2


One of the few literate migrants during his time, Seah arrived in Singapore in 1823, and worked as a clerk and accountant aboard several trading ships.3 He established useful contacts with the local merchants and familiarised himself with their business practices.4 In 1830, at the age of 25, he established his own trading firm along Kling Street (later renamed Chulia Street) and subsequently Circular Road, acting as a middleman between traders in Singapore and neighbouring ports.5

Commercial success
Seah’s successful early trading ventures allowed him to diversify into other businesses like real estate investment. He also ventured into the cultivation of pepper and gambier, and is commonly considered to be the first merchant to own such plantations on a large scale. In 1835, Seah acquired an eight-mile stretch of land between River Valley Road and Bukit Timah Road that he converted into a large gambier plantation, earning him the sobriquet of “Gambier King”.6 At the same time, Seah consolidated his trading business under the firm Eu Chin & Co., and branched out to deal in a wider assortment of goods such as tea and cotton products.7 These business successes established Seah as one of the wealthiest persons in the local Chinese community.8 In 1840, he was admitted as a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, an association dominated mainly by European businessmen, becoming one of the few Chinese merchants to be accorded what was considered a privilege at the time.

Ngee Ann Kongsi

As a prominent businessman, Seah enjoyed high social status and exercised influence over the Teochew community. In 1830, Seah gathered 12 other surname-based clans to form a social welfare organisation known popularly as Ngee Ann Kun. Its main role was to administer the Yue Hai Ching Temple where the Teochew community worshipped. Ngee Ann Kun also dealt with the acquisition and maintenance of cemetery grounds for the burial of deceased Teochews, at places such as Tai Shan Ting cemetery (the site of which the Ngee Ann City shopping complex is now a part of10). In 1845, the cooperative was officially renamed Ngee Ann Kongsi with Seah nominated as president, a post he held until his death.11

Contributions to society 
As an elite member of the Chinese community, Seah interacted frequently with the colonial government. Seah led the Chinese delegation that welcomed Lord Dalhousie, then governor-general of India, during the Dalhousie’s tour of the Straits Settlements in 1850. Seah was naturalised as a British subject in 1853.12 

From 1851 onwards, Seah was frequently appointed as grand juror13 and was often referred cases from Chinese suitors. He played a mediating role during instances of conflict among the Chinese,14 such as the 1854 Hokkien Teochew Riots.15 In recognition of his efforts, the British government appointed Seah as a justice of the peace, and he was elevated to the position of honorary magistrate in 1872.16

Besides Ngee Ann Kongsi, Seah also sat on the committees of several social organisations. He was appointed as a trustee of the Tai Sing Ting cemetery,17 as well as a member of Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s management committee.18 His philanthropic activities sometimes extended beyond the local Chinese community, such as when he made a significant contribution to a fund aiding victims of the Bengal Famine in 1874.19 

In addition, Seah was the author of two articles published in the J. R. Logan’s Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia. “Annual Remittances by Chinese Immigrants in Singapore to their Families in China”, published in 1848, recounts the devotion of Chinese immigrants to their families back in China and the thriving letter-writing and remittance trade in early Singapore. The following year, he published a second article, “General Sketch of the Numbers, Tribes, and Avocations of the Chinese in Singapore”, which describes the overseas Chinese community in Singapore, categorising them by origin and job trade. These articles are considered the first documented accounts by a Chinese observer regarding the living and working conditions of Chinese immigrants in Singapore.20 

Family
In 1837, Seah married the eldest daughter of Tan Ah Hun, the kapitan Cina (Chinese headman) of Perak. Her death from smallpox shortly after led Seah to marry her younger sister, with whom he had four sons and three daughters. His sons all grew up to be prominent figures within the local community; three of them were later appointed justices of the peace.21 They also continued to dominate the leadership of Ngee Ann Kongsi after Seah’s death.22 Through his marriages, Seah became the brother-in-law of Tan Seng Poh,23 who was responsible for the Seah family business after Seah’s retirement in 1864. Tan himself was a wealthy businessman, jointly controlling the opium revenue farms of Singapore and Johor.24

Death and legacy 
After his retirement from business, Seah devoted much of his time to the study of Chinese literature.25 Suffering from poor health during the last years of his life, Seah died on 23 September 1883 at the age of 78 in his home at North Boat Quay. He was later buried in the family-owned plantation on Thomson Road,26 leaving behind an estate worth approximately $1.4 million.27 Eu Chin Street in Tiong Bahru is named after him,28 and it is also believed that Seah Street was so named to commemorate the collective contributions of his family.29 His descendants, who were at one time believed to have numbered more than 1,000, founded the Seah Eu Chin’s Descendants Union in the 1930s as a registered society.30

Variant name

Siah-U Chin31

Selected family members32
Father: Seah Keng Liat.
Wives: Daughters of Tan Ah Tun, names unknown. 
Brother-in-law: Tan Seng Poh.
Sons: Seah Cheoh Seah , Seah Liang Seah, Seah Song Seah, Seah Peck Seah
Daughters: Three daughters, names unknown.



Author

Yong Chun Yuan



References
1. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N.]. (1950). 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》[The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, pp. 78, 80. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN)
2. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N.]. (1950). 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》[The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 78. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN) 
3. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N.]. (1950). 马来亚潮侨通鉴 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 78. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN); Yen, C. H. (1986). A social history of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, 1800–1911. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 154. (Call no.: RSING 301.45195105957 YEN)
4. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS]) 
5. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 19–20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); This union is a family affair. (1953, May 22). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); 韩山元. (2000, July 30). 荒山变良园. 《联合早报》[Lianhe Zaobao], p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N] (1950). 马来亚潮侨通鉴 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 79. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN) 
8. Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS])
9. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N] (1950). 马来亚潮侨通鉴 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, pp. 79. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN) 
10. Chen, E. (2007, July 18). It was to look like the Great Wall of China. The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Yen, C. H. (1986). A social history of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, 1800–1911. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 155, 188–189. (Call no.: RSING 301.45195105957 YEN); 信托慈善机构:义安公司 [Social Welfare Organisation: Ngee Ann Kongsi]. 《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》. 新加坡:新加坡潮州八邑会馆, p. 205. (Call no.: Chinese RSING q369.25957 XJP); 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N.]. (1950). 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 331. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN) 
12. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
13. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
14. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867 . Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 151. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]) 
15. This union is a family affair. (1953, May 22). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 21, 170. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
17. This union is a family affair. (1953, May 22). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
19. Bengal famine fund. (1874, May 2). The Straits Times Overland Journal, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Siah, U. C. (1847). Annual remittances by Chinese immigrants to their families in China [Microfilm no.: NL 1889]. Journal of the Indian Archipelago and East Asia, I, 35–36; Siah, U. C. (1848). The Chinese in Singapore, general sketch of the numbers, tribes and avocations of the Chinese in Singapore [Microfilm no.: NL 1889]Journal of Indian Archipelago and East Asia, II, 283–290; 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N] (1950). 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 79. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN) 
21. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N] (1950). 马来亚潮侨通鉴 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, p. 80. (Call no.:Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN); Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 21–22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
22. Yen, C. H. (1986). A social history of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, 1800–1911. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 189. (Call no.: RSING 301.45195105957 YEN) 
23. Untitled. (1883, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, pp. 20, 49. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS]) 
25. This union is a family affair. (1953, May 22). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Untitled. (1883, September 27). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Yen, C. H. (1986). A social history of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, 1800–1911. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 155. (Call no.: RSING 301.45195105957 YEN) 
28. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
29. Seah: Trader and politician. (1996, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. This union is a family affair. (1953, May 22). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Yen, C. H. (1986). A social history of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya, 1800–1911. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 301.45195105957 YEN); 韩山元. (2000, July 30). 荒山变良园. 《联合早报》 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 49. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. 潘醒农 [Pan, X. N.]. (1950). 《马来亚潮侨通鉴》 [The Teochews in Malaya]. 新加坡: 南岛出版社, pp. 78–80. (Call no.: Chinese RCLOS 305.895105951 PXN); Seah: Trader and politician. (1996, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years of history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])



Further resource
Tan, S. (2005). Ngee Ann Kongsi: Into the next millennium. Singapore: Ngee Ann Kongsi.
(Call no.: RSING 366.0095957 NGE)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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
Seah Eu Chin, 1805-1883
Pioneers
Merchants--Singapore--Biography
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
Singapore--History
Business, finance and industry>>Business organization>>Business enterprises
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers