Panglima Prang (House)

Panglima Prang was a 19th-century Straits Chinese bungalow built by Tan Kim Seng, one of the early pioneers in Singapore.1 The house belonged to a generation of bungalows built in the latter half of the 1800s as wealthy Chinese merchants moved into the suburb.2 This occurred when early European planters divested their lands in the suburbs after their ventures into plantation agriculture failed. Panglima Prang was demolished in 1982.


The nutmeg mania in Singapore during the first half of the 19th century led to the trend of building country houses in the suburbs. The nutmeg farmers or proprietors were Europeans and wealthy Chinese merchants who bought from the government large tracts of jungle land four to five miles from town, and cleared the land for large-scale nutmeg cultivation. These agricultural pioneers built country houses on the town fringes in the late 1830s, surrounded by the nutmeg plantations. Located at the outskirts of the city, River Valley used to be where these country houses were concentrated.3

A blight destroyed large-scale nutmeg farming in Singapore during the latter half of the 19th century, and cultivation had ceased by 1862.4 The crop’s failure adversely affected many planters, who then abandoned and divested their plantation lands.5

By virtue of their increasing affluence and extended family size, wealthy Chinese merchants had, by the 1860s, moved outward from the congested town and begun buying up the abandoned plantation land for building homes.6 In 1862, there were about 38 houses situated within former nutmeg estates. These houses were mostly located along St Thomas Walk and the area between Killiney and Oxley roads.7 The suburban expansion and development of luxury homes by the Europeans and wealthy Chinese merchants continued throughout the first half of the 20th century.8


Situated on Jalan Kuala off River Valley Road, Tan built the bungalow before 1860. It was completed about five years after another grand bungalow called Bendemeer House was built. Located on Serangoon Road, Bendemeer House was built by Hoo Ah Kay (Whampoa), who was also a wealthy Straits Chinese merchant and well-known philanthropist in early Singapore.9 Bendemeer House was demolished in 1963.10

Panglima Prang means “war admiral” in Malay.11 The name probably originated from the land having once been the burial ground of an officer of the sultan of Singapore.12 Combining the styles of Eastern and Western architecture, Panglima Prang looked like a European house in Anglo-Palladian mould, but was fitted with tropical features that gave it an airy feel. The house had a Chinese-tiled roof and sat on a raised square platform. It also had Doric columns that were surrounded by a full-length veranda. There were servants’ quarters and a spacious storage area directly below the main house.13

The interior was a mix of Chinese and Western styles. The central area was arranged with traditional Chinese furniture, with family portraits prominently displayed – a typical Peranakan custom. Another typically Chinese feature was the ancestral hall, which was decorated with an ancestral table and artefacts from the family ancestral home in Melaka. Victorian chairs and cabinets, empire-style chandeliers and mirrors in gilded and mosaic frames added European touches to the house.14

Panglima Prang was home to six generations of Tan’s family before the land was sold to a private developer.15 When it was demolished in 1982, the property covered an area of 40,000 sq m.16 It was believed that, at one time, the grounds extended all the way down to the Singapore River, within the sight of the family’s warehouses.17

Conservationists believed that the house, being a fusion of European, Chinese and Malay elements, reflected the Singapore identity well and could have been made a national monument. Lee Kip Lin, a retired architect, suggested that Panglima Prang could have been incorporated into the new condominium design as a clubhouse or communal hall.18

Two of the artefacts that remain are an elaborately carved hearse used for Tan Jiak Kim’s funeral in 1917, and a fountain fashioned from brass and bronze.

The hearse forms part of the National Museum of Singapore’s collection. The fountain, which was displayed for the first time at the National Museum of Singapore in 2014, is believed to be more than 100 years old. 14 prominent businessmen and community leaders, whose names are etched on a brass plaque at the base of the fountain, had gifted it to Tan Jiak Kim. At its marble base is a bronze portrait of Tan. The fountain changed hands several times; it was moved to Penang in the early 2000s, before it was sold to a businessman in Singapore.19

Marsita Omar

1. Lee Kip Lin, The Singapore House 1819–1942 (Singapore: Times Edition, 1988), 42, 154–57, 212. (Call no. RSING 728.095957 LEE)
2. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), River Valley Planning Area: Planning Report 1994 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1994), 9. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), River Valley Planning Area, 9.
4. Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 82. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
5. Norman Edwards, The Singapore House and Residential Life 1819–1939 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1990), 49. (Call no. RSING 728.095957 EDW)
6. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 48–49.
7. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), River Valley Planning Area, 9.
8. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 55–64, 70–81, 91–94; Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1985),  135, 137. (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA)
9. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 48–49.
10. Gloria Chandy, “Mansion That Was the Hub of the Social Set,” New Nation, 3 March 1980, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 48–49; Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 507. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
12. “Our Lost Treasures,” Straits Times, 1 April 1990, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 48–49; S. C. Eng-Lee, “The Niru and Its Role in the Cheo Tao Rite,” Heritage 10 (1989), 25. (Call no. RSING 959.005 H)
14. Edwards, Singapore House and Residential Life, 48–49.
15. “Our Lost Treasures.”
16. “Our Lost Treasures.”
17. Eng-Lee, “Niru and Its Role in the Cheo Tao Rite,” 25.
18. “Our Lost Treasures.”
19. Wong Kim Hoh, “How Tan Jiak Kim’s Fountain Came Home,” Straits Times, 2 September 2012, 2; “From Times That Shaped S’pore,” Today, 10 March 2014, 23; Debra Ann Francisco, “Peranakan Beauty,” Straits Times, 27 August 2013, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at January 2020 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.

Historic buildings--Singapore
Historic buildings