Ong Sam Leong



Ong Sam Leong (b. 1857, Singapore–d. 7 February 1918, Singapore) was a successful and respected Chinese businessman.1 Besides being the key contractor supplying labourers to mines in the phosphate-rich Christmas Island, he also owned other businesses such as brickworks and plantations in the Straits Settlements.2 His remains are housed in the largest tomb at Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore.3 His two sons, Boon Tat and Peng Hock, established the New World amusement park, in Jalan Besar in 1923.4

Early life
Born in 1857, Ong came from a humble background and received little formal education.5 It was his perseverance and business acumen that helped him build his fortune.6


Business ventures
Ong started work as a small commission agent when he was 21. His early land transactions turned out profitably. He then became interested in timber concessions in Pahang and Kemaman in Terengganu. In 1899, Ong secured a contract with the Christmas Island Phosphate Company Limited to supply mining workers to Christmas Island, 400 km south of Java.7 His company, Ong Sam Leong and Company, held the monopoly.8 The company obtained the labour from “coolie” houses located along Pagoda Street in Singapore. Most of the coolies (unskilled labourers) were from either Guangdong or Guangxi, China. Ong also owned a sundry shop on Christmas Island, making profits from supplying daily provisions to the labourers.9


In addition, Ong owned brickworks in Batam, Indonesia, and held large interests in numerous sawmills in Singapore.10

By the time of his death in 1918, Ong’s estate comprised many landed properties and rubber estates in Singapore and elsewhere.11

Personal life
Ong was a popular member of several old and respected Chinese clubs. One of these was the Ban Chye Hoe Club, where he was the president for many years.12 Ong was also keenly interested in the patriotic movement of the Straits Chinese community during World War I.13 He contributed generously to various fund-raising initiatives during the war. In appreciation of the Straits Volunteer Corps (SVC), which defended the settlements by managing several outposts there, Ong built a garage at the SVC Drill Hall at his own expense for use by the corps.14


Ong was a hardworking man who kept himself busy till his last days. The only known forms of relaxation he allowed himself were going on motoring and sea trips. Before his death, Ong built a mansion on Bukit Timah Road and named it Bukit Rose. This was where Ong entertained friends on a lavish scale.15

Ong died of heart failure in 1918 at 60 years of age.16 His wife, Yeo Yean Neo, survived him and passed away at the age of 73 years in 1935.17

The Ong tomb
The biggest tomb in Bukit Brown Cemetery belongs to Ong and his wife. At the time of Ong’s death, the burial place was restricted only to Hokkiens with the surname Ong.18


Comparable to the size of ten typical three-room Housing and Development Board flats in Singapore, Ong’s 600-square-metre tomb was discovered in early May 2006 by Tan Beng Luan, a pre-school principal and former employee of the National Archives of Singapore.19

The Ong tomb is the grandest among the approximately 100,000 tombs in the cemetery. It contains many ornaments typically found in Chinese tombs, except that most of the items are significantly larger. The earth deity shrine, which is about the size of a brick in most graves, is as big as a normal tomb. Similarly, the moat, which is usually a small ditch or groove in a typical tomb, is 15 m long. Cemetery workers were said to have used it as a swimming pool.20 There is a pair of lion statues and a pair of Sikh guard figures watching over the grave,21 all measuring 2 m in height. These statues are a mere 30 cm tall at his son’s tomb.22

The Singapore Heritage Society had been searching for Ong’s tomb for several years before it was discovered in 2006.23 At the time, the tomb was neglected and completely overgrown. It was cleared of weeds and other foliage by the National Environment Agency on 17 May 2006.24 The National Archives also produced a video documentation of the tomb.25

The Ong brothers
Ong had two sons, Boon Tat and Peng Hock, and a daughter, Mrs Khoo Peck Lock.26 His sons, referred to as the Ong brothers, were educated at Raffles Institution and became prominent members of the Straits Chinese community. Elder son Boon Tat commenced his business training under Ong when he was 19 years old, while his brother Peng Hock was trained in the timber trade.27


The brothers opened the New World amusement park – the first of three amusement parks to open in Singapore, the others being Great World (1931) and Happy World (1937) – in Jalan Besar on 1 August 1923.28 The park closed in 1987, and on its site today stands the City Square Mall.29

Sam Leong Road
Sam Leong Road was named after Ong.30 It is a stretch of road connecting Jalan Besar and Verdun Road.31 Originally named Paya Road, it was renamed Sam Leong Road by the Singapore Municipal Commissioners in 1928.32




Author
Lee Hwee Hoon




References
1. Death of Mr Ong Sam Leong (1918, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 8; Another Chinese Y.M.C.A. Hut. (1918, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. National Heritage Board. (2013, April). Our heritage: Tiong Bahru heritage trail. Retrieved 2016, July 12 from National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/~/media/nhb/files/places/trails/tiong%20bahru/tiongbahru%20(1).pdf; Chandy, G. (1979, September 10). Nee Soon named after ‘Pineapple King’. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. National Heritage Board. (2013, April). Jalan Besar a heritage trail. Retrieved 2016, July 15 from National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/~/media/nhb/files/places/trails/jalan%20besar/jalan%20besar.pdf
4. Lee, K. L. (1984). Emerald Hill, the story of a street in words and pictures. Singapore: National Museum, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])
5. Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Song, O. S. (1985). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 97–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
7. Song, O. S. (1985). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 97–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
8. Untitled. (1919, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Lim, H. S. (Interviewer). (1981, March 26). Oral history interview with Sng Choon Yee [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000064/42/13, p. 95]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10. Chandy, G. (1979, September 10). Nee Soon named after ‘Pineapple King’. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Late Mr Ong Sam Leong. (1918, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. National Heritage Board. (2013, April). Jalan Besar a heritage trail. Retrieved 2016, July 15 from National Heritage Board website: http://www.nhb.gov.sg/~/media/nhb/files/places/trails/jalan%20besar/jalan%20besar.pdf
13. Sharp, I. (1979, April 28). Part of our history is written on these walls. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Y.M.C.A. Hut fund. (1918, April 9). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Chandy, G. (1979, September 10). Nee Soon named after ‘Pineapple King’. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Late Mr Ong Sam Leong. (1918, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Death. (1935, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tsang, S., & Hendricks, E. (2008). Discover Singapore: The city’s history & culture redefined. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 19–20. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TSA-[HIS])
19. Ho, A. (2011, November 3). Bukit Brown deserves bustle of life. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; March through history. (2015, July 14). The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Archives of Singapore. (2006, May 29). Lion statue found besides the tomb of Ong Sam Leong [Photograph]; National Archives of Singapore. (2006, May 29). Statue of a Sikh guard besides the tomb of Ong Sam Leong [Photograph]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
22. Yong, N. (2011, April 10). Buried: A life. The Straits Times, p. 7; Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Yong, N. (2011, April 10). Buried: A life. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. National Archives of Singapore. (2006, May 20). Contrast of Ong Sam Leong’s tomb before and after the vegetation clearance on 17 May 2006 [Photograph]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Au Yong, J. (2006, June 4). Tycoon’s tomb uncovered. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. National Archives of Singapore. (2006, May 29). Video documentation of Ong Sam Leong’s tomb. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
26. Mrs Ong Sam Leong. (1935, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. As I was saying. (1933, December 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Song, O. S. (1985). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 97–100. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
28. Development of the New World. (1935, October 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 23; Page 7 advertisements column 1. (1931, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 7; Opening of Happy World. (1937, May 7). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Urban Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.). Jalan Besar. Retrieved on 2016, July 12 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website:  https://www.ura.gov.sg/Conservation-Portal/Explore/History.aspx?bldgid=JLNBSR; New World Park’s original gate to front new park. (2005, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. T. F. Huang takes you down memory lane. (1988, April 23). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Lee, K. L. (1982, July 17). Jalan Besar, at Sam Leong Road: General view [Photograph]. Retrieved from PictureSG; Lee, K. L. (1982, January 22). Sam Leong Road, from Verdun Road: General view [Photograph]. Retrieved from PictureSG; Street Directory. (2016). Sam Leong Road. Retrieved from Street Directory website: http://www.streetdirectory.com/sg/sam-leong-road/21040_1.html
32. Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Street names of Singapore. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 269. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 DUN-[HIS]); Municipal affairs. (1928, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at July 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
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Ong, Sam Leong, 1857-1918
Business, finance and industry
Commerce and Industry
Trade and industry