Located off Serangoon Road, Bendemeer House was formerly called the House of Whampoa or Whampoa House. It was a mansion designed and built in 1840 by Hoo Ah Kay (better known as Whampoa), a Kapitan China (“leader of the Chinese people”) of Singapore. In 1964, the government acquired the historic building and the 30-acre estate on which it stood for the development of the Kallang Basin housing and industrial project. The building was demolished in 1964 to make way for urban development.1 In 2012, the site where Bendemeer House used to be was featured in the newly launched Jalan Besar Community Heritage Trail.2
Fruit tree plantations once dotted the expansive grounds of Whampoa House. A Chinese garden maintained by Cantonese horticulturists was famed for its rockeries, aquariums, bonsai and well-manicured topiaries. There was also a mini-zoo, which had animals such as the bear, musang, loris, silver cat, as well as an aviary with peacocks and a pond with the water lily Victoria regia, a gift from the regent of Siam.3
Whampoa was well known for his hospitality. The Whampoa Gardens, or nam-sang fa-un in Cantonese, was a gathering place for the local Chinese community. During the Lunar New Year season, in particular, the garden was transformed into a wonderland with merry-go-rounds and joy-wheels, with food and goods stalls. Whampoa also frequently hosted naval officers and important guests in his home. In 1867, a large dining room attached to the main house was completed to host a dinner for the returning Admiral Henry Keppel.4
After Whampoa’s death, Whampoa House was bought over by Seah Liang Seah and renamed Bendemeer House.5
1. “Govt Buys Historic Whampoa House for $3.8 Mil,” Straits Times, 25 March 1964, 13; “On The City’s Edge,” Straits Times, 17 September 2012, 14–15. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “On The City’s Edge.”
3. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 658–59 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Donald Moore and Joanna Moore, The First 150 Years of Singapore (Singapore: Donald Moore Press, 1969), 240–42 (Call no. RSING 959.57 MOO-[HIS]); Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 51–57 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Augustine Low, “Pictures Offer Peek into Kallang’s Past,” Straits Times, 19 October 1984, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 658–59; Moore and Moore, First 150 Years of Singapore, 240–42; Song, One Hundred Years' History, 51–57; Gloria Chandy, “Mansion That Was the Hub of the Social Set,” New Nation, 3 March 1980, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 660; Song, One Hundred Years' History, 55.
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Bendemeer House Located between Lavender Street and Woodsville Circus – Main Attraction of Whampoa’s (Hoo Ah Kay) House Is Its Magnificient Gardens Comprising a Fruit Orchard and Orange Plantation, 24 November 1958, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. PCD0108 – 077)
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Demolition of Historical ‘Bendemeer House’ in Serangoon Road, Which Belonged Originally to a Prominent Chinese Whampoa (Hoo Ah Kay) in 19th Century Singapore, 16 March 1964, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. PCD0108–073)
The information in this article is valid as at July 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.