Friday, January 04, 2013

Oon Chim Neo (Seh Ong)

Madam Oon Chim Neo was the wife of Mr Ong Boon Tat, J.P, Municipal Commissioner and only daughter of Mr and Mrs Oon Chin Soon. She was one of the earlier batches of chinese ladies to receive western education and graduated top of her class from the Singapore Chinese Girls School. Madam Oon's father,  Mr Oon Chin Soon was the chief cashier at Messrs. Katz Bros. Ltd. (Mr Oon passed away in April 1929 and is buried in Bukit Brown). Ong Boon Tat's parents are Mr and Mrs Ong Sam Leong. Oon Chim Neo married Ong Boon Tat in 1908.

Tomb of Madam Oon Chim Neo 

Tomb of Madam Oon Chim Neo, peg 77


After Madam Oon Chim Neo passed away at the age of 31 on March 12, 1917 at her father's house in 6 Balmoral Road , a beautiful and large tomb was erected  by her son, Mr Ong Tiang Wee.

Ong Tiang Wee

Ong Tiang Wee

Mr Ong Tiang Wee (T.W. Ong), M.A. was a prominent lawyer both in Singapore and Malaya. Ong Tiang Wee won the Guthrie Scholarship in Raffles Institution and went on to study in Magdalene College, Cambridge and called to Bar after reading law in Middle Temple, London. In 1932, he married Miss Getrude Chung Tiam Fook (the only daughter of Mr and Mrs William Chung Tiam Fook, a diamond merchant in British Guiana, South America. Getrude herself was awarded the M.B.E and a Certificate of Honor for her contributions in the Blood Transfusion Service.

In 1939, Mr Ong Tiang Wee received military training with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scot of England. He was an officer in the British Army when Singapore fell and was arrested and imprisoned by the Japanese Kempeitai.



Ong Tiang Wee was a Municipal Commissioner from 1939 -1948. He was also in Overseas Assurance, the Malay Tribune Press Ltd and New World Limited. Ong Tiang Wee was a partner in the firm called Messers. Chan, Laycock and Ong. (This was the firm that Lee Kuan Yew joined after passing Bar and returning to practice in Singapore in 1950) and Honorary Life President of the Peranakan Association.


Bukit Rose and novel "Tanamera" 
Bukit Rose at 259 Bukit Timah Road, the family home of the Ong's was sold by its last owner, Ong Tiang Wee in 1981. The house which stood on a 25,914 sq m land was bought by City Development for a reported $27.27 million. In its place was a 114 condominium estate called Casa Rosita. The author of bestselling book Tanamera, Noel Barber was said to have gotten his inspiration after a visit to Bukit Rose in 1938 for a party, but was disappointed to find out the house he wanted to use for the movie version of his book was long gone 40 years later. Barber was an editor for the Malayan Tribune in the 1930's, during the time where Ong Boon Tat was its director.

Bukit Rose in Tanamera

The real Bukit Rose (with mourners and hearse in front)
Bukit Brown connection
Ong Boon Tat, Ong Sam Leong, Oon Chin Soon are buried in Bukit Brown. Madam Oon Chim Neo's tomb is technically located in the Seh Ong cemetery which is across the gates of Bukit Brown, along Kheam Hock road. Her peg number is no 77 which means her tomb is affected by the 8 lane highway.



References 
Death.(1917, March 13). The Straits Times, page 6
The late Mrs Ong Boon Tat. (1917, March 19). The Straits Times, page 10
Straits Chinese Married. (1932, October 9). The Straits Times, page 10
Rivals at college - now to marry. (1950, August 12). The Straits Times, page 5
House that inspired Noel Barber's novel has been torn down. (1988, April 18). The Straits Times, page 16
Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Pub.

2 comments:

Pat said...

Thanks for the interesting write-up on the Ong & Oon families. I found that I was able to better appreciate the intended fengshui elements of Mdm Oon's tomb, when I got a chance to view the site during sunset.

Note that when Mdm Oon Chim Neo died on 12 March 1917 at the relatively young age of 31, her (only?) child Ong Tiang Wee (1909-1999) was just 8 years old. In fact, Mdm Oon passed away 12 years before her father did.

I understand that according to traditional Chinese funeral/burial beliefs, young children (esp. if related to the deceased) were/are not allowed to witness burials for fear that their "immature" souls would be affected. Parents also did/do not attend the burials of their own deceased children (esp. if the latter died before the age of 60 years).

Incidentally, despite the recent publicity about Mdm Oon's tomb, I have not come across any info about the cause of her death. Any idea ? Might it be malaria, or tuberculosis (phthisis) ? These were the top 2 infectious diseases in SG during that period -- ref: the below newspaper reports.

* Singapore Mortality Returns (ST - 23 Mar 1917) -- for the week ending 17 Mar 1917
* Singapore Mortality Returns (ST - 16 Mar 1917) -- for the week ending 10 Mar 1917
* Fighting Malaria (Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser - 05 Dec 1917)

I suppose the cause is unlikely to be nutrition or water-hygiene related (eg. beri-beri, cholera) since the Ongs & Oons were economically well-off; or due to an extremely contagious disease (eg. smallpox) since there are no records of her family members being similarly affected.

Rojak Librarian said...

Dear Pat,
Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your knowledge with me as well. Unfortunately like you, i have no further info on Madam Oon on her cause of death. I can't find a picture of her at all too.