Koh Hoon Teck (died February 14, 1956) was the only son of Koh Lian Gee /Koh Lian Ghee. In his youth, he was one of the founding members of the famous Cornwall Minstrels, a singing group which included several young Babas. He remained its avid supporter, often hosting the group for their annual general meetings.
On the night of October 1908 in Orange Villa, Tai Jin Road, at the residence of Mr Ngo Yam Bee, the queue (an appendage of servitude) of Mr Koh Hoon Teck was cut in queue cutting function. Mr Koh Hoon Teck also discarded his chinese robes for full European wear amid congratulations of his friends.
|Koh Hoon Teck|
(source: Singapore: 500 early postcards)
In 1909, he was elected honorary secretary for the Cornwall Minstrel group. In 1912, Koh Hoon Teck was elected as the hon. secretary of Gunong Sayang Association. He continued to play and important role in the arts scene and he was credited and forever remember by the Peranakan community for keeping the art and tradition of dondang sayang alive.
The rise and fall of Koh and Co.Koh Hoon Teck established Koh and Co., a bookshop company in 90 Bras Basah, Raffles Hotel, selling books, postcards and stationary. Among the popular books published and sold from Koh and Bros included Cherita Abu Nawas (Tale of Abu Nawas), Cherita Abu Nawas dan rampay rampay (Tale of Abu Nawas and Miscellaneous Tales), Pantun Dondang Sayang volumes 1 to 3. He was known to have brought in essence of stangee (scented wood) and bunga rampay (sweet scented flower).
He bought over a printing press by the name of "Rahim Brothers" and incorporated into his company, Koh and Company on November 26, 1914. By 1924, Koh Hoon Teck had to vacate the bookshop from Raffles Hotel and was also at one point taken to court by the Sarkies Brother, the landlord of Raffles Hotel for 3 months preferential payment for rent due, before the former assets (of Koh and Co) were divided by the the governments Official Assignees. This were difficult times, financially for both Koh Hoon Teck and his wife. It was described that his wife had to sell her diamond kerosangs (brooches) and charge a levy for the use of her house for the nyonya card game.
|Koh & Co Books on sale and prices|
Koh Hoon Teck had six sons and 4 daughters. However during the Japanese occupation most infamous Sook Ching massacre, 3 of his sons and a son-in-law fell victim and were killed. One of them was Koh Kung Chuan, William (Koh Kong Chuan)- a Private in the Royal Army Service Corps.
Tragedy during the Japanese Occupation
|(source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)|
Gunong Sayang AssociationKoh Hoon Teck was one of the founders of the Gunong Sayang Association, also known as Persatuan Gunong Sayang. The association and Koh Hoon Teck were instrumental in keeping the Peranakan theatre (acting, dancing and singing). Gunong Sayang (which means Mountain of love) was established in 1910 and Koon Hoon Teck made "pantun" singing (repartees in Malay) an art form and regular feature in Malay and Straits Chinese weddings and dondang sayang popular in Singapore. He was also a good violinist.
|(source: The Peranakan)|
Death and grave request
Koh Hoon Teck passed away at 168, Carpmael Road, age 78 (papers report 3 years older compared to the year on his tombstone) on February 14, 1956. He is survived by 3 sons; Koh Kong Swee. Koh Kong Leong, Max Koh, 4 daughters, 4 son-in-laws; Chin Chye Fong, Thio Keng Tiang, Wee Tiang Swee,Pang Pee Nang.
Koh Hoon Teck prior to his death requested for two things to be done. Firstly, that his hearse was to be accompanied by the singing of dondang sayang. It didn't stop there as he was buried with a song too. So, while relatives weep, his old friends from the Dondang Sayang Association sang and had a pantun party to the accompaniment of gongs, drums and violin. The meaning pantun that was recited:
"Besimila mulai pertama"
(Oh from the begining of life )
"Dari Adam mulai Agama"
(From Adam born of earth)
"Dunia bugan kita punya"
(this world is not ours)
"Asal manusia pulang ketanah
(Man returns to his origin)
Secondly, Koh Hoon Teck requested that he was to be buried in a 7-tiered Ming Dynasty funeral costume with the corresponding elaborate rights and rituals of the Ming Dynasty (which was the last empire which were ruled by the Han chinese), before the Qing took over. His eldest surviving son was tasked to perform this traditional custom dressed in Ming outfit which was later removed and used to dress his father.
|Koh Hoon Teck's funeral ritual|
|Tomb of Mr and Mrs Koh Hoon Teck|
Their tomb is located at Hill 1, Division B.
Sons and daughters
Koh Kong Seng, Koh Kong Lim, Koh Kong Leng, Koh Kong Chuan, Koh Kong Guan, Koh Kong Swee, Koh Kong Inn, Koh Kong Leong, Koh Kong Yang. Koh Kong Lee and Koh Kong Ann are names listed in Chinese only.
|Sons listed in English|
Koh Gek Kee (Mrs Chin Chye Fong), Koh Gek Poh (Mrs Thio Keng Tiang), Koh Gek Seck (Mrs Wee Tiang Siew), Koh Gek Choo (Mrs Pang Pee Nang).
Sister: Koh Keng Hay
Miss Koh Keng Hay married Mr Hoe Eng Watt. The widow of the late Mr Hoe Eng Watt passed away at the age of 57 at her residence, No 193 Marine Parade Road on December 17, 1939. She is survived by her elder brother, Koh Hoon Teck, her 2 sons; Hoe Cheng Yan, Hoe Cheng Hin, 1 adopted son; Koh Keng Leng, 4 daughters and 4 son-in-laws; Chin Chye Fong, Ee Kim Guan, Peck Teck Chee, Lim Chong Beng, 2 daughter-in-laws.
Father and Mother: Koh Lian Ghee and Wan Chin Neo
Koh Hoon Teck gave a warm reception to many of his friends at his residence, Bunga Rampay Villa, 561 East Coast Road on the occasion of his father's 71st birthday.
|Tomb of Mr and Mrs Koh Lian Ghee|
Grandmother: Mrs Chia Kiow Neo
Mrs Chia Kiow Neo, mother of Koh Lian Ghee and grandmother of Koh Hoon Teck , When she passed away on January 17, 1910 at the age of 80 something, her remains were moved from 105 Chin Swee Road to Alexandra Private cemetery.
Grandmother: Tok Selat
Tok Selat passed away on March 20, 1909 at 105 Chin Swee Road. She was the grandmother of Fam Kuan Fook, Fam Fook Sang and Koh Hoon Teck.
Koh Hoon Teck as remembered by GT Lye (a veteran female impersonator who has played the role of the Peranakan matriarch numerous times). Note of his mention of Kak Minah, the malay lady singer with the beautiful voice (see picture above).
Koh Hoon Teck as remembered by GT Lye. Note of him recalling Koh Hoon Teck's queue cutting ceremony at Ta Jin Road, house of Ngo Yam Bee, a fellow Cornwall Minstrel core (Ngo Yam Bee is buried close by, behind his tomb).
Pantun at Koh Hoon Teck's tomb
Discards the Queue. (1908, October 15). The Singapore Free Press, page 5
Deaths. (1909, March 22). The Straits Times, page 6
Cornwall Minstrels. (1909, October 11). The Straits Times, page 6
Social and Personal. (1910, January 24).The Straits Times, page 6
Untitled. (1912, November 8). The Straits Times, page 8
Bankruptcy Court. (1924, February 23). The Straits Times, page 9
Matters Chinese. (1925, July 22). The Singapore Free Press, page 16
Death. (1939, December 18). The Straits Times, page 2
Death.(1956, February 15). The Straits Times, page 6
Sing Pantuns for me at my funeral. (1956, February 16). The Straits Times, page 9
He was buried with a song. (1956, February 19). The Straits Times, page 5
Seng, C. J. (2006). Singapore: 500 early postcards. Editions Didier Millet.
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press
Gwee, T. H. W. (2007, July-September). Remembering Baba Koh Hoon Teck a pioneering Baba entrepreneur. The Peranakan, pp. 19-20.
Koh Hoon Teck. [website]. Infopedia.
Dondang Sayang. [website]. Infopedia
Gunong Sayang Association. [website]. Infopedia
Thou shoult not tread the earth or see the sky. [website]. Bukit Brown Heritage Park.
And the music plays on. [website]. Bukit Brown Heritage Park.
Pantuns.[website].All things Bukit Brown.
Casualty details. [website]. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.