Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Funeral of Mrs Ong Sam Leong (Bukit Brown)

One of the most featured families that you might come across in the archive papers are the family of Mr and Mrs Ong Sam Leong. So, it doesn't come as a surprise that when Mrs. Ong Sam Leong  nee Yeo Yean Neo passed away at the age of 73 in 25 May 1935 at her home in Bukit Rose, Bukit Timah Road, her funeral ceremony was covered by a number of major newspapers during that time. The headlines read "a two-mile procession for the widow of a Straits Pioneer". It was so crowded that the mourners who drove had to park as far back as Kampong Java Road and Stevens Road which was some distance from Bukit Rose. An estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 people attended the funeral and among them were the who's who of Singapore back then such as Mr. Aw Boon Par, Mr and Mrs. John Laycock, Mr. Lim Chong Pang, Mr. Tan Chin Tuan, Dr. Cheong Chee Hai, Messrs. J.M Sime, Julian Frankel, Lee Chim Tuan, Kwa Siew Tee and many more.

Mourners of Mrs. Ong Sam Leong in front of Bukit Rose (source: NewspaperSG) 

Hearse for Mrs Ong Sam Leong (source: NewspaperSG) 

Over 3,000 mourners at Bukit Brown 

The Johore State Band provided by the Sultan of Johore was also in attendance and the local police force helped in ensuring safety and crowd control. Numerous people from all walks of life and different races were present during the funeral procession. The cortege took over 2 hours to cover the distance of less than 2 miles (3.2 km) and the estimates where over 3,000 people were present including 600 Malays
Johor Military Band in front of Bukit Rose (sourceL NewspaperSG) 

Funeral procession (source: NewspaperSG) 

Funeral procession (source: NewspaperSG)

source: NewspaperSG

Mrs. Ong Sam Leong nee Yeo Yean Neo 

Madam Yeo Yean Neo , the daughter of Mr and Mrs. Yeo Koon Im and sister of Mr. Yeo Kang Swee was one of the first pupils of Miss Sophia Blackmore of the Methodist Mission (Methodist Girl's School) in 1887 and it was very touching to note that among the several hundred wreaths sent, one was from Miss Blackmore herself.
Mrs. Ong Sam Leong (source: NewspaperSG) 
The newspapers  paid tribute to her as the inspiration which led her two sons, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock to start the show business industry as they were proprietors of the New World Amusement Park. It was said that their sons loved their mom dearly and this can be seen by the lavish birthday celebrations they threw for her in 1932 for her 69th birthday at Bukit Rose whereby the guest list numbered 400 ! (She passed away 3 years later at the age of 72).  As a mark of respect, the New World was closed during her funeral ceremony.

Mrs Ong Sam Leong  69th Birthday (source: NewspaperSG)
Mrs. Ong Sam Leong nee Yeo Yean Neo is survived by his two sons, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock and 1 daughter, Mrs. Khoo Peck Lock) , 3 sons-in-laws (Messrs. Lim Teck Kim, Puey Yean Chuan and Khoo Peck Lock) and many grandchildren and great grandchildren to mourn her loss. (The eldest being Mr. T.W. Ong of Messrs. Braddell Brothers.)

Untitled. (1909, April 17). The Straits Times, page 6
Death. (1935, May 26). The Straits Times, page 13
Mrs. Ong Sam Leong. (1935, May 27). The Straits Times, page 12
Mrs. Ong Sam Leong. (1935, May 27). The Singapore Free Press, page 7
Untitled. (1935, June 4). The Singapore Free Press, page 6
Funeral Yesterday. (1935, June 3). The Straits Times, page 13
Funeral of  Mrs. Ong Sam Leong - Widow of Straits Pioneer. (1935, June 5). Malayan Tribune,page 18
The late Mrs. Ong Sam Leong. (1935, June 3). Malayan Tribune, page 16
Funeral of Mrs. Ong Sam Leong. (1935, June 5).The Straits Times, page 13

Monday, July 09, 2018

Aerial photos of Bukit Brown (Entrance and Roundabout)

National Archives of Singapore have released much clearer images online and some of this images include aerial photos of Singapore by the British Royal Air Force that i first saw during a Bukit Brown exhibition back in 2014. The landscape at Bukit Brown has changed over the years, we nature making a comeback. But, the real damaging change was with the building of the 8 lane highway that has hastened even further the changes, especially with the destruction on the round-about and the tombs surrounding the area and along its path. The two red circled structures were the shelter and temple that one will see has they enter through the gates of Bukit Brown. We have images as late as 1960's and as far back 1920's of the shelter and an undated pictured of the temple. I do not know the exact date when this two structures were taken down but for sure it didn't exist when i first visited Bukit Brown in 2012. 

The picture below shows Kheam Hock Road and the road that leads to Bukit Brown proper. The red squarish blocks are the houses along Sime Road and Lornie Walk.  The Hills of Seh Ong are still clearly visible in the below picture.

The below series of pictures of the shelter  and one of the temple that use to be a landmark in the past. The photos were made possible from the descendants of some of the early pioneers who were buried there and such rare photos are hard to come by. 

Shelter in Bukit Brown in 1920's
(Photo courtesy of Madam Lim Soo Eng and James Yip)

Shelter in Bukit Brown in 1920's
(Photo courtesy of Madam Lim Soo Eng and James Yip)

Shelter in Bukit Brown in 1920's
(Photo courtesy of Madam Lim Soo Eng and James Yip)

Shelter in the 1960's
(Photo courtesy of Madam Lim Soo Eng and James Yip)

Ho Siak Kuan's cluster of tomb and the temple of Bukit Brown
as shown on map, using main gate as reference.

Aerial photographs by the British Royal Air Force between 1940 to 1970s, from a collection held by the National Archives of Singapore. Source: National Archives of Singapore.
Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge. (website). Rojak Librarian, posted on 20 July 2014
Bukit Brown Roundabout in the Past. (website). Rojak Librarian, posted on 21 March 2012

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Kamala Circus - The Great Indian Circus visits Singapore

I heard about the Tai Thean Kew circus from my involvement with Bukit Brown and during one my tours on the Queenstown Heritage Trail, i was told of another Indian circus troupe that existed in the late 1950's and 1960's. Recently, while curating ideas for a Bukit Brown tour on Pioneers of Early Entertainment, i came across a travelling circus troupe by the name of Kamala Circus.

Kamala Circus (source: NewspaperSG)

Kamala Circus was reputed to be the largest travelling show in the Far East. It boasted over 100 Indian artist and featured acts such as the flying trapeze act, the "Globe of Death" motor cycle act by two young girls, a 30 foot leap by a motorcyclist and the "cat" act. It claims over 300 tons of equipment and animals which include 16 horses, 8 Ceylon baby elephants, an African lion and 2 lionesses, 2 tiger cubs and 3 Indian mountain goats. It came to Singapore in 1947 from India via Ceylon and performed for a month before touring around the region such as Malaya (Malaysia), Siam (Thailand), Hong Kong, Phillipines, Bornea, Indonesia and Australia. It returned to Singapore in 1948 for 5 days (in Cantonment Road/ Neil Road junction) and again in 1949 (Anson Road). It's matinee in Singapore was in April 1947 and it's tent was pitched at Farrer Park, Race Course Road.

The circus troupe was owned by Mr. K. Damodaran of South India,Thalassery (formerly Tellicherry) and represented here by Mr. K.K. Balan, the organiser for South East Asia. After a 15 month performance at Ceylon (Sri Lanka)  and 25 years of touring all over India, it became a travelling outfit in the Far East for the next 10 years (1946-1956).

Circus comes to town (source: NewspaperSG)

1947 (source: NewspaperSG)

1949 (source: NewspaperSG)

1949 (source: NewspaperSG)

Stories from the circus

Circus where women played prominent roles
The  Kamala Circus was also unique in where women artist played prominent roles and were major acts in a once male dominated circus.  
Woman artist balancing act in Kamala Circus (1956)

Malayan Tigers Join Circus 
While touring in Malaya, Kamal lost its two Bengal performing tigers. One of it was reported on the Straits Times on 3 June 1947, where a 5 month old tiger cub escaped in Seremban, while another Bengal died shortly after that. It was replaced by two Malayan tigers purchased via  exotic animal trade.

source: NewspaperSG
Circus wants animals
An article dated 7 April 1947 was unique because it was an article cum advertisement seeking for tigers and poisonous snakes. But the article was also important as it gave insights on the how much the circus artist are paid. Generally the higher the risk the act is, the higher the pay is. So it is no surprise that the female trapeze earns the most for their high risk act 3 times a day. They are paid 1,000 rupees a month. A clown act earns half that amount. The tiger training act is in the realms of big money as well. 

1947 (source: NewspaperSg) 

What happened to Kamala Circus?

Searching online, i found on Amazon a circus souvenir program dated 1956 to mark its return to India after 5 years overseas. Inside are gems of photos, with one showing it as a six peg canvas tent with two rings and with the capability to fit more than 1000 people and the large crowds in Bombay waiting to get in !  Kamala Three Ring Circus of K. Damodaran, began  in the 1930's  as a small two pole tents traveling from village to village, before ending with a giant American-style six-pole, three-ring circus, touted to be the first of its kind in Asia (The Indian Circus-Circopedia)

From another website (thalassery.info), i read that the Proprietor Mr. K. Damodaran passed away in 1966 and the Kamala Circus declined subsequently after that.

Circus comes to town. (1947, May 17). The Straits Times, page 9
Circus wants Animals. (1947, April 7). The Singapore Free Press, page
Tiger Escapes. (1947, June 3). The Straits Times, page 1
Advertisement. (1949, October 15). Indian Mail
Advertisement. (1949, November 15). Indian Mail, page 1
Where the clown cries.(2000, April 23). The Hindu

Friday, June 15, 2018

Chen Ngian Chin and family (Bukit Brown)

Chen Ngian Chin passed away on 18th February 1935 at the age of 74 at his residence in  No 31, Branksome Road. He is the father of Chen Djat Thiam, Dr. Chen Ah Poh, Chen Thiam Chion and Chen Thiam Chit. What is unique of this tomb is that it mentions that Chen Ngian Chin is from Batoeroesa, Banka (or Bangka Island off Sumatra, Indonesia ). He is buried in Hill 3 Division D, plot 816. I am unable to find much information about Chen Ngian Chin.

Chen Ngian Chin

Chen Ngian Chin of Batoeroesa, Banka


Son: Dr Chen Ah Poh / Dr. A. P. Chen
Dr Chen Ah Poh studied in Anglo Chinese School and obtain his medical degree in 1920. Being in private practice (Universal Surgery, Middle Road) for many years, he retired in 1965. During the Japanese occupation of Singapore, a settlement was created in Endau, Johor to move the Chinese civilian population from Singapore to this place coined as New Syonan. Dr. Chen Ah Poh was the resident medical officer tasked with keeping the new population alive and healthy with the limited resources available.

Dr Chen was also a life member of the Singapore Medical Association and was once a regular doctor visiting many plantations, factories and companies in Southern Johor. In the article, "Singapore Grand Old Doctor dies 88", Dr Chen passed away at his Wilkinson Road home, off Tanjong Katong Road on 1 December 1974. He is survived by his wife, Madam Ho Khee Moei, 64, a daughter, 3 sons, one whom is also a doctor in private practice.

Dr. Chen Ah Poh 
Mrs. Chen Ah Poh nee Chia Kim Lian passed away on 2 February 1955. She leaves behind her husband,  mother and 5 children; (Chen Jan Khiat, Chen Jan Chong, Chen Jan Jee, Nellie Chen, Chen Jan Thye.)

Dr. Chen's daughter, Nellie married Rev. Colin King on September 4, 1948.

Marriage notice of Nellie Chen 
Another article feature Dr. T. J. Chen (probably Chen Jan Thye) who was away from Singapore for 10 years in Britain and has return for good. The article gives inside to Dr. T. J. Chen who left Singapore in 1950 to join University College, Dublin and stay on in Dublin until his returned.
Dr. T. J. Chen with his wife, Nellie and son, Thomas
There was a report of the birth of son (Chen Choon Leong) on April 17, 1944, whose parents are Mr and Mrs Chen Jan Jee. Mrs Chan Jan Jee was mentioned in the article to be a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Tan Hock San.

Domestic Occurrences. (1935, February 19). The Straits Times, page 2
Birth. (1944, April 19). Syonan Shimbun, page 2
Health of New Syonan Settlers in safe hands. (1944, April 25). Syonan Shimbun, page 2
Singapore Grand Old Doctor Dies, 88. (1974, December 2). The Straits Times, page 11

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lim Kow Nah (Bukit Brown)

Lim Kow Nah passed away at the age of 66 on 19th September 1936 at his residence in No. 40 Outram Road leaving behind his wife, 9 sons, 3 daughters, 4 daughters-in-law, 5 sons-in-laws and 30 grandchildren.  Lim Kow Nah was a shareholder of the Oversea Chinese Bank in 1936 and in 1922 bought 25 acres of freehold rubber land in Thomson area for $7,800. In 1935, Lim Kow Nah bought freehold land of 92,223 sq ft for $80 in Tiong Bahru Road.

Mr. Lim Kow Nah
Block 4 Division A @1.340041,103.824945


There was an engagement notice between Mr. Lim Kim Swee, son of the late Mr. & Mrs Lim Kow Nah with Miss Khoo Choo Neo, daughter of Mr & Mrs Khoo Tiang Hong on 23 July 1953.

Property Sale. (1922, May 18). Malayan Tribune, page 8
Singapore Properties sold by auction. (1935, August 30). The Singapore Free Press. 
Domestic Occurences. (1936, September 22). Malayan Tribune, page 12

Kow Hock San and family (Bukit Brown)

Kow Hock San passed away on 15th May 1929 at his residence in No 20, Ann Siang Hill. He leaves behind a son, Khoo Beng Whatt and 2 daughters; Kow Choo Neo, Kow Hup Neo; 2 son-in-laws; Messrs. Tan Koon Hong and Lee Cheng Tee.
Grandsons: Kow Leong Watt and Kow Poh Hock
Granddaughter: Kow Poh Neo

Kow Hock San in the burial registrar was listed at 66 years old when he passed on. He is buried in Hill 1 Division B plot 265.

Mother: Khoo Ong Neo
Khoo Ong Neo passed away at the age of 90 on 3 May 1925 at her residence at No 83 Club Street. She leaves behind 1 son, Kow Hock San, 1 grandson, 2 granddaughters, 2 great grandsons, 2 great granddaughters to mourn her lost.

Daughter: Kow Choo Neo
Kow Choo Neo nee Si Besar nee Mrs. Tan Koon Hong passed away at the age of 80 at her residence, No 141A Kallang Airport on 21 October 1962. Madam Kow Choo Neo tomb lies close by her husband's Tan Koon Hong's tomb in  Bukit Brown, Hill 4 Section C plot 1380 and 1400. She was 56 years old when Tan Koon Hong passed away at 63 years old. Tan Koon Hong was a cashier or banker for Chartered Bank of Singapore.

Kow Choo Neo is survived by 1 son; Kow Leng Huat, 2 daughters; Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok.
Grandsons; Tan Chin Guan, Kow Chin Geok, Kow Chwee Hock
Granddaughters; Kow Whatt Neo, Kow Whatt Eng,
Great-Grandson; Jeffrey Kow Hock Guan.
Mrs. Tan Koon Hong nee Madam Kow Choo Neo (Si Besar)

Daughter: Kow Tiam Neo
The engagement of Miss Kow Tiam Neo, youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs Kow Hock San of 83 Club Street to Mr. Lee Cheng Tee, second son of the late Mr. Lee Seng Joo and Mrs Lee Seng Joo of 30 Neil Road.


Probate and executor of Kow estate went to Lee Ho Neo and Lee Cheng Tee. The late Kow Hock San address was listed as No. 20, Ann Siang Hill.

Domestic Occurrences. (1926, May 16). Malaya Tribune, page 8.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Brothers buried side-by-side (Bukit Brown)

I was exploring Bukit Brown during Qingming (aka Tomb-Sweeping day) to observe the traditional practice as well as to suss out stories from descendants who visit Bukit Brown. I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Chew Hay Teck (89 years old) who was born in 1935 to a family of  9 or 10 siblings. He and his family were in Bukit Brown for Qingming. Mr. Chew Hay Teck came across to me as a sprightly gentlemen and after a brief introduction, he shared with me that he is visiting his two brothers who are buried side by side and has been doing so every Qing Ming. His eldest brother (who he refers to as Tai Cheong) was one of the early civilian victims killed by the Japanese bombing of Singapore when  the bomb hit their family home in Chin Swee Road. Fortunately, the rest of the family members including Chew Hay Teck (who was only 7 years old then ) did not share the same fate when the roof collapsed and killed his eldest brother. The other plot without a headstone lies his 3rd or 4th brother by the name of "Ah Mou",  a brother who Mr Chew Hay Teck remembered and described fondly as the most intelligent of all the siblings because he did well in school and during the Japanese occupation, even manage to learn and was able to speak Japanese. Unfortunately, Ah Mou didn't survived to see the surrender of the Japanese. Ah Mou died of illness and was brought to the plot beside his brother and secretly buried.

Chew Hay Teck paying respects to his brothers

Paying respects to their two Uncles 
In my conversation with the younger family members of Chew Hay Teck, his son and nephew present shared that they were only puzzled that the tomb of their Uncle Tai Cheong, didn't have the same surname, but that didn't matter during our entire conversation as they went through the Qing Ming rituals with respect and shared with me that both Uncles were very pleased with the offerings and have finished consuming them after a nephew threw 2 coins only once for both tombs to check and confirm that they have finished eating. I thanked Mr Chew and the family for sharing their family story as we went our separate ways.

Neo Chye Cheong (civilian victim of first bombing by the Japanese on Singapore)

Victim of first bombing by the Japanese on Singapore 

The story does not end with my parting with the Chew family. In the comfort of my home, i learn that the first air raid on Singapore was carried out by 17 Japanese planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, launched from Japanese-occupied Saigon, Vietnam. It took place on 8 December 1941, and left 61 dead and 133 people injured (source: Infopedia). I moved on to check the burial registrar to find out the name of the person buried in Hill 4 , Division 6 plot 338 where "Tai Cheong" lies buried. From the digitised burial records of Bukit Brown, searching was easy and the name, Neo Chye Cheong, died 8 December 1941, age 27 came out which match closely to the inscription on the tomb as well. What i did not have was the cause of death and address.

 A fellow "Brownie" (Simone Lee), whom i know spent some time in the National Archives going through the microfilm of the Bukit Brown Burial Registry of people who died just before and the weeks after the fall of Singapore was the person i went to next to find this two missing information to confirm the oral account. It was from her that help confirmed that Neo Chye Cheong died of WAR OPERATIONS and the address listed was 22 Hare Street.
Hare Street and Chin Swee Road (source: https://hm.onemap.sg/)
The final piece of the puzzle was the road name that Chew Hay Teck shared with me and this closely matches the burial records of Neo Chye Cheong and that he was indeed one of the first civilian victims' of the bombing of Singapore on 8 December 1941.

Once again, it is a reminder that Bukit Brown Heritage Park contains a treasure trove of stories of Singapore's past. The intangible cultural heritage of Qing Ming practice is a useful way where stories of the family get pass on from one generation to another. If you destroy this space, it will indeed be a tragedy as many stories and traditional practices get destroyed with it along with the rich flora and fauna. I am fortunate enough to hear this story from Chew Hay Teck, a man who survived through the Japanese occupation and was so willing to share with me the story of his two brothers who lay buried in Bukit Brown, one with a headstone while the other without. Their story is not forgotten.

Remembering Neo Chye Cheong