Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ho Siak Kuan (Bukit Brown)

Ho Siak Kuan (Ho Sek Kuan ) (1865-1946) , M.B.E., C.H.,  was born in Canton and though of Teochew parentage, was educated in Cantonese. This was partly due to the fact his mother was Cantonese.  (In in his retirement celebration, he spoke both in Cantonese and English). When arriving in Singapore, he studied in St. Andrew's Mission School and later Raffles Institution. His ability and skill in English and winning awards in Chinese, impressed Mr William A. Pickering (the first Chinese Protector) so much that after Siak Kuan left school, he was offered employment to enter Government service as a student interpreter. He eventually rose the ranks to become the Chief Chinese Translator.

A Civil Servant 

Ho Siak Kuan was the Chief Chinese Translator for the Straits Settlement Government and later as a reward for his years of service, the Assistant Secretary for Chinese Affairs (also called as Assistant Protector of Chinese) during the time, where the Secretary was Mr. D. Beatty. When he retired eventually in 1926-1927 period, he was in the government service for 42 years.

In honour of his receiving the M.B.E., from the the Governor at that time (Sir Laurence Guilemard), a tea party was thrown for him at Yat Lum Club at which Mr. Eu Tong Sen, O.B.E., presided among many well-wishers for being the first Chinese to climb the ranks of the Civil Service. Among the work he has done included providing expert evidence for the Opium Commission and also for the Committee for Chinese Marriages.

On his retirement , the Chinese community leaders such as Mr See Teong Wah, J.P., and Mr Boey Kok Leong, J.P., representing the Chinese Chamber, Commission of the Peace, Chinese Advisory Board and the Po Leung Kuk  gave their addresses in English and Chinese to thank him on behalf of the Chinese community for his 42 years of service building close links between the colonial government and the chinese community and the Chinese communities philanthropic work in supporting the various relief funds.
Ho Sek Kuan (mid 1930's - early 1940's)
(Photo courtesy of Alan Ho)

Awards and Philanthropic work 

Ho Siak Kuan was awarded the M.B.E. (1925) - Membership of the British Empire for being the Chinese Secretary, Straits Settlement  and later a Certificate of Honour (1927) from the Governor of the Straits Settlements.

He was also a shareholder in Lee Wah Bank, Limited in which the chairman was Mr.Eu Tong Seng and a shareholder in the Oversea Chinese Bank, Ltd. He donated various amounts to various funds such as the Prince of Wales's War Relief Fund (1915), British Red Cross Fund(1916), Malaya Patriotic Fund (1939), Chinese Girls School (1908) Rangoon Road Fire Relief Fund (1924) Child Welfare Society (1925) among others.

Siak Kuan Road and family home

There is a road named after him, but it has already been expunged (probably now part of Changi Airport) and it was located off Somapah Road near Upper Changi Road. See picture of a beautiful outhouse with a bridge that leads to it. The picture is also interesting as it shows at the bridge, a Japanese visitor (in suit and armband) posing with Ho Siak Kuan.

Ho Siak Kuan's "outhouse" at Siak Kuan Avenue.
(Photo courtesy of Alan Ho)
The photo below is Siak Kuan Villa. This beautiful villa is located somewhere in Changi.

Siak Kuan Villa
(Photo courtesy of Alan Ho)

From various papers
(source: NewspaperSG)

Death and Uncertain future for his tomb 
Ho Siak Kuan passed away at the age of 81 on 21st August,1946 in his residence at No. 156 Neil Road. He left behind 3 sons, Dr. Ho Siu Khan, Ho Siu Peng and Ho Siu Fan and 2 daughters.

Burial and funeral wreaths for Ho Siak Kuan at Bukit Brown
(Photo courtesy of Alan Ho)
Ho Siak Kuan's unique triple tomb

Dr Ho Siu Khan (tomb furthest away  and not connected to the triple tomb of his parents)

All of tombs have been identified for exhumation as they are affected by the 8 lane highway. Their stake numbers are 1061 -1064.


During my research I discovered another son, Ho Siew Choon, then stated as the 3rd son who married Miss San Oi Leng. But there was no mention of this son in his burial notice. It is likely he passed away before his father but further research drew blank. Ho Siak Kuan is buried with his two wifes (who died in 1962 and 1967 respectively) and his son Dr Ho Siu Khan. His tombstone is the easiest to find as it is located near the roundabout and it is unique, has it is a triple tomb with roofing.

Dr. Ho Siu Kan died at the age of 76 on 13 April 1958 at No 43 Bournemouth Road. (postnote: I have not completed my research on him as yet. Will return to do so.)

Mr Ho Siew Lim, the second qualified Chartered Accountant to come out of Europe was another find mentioned in the Newspapers dated July 6, 1926 (The Singapore Free Press) that was also listed as a son of Mr Ho Siak Quan,M.B.E.

Tua Pek Kong Temple 

Another thing to note is that behind the triple tomb used to be a Tua Pek Kong Temple which was demolish sometime after the cemetery closed for burials.

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

[Update : On March 12, 2012 - Mr Alan Ho emailed me and with his help and photo contributions, I am able to share rare photos of his great grandfather, his home and finally his burial. Look how bare Bukit Brown looked back then in 1946 compared to now. ]

Social and Personal. (1916, January 17). The Straits Times, page 8
Lee Wah Bank. Limited (1923, October 5). The Straits Times, page 10
Birthday Honours. (1925, June 3). The Straits Times, page 9
Matters Chinese. (1926, January, 14). The Singapore Free Press and Merchantile Advertiser, page 16
Mr Ho.Siak Kuan. (1926, October 30). The Straits Times, page 9
Matters Chinese. (1926, November 22). The Singapore Free Press and Merchantile Advertiser
Chinese Protectorate. (1927, March 11). The Straits Times, page 12
Certificates of Honour. (1927, June 6). The Straits Times, page 8
Death. (1946, August 23). The Straits Times, page 4


Pat said...

Hi Peter -- Ho Siak Kuan's unique roofed tomb appears to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Tua Pek Kong Temple that used to stand behind it.

Did Mr Alan Ho share with you the stylistic inspirations behind HSK's tomb ? Was the tomb fashioned after the above temple by virtue of their close proximity ? (I'm assuming that the temple already existed there, before HSK's tomb was built.) If so, might this have been a deliberately-unconventional decision arising from his mixed dialect/ ancestral/ regional background (ie. Cantonese speaking, born in Canton to Teochew father & Cantonese mother) ? For one thing, his tomb is definitely neither Teochew nor Cantonese in style.

On a related note, since Bukit Brown is a multi-dialect/ regional Chinese cemetery, I'm curious if you'd ever encountered any Cantonese, Hainanese, Shanghainese & Heng Hwa graves there, & whether they sport distinctive tomb-styles of their own ?

Based on the ancestral origin indicated on the tombstones, I've seen a few Foochow/ Hockchew (Fuzhou) tombs at Bukit Brown, as well as 1 Foochow tomb & quite a number of Hockchia (Fuqing) tombs at the adjoining Seh Ong Cemetery. I'm somewhat puzzled by the latter examples though ... isn't Seh Ong an exclusively-Hokkien & Hokkien-Peranakan clan cemetery ? Or might these people have Hokkien parentage, but were for some reason born in Fuqing county ?

In any case, the said Foochow & Hockchia tombs are all stylistically Hokkien, albeit more economical in fashion -- ie. all of them are composed of exposed brickwork, as opposed to more expensive materials & methods like the carved stone &/or Shanghai-plastered brickwork used for more elaborate Hokkien tombs.

I wonder if the above might be due to minority dialect-groups having difficulty in sourcing for relevant skilled tomb-makers in colonial S'pore (& therefore settling for the most commonly-available tomb-style), as well as the lesser economic power of minority dialect-groups.

Another example would be the tomb of Lee Hoon Leong (Hakka, ancestral village: Dapu, Canton). It is distinctively traditional Hokkien in style, & appears to be made of stone & Shanghai-plastered brickwork (no Majolica/Peranakan tiles anywhere). At face value, it seems rather odd, although I've have come across a Nanyang University source claiming that Lee Hoon Leong was not Hakka, but actually a Hokkien-speaking Hokkien ... while peculiarly enough, his son & grandson (former MM Lee) are self-described as Hakka-Peranakan.

Rojak Librarian said...

Hi Pat, i do see in burial records of Kheks, Cantonese, Shanghainese but honestly i can differentiate them in Bkt Brown (i can't read chinese). I do see some structures which are different from hokkien and teochew, but i am no expert but learning and sharing as i go along.

Rojak Librarian said...

Btw, thanks Pat for your insights and sharing !