Together to the grave - a doctor and his mother (Bukit Brown)

In one of my trips to Bukit Brown, Block 3 Division B, plot 450, i came across a cluster of family graves, with a fence and gate. The way the plaques or memorial stones were laid out got me curious and what i uncovered was a tragic story.

Double tragedy
A family dinner for the Tan's at a house by the sea in No 135/136 Pasir Panjang Road on 7 February 1968, ended on a sour note, when Madam Siew  Lin Neo, 72 years of age suddenly collapsed after dinner. Desperately trying to revive Madam Siew was her eldest son Dr. Essel Tan Sin Lian, 47. He did not manage to save his mother. Grief stricken, he was heard repeating "It's no use being a medical man, if i can't even revive my own mother". He took the death of her mother very personally, so much so that he blamed himself and he took it as a personal failure. He also subsequently collapsed and was brought to the General Hospital where he died at 3:45 am, 8 hours after the death of his mother on 8 February 1968. Both laid in coffins side by side and were later interned in the family plot of Dr Essel Tan Sin Lia's father, Mr Tan Hock Ann who died in 1942.

Dr Essel Tan Sin Lian
(source: NewspaperSG)

Dr. Essel Tan Sin Lian was the deputy Director and district surgeon of the St. John Ambulance Association. He was the last graduating batch from the King Edward VII College of Medicine in 1949 before the college became University of Malaya.

136 and 132 Pasir Panjang Road (photo 1993)
(source: PictureSG)

Family plot in Bukit Brown

Tan Hock Ann (father of Dr. Essel Tan) was the first Chinese to be appointed as Deputy Registrar to the Supreme Court in 1924, succeeding a Mr. T.B. Cocker. Prior to this, he was the Chief Clerk of the Supreme Court in Penang. He was a member of the Chinese Association, Straits Chinese Literary Association (1913) and contributed to various funds such as the: Chong Nam School Building fund, War fund, etc. He died on 6th April 1942, age 51, leaving behind 8 sons ( Dr. Essel Tan Sin Lian, Tan Sun Choon, Tan Sun Meng, Tan Sun Soo, Tan Sin Seng, Tan Sin Whatt, Tan Sin Ho, Tan Sin Cheng)  and 3 daughters (Tan Geok Neo, Tan Guek Neo, Tan Guek Choo).

Family plot with intact gate but no fence. 

Tan Hock Ann

He whom the God's love die young 

A mystery of the 3 missing tomb

As you enter the family plot you will notice 3 memorial plagues supported by steel "pegs" and that's about it. Madam Seow Lin Neo and Dr. Essel Tan are there close-by each other and from the death dates you can see they died 1 day apart. The third one belongs to a Mrs Tan Kim Leong (Mdm Ong Geng Neo, died in 1944, age 81). Mrs. Tan Kim Leong (Madam Ong Geng Neo) passed away on November 2604 (1944) at No. 3 Spottiswoode Park Road. She is survived by one daughter-in-law (Mrs. Tan Hock Ann), 1 daughter, 1 son-in-law, 19 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren. But why no tombs for the 3 of them? A mystery indeed waiting to be uncovered.

Mrs. Tan Hock Ann nee Seow Lin Neo who died on 7th February 1968 was listed to be survived by his son, Dr. Essel Tan, Tan Sin Seng, Tan Sing Whatt, Tan Sin Ho, 2 daughters, Tan Geok Eng, Tan Geok Neo, 3 daughter-in-laws; Helen Ee, Lim Bee Hiang, Lim Soh Hiang, and 1 son-in-law, Chee Yew Chew and 8 grandchildren to mourn her loss.

Mother and son buried close-by but why no tomb? 

Chinese Court Supreme Appointment. (1924, November 13). The Singapore Free Press. page 7
C.G. gives a funeral oration.(1950, April 30). The Straits Times, page 9
Together-to the grave-a doctor and his mother. (1963,February 9). The Straits Times, page 9.


  1. Possibly Madam Siew Lin Neo's brothers and mother below,kok,ann&oref=article


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