Thursday, October 03, 2013

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore)

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church today
This year marks the 170th anniversary celebration of the founding of the first protestant church in Singapore for the Straits Chinese in 1843. Located at 77 Prinsep Street, it was started by Reverand Benjamin Peach Keasberry (1811 - 1875) the son of a British colonel in the Indian Army initially for the Malay community. First known as the Malay Chapel, it was a church catered for the conversion of the native communities, especially the Malays. The church was also known then as "Greja Keasberry".

Benjamin Peach Keasberry

Malay Mission Chapel 1859
(source: 150th anniversary book of Prinsep Street Presbyterian church )
Reverand B.P. Keasberry died suddenly while preaching at his pulpit on September 6, 1875. However, he was not alone in spreading the religion. He was assisted by Song Hoot Kiam, who played a huge influence and role in attracting other young Chinese Christians such as Foo Teng Quee, Tan Boon Chin and Tang Kong Wee (both son-in-laws of Song Hoot Kiam). To reflect the growing community from other native races, especially the Peranakan chinese, it was renamed as the Straits Chinese Church and today known as the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. Foo Teng Quee (1843-1906) was one of the heads in the Hainanese community who after his conversion served as a Deacon and Treasuer.

Song family connection

Song Hoot Kiam, (1830-1900) was a Straits born Chinese originally from Malacca. He was one of the first 6 chinese converts of the protestant mission and a pupil of Dr James Legge (later a Professor of Chinese Studies in Oxford University). Song Hoot Kiam was brought to Scotland to be educated and was baptised in 1847. Upon returning, he served with Reverand Benjamin Keasberry as a voluntary preacher and as the Treasurer of the Church. After his first wife's (Yeo Choon Neo) death, Song Hoot Kiam married Phan Fung Lean from a Penang Christian family in 1870. Their eldest child was Song Ong Siang. Song Hoot Khiam was to marry a third time leaving behind a total of five sons and nine daughters when he passed away in October 1900.
Song Hoot Kiam 
On the front facade of the beautiful red brick building is a marble stone that marks that the church was built in 1843 and rebuilt in 1930. The stone to commemorate the rebuilding of the church was laid by Song Ong Siang, Esq, C.B.E , V.D. , M.A., L.L.M, on March 5, 1930. Six years later he was knighted the K.B.E, becoming the first Straits Chinese to reach knighthood.

Sir Song Ong Siang was the the eldest son of Song Hoot Kiam and Phan Fung Lean. He served as a voluntary preacher and succeeded his father Song Hoot Kiam when he died in 1900, as an elder of the church. He also served as chairman of the Chinese Christian Association for many years and was a strong advocate for educational reform, helping in the formation of the Singapore Chinese Girls' School and becoming one of the members on the board of governors and its vice-president.
Group photograph of Straits Chinese Church members in 1920's
Rev. William Murray (third from left) Mr and Mrs Song Ong Siang (fifth and sixth from left)
(source: a20) 
A famous lawyer (Aitken and Ong Siang) and famed author of the book, "One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore", a book that captures the contributions of local chinese spanning across 1819-1919 and a book that many researcher still use today, including amateur researchers like me.

Sir Song Ong Siang achieved many first. He was as earlier mentioned, the first Chinese to be knighted. As a young boy, he was a brilliant student. He excelled in his studies and was the first recipient of the Queen's  Scholar but was disqualified due to the fact he was underage. The honor instead went to another distingushed person, Dr. Lim Boon Keng. He did eventually became a Queens Scholar in 1888 and was the first Queens Scholar to study law. He was the first Chinese captain in the Straits Chinese Volunteer Corp.
Captain Song Ong Siang and  Mrs Song Ong Siang
(source: a20)

Mr and Mrs Song Ong Siang
(source: a20) 

Tomb of Sir and Mrs Song Ong Siang in Bidadari
(source: a20) 
The Boys' Brigade
The Boys’ Brigade movement in Singapore has its beginning's here. In 1930, Mr James Milner Fraser, an old Boy of the 23rd Aberdeen Company and an ex-officer of the 23rd London Company, started the Boys’ Brigade 1st Singapore Company in the Straits Chinese Church together with other pioneering members from the 1st Swatow Company.
Boys Brigade
(source: a20 )
Benjamin Keasberry. [website] Infopedia
Prinsep Street Presbysterian Church. [website] Infopedia
Song Hoot Kiam. [website] Infopedia
Song Ong Siang. [website] Infopedia
History of PSPC [website] Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press

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