Mr. Tan Kim Tian arrived in Singapore from Malacca at the age of 15. He worked as an office boy in Paterson Simons & Company and impressed his boss, Mr. William Paterson so much that he helped arranged for Tan Kim Tian to learn English. He was eventually promoted to be the Storekeeper and Campadore that managed the trade of gutta percha, cloves and rattan. By the age of 30, Tan Kim Tian had the confidence to set out on his own and formed his own company, Tan Kim Tian and Son Steamship Company at No 1 Prince Street, the first local Chinese company that build and purchase steamships.The company also had assurance of cargo from Tan Kim Tian's previous employer. It started with three sailing vessels and two small steamers and the company grew to owned 11 ships with a tonnage of over 80,000 tons. Tan Kim Tian once bought a large shipment of coffee to be shipped to Europe. Instead of sending it all, he split it into 2 and got a better price for his second one. Tan Kim Tian and Sons was one of the most prosperous shipping firms in Singapore.
Tan Kim Tian passed away on December 18, 1882. His son, Tan Beng Wan carried on as Managing Director until he died in 1891 on Christmas Day at the age of 40 at his residence in Botan House, Neil Road.
|Portrait of Tan Kim Tian (source: Roots.sg)|
Decline of Tan Kim Tian and Sons
After the death of Tan Kim Tian and Tan Beng Wan, the company was inherited by Tan Cheng Siong /Tan Cheng Siang (Tan Beng Wan's only son who was only 7 years old at that time). By then, the company was partly owned by Straits Steamship and managed by two of his uncles, Tan Hup Seng (23 years old ) and Tan Hup Leong (in his teens). Straits Steamship sold their stake to Oei Tiong Ham's company, Heap Eng Moh Steamship. Following financial difficulties and increasing debt loans owed to Mr Oei Tiong Ham, Tan Kim Tian and Son Steamship Company was acquired over completely by Mr. Oei Tiong Ham.
|Advertisement 1901 (source: NewspaperSG)|
Wife: Mrs Tan Kim Tian (Wee Poh Kiok Neo)
Mrs Tan Kim Tian (Wee Poh Kiok Neo) was buried in Bukit Brown when she died on December 15, 1927 at the age of 77.
|Mrs Tan Kim Tian (Wee Poh Kiok Neo)|
|Mrs Tan Kim Tian's tomb in Bukit Brown|
Son: Tan Beng Wan
Born in Annam, he was adopted by Tan Kim Tian. The story goes that Mr and Mrs Tan Kim Tian lost 2 or 3 of their first babies. So to change their luck, they adopted Tan Beng Wan, after which many boys and girls were successfully given birth ! Another story goes is that Tan Beng Wan was born from a concubine of Tan Kim Tian. Whatever is the truth, Tan Beng Wan was neverthless treated as the eldest. He studied at Raffles School and at the age of 15 joined Tan Kim Tian & Sons and eventually became the managing partner after the death of Tan Kim Tian. In 1888 he was elected Municipal Commissioner for the Central Ward. He was also a director of the Straits Insurance Company. Prior to his death, he was also in the Chinese Advisory Board together with Tan Jiak Kim, Tan Keong Siak and Lim Eng Keng.
Tan Beng Wan died in 1890 at the age 40 and was buried in a private cemetery in Thomson Road.
Mrs Tan Beng Wan (Lim Imm Neo) died at the age of 74 on October 10, 1925 at Botan House, No 46, Neil Road. She left behind her son, Tan Cheng Sian and Tan Cheng Yan, 1 daughter, 5 daughter-in laws, one son-in-law (Lim Siew Hock) , 12 grandsons. She was buried in Bukit Brown.
|Mrs Tan Beng Wan (Madam Lim Imm Neo)|
|Mrs Tan Beng Wan|
|Portrait of Tan Cheng Siang (source: Roots.sg)|
|Botan House in 1968 (source: PictureSG)|
Son: Tan Hap Seng / Tan Hup Seng
Committee Member of the Straits British Chinese Association, President of the Straits Chinese Recreational Club, Committee Member for Tan Tock Seng Hospital for 12 years until he resigned in 1906, Committee member of the Po Leung Kuk (Society of the Protection of Women and Children). After Tan Beng Wan passed away, the company was managed by Tan Hap Seng (managing director) together with his brothers Tan Hap Leong and Tan Hap Swee.
|Tan Hap Seng/ Tan Hup Seng|
Son: Tan Hup Leong /Tan Hap Leong
|Tan Hup Leong|
Tan Hup Leong died of heart failure at the age of 56 on August 5, 1926. He is buried in Bukit Brown.
|Tan Hup Leong|
Son: Tan Hap SweeTan Hap Swee passed away in November 1908
Daughter: Tan Bong Soo / Mrs Quek Geok Lin
Mrs Quek Geok Lin nee Tan Bong Soo passed away at the age of 45 on October 27, 1926. She is survived by her widow, her brother, Mr. Tan Hap Seng, two sons: Quek Cheng Teo, Quek Cheng Ong,three daughters: Quek Cheng Noy, Quek Nya Chit, Quek Nya Kerchit, 1 son-law, 2 daughter-in laws, 13 grandchildren. Madam Tan Bong Soo is buried in Hill 1 Division C, plot 206.
Funeral of the late Mr Tan Beng Wan. (1892, January 11). The Singapore Free Press
Untitled. (1895, June 8). The Singapore Free Press
Death. (1925, October 13). The Straits Times, page 8
Untitled. (1926, August 6). The Malayan Tribune, page 7
Wealthy Shipowner's brankruptcy.( 1927, March 5). The Singapore Free Press
Untitled. (1928, February 18). The Malayan Saturday Post, page 32
Lin, Lee Kip. The Singapore House. 1819-1942. Times Editions, 1988.
Song, Ong Siang. One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore. Ed. Edwin Lee. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Portrait of Tan Kim Tian. (website). Roots.sg (last accessed 4 June 2020)
Photograph of Tan Cheng Siang. (website). Roots.sg (last accessed 4 June 2020)