Thursday, December 18, 2014

House of Tan Yeok Nee

The house of Tan Yeok Nee at 101 Penang Road (known as Tank Road road in the past) was once the house of Mr. Tan Yeok Nee. Constructed in 1882, over 100 labourers were employed and the house finished its construction within 3-4 years at a cost of $300,000. Tan Yeok Nee has intended to house his family there after bringing over his ancestral tablet from China over. However when the colonial government acquired part of the land for railway tracks, Tan Yeok Nee decided to sell the place and he eventually return to China. It was said that his return to China was also a result of his second son receiving a commission from the Chinese government.

The land and house was acquired for the building of the railway during the colonial rule and became the station masters house. In 1912, it was entrusted to the Anglican Church under Bishop Ferguson Davies and became the St. Mary's Home for Eurasian girls for a period of 20 years. Later it became the Salvation Army's Headquarters in 1938 and for a short spell occupied by the Japanese army before being returned to the Salvation till it was eventually sold in 1991 to hotelier Teo Lay Swee. It then later changed hands and Wing Tai Consortium bought it and was them who embarked on the massive restoration works in 1999 at a cost of $12 million that eventually led to the building being awarded the Architectural Award in 2001. It has changed hands several times since then. It was gazetted a National Monument in November 29, 1974.
1952 Street Directory 
The last courtyard house in Singapore
With a plot area of 2445 m²  (26,000 sq ft) , the open air courtyard (following the traditional Chinese Chou Zhou style courtyard houses) , its gables ( depicting the five elements), roof ridge with decorative elements that uses cut and molded pieces of pottery / ceramic or Jian Nian (剪黏)  and the main hall timber joints among others were restored during the restoration works in 1999 and in other parts of house, an auditorium, lecture hall and classrooms were added as it takes on a new lease of live as an educational institution, the Chicago Booth School of Business.

This traditional Chinese Courtyard house was said to be one of four ever build in Singapore. This was highlighted in various newspaper articles (Straits Times, January 12, 1936) as well as Sir Song's book, One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. The other 3 houses highlighted:
  1. Tan Seng Poh house in Hill Street, erected in 1869 and for many years used as the Chinese Consulate.
  2. Seah Cheo Seah's house in Boat Quay, built in 1872 and occupied by family of the late Seah Eu Chin
  3. Wee Ah Hood's house in Hill Street, built in 1878, owned and occupied by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. 
Former house of Wee Ah Hood (Chinese Chamber of Commerce) 
However, as i was going through various sources, i came across pictures of the house of Goh Sin Koh, a influential timber and saw mill merchant and chief partner of Guan Loo and Co and chop Tek Guan who lived during the late 1880's to early 1900's period. Located at Sin Koh Street (now expunged), this courtyard house was said to be built in 1896 and now no longer exist.
source: National Archives 
source: National Archives 

Images of Tan Yeok Nee house
Last courtyard house in Singapore (source: NewspaperSG) 
Courtyard (source: NewspaperSG)
Roof in disrepair (source: NewspaperSG)
Carved Panels 
Temple House (source: NewspaperSG)
Roof and wall carvings 
House of Tan Yeok Nee (source: NewspaperSG)
Tan Yeok Nee House today
roof carvings
cut and molded pieces of pottery / ceramic or Jian Nian (剪黏)
Open air courtyard
ornate rain pipes

close up of beautiful motive of figs and bid 

Chinese Gable end with ornate rain pipe 
Chinese Gable end depicting the wood element
Chinese Gable End depicting the water element
Ornate carvings at entrance
main hall timber decoration 
roof drainage in the form of  a koi

About the man 
Tan Yeok Nee ( Tan Hiok Nee) was born 1827 in Jin Sha village in Shang Pu (present day Caitang) of Chaozhou. He came down from China at an early age and became a cloth peddler plying his trade in Telok Blangah, where the Temenggong's family became a regular customer. He became friends with Temenggong Abu Bakar (eventually the Sultan or Maharaja of Johor). Fast foward to 1866, Tan Yeok Nee was already by then a rich gambier and pepper merchant in Boat Quay under the chop Kwang Hong and managed to obtain extensive kang-chu  (Kangchu) rights in Johore.

Tan Yeok Nee was appointed Major China of Johor around 1870 and also went into partnership with Cheang Hong Lim and Tan Seng Poh in the Singapore and Johor Opium and Spirit Farms. He became a prominent Teochew leader in both Singapore and Johore. There is a street in Johore named after him.
Tan Yeok Nee / Tan Hiok Nee
His influence in Johore waned on what could possibly other influential Chinese leaders banding together and had him removed, forcing him to consolidate his power back in Singapore. In an article dated 1883, there was also mentioned of a Mr. Tan Ah Choo (head of the Ghi Hin / Ghee Hin) and Tan Eng Cheng (manager of Gambier and Pepper Society) who were arrested while been entertained at Tan Yeok Nee's residence and eventually deported out of the colony for what is to be believed to be opium smuggling.

Tan Yeok Nee eventually returned to his home town and died in May 21, 1902 at the age of 75.
All his sons died earlier than him. His wealth was devised to his 8 grandsons (Tan Chin Boon, Tan Chin Teat, Tan Chin Toon, Tan Chin Yeow, Tan Chin Boo, Tan Chin Wee and Tan Chin Ngoh), of whom Tan Chin Boon, Tan Chin Teat and Tan Chin Yeow by the time they were adults already well known within the Teochew community.

Untitled. (1883, February 20 ). The Straits Times, page 2
Domestic occurence announcement. (1937, December 9). The Straits Times, page 2
Finest house in Chinese style. (1937, September 19). The Straits Times,
Untitled. (1981, November 18). The Straits Times, page 33
A home of their own. (1982, September 22). The Straits Times, page 11
Mansions from the past. (2002, March 28). Today Afternoon Edition, page 33
House of Tan Yeok Nee. [website]. Preservation of Monuments Board.
River House at Clark Quay.[website].URA
Tan Hiok Nee (Tan Yeok Nee). [website].Infopedia
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press
House of Goh Sin Koh, 1896. [website] Historic Chinese Architecture in Singapore

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