Tan Kim Seng
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Tan Kim Seng (b.1805 - d. 14 March 1864, Malacca, Malaya), a third-generation Straits Chinese, was a wealthy trader and property owner with business interests in tin. A prominent philanthropist, Tan left behind memorials of his philanthropic acts in Singapore and Malacca.
Tan received his education in a private Chinese school in Malacca and learned English and Dutch while attending a mission school. In the 1820s, he left for Singapore with a small amount of capital to set up Kim Seng & Company.
Accomplishments and contributions
Tan's ability to converse in Chinese and English gave him a great advantage and his business grew rapidly. Later, he set up a branch in Malacca, and subsequently in Shanghai, China, making him the first Singaporean businessman to do so. In 1850, he was made Justice of Peace and his opinions on Chinese issues were highly valued by the British government. He was also appointed as a member of the committee responsible for sending exhibits to the Great Exhibition held in London, England, in 1851. To increase literacy among the Chinese, Tan founded Chui Eng Si E, a Chinese free school at Amoy Street. Another public act of charity was the building of a road, later named Kim Seng Road, between River Valley Road and Havelock Road, including a bridge that took the road over the Singapore River. Although the bridge has been rebuilt, it still bears his name.
Every Chinese New Year, Tan would offer gifts of food and money to patients at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He was also generous in organising balls and dinners for Europeans and was hence popular in the European community. During the secret society clash between the Hokkiens and Cantonese in 1854, which resulted in 600 deaths and injuries, he mediated successfully with the help of Seah Eu Chin. In 1857, Tan donated $13,000 to the government for the construction of Singapore’s first reservoir and waterworks. The waterworks were completed in 1877 and officially opened the following year. However, Tan had already passed away in Malacca in 1864. He was estimated to be worth $2 million at the time of his death.
Tan was also a well-regarded member of the Chinese community in Malacca. For a period, he served as the president of one of the main Chinese temples there. In addition, he built the Kim Seng Bridge near Stadt House.
Tan's son Tan Beng Swee and grandson Tan Jiak Kim were also well-known merchants and philanthropists. Beng Swee Place and Jiak Kim Street were named after them.
Tan Kim Seng Fountain (national monument)
To commemorate Tan’s generous contribution towards the building of the waterworks, the Municipal Commissioners erected the Tan Kim Seng Fountain at Fullerton Square. It was officially unveiled on 19 May 1882. Made by Andrew Handyside & Co from England, the Victorian-style iron fountain has three tiers and is decorated with classical figures. It was moved to Esplanade Park at Connaught Drive in 1925 when Fullerton Building was being constructed. In January 1994, it was shut down for repairs that lasted seven months. As part of this S$1.12-million restoration project, the 7m-high cast-iron fountain was also rust-proofed and a new foundation was built. On 28 December 2010, the Tan Kim Seng Fountain was gazetted as a national monument.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Valerie Chew
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The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Tan Kim Seng, 1805-1864
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