In 1823, a gutsy and astute eighteen-year old from Swatow, China, arrived in Singapore to seek his fortune. He succeeded in his adopted country, and when he died 60 years later, he left a legacy that remains to this day.
This business and community leader was Seah Eu Chin.
Several points stand out in his life.
Seah Eu Chin was a talented businessman, establishing his own successful trading firm in 1830, at the age of 25 years old.
He was also an astute risk-taker. In 1835, he entered the agricultural sector in Singapore. He invested in the growing of gambier and pepper, two cash crops for export in the international economy, and acquired an eight-mile stretch of land between River Valley Road and Bukit Timah Road.
Despite his initial failures and setbacks, Seah Eu Chin eventually became successful and widely known as the “King of Gambier and Pepper”.
Seah Eu Chin was also a respected community leader.
For example, in 1845, he officially formed the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a charitable organisation that has lasted till today. One interesting nugget of information is that he was also an avid observer and writer, concerned about the Chinese community in Singapore, and in 1847 and 1848, he started writing about them.
Most importantly, Seah Eu Chin brought peace and stability during Singapore’s tumultuous early days. He played the role of mediator, negotiator, and peacemaker during the 1851 Anti-Catholic riots and the 1854 Hokkien-Teochew riots. In 1851, he was made a member of the Grand Jury by the British and when Singapore became a Crown Colony on 1st April 1867, he was made a Justice of the Peace.
After a long and fruitful retirement, Seah Eu Chin died in 1883 at the age of 78 – then one of the oldest Chinese residents in Singapore – in his beautiful home at No. 11 North Boat Quay.
Seah Eu Chin – His Life and Times
“Seah Eu Chin – His Life and Times“ (published 2017) captures snapshots of his life, and the lives of his famous sons, such as Seah Liang Seah and Seah Peck Seah, interwoven with other early pioneers such as Tan Tock Seng, Whampoa, Dr Lim Boon Keng, and Sir Song Ong Siang.
Told against a backdrop of a declining China and a rising British Empire, “Seah Eu Chin – His Life and Times“ also tells the story of the founding and rise of a small maritime settlement nominally under British rule. It also tells the story of a fledgling agricultural industry – and the rise of the “King of Gambier and Pepper”. And it narrates episodes of rampages and widespread outbreaks of mayhem like the Anti-Catholic Riots of 1851 and the Hokkien-Teochew Riots of 1854, and how the hapless colonial authorities turned to respected Chinese leaders like Seah Eu Chin for help.
“Seah Eu Chin – His Life and Times“ is largely based on documented material drawn from various sources including “One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in Singapore” by Sir Song Ong Siang.
Copyright © 2017 Shawn Seah