Seah Eu Chin
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Seah Eu Chin (1805–1883; simplified Chinese: 佘有进; traditional Chinese: 佘有進; pinyin: Shé Yǒujìn; also spelt Siah U-chin, Seah Uchin, Seah You Chin) was an immigrant from South China to Singapore, later becoming a successful merchant and leader in the Chinese community.
Seah Eu Chin was born in 1805, the son of Seah Keng Liat, a minor provincial official, in Yuepu (月浦 Guek-po in the Teochew dialect) village in Chenghai (澄海 Theng-hai) County of Chaozhou (潮州 Teochew) Province. He was educated in Chinese classics in his youth, but decided to seek his fortune abroad. He came to Singapore in 1823, first working as a clerk, then becoming a plantation owner and finally becoming a trader and a merchant.
Plantation and mercantile activity
Seah Eu Chin was a successful plantation owner. He was the first to plant gambier (or white cutch) on a large scale in Singapore. By 1839, his gambier plantation had stretched for eight to ten miles, from the upper end of River Valley Road to Bukit Timah Road and Thomson Road. Mr Seah's holdings earned him the title: 'King of Gambier'. He made his fortune in gambier and pepper plantations. However, by the 1850s-60s, the planting of gambier and pepper was becoming less profitable in Singapore for several reasons, including the increasing scarcity of uncleared land for planting (gambier quickly exhausted the soil and so plantations had to keep shifting), the shortage of firewood from the clearing of forests, and the lack of land on Singapore Island itself.
Therefore in his later years, he became involved in trading as a merchant and agent under the name of Eu Chin Co. which was based in North Bridge Road. His sons, especially the eldest, Seah Cheo Seah, and second son Seah Liang Seah, helped manage the business, as did his brother-in-law, Tan Seng Poh.
In 1837, he married a daughter of Tan Ah Hun, the Kapitan (Captain) China (i.e. leader of the Chinese community) of Perak. She died soon after from the effects of smallpox, and about a year later, he married her sister with whom he had several children. His brother-in-law, Tan Seng Poh, came with his sister to Singapore to be educated there. Seng Poh was an opium and spirit farmer (i.e. he ran a government-tendered monopoly processing raw opium imported from British India. The Opium and Spirit Farm, or Excise, was the main source of income for the Straits Settlements) and helped manage Eu Chin's mercantile firm after the latter's retirement in 1864. Most prominent among his children were Seah Liang Seah and Seah Peck Seah, both of whom also became Justices of the Peace and prominent members of the Chinese community; the former was also an Unofficial Member of the Legislative Council. His eldest son, Seah Cheo Seah, was also a J.P. but he died only two years after his father, in 1885. He had another son, Seah Song Seah, who died in China, and three daughters, about whom little is known.
In 1830, he and representatives of twelve Teochew clans set up the Ngee Ann Kun which later became the Ngee Ann Kongsi in 1845. He was the chairman of the Kongsi until his death whereupon power passed to his sons Seah Cheo Seah and Seah Liang Seah, followed by his grandson Seah Eng Tong, resulting in a Seah monopoly on power in the Kongsi until 1928. Resentment against them caused the formation of another Teochew clan association, the Teo Chew Poit Ip Huay Kuan.
Seah Eu Chin helped run Tan Tock Seng Hospital when it was first set up, being a member, and in some years treasurer, of its management committee.
Just as the European merchant community used Chinese middlemen in conducting their business, the Straits government relied on prominent Chinese businessmen to act as go-betweens with the Chinese community. Seah Eu Chin was the go-between with the Teochew community, which originated from the Chao-zhou province of Southern China. He rendered service in helping to quell several disturbances in the community, most notably the 1854 Hokkien-Teochew Riots which broke out on 5 May 1854. The incident ostensibly began because of a dispute over the price of rice, between a Hokkien and a Teochew, but that dispute probably was only a trigger for the release of long-held resentment and animosity between the Hokkien (from Fujian province in China) and Teochew (from Chaozhou province) communities. In all over 400 people were killed over 10 days of violence. The British authorities on Singapore island met with Chinese leaders, including Seah Eu Chin representing Teochews and Tan Kim Ching representing the Hokkiens, and with their assistance helped to bring the situation to a close.
He was an early member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, established in 1837, and was made a Justice of the Peace in 1867. He had also been a member of the Grand Jury since 1851, and also had cases involving Chinese referred to him by the court. In 1872, he was made an honorary police magistrate, along with four other Chinese including his brother-in-law Tan Seng Poh.
Seah Eu Chin finally retired from business in 1864, to concentrate on scholarly pursuits, though he still had an interest in community affairs. For instance, his name is with that of several other Chinese on a petition submitted to the government requesting the suppression of illegal "Wah-Weh" gambling among the Chinese community. In the last decade of his life he lived in a mansion built by his son Seah Cheo Seah that was among the 'Four Great Mansions' (Si da chu) of the 19th-century Chinese in Singapore.
He died on 23 September 1883, and his widow in 1905.
His descendants are in Singapore.
Several streets in Singapore are named for Seah Eu Chin and his sons, namely Eu Chin Street, Liang Seah Street, and Pek Seah Street. Seah Street, in Bras Basah, is named for the Seah family.
Song Ong Siang. Hundred Years of Chinese in Singapore. Reprint: Oxford University Press.
C B Buckley. Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore.
Wong Choon San. (1964) A Gallery of Chinese Kapitans.
Siah U-Chin (=Seah Eu Chin) (1848) 'General sketch of the numbers, tribes, and avocations of the Chinese in Singapore.' Journal of the Indian Archipelago II pp. 283–289.