Tan Kim Seng

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tan.
The Tan Kim Seng Fountain at the Esplanade Park was built to commemorate Tan Kim Seng's contributions to the first public waterworks in Singapore.

Tan Kim Seng (simplified Chinese: 陈金声; traditional Chinese: 陳金聲; pinyin: Chén Jīnshēng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân-kim-siann; 1805-1864) was a prominent Peranakan merchant and philanthropist in Singapore in the 19th century.


Born in Malacca in 1805, Tan came to Singapore where he made a fortune as a trader. Tan started his firm, Kim Seng and Company, in 1840 and amassed a large fortune in his lifetime. His public acts of charity includes endowing a Chinese Free School, supporting the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and improving the public waterworks in 19th century Singapore.

Tan donated generously to the building and maintenance of a school for boys known as the Chinese Free School or Chui Eng Institute. The school was originally taught in Hokkien and was one of the better schools of the time.

One of Tan's best-known donations was the sum of S$13,000 in 1857 towards building Singapore's first public waterworks to ensure a better freshwater supply to the town. The Tan Kim Seng Fountain was erected by the Municipal Commissioners to commemorate Tan's donation. However, his donation was squandered away by the Government Engineer, who hoped to make water run uphill through water pipes. In 1882, possibly out of shame and to mark the British colonial government's appreciation for such a generous gift, the fountain was installed in Fullerton Square to perpetuate his name. The fountain was moved to Battery Road in 1905 and later in 1925 to the Esplanade Park where it now stands.

Tan was also the first magistrate of Chinese descent in Singapore. He was the acknowledged Chinese leader in Singapore and Malacca, and was made a Justice of the Peace in 1850, after his father's death. He was appointed the Municipal Commission's first Asian member in 1857. His numerous contributions to the society includes the suppression of the secret society riots in 1854 between the Cantonese and the Hoklo (Hokkien) communities.

Tan gave lavish parties in which he would invite the Europeans as well as other prominent members of Singapore society of all races. A European guest who was there at his first ball, said of the feast:

"It was a chaos of dainties, each more tempting than the other. All the fruits of the Indian Archipelago, of India, China and the West — some in their natural state, others exquisitely preserved — were piled around us."


Tan built a road in River Valley which still carries his name — Kim Seng Road. This road led through Tan's property in the area. Several other streets, such as Beng Swee Place, Jiak Kim Street and Jiak Chuan Street, are named after his descendants. Kim Seng Road is known to the Hokkiens as hong hin lo, meaning "Hong Hin road".

One of the last landscape vestiges connected with the Tan family in this area is the house, Panglima Prang (Admiral of the Fleet) on River Valley Road. It served as the early home of Tan Jiak Kim, Tan Kim Seng's grandson. This house was built in the 1860s and demolished around 1982.

Kim Seng Bridge across the Singapore River, carrying Kim Seng Road from River Valley Road to Havelock Road, was first constructed by Tan and was named after him. The cost of building the original bridge, as well as the other bearing his name in Malacca in 1862, which was opened by W.O. Cavenagh, Governor of the Straits Settlements, was defrayed by Tan. The bridge was rebuilt around 1950-1951.

See also[edit]


  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics - A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, ISBN 981-210-205-1
  • Lee Geok Boi (2002), The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1