Tan Tock Seng

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Tan Tock Seng
Born 1798
Died 1850
Resting place
Outram Road, Singapore[1]
Known for Tan Tock Seng Hospital[2]
Spouse(s) Lee Seo Neo
Children Tan Kim Ching,
Tan Teck Guan
and Tan Swee Lim
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tan.

Tan Tock Seng (1798–1850) was a Singaporean merchant and philanthropist. The present day Tan Tock Seng Hospital is named after him.


Born in Malacca in 1798 [3] to an immigrant Hokkien father and Peranakan mother, Tan Tock Seng rose from humble origins.[4] In 1819, Tan moved to Singapore to sell fruit, vegetable and fowl. He worked diligently and was able to set up a shop in Boat Quay and became a notable businessman. He was famous for contributing money to build a hospital called "Tan Tock Seng Hospital[5]" as he saw many poor and sick people.

Most of his wealth came from the results of his speculations with J. Horrocks Whitehead of Shaw, Whitehead & Co. Whitehead died in September 1846 at the age of 36. His tombstone at the old cemetery on Fort Canning was erected, "as a token of affection on the part of a Chinese friend, Tan Tock Seng".

Tan also owned large tracts of prime land, including 50 acres (200,000 m²) at the site of the railway station and another plot stretching from the Padang right up to High Street and Tank Road. His other assets were a block of shophouses, an orchard and a nutmeg plantation which he co-owned with his brother. In time, he became an influential Chinese leader and was the first Asian to be made a Justice of the Peace by Governor Butterworth. He was skilful at settling feuds among the Chinese and was accustomed to bear the expenses of burying poor Chinese. In 1844, he contributed $5,000 to the construction of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital on top of Pearl's Hill. The hospital was later shifted to Tan Tock Seng Road because the building at Pearl's Hill was too small to cater to enough patients and it was too old. Tan also contributed money to the construction of the Taoist Thian Hock Keng Temple at Telok Ayer in 1842, the place of worship for the settlers from Fujian, China.


Tan died in 1850 at the age of 52, after catching an unknown disease. He left his wife Lee Seo Neo, who owned a large coconut estate in Geylang. Like him, she was unstinting in her support of the hospital and paid for a female ward. He also left behind three daughters, who were each bequeathed S$36,000 in cash. One of his daughters married Lee Cheng Tee, at one time Chief Partner of Cheng-Tee Watt-Seng & Co., shipowners. His three sons (Tan Kim Ching, Tan Teck Guan and Tan Swee Lim) inherited his land parcels and the eldest, Tan Kim Ching, took over the duty of taking care of the hospital. Tan's grandson, Tan Chay Yan, was a well-known philanthropist and merchant in Malaya.


  1. ^ "Tan Tock Seng". National Library Board. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Tan Tock Seng Hospital". 
  3. ^ One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore
  4. ^ Leo Suryadinata (2012). Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume I & II. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9-8143-4521-0. 
  5. ^ "Tan Tock Seng Hospital". streetdirectory.com. Retrieved 9 January 2015. 

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