Category: Pre-1860

Au Kang (Hougang) 后港

Au Kang (Hougang, variant: How Kang), a former Kangkar settlement established at the end of Sungei Serangoon. An Index in Romanised Hokkien and Cantonese to ” The Chinese Names of Streets and Places in Singapore” published in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in December 1906 revealed that Au Kang was the Chinese synonym for Serangoon (variant: Sirangoon).

According to a survey published in the Straits Times on 18 May 1855, Au Kang was settled by 243 coolies. A letter printed on The Straits Times, 11 November 1856 by Philip Marquad complaining of the poor location of the Siglap police station he was in-charged of, revealed that the “Jungle inhabitants” at Howkang and Lowe (i.e. Low or Lau) Chu Kang Baru districts conveyed their produce to Town by Serangoon Road.

The Wikipedia entry on Hougang reports that at Hougang Street 21, there was a well that is still identified as the tua jia ka well structure. This well identified the Teochew village of tua jia ka which means the “foot of a big well”. In the past, the village was a popular place for food, street wayangs, itinerant Chinese medicine men and story tellers spinning yarns. Au Kang  was once a pig farming area until the 1990s.

 

Pre-1860 newspaper reports

Early press coverage on the Au Kang/Serangoon reveal it to be an almost lawless area.

The Singapore Free Press reported on 20 February 1845 an investigation ordered by Tan Tock Seng (Justice of Peace) when a group of Chinese were seized for transporting on a bullock cart a coffin with a badly decomposed body. The deceased, a sawyer at Serangoon, was claimed to be found dead in a swamp after he left home to buy arrack for the Chinese New Year a week earlier. On inspection, his skull was found marked with cuts from heavy sharp cutting instrument.
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The Singapore Free Press reported on 28 December 1849 a robbery at a Chinese plantation near Serangoon. The inhabitants were attacked by a gang, which took away the working tools.
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The Singapore Free Press on 7 June 1849 carried the news of the murder of a Chinese. The victim’s body was “cut in the most horrid manner, and the hands tied behind the back”.
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The Singapore Free Press reported 25 January 1850 of a Lim-ah-kin who was assaulted by his own coolies in a pepper plantation in Serangoon and robbed of clothes and money.
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The Singapore Free Press on 3 May 1850 identified Serangoon as one of several areas where gambling was carried out on “a most extensive scale”.
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According to another case reported on The Singapore Free Press on 18 October 1850, five Chinese found their stolen boat and three thieves at Serangoon River. However they were stopped on their way to the police station by Tan Ah Tow, the head of a secret society. When the five Chinese appeared at the Kongsi House at Rochor days later, they were ordered to return the thieves some weapons left on the boat (but allowed to keep the boat), and beaten. Tan Ah Tow was charged in court and sentenced to 6-months imprisonment and a $200 fine. The reporter believed that the fine amount would be raised through a 1 cent per head levy on the 20,000 society members.
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The Singapore Free Press reported 6 December 1850 of the death of a resident in Serangoon named Tan Soo in hospital from a severe wound received in the abdomen.
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The Straits Times reported on 24 August 1852 the dismissal and forfeiture of pay of two police peons who refused to accompany their colleague to aid a Javanese mandoor and two coolies, who were murderously attacked in a plantation at Serangoon. Read full article here.

The Straits Times, 24 August 1852 reported of a Chinese vegetable gardener and his wife who were gagged and robbed in their house in Serangoon. The local police constable was also reported to be aware of two cases of gambling, but did not intervene due to the large number of people involved and the small size of his party.
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An over-night secret society meeting involving a large but unknown number took place at Toa Payoh in the Serangoon district, according to The Straits Times, 19 October 1852. Swearing-in of new members was suspected, although the police was ignorant of the purpose of the assembly.
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Read full article here.

The Straits Times, 10 June 1856 reported the kidnapping of a Christian Chinese adult in Serangoon village. It coincided with an increase of kidnapping of children in Singapore town, who were taken custody in Johore until ransom was paid.
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The request of Geo. Wahab, the Deputy Supt of Police in Charge, to the Municipal Committee to build four police stations in Buddoo (Bedok), Serangoon, Sungei Kranji and Chan Chu Kang was published on The Straits Times, 15 July 1856.
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Tiger attacks were regularly reported in the Serangoon in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which might have resulted from an expansion of human activities  and reduction of jungle in the area.

Singapore Free Press, 7 December 1847
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The Straits Times, 29 March 1848
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The Straits Times, 23 May 1849
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The Straits Times, 13 June 1849
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The Singapore Free Press 25 July 1851
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The Singapore Free Press 5 December 1851
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The Straits Times, 16 November 1852
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On 21 February 1851, The Singapore Free Press reported the Serangoon (Au Kang) area to be affected by the anti-Catholic riots carried out by the Triad.
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Read full article here.

The Singapore Free Press reported a week later 28 February 1851 of simmering unrest despite mediation by an unnamed rich Chinese merchant. Muskets, casks full of powder and rice were despatched by Serangoon River to Tan Chu Kang, where chiefs of the anti-Catholic riots were gathered. Meanwhile a Christian planter named Pung Ah Chin was robbed near Serangoon Road by a gang of ten armed Chinese.
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Read full article here.

 

Serangoon River was also plagued by frequent attacks of small parties of Malay.

The Straits Times reported on 9 July 1850 of an attack on two Malay boatmen and their three passengers (two Klings and one Chinese) at the entrance of Serangoon River by a large sampan of 13 Malays, two or three armed with spears. They were stripped of their clothes, some rice and working tools. One of the boatmen and Kling were speared to death, while the rest managed to escape.
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The Straits Times reported on 28 January 1851 that a coolie and a boatman, both with the surname Eyo (Yeo), were robbed and killed at Serangoon River. They were returning by boat to Pasir Ris with some rice and silver dollars after transporting gambier from a plantation there. One of the bodies was found with kris wounds.
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The Straits Times published on 1 May 1855 the statement of a Tan Joo Hok, a merchant from New Bridge Road who was attacked and robbed on his way back from Johore by a sampan of eight Malays. Two of his companions were missing after the incident. He identified two of the assailants to be familiar faces at a Serangoon River.
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Sempang Kang (Simpang) 新邦港

Sempang Kang (variant: Seng Pan Kang, Seng Pang Kang) was sited by Sungei Simpang. A survey published in the Straits Times on 18 May 1855 showed that it was cultivated with gambier, pepper and nutmeg, and had 176 coolies.

Sempang

Location map (obtained from ijamestann.blogspot.sg)

Pre-1860 Newspaper reports

Sempang appeared from old newspaper article to be a place well out-to-reach from the authorities, with at least three cases of violence reported in the 1850s.

The Singapore Free Press reported on 27 September 1850 about the case of a plantation owner by the name Cheah Teng Kee who was assaulted, tied up and robbed by a gang of Chinese.
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Two months later, another planter from Choo Chwee Kang (location unknown) was ambushed by a gang hidden in the jungles on his way back from Sempang Kang. (The Singapore Free Press, 15 November 1850)
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The Straits Times recorded on 4 September 1855 the statement of Tey You Leang, a boatman from Sempang Kang who was attacked for no known reason by a small group of Malays while ferrying a man across to Johore. The worst was feared for the passenger Tan Kong Koey.
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Yio Chu Kang 楊厝港

Yio Chu Kang (variants: Yio Choo Kang, Yeo Choo Kang, Yeo Chu Kang, Yeo Chukang, Eo Chu Kang, Eyo Chu Kang), was a originally gambier and pepper plantation settlement located by Sungei Seletar.  It was probably named after an owner or the occupant clan by the surname Yeo. A survey published in the Straits Times on 18 May 1855 showed that Yio Chu Kang was a place with 161 coolies.

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Picture credit: A Pictorial History of the Nee Soon Community

Yio Chu Kang Road, a major road was built in the 19th century to connect Upper Thomson Road to Upper Serangoon Road. Subsequently the term Yio Chu Kang become associated with a wider area covering Upper Thomson, Yio Chu Kang, Ang Mo Kio, Buangkok, Jalan Kayu, Hougang and Serangoon. A number of Chinese villages that sprung along the road survived until the 1980s.

Remember Singapore blog provides a good write-up and some interesting old photos on the Teochew Yio Chu Kang Village and Chia Keng Village 車宮村 in the enlarged Yio Chu Kang area.

Pre-1860 newspaper reports

The Singapore Free Press published on 27 July 1849 a proposal by Louis S. Jackson, Chairman of the Municipal Committee, to build police stations at Bukit Timah, Sungei Kranji/Sungei Sempang and on Thomson Road towards Yio Chu Kang, as part of measures to bring the interior under British controls.

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Read full article here

 

The Singapore Free Press 5 December 1851 reported three cases of tiger attacks, including one at Yio Chu Kang and discussed on the need to increase monetary reward to encourage the people to hunt the animal.

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Wak Hai Cheng Bio 粵海清廟

Wak Hai Cheng Bio 粵海清廟 on Philip Street, the oldest Teochew temple in Singapore, first existed as an attap joss house on 山頂仔 (a hill around Chulia Street / South Canal Road).

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Undated old photo of Wak Hai Cheng Bio (Source: from Internet)

According to temple records, it was erected in 1735 by Teochew settlers from Riau led by merchant-cum-pirate Lim Phueng 林泮to offer prayers for a few kinsmen killed earlier by the natives. Lim Phueng who hailed from Thenghai county Tseung Lim 澄海樟林 (the main trading port of Teochew before Swatow became Treaty Port in 1860) was said to be killed by Qing officials after he returned to China in 1738.

By around 1820 Wak Hai Cheng Bio became a temple dedicated to patron goddess of the sea Ma Tsou 媽祖 (also known by her imperial bestowed title Thi Ao 天后, Heavenly Queen) and was administered by Buan Si Sun Kongsi 萬世順公司, an entity formed by two men from Anbou 庵埠 Heng Khim 王欽 and Heng Hongsun 王豐順. Philip Street was near the sea before land reclamation in 1887 extended the coastline beyond Cecil Street and Robinson Road.

An adjoining temple for Hieng Thi Siang Di 玄天上帝 (literally “Mysterious Heavenly Lord”), patron deity the Teochew faction of Ngee Heng, was added in 1826. (Hieng Thi Siang Di is the chief resident deity of a Teochew temple in Sengarang, Bintan built in circa 1716, as well as the Old Temple in Johore Bahru.)

The unique “twin temple” layout of Wak Hai Cheng Bio was retained when it was rebuilt between 1852 and 1855, and given a major facelift in 1895. It is mirrored by Lao Ma Geng 老媽宮, the central temple of Swatow’s old city quarters, which houses Ma Tsou and Kuan Gong 關公 (instead of Hieng Thi Siang Di that the Triads worshipped). As the Swatow temple was built circa 1822 and rebuilt 1879, it cannot be said for sure whether Wak Hai Cheng Bio was the original or the copy. Because of the temple, Philip Street was known to the Teochews as 大老爺宮頭/口 (tua lau ya gheng tau/kao – front of the temple) or 孖廟街 (ma bie goi – Twin Temple Street),

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Photo of Lao Ma Keng in Swatow, circa 2013. (Credit: 黄显,《汕头市老市区沿街建筑现状调查 ——基于汕头市金平区“小公园”片区的调查研究》)

The importance of Wak Hai Cheng Bio extended beyond the Teochews. From mid-19th to early-20th century, a schism separated the Hokkiens (backed by wealthy Peranakan merchants) from the Guangdong province communities (including the Teochews, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese). Wak Hai Cheng Bio (Wak Hai means “Sea of Guangdong”) served as a rallying point for the Teochews and their allies, just as Thian Hock Keng was the symbolic centre of the Hokkiens/ Peranakans.

Every year the Teochews, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese combined to hold an elaborate procession of deities around Tua-poh in what was the original form of the Chingay parade in Singapore. (The Hokkiens held their own Chingay once every three years.) A Straits Times news article on 19 December 1887 recorded the route to be from Philip Street through South Bridge Road to Tanjong Pagar Road, and back. While Wak Hai Cheng Bio was clearly the start and end-point, the procession  bypassed altogether the Hokkien enclave along Telok Ayer. Another Straits Times article on 30 November 1872 reported that the procession route extended to River Valley, Back Road, Tank Road and Orchard Road – areas coinciding with the landholdings of Seah Eu Chin. This territory-marking activity stems from an ancient Teochew custom of Ian Lao Ya 營老爺, which is still practiced in the villages in Teochew.

News articles about the combined Teochew/Cantonese/Hakka/Hainanese Chingay:

The Straits Times, 30 November 1872
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Straits Times Weekly Issue, 19 December 1887
Chingay Report1

The Straits Times, 25 November 1902
Chingay Report3

Read more about the early Chingay processions in Singapore here.

Teochew Street Names in Tua Poh (part 1)

Before 1840 tua poh was demarcated by South Bridge Road, the Singapore River and the coastline. Being the heart of the early Chinese settlement and trade, most of the streets here were known by Chinese names different from the official versions.

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Extract from Map of the Town and Environs of Singapore from an Actual Survey by G.D. Coleman, dated 1839. Source: National Archives of Singapore.

Below is a list of streets in pre-1840 tua poh where Teochews were dominant:

1. Boat Quay
Called 十八溪墘 (tsap poih khoi ki; 溪墘 means “beside the stream”) or 十八間 (tsap poih koiⁿ), referring to the 18 riverside merchant houses there. Also known as 吻基 (buk ki. i.e. Boat Quay)

2. Circular Road
十八間后 (tsap poih koiⁿ au) – “behind the 18 riverside merchant houses”.

3. Upper Circular Road
This was a place of early concentration for the Teochews and where horse stables were located. It was called 潮州馬車街 (Teochew bhe tshai goi – “Teochew Horse Carriage Street”), as well as 馬車街 (bhe tshai goi – “Horse Carriage Road”) or 拍鐵街 (phah thih goi – “Blacksmith Street”).

4. Carpenter Street
Initially the street where Chinese carpenters lived and worked. It later became part of a vegetable wholesale area that extended to Tew Chew Street and Chin Hin Street until 1979. Carpenter Street was also known as 戲館街 (hi kueng goi – “theatre street”) as the first Teochew opera theatre was reported located here. Its other name was Ghee Hok Street 義福巷, as the main meeting place of Ghee Hock Kongsi, a breakaway of the original local Triad body Ngee Heng, was here. Despite its name Ghee Hok was not a Hokkien group. Its leader was a Teochew gambier/pepper trader and coolie broker named Choa Moh Choon 蔡茂春.

5. Hong Kong Street
Named after Hong Kong island and not migrants from Hong Kong. It was called 棺材街 (kuaⁿ tshai goi – “Coffin Street”)

6. Lorong Teluk
Called bih lang koi in Hokkien (possibly 竹藍街, tek na goi in Teochew) or bamboo/rattan basket Street, because of the bamboo basket shops. Goh Hup Heng, a rattan weaving basket shop at No. 22 Lorong Teluk closed in 2001.

7. Canton Street
Named after the port Canton (Guangzhou) and not the Cantonese people. This part of Boat Quay was called also known as chap sa hang (十三行 tsap san hang, “13 merchant houses”). It was also known as Khoi-kin huen-koi-a (溪墘?街?) (this is reported to be in Hokkien, but sounds Teochew), meaning “small cross street by Boat Quay.

8. South Canal Road / Chulia Street
山仔頂 (sua kia teng – “top of little hill”). Until the 1970s, the Teochews at Chulia Street dominated the import, export and wholesaling of dried seafood products such as dried shrimps, salted fish, sharksfin and sea cucumber. They later moved to North Canal Road

9. North Canal Road
Named after the Singapore Canal (originally a tributary of the Singapore River) that it ran alongside, which was later filled up. Called khoi kia kin (溪仔墘 – “side of the stream”) and 單邊街 (tua pi goi – “one side street”) as there were houses only on one side of the street.

10. Philip Street
Called大老爺宮頭/口 (tua lau ya gheng tau/kao – front of the temple) or孖廟街 (ma bie goi – Twin Temple Street), referring to the Wak Hai Cheng Bio

Peng Kang 秉江

Peng Kang (variant: Pengkang) was a large and renowned gambier plantation growing area,  until 1906 when rubber planting took over. It   was reported in A Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya (1894) to be a village in Southwest Singapore, bounded on the east by Jurong River. For this reason, local Chinese knew Jurong area as Peng Kang.

A survey of gambier and pepper plantations published in the Straits Times on 18 May 1855 showed that Peng Kang had 132 coolies.

Pengkang

Location map

Pre-1860 newspaper reports

According to Singapore Free Press report on 2 November 1849, Peng Kang was linked to a Jurong Kangkar by a “toah (i.e. “large”) pyoh” (pyoh referring to a large fallen trees thrown into marsh or mud to form an imperfect path). The Jurong Kangkar was connected in the same way to a Pandan Kangkar.

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The Singapore Free Press reported on 11 January 1850 of a plan to establish a police station in Peng Kang.
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Wha Heng Kang

Wha Heng Kang (variant: Why Eng Kang, Who Hen Kang). Old kangkar settlement at Tengah River, Kranji. A survey of gambier and pepper plantations published in the Straits Times on 18 May 1855 showed that Wha Eng Kang had 114 coolies.

Chu Chu Kang

Location map (obtained from ijamestann.blogspot.sg)

Pre-1860 newspaper reports

The Singapore Free Press reported on 11 January 1850 of a plan to establish a police station in Peng Kang, which was deemed useful for patrol in Wha Heng Kang.
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