Teo Hoo Lye: Woven Threads


Seeking Assistance

Raymond Goh received an email from his great great grand daughter looking for his tomb and sent this news article below. “More and more descendants are searching for their roots,” says Raymond. Teo Hoo Lye is buried in Section D, Block 3 grave 888. His descendant Petrina Ho says Teo Hoo Lye’s main residence would be where the Cathay building at Dhoby Ghaut currently sits.

Teo Hoo Lye and his wife Mdm Kaw Tak Poh died within 1 week of each other in Nov 1933 and were buried in Bukit Brown (read obituary here). There was a school Teo Hoo Lye Institution named after him in the past. In Song Ong Siang’s book, it was written that Teo Hoo Lye started from a manual labourer to become a ship owner and also served on the committee of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. There is a picture of Teo Hoo Lye and his son in Song Ong Siang book. (Details from Raymond.)


Teo Hoo Lye’s obituary in the Straits Times (National Library)


His obituary reads: “MR. TEO HOO LYE DIES AT 80. From Labourer To Ship Owner. The death occurred early yesterday of Mr. Teo Hoo Lye, the well-known Chinese after whom the Teo Hoo Lye Institution was named. His death follows that of his wife, Madam Kam Tak Poh, who died on Nov. 9 at their home in 13 Dhoby Ghaut.

Mr. Teo Hoo Lye leaves five children, the eldest of whom is Mr. Teo Teow Peng. Mr. Teo Hoo Lye was born in China in 1853 and came to Singapore at the age of 18. In Mr. Song Ong Siang’s book on 100 years of the Chinese in Singapore, it is stated that Mr. Teo Hoo Lye earned his living by manual labour but with indomitable perseverance he was able to start, a few years after he arrived here, a small grocer’s business in Rochore Road.

When 25 years old he went to the Natuna and Anambas Islands and engaged in the copra trade. He became owner of certain steamers and his firm acted as consignee of ships belonging to other Chinese owners. He also employed a fleet of native sailing craft for conveying copra, sago and other produce from the Natunas to this port. In 1909 he started a mill for turning out parboiled rice only, but the mill ceased working just before the war, owing to the shortage of padi. He was a large house-property owner and had two sago factories in Havelock Road, Geylang. For some years he served on the committee of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.”

[The Straits Times, 17 November 1933, Page 13; The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 17 November 1933, Page 6]

Teo Hoo Lye, cleared when found (Photo: Raymond Goh)


Teo Hoo Lye’s tomb, cleaned and repainted(Photo: Claire Leow)


Close-up of names on Teo Hoo Lye’s tomb (Photo: Claire Leow)


The tomb lists 3 sons and 2 daughters, 9 grandsons and 10 granddaughters. Petrina posted a request for help after noting Teo had at least 3 wives. The plot is numbered 888.

Although Madam Kaw Tak Poh, (alias Kow Hooi Neo as inscribed on her tombstone), died one week before Teo, she is buried in grave no 1025, Area D, block 3, namely a little way away from his tomb.

In a typical example of how volunteers help the descendants, Khoo Ee Hoon posted the photo of the tomb:


Tomb of Mdm Kow Hooi Neo, wife of Teo Hoo Lye. (Photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)


Kow Hooi Neo, cleaned up and chalked for easier reading (Photo: Claire Leow)


A close-up of Mrs Teo Hoo Lye nee Kow Hooi Neo (Photo: Claire Leow)


Ee Hoon also found out his second wife Tan Chee Neo, who died much later, on July 6, 1940, is buried at Section D Block 3, 891, right in front of Teo.

Note the number is inverted on the joss container, as 168 rather than 891, which can confuse those looking for that plot number. Ee Hoon speculates that this is because 168 in Mandarin is pronounced ”一路发”,or “may your path be smooth”. Teo Hoo Lye’s plot number is an auspiscious 888 or “发发发”, to prosper forever.


Tan Chi Neo, cleaned up (Photo: Claire Leow)


Walter Lim, who researches on the Tongmenhui and Chinese revolutionaries, reformists and anti-imperialists of all manner, says Teo’s son, Tiow Peng, is buried at Bukit Brown with his wife and is a Kuomintang member. His mother was the second wife, Tan Chee Neo.

His tomb inscription reads: 2717 同安显考 朝聘张公墓 民国卅三年四月十五告终 男 木火 木林 女 素贞 素文 素心 素莹 素馨 立


Teo Teow Peng 20 JULY 1882 – 27 APRIL 1944 (Photo: Walter Lim)


Meanwhile, on the Peranakan Material Culture Facebook page, another descendant Joseph Then posted this photo on the Facebook page:


Teo Hoo Lye’s house (from Lee Kip Lin’s book)


Joseph Then says, “My greatgrandfather’s (Teo Hoo Lye) house – gone today as it was pulled down after he died in 1933-34. Standing in its grounds today is Cathay building. This photo comes from Lee Kip Lin’s “The Singapore House 1819-1942″. I don’t know of any of his descendants who may be alive today who has actually walked through the house when it was still standing. The physical address was 13 Dhoby Ghaut. The two pictures are from postcards. If any of you who trawl through archives of the Straits Times in the period 1900-1934 and see this house, kindly alert me. LKL’s book has also the architectural plan of the house and a similar account of my gg-father as Sir Song’s book of the 100 years of the Chinese in Singapore. Something about those towers always grabs me. The postcard view was from Bras Basah Road. I would loved to have seen what Bras Basah Road looked like from those tower balconies. Circa top 1920, bottom 1915, portrait 1918. Transport modes at the time featured.”
“At the time it was built, it was recorded as costing my great grandfather the ‘princely sum’ of $330,000. You’d need to translate that almost 100 years later to calculate today’s equivalent cost. One thing I’ve noticed is that its taking a long time for S’pore to have stake in its history. I can’t help feeling that it is rushing into getting rid of its history (a la pull down the old, build the new mentality). I think the next generation’s history books may reflect on the losses such a position may result in…after all…if the island touts that it encourages an influx of immigrants and ignores the heritage of those immigrants over successive generations, it’s like writing on the wall wherein the karmic outcome of soulessness seems rather inevitable. A part of me is still very Singapore. I feel it very strongly when I hear that older generations are either neglected or not enjoying the fruits of their toil. Not many of us are left who had parents/grandparents who underwent traumatic 2nd WW experiences who are still alive today. The other side of the coin is that those who did and are still alive today want to erase the memories of such awful atrocities that occurred to them in those years.”
Joseph adds that  “Petrina’s grandmother is my Aunty Jenny, my mum’s youngest sister & who is the youngest grand-daughter of Teo Hoo Lye, from his only daughter Maria Teo Eng Hong, my maternal grandma, Petrina’s greatgrandma. Petrina’s mother is my generation and we are the great grandchildren of THL from the same one and she’s the only blood related daughter of THL & since Bidadari has been reclaimed, I believe my grandma’s tombstone was sent to her family.”
 This is not the first time the Facebook pages on heritage have helped link up different descendants. We will consolidate all new information on this blog post to help the family, especially those not on Facebook. Obituaries posted by Jeffrey Seow.

Anyone researching on Teo Hoo Lye, please contact us or the Facebook page on this post to render assistance.

Another blog post here by Rojak Librarian.