2012
Sep
20

Found! Chia Ann Siang’s tomb

8

We have breaking news. What started out as a private request to search for Chia Ann Siang’s tomb turned into a modern-day adventure in the greater Bukit Brown area. We have the permission of the descendants, who instigated the exploration, to announce this find in the hope of encouraging others not to give up.

Chia Ann Siang, who was born in Malacca and died in Singapore on Sept 23, 1892 at age 58, is a significant pioneer of early Singapore.

 

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In early September, the descendants wrote to the National Heritage Board to find details. The NHB replied on Sept 7:

“We now learnt that the private cemetery could be located within the perimeters of the Hokkien Huay Kuan burial ground at Mt Pleasant/Whitley Interchange.

 A record relating to the exhumation of Hokkien Huay Kuan burial ground, stated that “four graves (yet to be exhumed as of 16 Jun) are the family burial ground of the Chia Eng Siang family. PWD (Roads) Branch has decided to exhume these graves at a later date”.

 The Hokkien Huay Kuan burial ground was marked for exhumation between 5 May and 16 Jun 1977 due to the Mt. Pleasant/Whitley Road Interchange Project. You may wish to look through the list of graves affected by PWD acquisition of this land, which is available at NAS’ Archives Reading Room.”

They wrote to us, “The very next day, we descendants went down to the cemetery to look for the four graves. We were expecting to see only the 4 unexhumed graves but when we reached the cemetery we got a shock, there are at least 10,000 graves there. We spent the next 2 hours looking but could not locate them. Even the Caretaker there could not help.
 
This morning, I went down to the National Archive to look for the names and the location of the 4 unexhumed graves but the record they have were rather incomplete and I left the place rather disappointed without finding any information.
 
According to the Exhumation notice posted on the Straits Times on 5 July 1977, the 4 graves are located on “Lot 93 -19 Mukim XVII”  
 
With this tidbit, the Brownies alerted tomb whisperers Raymond and Charles Goh, who earned their monikers due to a knack for finding tombs based on minute details and not much more. Chinese researcher Walter Lim joined the search. As it would turn out, the tomb was not where they thought it might be…. According to Song Ong Siang,  who wrote the definitive book on 100 prominent Chinese in the early 20th century, Chia was the one who donated the adjoining land to the Municipality for the Hokkien cemetery at Kopi Sua. (Chia is also related by marriage to See Tiong Wah, who is buried at Bukit Brown.)

Chia Ann Siang (Song Ong Siang’s book)

 

Song Ong Siang’s entry (Photo: Raymond Goh)

 

Finally, Sept 18 was the day of the find:

As Charles tells it, the search for the tomb was not easy:

“There I found myself at lunchtime, staring at the tennis courts that were once lots 93-19. I was wondering… what if Chia Ann Siang wasn’t buried there. Where else beside the small hill next to it? 

I then saw the Cross on top of a square pavilion in St Joseph’s Institution (SJI).  
I thought to myself: “Could that small square with a cross on top hold some tombs below?
I called Raymond, who then suggested I walk straight into the school and find out. 

But the ‘SQUARE` word somehow rang a bell, and Raymond quickly checked an old map we had, and realise there was a small square-shaped private burial plot behind SJI.

So after work we went down, crossing our fingers and hoping there wasn’t any big house standing where the burial plot was. We found it on our way back out, but it was growing too dark to look out for the other tombs. But there wasn’t any in the immediate vicinity, and the square burial plot has been ‘bitten off 1 side’ by a landed property.”

Raymond reports,

“We found his private burial ground, his tomb is big !”

 

Raymond finds Chia Ann Siang (Photo: Charles Goh)

 

headstone of Chia Ann Siang (Photo: Raymond Goh)

 

On the tomb are engraved the names of the descendants: “four sons, 慶明 Keng Beng,  慶木 Keng Bock, 慶璋 Keng Chiang, 慶善 Keng Sian; plus 3 daughters 紫霞, 紫微 and 紫景, as well as 2 grandsons 德锦 and 德懷. Date erected : 1892”

Chinese names present difficulties, due to the older script as well as the homophones used to express dialect names, and Raymond weighs in to interpret the daughters’ and grandsons’ names:

紫霞 Chee Hay (Chia Chee Hay Neo)
紫微 Chee Bee (Chia Chee Bee Neo – Mrs Seet Ewe Lay) ** (see below) 
紫景 Chee Keng ? Chee Geng?

Also the grandsons’ names appear to be 德锦 and 德懷.
From the tomb it looks like a combination of 衷 (Tiong) and 忄 and not 懷. 
If 锦 English translation is Kim that is Gim = Kim, there is also the possibilty that this grandson is Tiong = Leong?

The family confirms the names of the two grandsons: “According to our record – Ann Siang died with 2 grandsons. They are Teck Kim (son of Keng Bock), and Teck Leong (son of Keng Chiang), born 15 July 1892.”

Location:

Chia Ann Siang’s plot (Photo: Mok Ly Yng)

 

“Too significant a discovery not to post a map,” says our map expert Mok Ly Yng. “Chia Ann Siang’s grave is in Land Lot 98975L of Mukim 17. The land lot is squarish in shape. The area is about 0.5 acres. Lot boundary traced from OneMap.sg.”

 

Marking Chia Ann Siang’s grave (Photo: Raymond Goh)

 

Looking at the photo, you wouldn’t expect it hides such a gem. But Chia Ann Siang’s tomb is no longer lost to time and the jungle. Raymond says, “This is the torn glove that we use as a marker to find the 120-year-old tomb of Ann Siang. The forest was thick and impenetrable in certain places. We almost gave up but decided to give a last try and it is always the last attempt and the never give up spirit that win the battle, and so we finally find the final resting place of Ann Siang hidden in between the forest of SJI and SCGS (Singapore Chinese Girls’ School).”

His tomb is protected by a “Shan Ling” (山灵) or Hill Spirit, signed off by a geomancy master:

 

Chia Ann Siang’s hill deity (Photo: Raymond Goh)

 

This weekend marks the 120th death anniversary of Chia Ann Siang. Raymond Goh, who found the tomb last week with his brother Charles, will lead his descendants to pay respects to him on that morning. The government (through the Public Works Department) has reserved the right to exhume the grave to make way for a road at some point, but for now, Chia Ann Siang not only lies in peace but will have a chance to be greeted by his descendants.

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Postscript:

** Seet Ewe Lay,  a well known personality, was the founder and proprietor of the first Chinese Daily called Lat Pau, founded in Dec 1881 and lasted until March 31, 1932. He married one of the daughters of Mr Chia Ann Siang. He died in 1906, age 55.” (Rojak Librarian’s blog)

The tomb inscription of Mrs See Ewe Lay:

Mrs See Ewe Lay (Mdm Chia Chee Bee Neo 谢紫薇) d. March 24, 1934 and buried in Block 2 Div D Plot 221, Bukit Brown Cemetery (Photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)

 

Descendants of See Ewe Lay and Chia Chee Bee Neo as inscribed on the tombstone:

Sons:                                                Daughters:

See Tiow Hyong 薛兆熊              See Chye Guat 薛赛月
See Tiong Kiat 薛兆桀                 See Wan Har薛晚霞
See Tiong Eng 薛兆英                 See Wan Kim 薛晚金
(Note: Only the Chinese names are accurate. The names in English are transliterations. – Ee Hoon)
***

Related Posts:

Bush-Bashing

The Tomb Whisperers  – How the brothers Goh started looking for tombs

Looking for an Ancestor

Ancestry Tracing

DIY Walking Guide on Ann Siang Hill

(Compiled by Claire Leow, with help of the Brownies Raymond and Charles Goh, Khoo Ee Hoon, Walter Lim and Mok Ly Yng.)

Editors’ note:

Are you looking for an ancestor and stumped? There are volunteers who do library research, and decipher Chinese inscriptions who can help you.

As proven again and again, cemeteries are great repositories of information. Tombstone inscriptions provide family trees, names of wives and children, birth and death years, and even the style of the tomb has in one case informed descendants that they were not Teochew as they were raised to believe, but Hokkiens, a mistake compounded by a bureaucratic error in the burial register. The names of descendants also help tomb readers to make connections between people of the contemporaneous history, such as connecting Chia Ann Siang to See Tiong Wah.

Don’t give up. This may be your personal “Roots” project as you trace your family genealogy. Finds are only made public with permission from families for the purposes of education and raising public awareness, which is the primary reason for this blog.