Mr Tan Tock Seng was born in Malacca in 1798. He was the third son of an immigrant father from Fujian province in China and a Peranakan mother. As a young man full of entrepreneurial drive, Tan Tock Seng ventured to Singapore in 1819 to start a small roadside business. He would buy fruits, vegetables and fowl from the countryside and hawk the fresh food in the city.
Read Our Founder’s
Personal Note here.
Hardworking and thrifty, he saved up enough money to open a shop in Boat Quay and proved to be a fine businessman. It was likely that he spoke English and he made his fortune when he entered into some speculation with an English friend, Mr J.H. Whitehead.
Mr Tan owned large tracts of prime land and properties. In time, he became an influential Chinese leader and was the first Asian to be made a Justice of Peace by the Governor. He was skilful at settling feuds among the Chinese.
He was known for his generosity and compassion. He gave widely to charitable causes, for example, the burial of destitute Chinese, as a proper funeral was important for the Chinese, rich or poor. He was also one of the founders of Singapore's oldest temple, the Thian Hock Keng Temple at Telok Ayer.
In 1844, Mr Tan stepped forward to gift 7,000 Spanish Dollars to build the first hospital for the poor. Back in those days, there were no proper medical facilities for the common people. Located on Pearl's Hill and first called the Chinese Pauper Hospital, Mr Tan made a call for the hospital to care not only the Chinese, but also the "sick poor of all nations".
Mr Tan died in 1850 at age 52. An obituary in the Singapore Free Press described him as one of Singapore's "earliest settlers as well as most wealthy inhabitants." The paper also praised his contribution as a Justice of Peace:
"Much of his time was engrossed in acting as arbitrator in disputes between his countrymen, and many a case which would otherwise have afforded a rich harvest to the lawyers, was through his intervention and mediation nipped in the bud."
He left behind his widow Lee Seo Neo, who like him, was unstinting in her support of the hospital and paid for a female ward.
Through the years, many of our people - doctors, nurses, allied health, administrators, support - have helped the hospital to stay true to our Founder's calling. Today, we remain a people's hospital, one that was started by the community, is strongly supported by the community and always stands ready to care for the community.