Along Neil Road facing Singapore General Hospital, lies a row of houses that tell the architecture, history and heritage of an era gone by.
One of these houses has been restored by a donation by Ms Agnes Tan, the last surviving daughter of the late Tan Cheng Lock.
This donation was given to the University to acquire a traditional Peranakan house along Neil Road belonging to the Wees,
that tell a story that span 6 generations.
On a nice evening on May 15, 2012, a group of Bukit Brown volunteers met up in front of this house, to get a glimpse of this history and perhaps
find any connection between this house and Bukit Brown.
Front view of the house at Neil Road, formerly 56-13 Neil Road, now 157 Neil Road, popularly known as Baba House
A guide explaining to Bukit Brownies the history and heritage of Baba House. The lanterns displayed The Wee Residence
and the Qing Dynasty title of the Wee ancestors.
Taken from Song Ong Siang 100 Year History:
A firm that was rapidly becoming prominent in Singapore in the 1860's was Wee Bin & Co. chop Hong Guan in Market Street. This firm carried on business as Merchants and Shipowners, owing its existence to Mr. Wee Bin, who was born in China in 1823. The firm at first began business relations with various houses in Bali in the Dutch Indies, and eventually became the greatest importer of products from that port. The firm also traded in all kinds of earthenware, and later on built up a fleet of over twenty vessels for the Chinese and Dutch Indies trade. Mr. Wee Bin led a strenuous life, devoting all his time, attention and energy to his rapidly expanding business. He was twice married and died in 1868 at the age of 45, leaving an only son, Wee Boon Teck, and an only daughter (Wee Chee Ha) who became the wife of Lim Ho Puah.
Wee Boon Teck materially improved and strengthened the position of the firm of Wee Bin & Co. and died on the 22nd September 1888 at the comparatively early age of 38. He was on the Committee of Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Po Leung Kuk. He was a man of a kindly and charitable disposition, a notable instance being his gift of $4,000 to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which bequest was invested by Government for some twenty years and was then applied towards the cost of building one ward bearing his name in the present Hospital in Moulmein Road.
The firm of Wee Bin & Co continued its prosperous career in the hands of Wee Siang Tat (the only son of Mr. Wee Boon Teck), and of Lim Ho Puah. Wee Siang Tat died at the age of 26 in the year 1901. He was very fond of music and was one of the original members of the musical section of the Chinese Philomathic Society-consisting of about a dozen young Straits Chinese who for a few years met regularly for practice on the violin under the tuition of Mr. Salzmann at " Siam House," the residence of the late Mr. Tan Kim Ching, on North Bridge Road.
Wee Boon Teck married Ang Cheng An Neo, and other than Wee Siang Tat, he had 2 other daugthers, Wee Guat Kim, who married Lee Choon Guan, and Wee Guat Choo, who married Lim Peng Siang to be his second wife. Lim Peng Siang's father have earlier married Wee Boon Teck's sister.
Ang Cheng An Neo died on 18 Jan 1920 at 56-13 Neil House at the age of 68.
Wee Siang Tat married Ho Sok Choo Neo, daughter of Ho Yang Moh. Ho Sok Choo Neo was born in 1874, of similar age to Wee Siang Tat.
Wee Siang Tat also married another wife Goh Boh Tan and they later have a son Wee Eng Cheng. Wee Siang Tat also adopted a son Wee Eng Wan and another daughter Wee Boo Lat.
In 1888, Ang Cheng An Neo became a widow and lost her son Siang Tat in 1901 and so that year 1901, her daughter in law Ho Sok Choo Neo too became a widow. Ho Sok Choo Neo became the administrator of the huge estate of Wee Siang Tat which include many properties all over Singapore.
In Mar 1910, both Ang Cheng An Neo and Ho Sok Choo Neo bought back some of the late Wee Siang Tat properties which was under auction.
It was during this time that they bought the house at Neil road 56-13 to become the ancestral worship house for the Wee family cum living house.
Just a year earlier in 1909, Ho Sok Choo Neo has married Tan Moeng Tho, a prominent Chinese businessman who has mines in Bangka and rubber plantation in Malacca. He was also a prominent Tong Men Hui supporter.
In 1908, the grandmother of Lim Peng Chin, Tan Kiam Neo died in 28 Killiney Road. Tan Kiam Neo was the mother of Lim Ho Puah, who was the son-in-law of Wee Bin. So 28 Killiney Road at that time was the home belonging to the Lim family, although Lim Ho Puah himself stayed at 40 Neil Road.
Sometime later both Ho Sok Choo Neo and her new husband Tan Moeng Tho, moved in to 28 Killiney Road. Their first son was born sometime in 1912 in that house.
Ang Cheng An Neo, and Wee Siang Tat other children including Wee Eng Cheng moved in to their new premises at 56-13 Neil Road.
The front reception hall would house Guan Kong, a military wealth god, Mazu, the Sea Goddess. Guan Kong is often prayed to aid in business, and Mazu protect the livelihood
of those who earn their living via the sea.
Behind the front room were the ancestral hall, which housed the portraits of the Wee ancestors,
such as Wee Bin, Boon Teck and their wives.
There was also the ancestral tablets of Wee Boon Teck and Wee Siang Tat together with their Qing Dynasty titles including 正五品奉政大夫.
Unfortunately Tan Moeng Tho died in 1919 at the age of 45, but not before Ho Sok Choo Neo has given him 4 sons and 2 daughters.
One of the daughters Wee Boon Lat was actually adopted daughter of Wee Siang Tat, which then changed name to Tan Swee Eng.
During Boon Lat marriage, she even spent $30,000 on it, a princely sum in those days.
Ang Cheng An Neo died in 1920 at the age of 68. She left her two daughters and two famous son-in-laws Lee Choon Guan and Lim Peng Siang and her grandson Wee Eng Cheng.
Her ancestral tablet was also put in the ancestral hall.
It was under this time and situation in the year 1923, that the current Baba house is based and reconstructed upon.
One must remember that during this era, unmarried nyonya ladies are not supposed to go out to the streets and meet people openly. In fact, when Singapore Chinese Girl School was started in 1899, Dr Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang have to persuade very hard the parents to allow the girls to go to school. In the beginning, they have to be conveyed to the school in sedan chairs and not allowed to be seen. For during that period, the nyonya place was at home, and whether or not she can find a good husband depend on lot on her handicraft and culinary skills.
Perhaps only once a year (on the 16th day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, 15th being for the man), the ladies would be allowed out of the house. Even then, they have to be in the sedan chairs.
Some of them would even go to the temple to pray, like the temple at Telok Ayer Street. And at the time, there would be several rows of chairs, reserved for the grandmothers to sit in. And it is these grandmothers who with their eyes, will carefully screen these nyonyas as potential brides for their families. After enquiring about the background of these nyonyas, a matchmaker will be sent.
This matchkeeper will also study the potential bride , from the way she serve tea and include a visit to the kitchen as well. (Interview with Gwee Peng Kwee. National Oral Archives)
(So In this Baba house, one can see a peep hole in the 2nd storey of the house, to observe the visitors of the house. There was also a big nice kitchen in this house)
Unfortunately Wee Eng Cheng died on May 8, 1928 at the age of 34. He have lived on the 3rd floor of the Baba house before he died.
Tomb of Wee Eng Cheng in Bukit Brown. His wife Ang Ping Neo died just a year after he died, leaving behind
an infant son and a daughter. Both Mr and Mrs Wee tombs were staked by LTA for the proposed highway project.
Wee Eng Cheng infant son Seck Hock (name inscribed on the tomb) passed away in Baba house in 1971, at the age of 54.
Lim Peng Siang died in 1944 and Wee Guat Neo, Wee Boon Teck daughter, died in 1950.
Wee Guat Neo tomb in Bukit Brown Cemetery. Lim Peng Siang was originally buried in Bukit Brown in 1944, but a few years later was exhumed and his ashes
brought back to China in accordance to his will
Ho Sok Choo Neo now Mrs Tan Moeng Tho, also donated sometimes to school under her own name and also her late husband Wee Siang Tat name for example she donated
$5000 under her own name and Wee Siang Tat name to Singapore Chinese Girl School, the school in appreciation named 3 classroom after them in 1925.
In 1919, Ho Sok Choo Neo became a widow again. But not for long.
In Feb 1928, Ho Sok Choo Neo married for the 3rd time, this time to Paul Wee Siak Leng who have earlier been divorced by his wife in High Court in Nov 1925.
However, this marriage did not last long, and they published a notice in ST on Jan 17, 1929 that they are separated.
On 4 Jun 1932, Wee Siak Leng remarried again.
On 18 Sep 1931, Sep 18, Ho Sok Choo Neo died at the age of 57. She was buried at the Hakka Cemetery off Holland Road, whereby her second husband Tan Moeng Tho whom
she reared 6 children was also buried.
Today both the reburied tombs of Ho Sok Choo Neo and Tan Moeng Tho stood side by side among the row of neat tidy rows
of tombs in Ying Foh Kuan Shuang Long Shan Hakka Cemetery. Tan Moeng Tho, her husband had originated from Jiaying county, a Hakka county.
Pic of Ho Sok Choo Neo (from family portraits from the Lee Brothers Studio)
As noted by a Peranakan culture expert Norman Cho, she was wearing kerosangs made of huge solitaries of rose-cut
diamonds called intan that spelt out the monogram of her name Ho Sok Choo : HSC.
Although her life was clouded by controversies including various law suits concerning her administration of her late husbands various estates, she lived a merry and
wealthy life and dared to live and love.
In the front façade of the Baba house, on both sides were written the Chinese Characters : 朝乾夕惕, which means to work hard and diligent throughout the day without carelessness or sloppiness.
And the signboard in front of the house : 種盛 – Abundance arising from planting / growing
There is also a pair of phoenix of the cut and molded ceramic type known as "jian nian", found on the roof of the groundfloor.
There are also many beautiful wall decorations inside this house of Wee, including that of Guo Ziyi, who was much blessed with wealth, happiness and descendants in his life, so much
so that he was later immortalized as the God of Wealth and Happiness.
There was also the wall panel of Zhang Zhong Yi (578 to 676 CE), and his recipe of a family staying together for 9 generations.
It was said that the Tang Emperor at that time paid him a visit to learn of his secret of staying and living together, generations after generations, he just said:
"I am an ordinary man with no special talent, but I was taught from young from my ancestors:
Be sincere and treat people with a humane and lenient heart with love and compassion, and above all, just remember one word : be tolerant.
With that, he wrote out down the character "忍" – Tolerance a hundred times.
Today the house of Wee and the tombs relating to the Wee family found in Bukit Brown Cemetery and the Hakka Cemetery stand testimony to the celebrations and tribulations of life.
The one single word for family togetherness that applies a thousand years ago still applies today to family and matrimonial harmony : tolerance
National Oral Archives
One Hundred Year History of the Chinese in Singapore