Philanthropist's 115 descendants meet

Philanthropist Chia Yew Siang's descendants at their gathering on Sept 24. Some of them were seeing one another for the first time.
Philanthropist Chia Yew Siang's descendants at their gathering on Sept 24. Some of them were seeing one another for the first time. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Family of Chia Yew Siang, who had a road named after him, gather as a whole for 1st time

Growing up, Mr Danny Yeo knew his maternal grandfather, Mr Chia Yew Siang, was someone prominent in early Singapore. After all, his grandfather - a wealthy merchant and philanthropist - had a road in Pasir Panjang named after him.

But it was only after meeting his 90-year-old uncle, Mr Chia Boon Leong, during the last Chinese New Year that he realised his grandfather, who had six wives and 14 children, had many descendants.

Late last month, 115 of them - several travelling from Malaysia - gathered for the first time at Pandan Valley condominium's function hall. They were given colour-coded name tags to differentiate the descendants of Mr Chia Yew Siang's wives.

They were invited by Mr Yeo, who spent more than a month digging up the contacts of extended family members.

"My uncle had started work on a family tree that was the size of an A3 piece of paper using a typewriter," said Mr Yeo, 66, who is descended from the fourth wife, Madam Chor Kim Keow. "It triggered my curiosity and I felt the need to fill in the gaps in information to leave something behind for future generations.

"It's important to know how many nieces, nephews, cousins and uncles and aunties you have."

Mr Yeo has compiled a list of more than 200 descendants for the family tree. Those who attended the gathering were asked to add to it.

Though related by blood, many of the guests met the others for the first time. But the meek greetings quickly swelled into a chorus of banter and laughter. Many, dressed in batik shirts and sarong kebayas, took turns introducing themselves and sharing anecdotes about the family. By the end, some even broke out in song and dance.

Mr Yeo, a retiree, learnt more about his grandfather's life by delving into newspaper archives.

He found out his grandmother, Madam Chor, with her five children, was Mr Chia's favourite and with whom he had the most offspring.

Mr Chia, a merchant who was the managing proprietor of Chop Hong Hoe, is believed to have traded in rubber and spices. He died at the age of 63 in 1930 and was buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery in a tomb clad in pink, blue,and green Peranakan tiles.

As testament to his philanthropy, Mr Chia, who was likely one of the first directors of the Chinese Commercial Bank and part of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, appeared in multiple newspaper articles that acknowledged his contributions to the China Famine Fund and Japanese Relief Fund.

Retired teacher Lily Chew, 69, Madam Chor's granddaughter, said Mr Chia also bought land in Pasir Panjang and contributed to the building of a now-defunct school there.

Mr Chia Boon Leong, a former national footballer who played in the Malaya Cup in the 1940s and the last surviving son by Mr Chia's fifth wife, Madam Tan Ang Hway, said: "We felt that it was a good idea to organise this gathering to get to know one another so that we won't be strangers if we ever bump into each other in town."

Fourth-generation descendant Chelsea Chia, 22, an advertising account executive, said the gathering helped give her a clearer picture of her great-grandfather.

"We've heard snippets about his life. At the gathering, I learnt more about him in detail and got to put a face to all my relatives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Philanthropist's 115 descendants meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe