Title: Inside See Hoot Kee’s
Type: Research, Translation, Curatorial
Mr See Hoot Kee (薛佛记; 1793–1847) (henceforth, SHK) was a prominent businessman and leader of the Hokkien community in Singapore and Malacca. Born and raised in Malacca, SHK ran a tin mining business at the Lingle area until 1826, when he left for Singapore following the establishment of the British trading post. He was among a group of rich Malaccan Peranakan merchant families who moved to pursue commercial interests and became leaders of the Singapore Chinese community. As the head of the Hokkien community, SHK dealt with migrant and mercantile affairs and assumed important community responsibilities such as establishing religious abodes and providing funeral rituals and burial grounds for the poor.
Within two years of his arrival in Singapore, he founded one of Singapore’s earliest Chinese temples, Heng San Teng (恒山亭) along Silat Road. At that time, there was no semblance of a community structure to safeguard the welfare of early Chinese migrants and very few received proper burial or funeral rites. With the establishment of the Heng San Teng temple and cemetery, SHK laid the early framework of community structures for Chinese migrants and persuaded his business partners to follow suit. In 1841, SHK collaborated with Tan Tock Seng to build the Thian Hock Kheng (天福宫) temple at Telok Ayer, which remains one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore today. In 1842, SHK returned to Malacca and was head of the Cheng Hoon Teng (青云 亭) temple until he passed away in 1847. By setting up and maintaining early Chinese temples, SHK impacted many lives of early Chinese migrants and left behind a remarkable legacy in the Straits Settlement states of Singapore and Malacca.
This publication and online catalogue brings together a collection of personal artefacts and materials to uncover a multifaceted narrative of the life and times of SHK:
• Through archival documents, land deeds, and business records, we trace SHK’s commercial activities in Malacca and Singapore, amidst the changing administration brought about by the 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty and establishment of Straits Settlements;
• Through surviving temple records and inscriptions, we gain an insight into early temple management in Singapore as they adapted to the needs of Chinese migrants;
• Through the writings, poetry, and paintings of SHK, we get a glimpse into the mind of an important community leader, who contributed towards the foundations of the Chinese community and Baba aristocracy in Singapore.