Commerce and Kinship
The story of Singapore’s growth usually focuses on the island’s geographic position at the convergence of important shipping routes, and the factors that enabled it to flourish as an entrepot, 1E.g. W.G. Huff, The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). which made it a major world port by the beginning of the 20th century, setting the stage for its economic takeoff after World War II. The narrative usually starts with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and emphasizes the role that Singapore played as the main export center for the products of colonial mining and agriculture, especially tin and rubber.
However, the city did not support itself by entrepot trade alone. A large part of the colonial government’s revenues came from revenue farming, especially from opium and gambling. The Chinese syndicates that controlled many of these revenue farms were in turn based upon the infrastructure built by gambier and pepper cultivation in Singapore and Johore. These crops were unimportant to Singapore’s economy by the end of the 19th century, but in their mid-century heyday, they accounted for much of its trade, attracted significant capital, and employed much of its Chinese immigrant labour. 2Carl Trocki, Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control (London: Routledge, 2006).
Seah Eu Chin was one of the major figures on the development of pepper and gambier agriculture in Singapore, and his family members were also involved in the revenue farms that came to dominate Singapore's economy. In this part of the biography we look at how he built up his business, the role played by family ties and kinship, and his legacy today.
- Early Life
- Early Commercial Activities
- Pepper and Gambier
- Revenue Farming and Later Years
- Personal Life
- Seah Eu Chin's Legacy