Sunday, 9 August 2009

Loke Yew 陸佑

Loke Yew, CMG, LL.D

Very little is known about this man, named Loke Yew, except the famous road 'Jalan Loke Yew' (Loke Yew Road) in the hustle bustle city of Kuala Lumpur. He was known as one of the pioneers and a founding father of modern Kuala Lumpur. Loke Yew also famed for his philanthropic efforts in educational and medical fields in British Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. He was a naturalized British subject in 1903 and being the only British Malayan of Chinese descent to receive the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1915. When he died on 24 February 1917 he left an amassed wealth worth millions to his descendants, his properties were distributed to his heirs in four equal shares, they were each receiving property worth about $2.8 million in addition $3 million in cash, however the Loke Yew Estate worth at least $89 million were remained status quo with Choo Kia Peng as the Managing Trustee. Although, modern Malaysian history has sidelined him probably due to his staunch support to the British colonial (in 1916 he subscribed $1 million to the FMS War Loan), Loke Yew's story represents a phase in the development of the Malay States and other Asian countries. 

Loke Yew was born on 9 October 1845 in Dongjiang Village, Xinhui District, Jiangmen Prefecture, Guangdong Province, China. Born to a peasant family, he was the only male of four siblings. In his early boyhood, Loke Yew spent most of his austere time in helping his father in farming. At the age of 13, the ambitious young Loke Yew left for Singapore.

Loke Yew arrived in Singapore in 1858 and worked at Kwong Man General Store, a food provision shop at Market Street. It was here, he earned a meagre salary of $20 a month and managed to save up $99 after four years of hard work. He used the capital to commence his own food provision store under the chop Tong Hing Loong.

A life size portrait of Loke Yew by Low Kway Soo

In 1867, Loke Yew left for Perak and appointed a manager to look after all his businesses in Singapore. He was assisted by two local headmen in Larut, Chan Kam Chong and Ng Sow Swee, respectively. His tin mining investment in Taiping was disastrous following with a series of local chieftains’ rivalries. Thus, erupted the Larut Wars and all tin mines were ceased operations. 

In order to restore law and order, the British in Penang sent the Ghurkha troops to Perak. Backed with food supply experience, Loke Yew managed to secure a contract for supplying food to the British troops. After the wars ended, he remained for fifteen years in Perak, engaging principally in tin mining activities. It was reported that, Loke Yew was secretly affiliated with the Ghee Hin society, a notorious secret society originated from Penang. 

The tin mining concessions in Perak particularly in Taiping were not beneficial to Loke Yew. He recorded an estimated total loss of $60,000 to $140,000 in his first four years. However, when a new mining site was discovered at Kinta Valley, he took the opportunity to revamp his tin mining investment strategy. Loke Yew's survival was very much owed to his state revenue farm licenses such as opium, liquor and gambling. 

Loke Yew made a successful establishment in Kinta and expanded to Gopeng, Kampar and Tanjung Malim. At the same time, the drastic growth in Selangor and Negri Sembilan particularly in tin mining and rubber plantations had attracted Loke Yew to venture in every promising profits. Everything he ventured had turned unexpected profit, and gradually increased his wealth. However, Loke Yew's monopoly in the Perak Government's revenue farms were expired in 1905. For the 1906/1908 term, he lost the tenders to other wealthy Chinese merchants such as Chung Thye Phin, Ng Boo Bee, Foo Choo Choon, etc. Before that, Loke Yew paid $120,000 per month for the Perak farms, he lost to higher bidders of $170,000. By then, Loke Yew was no longer a resident of Perak. 

Loke Yew in Taiping
The wars in Perak had also caused the economy of other tin-mining-based states to slow down. Due to the consequences, the British government encouraged the mercantile community to rebuild the economy in Selangor. Loke Yew who saw the opportunity, therefore, he first established a pawnshop in Kuala Lumpur. In 1913, he founded the Kwong Yik Banking Corporation Ltd in Kuala Lumpur. However, the prosperity earned by Loke Yew not only enjoyed by himself and his family since he made Kuala Lumpur as his home. During the time he settled down in Kuala Lumpur, there were no public movement or any importance in Selangor had been without his great financial support. 

Loke Yew was the first man started a cement factory in Malaya. He established the cement quarry in 1906 at Batu Caves, Selangor, by using steam power to generate the production. The method of manufacture is not clear but it did not meet with much success. Loke Yew was the largest shareholder in the Messrs Alexander, Hall & Co. Ltd. of Aberdeen, the Pahang Motor Car Service, a shareholder in the Raub Straits Trading Company, Straits Steamship and Federal Engineers and Burmah Rice Mill. He also went into partnership with Thamboosamy Pillai in managing the New Tin Mining Company in Rawang. They were the first to use electric pumps for mining in Malaya. In 1904, Loke Yew was elected President of the Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of Kwong Yik (Selangor) Banking Corp. Ltd in 1916.

One of Loke Yew's impressive interests was in automobile. He began the interest with the purchase of a steam yacht from the Governor of German New Guinea. His wife was known for being the first Straits Chinese to ride in an auto during the family trip to Europe in 1903. Loke Yew was awed with the horseless carriage where he founded a private motor mail service with a capital $10,000. The firm owned about 15 motorcars with capacity ranging 5 to 25 horsepower. In March 1905, the Federated Malay States Government awarded his firm a mail contract in Pahang and Selangor.    

On 1 May 1915, Loke Yew was knighted with the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). The presentation was held at the Kuala Lumpur Town Hall by the High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Henderson Young. In which, Loke Yew became the first and the only British Malayan to receive the prestigious accolade. The CMG was awarded to him for public services in the Malay States.

Loke Yew had donated $50,000 and five wards to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore in 1909, $50,000 to the Raffles College, Singapore, $30,000 and land to the Methodist's Boys School, Kuala Lumpur, $30,000 and 5-acre land for the Old Men's & Cripples' Home (Paupers' Home & Infirmary), Kuala Lumpur, the founding of Treacher Technical School and Victoria Institution both in Kuala Lumpur, etc. He also donated $50,000 to built the Chinese Town Hall, Kuala Lumpur, and $25,000 for the Guangdong Flood Relief in 1915.

In the early 1910s, the Hongkong University was suffering from financial crisis and shortage of academic staff. In 1912, Loke Yew and Cheong Fatt Tze, each donated $50,000 to the university in order to revive the situation. However, by 1915, the situation was getting serious and perhaps the university will have to be closed down. Again Loke Yew endowed half a million dollar with interest free for the purpose of research and scholarships. Thus, a scholarship trust known as Loke Yew 'Dono' Scholarship was set up for the Chinese students from British Malaya and Straits Settlements. Within that period of time, the university was overpopulated by students from that two British colonies.

In recognition for Loke Yew's generous philanthropic action, on 14 January 1917, the Hongkong University invested honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D) to him. The degree was invested by Sir Charles Elliot (the Vice-Chancellor) at Loke Yew's house, and witnessed by Sir Edward Brockman. Sir Edward presenting Loke Yew to Sir Charles with his introduction:
"This was the first presentation of an honorary degree to an inhabitant of British Malaya."
Loke Yew who wore the cerise gown, green hood and black cap of the degree upon receiving the scroll. Sir Charles in his speech said:
"The brilliant nature of your career in the Federated Malay States has abundantly demonstrated your intellectual capacity, and the wealth you have acquired you have largely devoted to educational and philanthropic objects. The University feels it a great honour to enrol you among its members, and, on your side, we hope it will not be distasteful to be enrolled among the honorary graduates of Hongkong University, among whom we aim to include those most distinguished in the pursuit of learning themselves or in encouraging it in others."
However, Loke Yew did not survive long to hold this honour, in a month later he died on 24 February 1917. 

The Hongkong Daily Press reported on 21 March 1917,
“…on the remarkable career of the late Towkay Loke Yew in Malaya. from humble origins this remarkable Chinese rose to a position of great affluence. … he was a most practical friend of Hongkong University … he heads the original list of donors to the original endowment fund, and not long ago, handed over a sum of half-a-million dollars without interest for twenty one years. … He desires to offer learning to others which had been denied to him.”
In 1956, the Hongkong University’s Great Hall was renamed Loke Yew Hall in memory of the great benefactor, Loke Yew. 

In his later time, Loke Yew celebrated his life not by wealth, but his value and believe in education. He was known for generosity towards educational institution, in which the early establishment of schools such as Victoria Institution, the Hongkong University, etc. were greatly indebted to his aids. In order to compensate for his denied rights to education, he sent all his children including daughters to have Western education in England and the Loke Yew Scholarship was founded by the Trustees of Loke Yew to award financial aids to needy students in Malaya. A larger than-life-sized bronze statue of him was erected at his mausoleum Hawthornden Estate. The statue was designed by Frederick J. Wilcoxson after a photograph of Loke Yew in the academic gown for an honorary LL.D by HKU. 

Loke Yew in the academic gown
Loke Yew had six sons, one adopted son, four daughters, five grandsons and seven granddaughters.

1. Leung Suet (1st wife)
2. Leung Jun (2nd wife)
3. Lim Shuk Kwei (3rd wife)
4. Lim Cheng Kim (4th wife)

1. Loke Wan Piu
2. Loke Wan Chok
3. Loke Wan Chiew
4. Loke Hon Chow
5. Loke Wan Wye (aka Allan Loke) (d. 1941)
6. Loke Wan Yat (d. 1987)
7. Loke Wan Tho (1915 - 1964)

1. Loke Yuen Hing (aka Loke Joon Ying; Julien Loke Yew) (1878 - 1936)
2. Loke Yuen Ying
3. Loke Yuen Theng
4. Loke Yuen Peng (1917 - 2012)

Loke Yung Hong
Loke Yung Cheong (b. 1909)
Loke Yung Lok
Loke Yoong Sun
Loke Yung Wai (b. 1934)

Loke Yuen Choon
Loke Yuen Cheng
Loke Yuen Chong
Loke Yuen Kin
Loke Sok Sam

Bard, Solomon (Ed.). (2002). Voices from the Past: Hong Kong, 1842-1918. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. (p. 355)
Godley, Michael. (2002). The Mandarin-Capitalists from Nanyang: Overseas Chinese Enterprise in the Modernisation of China 1893-1911. Cambridge University Press. (pp. 12 - 14)
Lam, Seng Fatt. (2011). Insider's Kuala Lumpur (3rd Ed.): Is No Ordinary Travel Guide. Open Your Eyes to the Soul of the City (Not Just the Twin Towers...). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish. (p. 56)
Song, Ong Siang. (1923). One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore. London: John Murray. (p. 540)
Sprigg, Christopher (Ed.). (1928). British Malaya (Vol. 2). London: Newton & Company (pp. 62 & 72)
Wright, Arnold. (1907). Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: Its History, People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Co., Ltd. (pp. 893-895)

News Archives:
The Straits Times, 19 February 1900, Page 3
The Straits Times, 21 May 1903, Page 4
The Straits Times, 30 March 1904, Page 4
The Straits Times, 27 September 1909, Page 6
The Straits Times, 24 July 1915, Page 8
The Straits Times, 6 March 1916, Page 8
The Straits Times, 2 October 1916, Page 8
The Straits Times, 5 January 1917, Page 9
The Straits Times, 3 February 1922, Page 8
The Straits Times, 4 February 1922, Page 8
The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 15 October 1924, Page 8

*1st revision on 28 Feb 2014 


  1. Kindly be informed that your information is filled with inaccuracies which, from what I see, is almost copied wholesale based on the writings of a particularly inept amateur historian I've come across in the past. You might want to check the entry in Wikipedia for Loke Yew as I have updated and continue to maintain it for accuracy. I am one of the sons of Ruby Loke (so Loke Yew is my great grandfather), am one of the family genealogists/archivists along with some of my cousins and the family is highly irate at your misinformation.

    1. Hi Tanster,

      Thanks for the corrections, we will look into it. FYI, the facts are taken from historical records and
      books. I don't deny that it might be inaccurate.

      Rest assured that this Loke Yew page will be revised.

  2. There are some negatives on Loke Yew which the degraded generation of Loke Yew want to cover up.

    1. We descendants of Loke Yew may not have achieved as much as he did nor as spectacularly but we are hardly "degraded." Some of us have built on and continue his legacy except we are much more publicity-shy than he was and rarely grant public interviews to protect our privacy.

      That said, as the family archivist and genealogist, even just as a member of the family, I have no problems with factual information even if it is negative (e.g., his membership in the triads). However, when the information is downright factually wrong, I take issue with it.

      An incorrect statement: "When the youngest and the only surviving son of Loke Yew, Dato' Loke Wan Tho succeeded his father’s business empire…" Loke Wan Tho died in 1964. My grandfather, Loke Wan Yat, who was Loke Wan Tho's older half-brother, didn't die until 1987. Both of these are facts. So who's the "only surviving son" (assuming the author knows how to count)?

      Yet another incorrect "fact": "Loke Yew’s eldest daughter, Julien Loke Yuen Hing…" Loke Yew's first daughter was not named that. The author merged details of Loke Yew's first and second daughters and created this "Frankenstein" with bits from both.

      Here is an example of another incorrect "fact": "Loke Hon Chow was the eldest son of Loke Yew and his third wife, Lim Shuk Kwei." Firstly, Loke Hon Chow was adopted (notice that all Loke Yew's biological sons share the same generational name of "Wan". The fact that he is adopted is also explicitly mentioned in documents in our possession.) Secondly, Loke Hon Chow was adopted during the time when Loke Yew's *SECOND* wife was alive (Loke Yew was unusual for a man of his era in that he was a serial monogamist instead of a polygamist like many of his contemporaries and even some of his subsequent male issue).

      Another piece of wild speculation: "His [Loke Wan Tho's] mother inherited all his father’s assets, total of 10 million pound sterling." We have in our possession Loke Yew's actual Last Will & Testament so we know *EXACTLY* who inherited what and how everybody was provided for. Can the author say the same?

      And yet another incorrect "fact": "Wan Tho was married twice, his first wife, Christina Lee…" In fact, my half grand uncle was married *THREE* times. Christina was his *SECOND* wife. We even know about his dalliances with women he never ended up marrying. If this isn't sufficiently "negative" (especially for that era) information, I don't know what is...

      Followed by yet another inaccuracy: "He has a half daughter named Linda Loke." Linda Loke is his *STEP* daughter. She was the daughter of his third and last wife, Mavis, with her ex-husband, Herbert, and had no biological ties to him. We have not yet been able to verify whether she took his surname or not so she is listed in our records as "Linda Lim" and we have lost touch with her. The author might want to learn the difference between "half" relations and "step" relations. They mean totally different things.

      If the author wants to write people's biographies, he should at least learn the proper genealogical terms and provide accurate data (not to mention brush up on his atrocious English)! This "biography" is so riddled with errors of all sorts as to resemble badly written pulp fiction.

    2. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Loke Wan Tho is child #9, not #12 as the author claims (how the author could list him as #12 when only 11 children are listed is beyond me).

  3. Hi Tanster.
    My name is Christopher Wong and is a partner of the legal firm currently occupying your late great grandfather's abode, ie. the Loke Mansion. I have been very impressed with the legacy that Loke Yew has created, so much so that I am finalising a coffee table book about the Loke Mansion, and in it, a substantial part of it is actually a historical account of Loke Yew and his descendants. Writing this book for me is not about self-profiteering (as the proceeds from the sale will be channelled to charitable bodies) but more of a novice attempt by me to create more awareness of the man himself and the impact he had on the development of Kuala Lumpur as a whole.
    In fact, I have had the privilege of meeting one of your uncles, Professor Charles Loke, when he came to KL a few months ago. Charlie has in fact given his blessings to my book which is a great relief to me, for I will be the last person to want to discredit the Loke family by giving misleading or inaccurate information. Trudging through the maze of historical facts was by far the biggest challenge for me, as there's no way I can verify the authenticity of the facts, and had to take most information at face value (although I did have the benefit of Professor Lee Kam Hing, a historian in University of Malaya, to correct me where I have erred historically).
    In any event, I hope that the Loke family will take my eventual publication at face value and I apologise if I have stated anything that is off the correct path.

  4. Hello Christopher,

    Feel free to contact me directly if you would like me to verify any facts.


    1. Dear Tanster,

      I am interested to know more about Loke Yew. Can you email me at Thank you

    2. Good day Tanster,

      I am an Old Boy of the Victoria Institution, an institution which your ancestor helped found. The school is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and for this occasion, we are planning to invite a descendant of Mr Loke Yew (as well as other founders) to the celebrations. Happy to chat about this offline. Could you email me please at, and we could chat further? Looking forward to hear from you. Many thanks.

  5. Hi Tanster. Please pm to me at christopherhwwong@gmail.oom. Better to take the discussion offline from here. Thanks
    Christopher Wong

  6. update also on the facts , i think the facts are distorted.

  7. Can you tell me what facts are distorted? Thus far, the only distorted facts are here on this blog.