Famous Malaccans
Malaccan who gave Malaysia Rubber & Wealth
by Vanitha Nadaraj, The Star

Malacca, 18th. March 2002

    Mr. Tan Chay Yan

Bringing Rubber to Malacca & 1st. Rubber Estate in Malaya & Asia
Mr. Tan Chay Yan, a Baba in his early 20s had a gut feeling that rubber would be a good investment. He brought in nine seedlings from Singapore & planted them  in a 17 ha piece of land in Bukit Lintang, Malacca  over 100 years ago.

Back then in 1895, many around him laughed and called him a fool, but nine years later, their jaws dropped when young Tan Chay Yan (pronounced Chei Yen) pulled out rubber sheets and Malacca exported its first shipment of 450 kg of rubber in 1904.

Rubber began to bring prosperity to Malacca and later became the country's highest revenue earner.

The plantation at Bukit Lintang came to be acknowledged by the British government as the first rubber plantation in Malaya and Asia, according to records kept by the Malacca Eng Chuan Tong-Seh Tan Ancestral Temple, which is also the Tan clanmen's association. In fact, according to a family member, the plantation still belongs to the family and there are no plans to sell it.

His Early Years
Tan was born in Malacca in 1871 to a prominent Peranakan family which had land, trading companies and plantations, mostly growing tapioca. He was a Malacca High School boy who was said to have performed exceptionally well in his studies. From young, he showed a keen interest in plants and gardens. He was probably influenced by his father, Tan Geik Guan, who indulged in gardening, specialising in the cultivation of orchids. There is a variety of orchid named Vanda Tan Chay Yan, according to one of the Peranakan Cina Melaka's annual dinner souvenir books, but there is no record of who named it such.

Tan's interest in rubber
Tan's interest in rubber began when he made friends with an Englishman while studying in England, a certain Henry Ridley. When Ridley was made Singapore's botanical gardens director, he developed a method of tapping the sap from the rubber trees which were planted there and in the gardens in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), says Ruud Spruit in his book The Land of the Sultans.

Tan, who visited Ridley in Singapore at the latter's request, was so taken up by rubber that he decided to take the historic nine seedlings from Singapore and plant them here, convinced that there was great potential in these trees which were native to South America. Subsequently, Tan began to convert his ancestral tapioca plantations into rubber estates. He fervently asked other planters to follow suit.

"He would carry rubber seeds in his pockets all the time, and when he met people, he would fish out the seeds and give them away. This was his way to convince people to invest in rubber," says clansman Tan Mah Seng.

Soon, planters here and other states were converting their tapioca, pineapple and coconut plantations into rubber estates and cashing in on the new crop. Many became millionaires.

Tan and his family also have a reputation as philanthropists. Tan himself was known to give plots of land and cash to charity. He is recorded as having given scholarships to secondary school students here under his father's name. He also gave RM 15,000 towards the setting up of a medical college - but the records did not point out clearly whether the college was in Singapore or England.

Tan died of malaria at the age of 46. A relative believed he could have caught it during the long hours spent at the rubber plantations. His wife, Chua Ruan Neo, a tenth generation Nyonya here, continued with the family tradition of giving. Apart from donations of land (e.g. the Boy Scout Camp at Pantai Kundur ) and money, she even gave an undisclosed large sum of money to the British government during World War II.

The couple had seven children - six daughters and a son. In recognition of Tan's contribution to the state and country, the authorities renamed Jalan Kampung Empat as Jalan Tan Chay Yan.

Jalan Tan Chay Yan in Melaka
Year 2002