Symbol of affluence of Arabs – pioneers, businessmen, property owners, traders and patrons of education and charities who have contributed from the earliest times toward the prosperity of Singapore.
The Alkaff Mansion is located at Telok Blangah Green encompassing an area of 780 square metres and overlooking a beautiful park of 19 hectares with the sea down below. Thus the Mansion commands a panoramic view.
The Mansion was owned by the Alkaff family whose ancestors arrived in Singapore from Indonesia in 1852; the first to come was Shaik bin Abdul Rahman. The Alkaffs were great traders who had a lucrative business between India and Indonesia in spices, coffee and sugar. Later the Alkaffs were also involved in property business.
The Alkaff Mansion was built by Syed Abdul Rahman Alkaff who came to Singapore from Yemen. Located on Bukit Jagoh (the old name for Telok Blangah Green), the Alkaff Mansion ws built primarily as a retreat for the Alkaff family and also to entertain their numerous clients and guests of different races. Sometimes the hill was referred to as Mount Washington by the American guests who were entertained there by the Alkaffs. Not only a variety of food was served to their guests but entertainment with floor shows and music was provided in the terraces of the Mansion.
It is not clear why the Alkaff Mansion was abandoned after World War II and the Mansion went into a state of disrepair. In 1986 the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board became interested in the Mansion and awarded the restoration of this unique Mansion to Hotel Properties Limited to restore the past glory of the Mansion into a restaurant and yet retaining the old world charm of the Alkaffs.
The Alkaffs had other holidays bungalows in Pasir Panjang and Pender Road but they lived in a large mansion where the Methodist Publishing House (MPH) stands today before they moved into their new home in Lloyd Road.
Syed Abdul Rahman Alkaff also owned the Hotel de L’Europe, a famous hotel for Europeans and distinguished visitors to Singapore; the also ran the ‘Europe Garage’ – cars and carriages were hired out to the public and thus he could be called the pioneer in car rentals in Singapore. It is believed the Alkaffs sold the Hotel because they were against the sale of liquor on the premises.
The old Moorish style Arcade Building in Raffles Place was also built by him in 1888; the offices and shops were located on the first storey while the ground floor was reserved for their horse carriages which were also used as public transport. The Arcade Building was sold and the new building – Alkaff Building – is in Market Street.
Syed Shaik Alkaff developed, what is now Sennett Estate off MacPherson Road, the Alkaff Lake Gardens which was atypical Japanese tea gardens with an excellent restaurant, tea kiosks and an artificial lake reminiscent of old Japan. There was also boating in the lake. The Alkaffs bred and trained their horses in the neighbourhood an also had both a bicycle and motorcycle racing track.
In 1949 the Alkaffs sold the land with gardens to the Sennett Realty Company for $2 million. The earth removed from the hillock which represented Mount Fuji was used to fill the beautiful lake to become the playing field of Willow Avenue Secondary School.
In Sennett Estate today we have the Alkaff Mosque and Alkaff Avenue. What is presently Potong Pasir was owned by the Alkaffs who leased the land to Indians who reared cattle in the area.
Before the invasion of Malaya by the Japanese, the British Army requisitioned the land in the Alkaff Gardens to build a camp for the Indian troops.
Immediately after the British Surrender in February 1942 many Indian prisoners of war were accommodated in the camp behind barbed wires for a period before they were transferred to the main camp in Port Dickson on the west coast of Malaya.
The other wealthy and prominent Arab families were the Alsagoffs and the Aljunieds.
Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff came to Singapore with his son Ahmad and established his firm Alsagoff and Company in 1848. His son Ahmad married Raja Siti, the daughter of Hajjah Fatimah, of Bugis royalty and who built the historical Hajjah Fatimah Mosque in Beach Road. The Alsagoffs also started the Arabic School in Jalan Sultan in 1912.
A large section of Geylang Serai formed part of the ‘Perseverance Estate’ which belonged to the Alsagoff family. The Alsagoffs had also served as Municipal commissioners from 1872 to 1898 and from 1928 to 1933.
Syed Omar Alsagoff owned a large estate where he lived in a palatial bungalow and entertained Europeans lavishly at Bukit Tunggal near Chancery Lane. He served dinners on gold plated plates, forks and knives. There was also a lake there which was one of the attractions of old Singapore and canoes could be seen afloat in it. After his death his sons developed Bukit Tunggal Estate in the 1920s. The Alsagoffs had property in Paya Lebar and elsewhere.
The tomb (the Keramat) of the holy man Habib Nor bin Mohamed Al-Habshi was built by Syed Mohamed bin Ahmad Alsagoff about 1890 and is still maintained by the Alsagoff family.
Syed Omar bin Ali Aljunied who was an Arab pioneer was one of the most respected local merchants with extensive business; he had amassed a large fortune and his nephew Syed Mohamed bin Haroon Aljunied had a large mansion in High Street.
Syed Omar owned a large burial ground at Jalan Kubor off Victoria Street and also built a Mosque in Bencoolen Street; his son built the Omar Mosque at Kampong Malacca, near Havelock Road. Syed Allied bin Mohamed Aljunied donated the rental of some his property towards the funds of Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The Aljunieds also dug wells behind Fort Canning. Selegie Road and elsewhere; these were large wells with granite sides and supplied water to the early residents of Singapore.
Syed Alwi Road off Serangoon Road is named after Syed Allie and Aljunied and Upper Aljunied Roads are named after this wealthy Arab family.
The Alkaff Mansion and Arab institution in Singapore are permanent reminders to Singaporeans of the affluence, the business acumen and contribution of the early Arab families toward the development and prosperity of Singapore. Their descendants are continuing their contribution to our Republic.