Tan Yeok Nee was a Teochew pioneer and a major gambier merchant whose plantations were mostly located in Johor, Malaya. In 1870, he was conferred the title Major Cina (Johor’s highest ranking Chinese official) by Maharaja Abu Bakar.
In 1882-85, Tan built a grand family home at Tank Road (now 101 Penang Road). The house was constructed in a traditional southern Chinese architectural style, with two large central halls separated by wide courtyards.
Its roof is distinguished by intricate timber carvings, decorative plaster reliefs and colourful porcelain pieces known as qian ci or jian nian. The qian ci are arranged in mosaic patterns or form figures on the ridges. In the front courtyard, there are koi (carp) carvings at the roof junctions, which spout water from their mouths when it rains.
Tan Yeok Nee later sold the house and returned to China. During this time, the Singapore-Kranji railway line was being built and the house was acquired for use by the station master of the nearby Tank Road Railway Station from 1902. Later, the building housed charities such as St Mary’s Home, an orphanage and boarding school for girls, in 1905-32 and The Salvation Army in 1938-91. The House of Tan Yeok Nee was gazetted a National Monument in 1974.